KARACHI: The Varun Dev Temple on Manora Island, an epitome of Pakistan's religious diversity, interfaith harmony and rich cultural heritage, has come to the attention of the United States (US) for rehabilitation.
The American ambassador to Pakistan, David Hale, announced on Tuesday at the American consulate that the US Ambassador Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) will provide $250,000 to rehabilitate the Varun Dev Temple in collaboration with the Sindh Exploration and Adventure Society (SEAS).
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"The US Embassy is honoured to partner with the SEAS to protect this temple from further erosion and degradation," said Hale. The grant covers documentation and survey studies, stabilisation of the temple structures, landscaping, informational displays and community engagements.
"Manora Island is an example of Pakistan's religious diversity, interfaith harmony and rich cultural heritage," said the ambassador. "The number of worship places like temples, churches, mosques and shrines on Manora Island represents a culture of tolerance among people belonging to different religious faiths and ethnic groups."
This was the second AFCP grant in the Sindh province. The first, announced in 2014, was for the restoration of the tombs of Sultan Ibrahim and Amir Sultan Muhammad at the Makli Hill necropolis in Thatta.
Varun Dev, a Hindu temple, is dedicated to the Lord of the Seas, Varuna, and is located on Manora Island on the shores of Karachi. Experts believe that the temple was built due to enhanced maritime trade activity in the Indian Ocean from the fourth to tenth centuries AD. The current structure of the temple dates back to 1917-1918.
According to SEAS general secretary Dr Asma Ibrahim, the temple is in a dilapidated condition nowadays. Humid winds are eating away the structure, the rich carvings on the tower are heavily eroded and subsequent unauthorised construction has affected the structured integrity of the temple and its grounds.
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The temple is not currently used for communal worship. The last formal ritual was held there in the 1950s. According to the SEAS, a voluntary organisation, surveys using proper and technical parameters will be conducted by a conservation specialist, who will guide surveyors to document the structure with the required level of detail.
The project will also address structural weaknesses of the temple's sakhara (tower) and mandap (entrance portal). In addition, the roof, parapet walls, crenellations and awning slabs are all badly weathered, requiring intervention and rehabilitation.
The project will also work to save commemoration plaques, create a display case for devotional items and to document conservation work and re-establish the site as a gathering place for the community and train skilled craftsmen.
"It is good news that the conservation project of the Varun Dev mandir, proposed by SEAS, was selected for the grant of US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation," said Dr Ibrahim. "It is indeed a pleasure to acknowledge the due support extended to this project by Pakistan Naval Academy, Manora Cantonment Board, Government of Sindh, Karachi Port Trust, the elders of Manora and especially the enthusiastic support by the schools of Manora."
The event was attended by American consul-general Brian Heath, Pakistan Navy Ship Rahbar Commodore Fawad Baig, SEAS president and conservationist Dr Kaleemullah Lashari, SEAS general secretary and State Bank Museum and Art Gallery director Dr Ibrahim, Father Manasi Badar of St Paul Church, Manora, and architects and conservationists from Karachi.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 23rd, 2015.