KARACHI: From a distance, the decades-old, tall and mighty Shri Varun Dev Mandir seems to be standing firm on the Manora Island, but up close, its yellow-stone and tiled façade is crumbling and shaking.
“Touch the temple and sand grains will fall out,” said its caretaker, Maharaj Kishan Rahul, as he moved his slender fingers over the limestone, which makes up the temple.
The temple, which overlooks the cool waters of Manora beach, was in need of a facelift when the navy handed it over to the Pakistan Hindu Council in 2006. The subsequent restoration work has, however, worsened the architecture, according to experts.
The temple’s guardian for the past five years, Kishan, explained that the labourers not only removed dark green tiles from the temple but also tried to ‘fix’ the yellow stones with their hammers. Before the laborers, it was the illegal occupants who broke the different sets of tiles at the temple, the pink floral ones, and the ones in yellow and green hues.
Architect Wajiha Laiq, from NED University’s heritage cell, agreed that the restoration work on the temple has further deteriorated its condition. Laiq and her colleagues are doing extensive research on Manora and their project touches upon this temple as well.
According to her findings, there has been no documentation of the repair work done on the temple. “The first thing one does when repairing heritage buildings is to keep records but we couldn’t find any documents of what work has been done,” she said.
The local community also jumped into the restoration work without knowing what they were supposed to do and that worsened the already sensitive structure, she complained. “The Hindus did not seek help from the experts. They had no idea of what they were supposed to do. We understand it was their house of worship but they should have thought about increasing the life span of the temple.”
The patron of the Pakistan Hindu Council, Ramesh Kumar, denied, however, that any work was being carried out which was damaging the temple. “We want the temple to remain in its original form, and we are not destroying it,” he insisted.
Kumar added that there are several hurdles in the completion of the temple, which includes encroachment of the land. “Also the authorities have yet to release a map of the temple. We don’t know what areas belong to the mandir.” According to Kumar, Rs600,000 were released by the Sindh government and a hall has been built with that money. There are, however, some issues with the land, he added.
The temple through
Architect Laiq explained that Shri Varun Dev Mandir is a purely historical site made of yellow limestone, which dates back to the colonial era. According to her, the stones used hail from the Bela region in Balochistan and were used by skillful masons. “No doubt the tiles had intricate patterns and their removal has unsettled the stones,” she said.
After partition, the temple named after the Hindu god of oceans, Varun, witnessed miscreants looting its deities adorned with gold and silver ornaments. Once Hindus fled the area, the land grabbers took over. Illegal occupants built single rooms within the premises while hotels and shops cropped up all around.
In 2006, the Pakistan Hindu Council gained custody from the navy and managed to remove the encroachers. Nevertheless, the hotels around the temple still continue to serve fried fish.
The ongoing construction work, which started six years ago, has taken away the beauty of this heritage. Wooden planks are placed around the temple, while nets block certain areas from visitors. The main gate was sealed shut with concrete stones and branches, and now a dingy lane leads to the temple.
The damage done by the illegal settlers can be seen even from a distance. Shiv’s statues on the gates were broken and the tiles have been removed. A plaque saying that the tiles were presented by the Seth Kimatrai Seth in 1937 was broken as well. Inside a small room, Kishan showed the deity of Shri Varun also called Jhoolay lal.
Kishan was proud that even though the temple is falling to pieces, people from as far as Umekrot make a trip down.
For a man who spends his days bowing before the gods and his nights listening to the waves crash, all he wants is the construction work to end. “I want to see my community flocking the temple in large numbers. I want the temple to be properly used for what it is made for.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 15th, 2012.
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