Sindh’s iconic Ghanta Ghars stand tall, embodying the essence of timekeeping in a bygone era
he historic Ghanta Ghars (clock towers) in Sindh symbolise colonial era urban development. They were the popular timekeepers when wristwatches were a luxury in Sindh. For many people, they reflected the importance of time. Like other towns and cities of Sindh, Shikarpur’s Ghanta Ghar stands tall in the heart of the town. This free-standing imperial monument is integral to the city’s heritage and identity, reminding the visitors of its past glory and the builders.
Most clock towers in Sindh were built in the Nineteenth and the Twentieth Centuries. Some of the most prominent clock towers were built in Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur and Jacobabad. Some are free-standing imperial monuments; others are attached to other structures. One of the clock towers, 60 feet high, dominates the landscape of Jacobabad. According to From Upper Scinde Frontier to Jacobabad by Momin Bullo (2011), Victoria Clock Tower was built to commemorate the Jubilee Celebrations of Queen Victoria in 1887. Apart from Victoria Clock Tower in Jacobabad, there were 11 clock towers in Karachi. Some of those have survived as free-standing monuments. Others are attached to utility buildings. The most prominent free-standing clock tower is Merewether Tower, located at the convergence of MA Jinnah Road and II Chundrigar Road in Karachi. Peerzada Salman’s book, Karachi: Legacies of Empires (2014) says that it was built in memory of Sir William L Merewether (d. 1880), who served as a commissioner in Sindh from 1867 to 1877. Sir James Ferguson, then governor of Bombay, laid the foundation stone in 1884. It was opened to the public in 1892 by Sir Evan James (d. 1923), who was the commissioner in Sindh from 1891 to 1900.
Shikarpur’s Cloth Market is located near the tower built by Shikarpuri traders in 1924. The impressive building bears the date of construction.
Hyderabad has two impressive clock towers. The first was built by Rai Bahadur Pirbhdas in 1897. Akhtar Hafeez says that Rai Bahadur Pirbhdas laid the foundation of Nau Widyala (new seminary) in 1897. The clock tower was a prominent feature of the building. It is now called Dr NA Baloch Model School, Hyderabad. Akhtar Hafeez also talks about another watch tower built in Navalrai Market. This was built by the British administration of Hyderabad in 1914 to honour Navalrai.
This free-standing imperial monument is integral to the city’s heritage and identity, reminding visitors of its past glory and the builders.
There is also clock tower in Sukkur that was built in 1937. One learns from Momin Bullo’s book, Sukkur: Nostalgia of Things Past (2017), that it was built in memory of Seth Deo Mal and Sundardas by Sundar Shewak Sabha in 1937. Momin Bullo (2017) believes that Seth Wadho Mal Nebhaoo Mal, the brother of Seth Deo Mal and Sundardas, donated the funds for the construction of the tower. As per the inscription, DB Issarsing Tilaksing, president of the Sukkur municipality, laid the foundation stone. The plaque says that the opening ceremony was performed by UM (Udham Maniram) Mirchandani, then collector of Sukkur.
Apart from the British officials, the traders and landlords had a significant roles in raising funds for the clock towers.
The business community of Shikarpur too played an important role in its urban development. Many philanthropists from among the city’s business elite contributed to establishing healthcare and educational institutions as well as civic buildings in Shikarpur. Businessmen from the Bajaj family built the Ghanta Ghar.
The Ghanta Ghar in Shikarpur was built to honour King George V in 1935.
An Inscription on a wall of the Ghanta Ghar reads, “This Clock Tower was erected by Seth Rijharam Bajaj and Seth Kanaya Lal Bajaj in memory of their most beloved and revered father Seth Hiranand Nandram Das Bajaj on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of His Majesty King George V, Emperor of India, on May 6, 1935.” The tower was constructed under the supervision of NH Menesse, the administrator, and KV Joshi, the chief officer of the Shikarpur municipality.
It is a 35-foot-high monument – a square, free-standing structure topped with a cupola under which a bell used to ring. Clocks are installed on all four sides of the tower. The tower clocks remained dysfunctional for several years after the Partition but were later restored. Built of Jaipur pink stone, the clock tower features a wooden door that opens to the stairway. The carving was done by Amir Bakhsh Babalani (d. 1940), as Haseeb Nayab Mangi (2022) mentions in his book, Shikarpur: Tarikhi Ain Tahqeeqi Mutalyo. The Bablanis are still the master woodcarvers of Shikarpur.
Is it Bablani or Bablani?
Another influential Bajaj family, descended from Seth/ Diwan Jethmal, played a significant role in Shikarpur’s urban development. According to Bherumal Maharchand Advani (2003), the author of Sindh Jay Hindun Ji Tarikh Vol. II (History of Sindh’s Hindus Vol. II), Seth Jethmal served as the governor of Shikarpur during the Talpur rule from 1824 to 1843. He assumed the position after Syed Ibrahim Shah. The Bajaj family’s subsequent generations became renowned traders in Shikarpur, known for their philanthropy. The Bajajs financed schools, Nari Shalas (female shelters/ houses), and inns (musafir khanas) in Shikarpur. The Manghanmal Surtamal Bajaj Hindu Sindhi School No. 1 was constructed with a substantial donation from the Bajaj family.
An article titled Shikarpur Ja Taleemi Idara (Educational Institutions of Shikarpur) by Anwar’ Figar’ Hakro, a well-known Sindhi scholar, mentions that the Government Boys Primary School, Lakhidar, was first built by the Shikarpur municipality and Hindu Panchayat in 1887. However, the building collapsed during the 1933 rains. In response to the headmaster’s request to rebuild the school, the Shikarpur municipality and Bajaj businessmen Seth Maghanmal Surtamal Bajaj and Seth Lanida Singh Bajaj generously provided funds in 1933. The school was then named Manganmal Surtamal Bajaj Hindu Sindhi School No. I. Today, the school is known as Government Boys Primary School, Lakhidar. It is located opposite the old Budha Ashram building, which was constructed in 1936 by Chhabria Hindu merchants of Shikarpur. The Government Boys Primary School, Lakhidar, is now a double-storey building.
Seth Lanida Singh Bajaj was recognised as a prominent philanthropist. His benevolent actions led the locals to affectionately call him “Nangar Seth.” According to an article titled Shikarpur Jo Sakhi Mard: Seth Lanida Singh Bajaj by Haseeb Nayab Mangi, published in Sindh Affairs, Seth Lanida Singh Bajaj honoured his father’s memory by constructing Seth Satram Singh Musafir Khano on Station Road in Shikarpur. According to Bherumal Maharchand Advani Seth Satram Singh had four sons – Lanida Singh, Jesa Singh, Narain Singh and Chela Singh.
Haseeb Nayab Mang writes in an article on Seth Parshotam Singh Bajaj in Mumbai Nivas magazine, that Seth Lanida Singh Bajaj had four sons: Seth Parshotam Singh, Seth Mangho Mal, Seth Kishan Chand and Seth Parmanand.
Seth Lanida Singh Bajaj also made donations for other welfare works in Shikarpur. His haveli was located in the Kakran-Jo-Thalo locality. The haveli is extant but has lost some of its original beauty. The Seth died in 1943 in Shikarpur. Most of the Bajajs migrated to India following the Partition.
The writer is an anthropologist. He has authored 13 books on anthropology, cultural heritage and religions in Pakistan. He tweets at@kalhorozulfiqar