Another Time, Another Place

In the first quarter of the eighteenth century, Kharak Bunder was an important port on the Arabian Sea, west of present- day Karachi. Although its exact location is disputed, there is considerable evidence to suggest that it was situated on the estuary of the Hub River at Ras Muari. Ruins of habitation at this site further strengthen this contention.

In the late 1720s the mouth of the Hub was blocked with silt because of exceptionally heavy rains in its catchment area, and it became unnavigable. So the merchants of Kharak had to search for a new natural harbour in the vicinity, from where their well-established trade with central Asia, Africa and India could continue.

After some discussion, the Karachi bay was chosen, and the population of Kharak moved to the new site with everything they possessed. At that time Karachi was a small fishing hamlet of twenty to twenty-five huts, and was known as Dirbo. To the north-west of Dirbo was a pool of water surrounded by tamarind trees. It was known as “Kalachi jo Kun” or the ditch of Kalachi.

Kolachi is a Baluch tribe and settlements bearing this name exist from the Kolachi district in the NWFP, where no Kolachis exist any longer, to Tando Kolachi in Tharparkar. Elders of the tribe claim that at one time Karachi bay was inhabited by their ancestors and that the word Kalachi is derived from Kolachi.

Shah Abdul Latif, in the Sur Ghatto of his Risalo also mentions Kalachi, whose creeks, marshlands and sea are the scene of the sur. The events described by him took place in the time of Raja Diborai who, according to legend, ruled in the fifteenth century. His capital is supposed to have been situated at what is today Bath Island, and a nineteenth-century resident of Karachi has recorded that there were substantial ruins of a town in that neighbourhood, till as late as 1859.

The hamlet of Dirbo to which the merchants of Kharak moved, had no important or historic architecture. However, in its immediate vicinity there were ancient places of pilgrimage. Today these shrines lie within the city limits.

Old Clifton is two and a half miles south-east of where Dirbo stood: From time immemorial it was known as Mahdeo. Facing the sea, this hundred-foot high rock has a series of caves which form the temple of Shiva, who is worshipped here as Mahadeva, or “the great god.” This temple is mentioned in the Ramayana and must therefore be at least three thousand years old. We know that pilgrims came to it by boat from as far away as Dwarka and Gomti, and overland from Kutch and Marwar. Of what the temple looked like in pre-British days, we have no idea. The present structure was built in 1939.

A few hundred yards from the caves of Mahadeva is the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi. He was a descendant of the Prophet and preached Islam in Sind. He was buried here in 763 AD., and his tomb is the oldest Muslim shrine in Pakistan. For centuries people from all over Sind have visited this spot and his yearly Urs is celebrated.

The present mazar is of recent construction and it is difficult to identify any ancient element either in its plan form or in its facade. History has left us with no description of what it looked like originally, but the older residents of Karachi remember a Gizri stone structure with pinnacles at the corners, four-pointed arches and shallow dome. Below the cemented steps that lead to the shrine are the original stone slabs that formed the approached to the tomb.

Ghazi Abdullah Shah’s brother, Yousef Shah, is buried at Manora and here again the original structure of the tomb has disappeared, to be replaced by a modern one. John Porter of the Honourable Company’s Marine, who visited Karachi in 1774, mentions this shrine as the “white tomb,” and we are told by later British visitors to Karachi, that no vessel left or entered the harbour without depositing some offering at the “shrine of the Manora Pir.” The map of Karachi Harbour prepared by Captain Careless of the Indian Navy in 1838, shows the form of the shrine as little different from the descriptions available of the original tomb of Ghazi Abduflah Shah.

Seven and a half miles from the site of Dirbo is the valley of Mangopir. It has been inhabited for over 2500 years, and houses the tomb of Kamaluddin, now known as Mangopir. He was buried in this valley in the thirteenth century and his mazar was the only Muslim shrine which received a gift of oil from the Talpur administration. This site has also been the home of a Hindu temple, dedicated to Lala Jasraj and an ancient place of pilgrimage for his devotees.

Detailed descriptions of the tomb of Kamaluddin during pre-British days are available. It was “of square form surrounded by a broad terrace, with a cupola and slender minarets at the corners,” and the interior “contains a tomb, surrounded by a canopy of carved woodwork, supported on slender pillars, the whole being prettily and neatly ornamented, and is kept in excellent order as are the building and terrace, which are built of stone.”

The original square tomb with the cupola and minarets is still intact, but has been plastered over with cement and painted with green enamel. The corbelled pendentives of the structure are now supported by concrete lintels, and the “broad terraces” have disappeared, giving way to ugly verandahs and halls, which now form part of the building. The carved timber work which visitors to the tomb described has also been painted over and much of it has been damaged.

Early nineteenth-century visitors also spoke of two large stone tanks with carved motifs on them, which stored water from the Mangopir sulphur springs and were used for ritual bathing. These can no longer be differentiated from a number of similar ‘ghats’ which were built in the early twentieth century by Karachi philanthropists.

The first important building work undertaken by the Kharak merchants after moving to Karachi was the construction of fortifications around their new settlement in 1729. These consisted of a mud wall with mangrove reinforcements and supports. Due to the enormity of the undertaking, foreign labour was called in to assist the local people in this endeavour. Wages were paid “in dry and wet dates brought down from Bahrein and Muscat.” Detailed descriptions of these fortifications, which enclosed thirty-five acres, are available from British sources.

The walls had bastions on all sides “so as to completely command all round,” and circular towers at each angle, on which guns were placed. The fortifications were built on a mud embankment sixteen feet high and their parapets were ten feet higher. There were two gates to the town. The one facing the sea came to be known as Kharadar, or the ‘salt gate,’ and the one facing the sweet water wells in the dry Lyari bed, Mithadar or the ‘sweet gate.’ In the Persian records of the Talpur administration they are mentioned as the Shor and Shireen darwazas. Captain Valiant of the Sind Reserve Force which occupied Karachi in 1839 says that the gates “have an imposing appearance, with bastions over them, at which there are Beeloch guards.”

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