KARACHI: You know its time to celebrate when a large number of men, women and children gather and dance to the beat of the drums. When these festivities arrive at the crocodile shelter, situated at the foothill of Manghopir, one can be fairly certain that the Sheedi community has gathered to pay tribute to the Mor Sahib; the largest, most sacred crocodile at the sanctuary.
Crocodiles at the natural pond at Manghopir, which is situated near the shrine of Hazrat Khawaja Hassan (also known as Sakhi Sultan Manghopir), bore witness to hundreds of people from a number of districts of Sindh and Balochistan who went to Manghopir take part in the four-day-long “Sheedi Mela” that started on Sunday.
The festival, which bears religious and cultural significance for the Sheedi community, is organised by members of the community who make offerings of sweets and meat to the sacred crocodile. According to the devotees of the Mor Sahib, people from the Sheedi community must offer the Mor Sahib a goat’s head, along with the sweets and meat, to ensure that the sacred crocodile continues to bless them all year round.
There are four traditional Makaans or houses located across the city that act as landmarks for people to congregate towards prior to the festival, said Akbar Sheedi, one of the main figureheads for the Sheedi community. People head towards the Sheedi Muhalla in Manghopir from the Makaans to mark the beginning of the festival. Each Makaan contributes towards the sacrifice of one goat in turn.
The beginning of the festival on Sunday was marked with the sacrifice of a goat by the Kharadari Makaan. Women prepared sweets and arranged them in a bowl, along with the head of a goat. Members of the Makaan carried the peace offerings to the crocodile shelter at noon while some women, carrying decorated sticks, awaited their turn to perform a cultural dance that was part of the day’s festivities.
The rite of Tilak, which involves dabbing colour on the Mor Sahib’s forehead, is meant to identify the chief crocodile, so that the rest of the people can carry on with their rituals without any confusion, Akbar Sheedi told The Express Tribune.
The rituals continue till the end of each of the four days as members of the other Makaans also take part in the day’s festivities according to a schedule. “This event had been celebrated by the Sheedi community for about 800 years,” said Akbar Sheedi.
“For us, the sacred crocodile is like a saint,” he added, while explaining how members of the community, whose lineage goes back directly to the native Africans, think of the festival as an opportunity to get together and celebrate our culture.
The Manghopir crocodile shelter
More than 200 crocodiles live at the shelter in Manghopir, said Sajjad Sheedi, the caretaker of the pond. He added that the current Mor Sahib has been the chief of all crocodiles in the pond for almost 70 years.
“The descendant of the Mor Sahib usually becomes the chief crocodile. But when a crocodile is able to kill the Mor Sahib, he is nominated in his stead,” Sajjad Sheedi added.
The crocodile pond is around 400 feet (120 metres) long and 200 feet (61 metres) wide. It is nourished by an underground stream, and provides shelter to crocodiles that range between six and seven feet in length.
“We are provided with very little funding by the government’s Auqaf Department to take care of the pond” said Sajjad Sheedi, who added that the government must expand its facilities for the maintenance of the pond.
Published in the Express Tribune, June 14th, 2010.
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