AROUND TOWN: The mystique of Mohatta

Published January 9, 2009

In an elite, calm corner of the otherwise crowded, urban metropolis of Karachi, stands a palace trimmed with windows, stone brackets, spandrels, domes, balustrades with floral motifs and exquisite railings. Tall frontal, blue-tinted windows look out onto immaculately manicured lawns, while the rear end of the palace has arched, stained glass windows. This is not a fairy tale. There certainly is a palace of pink Jodhpur stone and local yellow Gizri stone tucked away in the heart of Clifton. It is the Mohatta Palace renowned now for having been converted into a museum which has displays of exquisite paintings and murals of the skilled artist Sadequain, “the Holy Sinner”, and various exhibitions showcasing the history of the region of Pakistan, especially Sindh.

However, the history of this palace is a colourful one. The palace was originally built for Shivratan Chandraratan Mohatta, an ambitious self-made Hindu businessman from Marwar as his summer home in 1926. The architect, Agha Ahmed Hussain, designed a glorious palace of nine domes spread over 18,500 sq ft in true Rajhastani style.

Mohatta and his family could enjoy this building for only about two decades. The partition of the subcontinent forced him to leave Karachi. The Government of Pakistan then used this majestic building for the offices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Later, it was handed over to Quaid-e-Azam's sister, Fatima Jinnah. In the '60s Mohatta Palace was dubbed Qasre-e-Fatima, as the palace became the centre of her presidential campaign against Field Marshal, Ayub Khan. After her sudden death, her sister, Shireen Bai moved in to occupy the ground floor for many years. Years after Shireen Bai's demise this splendid piece of architecture was sealed and unattended before it was opened as a museum.

The interior of the palace has a regal aura owing to it being entirely made of teak wood with a polished staircase, long corridors and doors opening within doors. The terrace of the Mohatta Palace originally had a beautiful family temple dedicated to Hindu God, lord Shiva.

With every palace or castle comes its set of mysteries. Mohatta Palace is no less. One fascinating thing about the Mohatta Palace is a secret underground tunnel that leads from the grounds of the palace all the way to a subterranean Hindu temple less than a kilometer away. This tunnel was apparently built to provide a safe passage for the wife of Shivratan Chandratan Mohatta to go for her daily worship. The tunnel has fallen prey to the ravages of time, having caved in and the entrance is blocked from both ends.

Supernatural buffs among us might like to visit this palace not for the items on display at the museum but for the fact that the palace is said to be haunted. So, next weekend, may it be to spend some time away from the crazy congestion of the city at a historical site or to enjoy the display at a museum, the Mohatta Palace is the place to visit about town.

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