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KARACHI: Govt help sought in Manora temple’s renovation

March 31, 2008

KARACHI, March 30: Sitting on the edge of Manora beach, the temple dedicated to the god Varuna has endured the test of time. Its grandeur stands immaculate amid visible signs of vandalism, official neglect and utter disregard that have been shown to the religious place for over 60 years. Unfortunately, the situation today hasn’t changed much.

The temple was being used as a storeroom by a restaurant owner, who has allegedly occupied a portion of the temple, before members of the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC) intervened and took up the issue with the cantonment board officials. During these decades of neglect, many idols have either been stolen or broken while a garbage dump lies in front of the mandir.

“We are allowed to carry out renovations and restore the status of the mandir, but we need the government’s help in this respect because the job involves a lot of technical expertise and expenses,” said Hari Motwani, PHC general-secretary, who made a special reference to late Visho Anand Tharwani, a former PHC office-bearer, and commended his services for the temple’s cause.

When asked why the community took so long in raising the issue, he said the main reason was the absence of a single platform from where the community could address their problems. Now, with the formation of the council two years ago, a strong body has emerged to represent the Hindus.

An old picture of the temple, available on the net, shows that during the British era, it was secured by a boundary wall, which has disappeared over the decades. Today, the entire temple is in disarray. It is exposed to human interference from all corners while the main entrances into the temple premises and inside the temple, along with a small portion where idols of Hanuman and Lord Shiva are kept, are closed with bricks. The council is in the process of building a boundary wall.

Security concerns

“Security is a big issue. Recently, some people came in and broke the statues of four deities. It’s difficult to stop people from entering into the temple premises since a large portion is still open and visitors attempt to go inside,” said one of the two guards employed recently by the PHC for security purposes.

According to Jivraj K. Maheshwary, a priest appointed by the council, unscrupulous elements had built concrete sheds outside the temple which were removed by the council. The damage to the temple is extensive and hardly any idols are left intact today. The presence of a water tank and a well are indicative of the time when the place used to be frequented by a large number of people.

Though the upper part of the temple’s façade has remained safe from vandalism, it has been eroded by the salt-laden sea breeze. Perhaps that could be the reason some philanthropists, whose names could be seen inscribed on different memorial plaques, thought of tiling the lower, outside portion and the temple’s floor to strengthen its structure. This rationale aside, the tiles in the temple, which no doubt are beautiful in their own way, do not match or, to an extent, affect the beauty and grandeur of the temple.

The tiling – damaged and removed from many places – was carried out in different periods before Partition according to the information inscribed on these tablets. For instance, one tablet inside the temple says, “These tiles and one photo have been presented by Seth Kimatrai, Seth Navalrai, Seth Vishindas, Seth Tejumal in memory of their respected father late Seth Assomal Rochitam Khivani Punjabi, Karachi, 12-4-1937.”

The temple in history

However, there is no sign indicating the exact date of the temple’s construction. “I couldn’t find any official record about its history despite writing many times to the cantonment board officials. In a reply, they asked me to contact the Military Estates Officer, Karachi Circle, for the purpose,” claims Jivraj.

On the other hand, one finds some references to the temple in books on Karachi’s history such as My Motherland, My People, by Lokram Dodeja and Karachi tareekh ke aiyne main by Mohammad Usman Damohi. With a picture taken in 1922 on Manora Island, Dodeja talks about an ancient temple, surrounded by the sea, but which had a well of sweet water.

For the restoration of the mandir, the community faces problems on many fronts. The foremost being the supply of water and sewerage system. Also, Jivraj claims that they had been asked to demolish a part of the boundary wall because a road was being planned for the naval academy’s expansion.

Giving their version of the issue, Pakistan Navy’s PRO Salman Ali said: “The road will run along the boundary wall and in no way harm the mandir’s sanctity. In fact, we made some changes in the road’s map to accommodate their concerns. However, the restaurant, which exists in the master plan, will not be removed.” He also said that the responsibility for provision of water and sewerage system lies with the nazim.

About the legal status of the temple, Evacuee Property Trust Board deputy-administrator Mir Waiz said it didn’t come under their jurisdiction. However, he said his team would visit the temple soon to see its condition. Regarding any monetary support for the temple’s renovation, he said that if the PHC made a request, the board would definitely consider it.