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February 23, 2012

Looking for the Mandir at Gurumandir

World

AFP
February 23, 2012

Karachi
Excise officers sitting inside a temple — now used as a government office — were startled to see two snakes slithering their way around as the Hindu community recently celebrated Maha Shivratari (the Night of Lord Shiva). The temple itself may be one of the best known landmarks in the city, yet it is not instantly visible to people passing by. Although rickshaw drivers use it as a reference point, many of them do not know where it is located.
Like many other parts of the city, the Gurumandir area is named after one of the most popular landmarks belonging to the pre-Partition era. But queries on whether people in the area have seen a temple earned responses along the lines of “there must have been a temple here in the past. Hence the name, maybe,” said a shopkeeper, who was more bothered about getting his work done.
Even asking people within the Hindu community yielded nothing. Mangla Sharma of the Pakistan-Hindu Council said that even if there was a temple, “it might have been encroached upon by now.”
Amarnath Motumel of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said he had lived in Karachi for the past 40 years and would love to visit the temple if one still remained. Those who did confirm that there was a temple pointed towards one standing beside the Islamia College. The entire area surrounding the college is counted as part of Gurumandir.
But it wasn’t until an old resident mentioned “a really old temple”, visited by Hindus from Sindh, and even from India, that it was found that the area is named after a temple which still exists.
Hidden away behind a huge mosque, known as Sabeel Wali Masjid, near a banyan tree is one of the oldest temples in the city, known as Gurumandir. The veranda is spacious and clean. A man at the temple, Mohammad Zaki, says the temple has been here long before Partition. “I used to live nearby and still live in the premises,” he shares. Pointing towards a pile of tattered blankets in

a small space below the staircase, Zaki shows his home.
Once inside, however, it was discovered that the temple is completely bereft of any idol or deity as it has been used by the excise department for the past “many years,” a man sitting in the office informs. Without divulging much, he says the office has been there since 1986 and he does not know much about its history.
Shuja Bukhari, administrator at the Evacuee Trust Board in Islamabad, says a legal row has been carrying on between the excise department and the evacuee board over the owne ship of the temple for last 20 years. “They claim that the plot is allotted to them now, whereas we have documents verifying our stance that the temple belongs to the evacuee trust,” explains Bukhari. The reason the case has stalled for so long, he says, is because the people concerned keep “getting transferred.”
Despite knowing that there is no religious idol or deity inside, some residents of the area still visit the temple, even if it is just for a few minutes.
Zaki reveals that the reason people visit the temple often is a pair of snakes in the veranda which are “seen only during festivals,” much to the horror of the excise officers mentioned earlier. Visitors bring milk for the snakes in order for their wishes to be granted.
Though the temple rests in the heart of the area, there are many people who do not want to acknowledge its presence, fearing an angry debate over whether the Sabeel Wali Masjid or the Gurumandir was built first.
Residents claim that even though there are many mosques in the area, some with historical significance such as the Binoria Masjid, there is a subtle movement to change the name of the area from Gurumandir.
They say this has been happening since the days of Partition. Despite these efforts,
the area still bears its original name. “It comes easily to all of us,” says a bookseller from the area, asking not to be named.