KARACHI: It was a tough fight – including a lawsuit and a call for donations – but one of Karachi’s oldest Hindu temples is finally being renovated.
The 1,500-year-old Shri Panchmukhi Hanuman Mandir is finally getting a facelift with the use of its old stones after its management battled with land grabbers to regain partial control of its original land.
One of the oldest temples in the city, the Shri Panchmukhi Hanuman Mandir is tucked away in Soldier Bazaar. Even though work on its renovation suffered a setback a couple of years ago, its management is adamant that it will complete it, despite encroachments on the temple’s plot, intimidation and threats by land grabbers as well as a lack of funds.
“The temple was supposed to be renovated within two years. But a shortage of funds and the cases we have been fighting for the ownership of our land have slowed down the process. Yet we won’t give up,” says the determined Shri Ram Nath Maharaj, the temple’s caretaker. The Hanuman temple holds special significance for Hindus.
“It is the only temple in the world which has the natural statue of the Hanuman deity, and is not man-made. Years ago, the statue was discovered from this place,” he explains, pointing towards the 8-foot blue and white statue, which is located in a room that will not be touched for renovation or reconstruction. The rubble of building material and grilles lies around the temple as construction continues on a free langar khana or soup kitchen and a praying area. To preserve the look and feel of the temple, the original yellow stones are being used to rebuild the arched walls. “We believe in preserving our temple. We had to renovate because it was in ruins, with parts of the roof caving in.”
Blocks of old stones are being moulded into new ones. “The process of using the old stones to rebuild is time-consuming, difficult and costly. It is easier to buy new material and use it,” explains the Maharaj.
But as Dr Noman Ahmed, the chairperson of the architecture and planning department at the NED University, put it, houses of worship are usually preserved by using the same material from which they were originally built. “Unless there is a defect in the stones, the same ones can be used to rebuild them,” he said. However, there is rarely major reconstruction done on ancient buildings. Instead there are minor restorations or cleaning. “Temples can be rebuilt in a personal capacity but it is better to seek professional help from the government’s heritage department,” he urged.
The temple isn’t being renovated with the yearly budget allocated to the Sindh minorities’ affairs ministry. Instead, poor Hindus and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement stepped up with donations.
“We need Rs4.5 million for the reconstruction,” said the Maharaj. “We have received half of the money but we need the rest to complete it.” A banner hangs in the temple requesting for donations.
Encroaching on the house of worship
The Shri Panchmukhi Hanuman Mandir has faced the same issue as many of the temples in the city – encroachment. Half of the 2,609 square feet land of the temple has been taken over.
According to documents shared by the Maharaj, in 1995 the plot (GRE 270 and 271) was divided into 10 parts. Land grabbers claimed the lease. In 2006, the temple won back four of these plots after the lease was cancelled by a district court and then-DDO East Sultan Ahmed issued a notice.
The anti-encroachment department was ordered by the City District Government Karachi to remove the illegal encroachers from three other plots, but even though six years have passed, that decision has yet to be implemented. “The illegal owners continue to reside on the land which belongs to the temple. We are still fighting in court for the ownership of the other two plots,” said the Maharaj as he sat in his incense-filled office, where a stereo played bhajans or hymns and pictures of Hanuman adorned the walls.
It seems that the temple has its work cut out. The official who runs the anti-encroachment work in KMC, Abdul Malik, was unaware of the illegal occupation on the temple’s land. “I know there is a temple in Soldier Bazaar, but I don’t know if there are encroachments around it,” he said, promising to look into it. Maharaj hopes to win back their land. “We could once again attract foreign devotees. When we win back our land, I will make guest rooms, a parking lot and a place for shoes,” he said. For now, the Shri Panchmukhi Hanuman Mandir has to make do with what little land it has managed to regain.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2012.