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Infiltration by the gods

 

In Karachi, there is little to remind one of the legend of Rambagh, where Ram and Sita, of the Hindu pantheon, are believed to have made a stopover during their exile.Shahid Husain reports...
TSI | Issue Dated: July 19, 2009
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Infiltration by the gods Behind Arambagh, in the heart of Karachi city is a small, obscure and faceless Shiv temple that remains closed six days a week. “It remains locked except on Monday evenings for a short while,” said a hawker who sits outside the temple. Requesting anonymity, he said: “I have been here for the last 18 years but have seen it open only on Monday evening.”

“The temple was built by Astan Shrimati Hajeebai in memory of her husband Seth Ochi Ram Mangat Ram,” it says in Sindhi language on a small foundation stone in the temple. The date of construction is not mentioned anywhere. “There was a time when it was a big temple but after the Partition in 1947, most of its space was encroached upon,” said Girdhari Assudomal Lakhwani, a cotton broker who looks after the temple. “There were 456 temples in Karachi before Partition. Only 20-25 remain today,” he lamented.

According to Kaleemullah Lashari, Sindh Antiquities Department Secretary, “Prior to the Partition, Arambagh was Rambagh, and there was a cluster of temples here. The temples were built in the garden where, according to Hindu mythology, Ram and Sita spent a night while on their way to Hinglaj for offering thanks, after Ram completed 14 years of exile in the jungle with Lakshman and Sita, following court intrigues.” “Till the 20th century, the area was called Rambagh. It was converted into a refugee camp after 1947 and named Arambagh. It’s a failure on the part of our municipal administration that they could not preserve it,” he said.

Citing folklore, noted architect and town planner Arif Hasan maintained that Ram and his wife Sita spent a night in Rambagh on their way to the ancient shrine of Hinglaj located in Balochistan. The location of the existing Mahadev temple beside the Kothari Parade at Clifton in Karachi endorses the presence of these precincts back in the ancient days too, he said. Infiltration by the gods Ram is believed to be the seventh incarnation of Vishnu and the central figure in Ramayana, one of the primary Hindu epics. “Some structures are still there. Hence, it’s a heritage site and should have been preserved. We changed its complexion and have lost the essence of the area. Had we saved the wells and temples of Rambagh, it would have been a heritage site of great value,” Lashari said.

Prominent architect and academic Yasmin Cheema points out that Rambagh, spread over nine acres, contained three tanks, the Ram Chandur Temple and several wells. The most famous of the three tanks was Rambagh. Later, the wells of the area supplied water to the British army camp, as well as its cantonment, according to Cheema. Most of the wells are located within the Tank – while five are distributed along its periphery, another 10 are scattered in a five-acre irregularly-shaped compound to the north, which also included one of the four temples situated at the four corners of the Tank.

According to Hasan, Hinglaj is one of the seven places most sacred to Hindu. In fact, lore has it that after Ram rescued Sita from the demon king Ravana, they went to the Mahadev temple in Karachi and spent a night at this Bagh – hence the name. After that Rambagh became a place of pilgrimage too, Hasan said. “Karachi is also known as Ramya in some Greek texts,” he added. Eminent conservation architect and town planner Yasmeen Lari points out that closely following the boundaries of the Artillery Maidan Quarter was the Rambagh Quarter, which boasted three water tanks, including the Rambagh Tank, giving the quarter its name.

The Rambagh, according to Lari, with a large area surrounding it devoted to temples, plantation and wells, is a favourite assembly point for people around the Tank. Not that some quaint legend would be the preferred topic of discussion these days…
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017