One of the severed arms of Bhavani Mata at the small temple located inside a quarter of Karachi’s Zoological Gardens. —Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
One of the severed arms of Bhavani Mata at the small temple located inside a quarter of Karachi’s Zoological Gardens. —Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: The glow from a row of lit clay oil lamps reflected on the three beautifully decorated deities of Shitala Mata, Santoshi Mata and Bhavani Mata at the small temple located inside a small home in the quarters near Gate no 5 of Karachi Zoological Gardens. A few overripe bananas as prasad in a thaal lay on the floor in front of the deities but the place was missing its usual rush of devotees. Other than the Maharaj and his family, the caretakers of this temple, nobody else was there.

“The people are afraid of coming here for puja now after the attack,” explained Maharaj Hira Lal.

He was referring to the incident on the evening of Jan 21 when during Durga puja there, three bearded men in shalwar and kameez stormed the place, waving TT pistols and ordering everyone to stop and get out. The panic and scuffle that followed resulted in desecration of the temple as a goddess deity, Bhavani Mata, lost one of its left arms. “We don’t know who those men were. We have never seen them before,” the Maharaj said.

About the significance of this little temple, he said it was built as a small place for puja by his paternal grandfather soon after he moved to Pakistan from India some 60 years ago. “He was childless but adopted a 14-year-old boy, Mohan, who he brought up as his son. The young boy was soon married to a suitable Hindu girl, Champa Bai, who lived nearby in Soldier Bazaar. And I am Mohan and Champa’s son. By the grace of Shitala Mata, my parents had five daughters and two sons including myself,” the Maharaj provided a bit of his background.

“The private temple soon became known when several women considered unable to give birth to children came to perform puja here following which they were able to conceive. Then some eight years ago, during regular puja here, devotees witnessed another miracle when Kali Mata’s footprints made from red holy powder abir suddenly appeared beside the mantel,” the Maharaj added. “I know I should have registered this temple long ago but I don’t know how to go about it, quite frankly. Puja-paat is all that I know,” he said.

“From the donations by devotees, we have been able to strengthen the walls of this room that houses the temple and raise its ceiling. My mother, Champa Bai, and sister, Lalitha, bathe the deities and dress and decorate them while keeping the place clean and pure. We are very saddened by the incident. It has really terrorised the neighbourhood.

“There are four Hindu households in the quarters near gate no 5 of the zoo and 15 more near gate no 1. More who have heard about the miracles of this temple travel here from all over the city. But all have stopped coming here now after being threatened. Word spreads around fast. We are handful of peace-loving members of a religious minority. We feel extremely insecure after what has happened,” he concluded.

Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2016

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