By Muhammad Salman Khan
November 8, 2018
Sufi saint and Hindu deity ‘Jhulelal’ is symbolised as a source of
interfaith harmony in Sindh. PHOTO FILE
Celebrating the rich and varied cultural
heritage of the Hindu community in Sindh on the eve of Diwali, Alliance
Francaise de Karachi, the Centre for South Asian Studies (CNRS, Paris) and the
University of Karachi’s (KU) Centre for Social Sciences organised a seminar,
‘The Multiple Identities of Jhulelal And Other Case Studies’, focusing on the
Jhulelal – a sacred figure for interfaith harmony that is worshipped by Muslims
and Hindus in Pakistan and India, especially in Sindh.
The seminar was part of the Udero Lal
Research Project (ULRP) that explores the religious traditions that exist among
the followers of the 18th century Jhulelal, investigating the secular and
sacred faces of Sindhi culture and identity called ‘Sindhiyat’, which faces
challenges of transformations due to colonisation, partition and displacement.
Archaeology And Architecture Of Jhulelal
KU’s Humera Naz chaired the first session
of the seminar exploring the shared archaeological importance and
anthropological legacy of the Jhulelal tradition in Sindh.
State Bank of Pakistan Museum and Art
Gallery Department Director Asma Ibrahim briefed the audience about a two-year
project from 2015-17 of rehabilitation and conservation undertaken by the Sindh
Exploration and Adventure Society (SEAS) as part of a US government-funded
project for the renovation and rehabilitation of the Shri Varun Dev Mandir in
According to Ibrahim, Shri Varun Dev Mandir
existed in a dilapidated state with much of the temple’s complex abandoned,
neglected and weathering for the last 60 years. The temple was sealed by the
government to protect it following the destruction of Babri Masjid in 1992.
She said that the rehabilitation plan was
implemented to address the years of structural damage, vandalism and natural
weathering of the Mandap dome, columns, deities and Sakhara of the entire
temple complex and end the isolation of the temple to promote cultural tourism
and establish interfaith harmony.
“Our project has not only been able to
restore the main temple at Manora, but the Shiv Mandir, Gurdwara and Yousuf
Pir’s Mazar [shrine] – all of which signify the importance of interfaith
harmony for the local communities – were also restored,” she said. However,
Ibrahim said it is sad to see the south-east corner of the temple remains
encroached by a canteen [after restoration].
Architect Syed Haider Raza Zaidi shared his
experience of renovation work for the Dharya Lal Mandir near the Karachi Port
Trust building, where a project funded by the government of Sindh and members
of the local Hindu community renovated the Jhulelal Mandir in less than three
months at a cost of only Rs1.5 million.
Zaidi stressed the importance of
encouraging interfaith harmony among local communities in Karachi.
NED University of Engineering and
Technology’s Professor Masooma Shakir shared her findings of how the 16th
century joint Muslim-Hindu shrine complex at Udero Lal, near the city of Tando
Adam Khan, dedicated to Saint Sheikh Tahir for Muslims and Lord Jhulelal for
the Hindus has a unique architectural history.
An all-white painted shrine complex that
has largely been inspired by the Central Asian architecture, ‘Caravanserai’, the
Udero Lal shrine is a symbol of interfaith harmony. These were mostly built by
traders in Central Asia as a roadside inn where travellers could rest and
recover from the day’s journey and are rarely seen in the Indian subcontinent.
Shakir said the Sindhi Hindu community pays
reverence by celebrating ‘Chetichand’ on the eve of Hindu New Year which
signifies as the day of birth for Jhulelal, who is associated with water [the
source of life] and is considered a savior, especially for those who travelled by
sea or River Indus.
“Jhulelal never disclosed which faith he
belonged to. The Hindu and Muslim followers of Jhulelal continue the tradition
of religious co-existence at one shrine, where the holy flame has been burning
for over 400 years now,” she added.
Authority and social hierarchy in
Greenwich University’s Mohan Devraj Thontya
chaired the second session with French researcher Michel Boivin, who has done
considerable research focusing on societies and cultures of the Sindhi-speaking
area, to discuss the authority and social hierarchy in Jhulelal’s path.
According to Boivin, Sindh is rich in
culture since it is related to the River Indus, but after partition and the
displacement of millions of Hindus from Sindh we saw the first of the Jhulelal
temples emerge in India.
Boivin said there exist two orthodox
narratives attributed to Jhulelal – one of the Hindus and the other of the
Muslims. For Sindhi Hindus, Jhulelal is a name that refers to the Ishta Dev,
who is regarded as an incarnation of the Hindu deity Varuna.