Being a Karachite, I was always interested in the history of this city. Karachi is a relatively a new city by the Subcontinent’s standards. In fact, this city is in its infancy compared with thousands of years of history associated with some of the other cities. An excellent article has been written for ATP by Bilal Zuberi which provides information about the early days of this mega metropolis but I was always intrigued by two questions.
- Has Karachi or its adjoining areas played any part in the theatre of ancient Indian history
- Who were its real founders? We all knew that it was initially a small village of fishermen but when this mega transformation into this huge city started and what prompted it.
For my first question I found out that the earliest account of the area where Karachi is located can be found in the record books of one of Alexander-the-Great’s admirals, who sailed back home from the Greek expedition to India, from a harbor by the Indus delta, known as Krokola. I was fortunate to come across “Karachi Ki Kahani” published by Aaj Publications. I was delighted to discover that my questions were answered in the first few pages of this amazing collection. A two volume collection of essays ranging from the memoirs of Seth Naonmal Hotchand (1804-1878), (the great grandson of the founder of Karachi) to Karachi of the present day. These painstakingly collected stories tell the tale of it old citizens. How this benevolent city has always been a multi racial, multi religious and multi lingual city which burst out of seems after partition.
KARACHI IN ANCIENT HINDU HISTORY
I will focus this article on two important essays of this collection. I will start with Karachi kay Teerath aur doosary maqamat (Karachi’s Hindu pilgrimage destinations and other places) by Lokram Dodeja. He took us out of Karachi to Hinglaj mandir which is perhaps one of oldest places of worship for Hindus. Hinglaj is situated in the Balochistan province of Pakistan. It is near the peak of one of the mountains of the Makran range. It is approximately 120 km from the Indus River Delta and 20 km from the Arabian Sea. The area is extremely arid and the pilgrimage, also called ‘Nani ki Haj’ by local Muslims, takes place before summer. The pilgrimage starts at a place near the Hub River which is 10 km from Karachi.
As the story goes When Lord Vishnu cut up the body of Sati into 51 pieces so that Lord Shiva would calm down and stop his Tandava, (dance of anger) the pieces were scattered over various places in the Indian subcontinent. It is said that the head of Sati fell at Hingula or Hinglaj and is thus considered the most important of the 51 Shakti Peeths (Holy Places of Cosmic Power). At each of the Peeths, Bhairaba ( a manifestation of Shiva) accompanies the relics. The Bhariaba at Hinglaj is called Bhimalochana. The Sanskrit texts mention the part as ‘Brahmadreya’ or vital essence.
In the Ramayana, after slaying Ravana, Lord Ram came to Hinglaj to atone for his sin of ‘Brahmhatya’ (killing a Brahmin). Ravana was a Brahmin and a great devotee of Lord Shiva and Durga. Lord Ram meditated at Hinglaj as it was a very important shrine.
The mantra or incantation for Devi Hinglaj is attributed to Saint Dadhichi, an important saint in Hindu mythology. The mantra is :
OM HINGULE PARAM HINGULE AMRUTRUPINI TANU SHAKTI MANAH SHIVE SHREE HINGULAI NAMAH SWAHA
Translation : “Oh Hingula Devi, she who holds nectar in her self and is power incarnate. She who is one with Lord Shiva, to her we pay our respects and make this offering (swaha)”
Another interested place which is situated right inside Karachi is Ram Bagh which is now known as Aram Bagh. It is said that Ram, Sita and Lakshman stayed in this garden on their way to Hanglaj. During the 1857 mutiny, the mutineers of Sindh were blasted through the canon in this very garden. This place was the major center of political activity in the early part of the 19th century. After partition, displaced Muslims from India camped at this very site. I wish the city government would install a plate mentioning the historical significance of this place for the future generations. Another great article about this place can be found here.
Between Cifton and Manora, there are a series of Oyster rocks. Many of these rocks broke during a earthquake in the 10th century. However a bigger series of rocks are still visible. It is said that during the above Ram’s journcy, he defeated a Rakshas (Devil) here and stayed at this place too. This pace is called Ram Jharoka and still can be visited through a boat.
Ratneshwar Mahadev Temple
Another important site is Ratneshwar Mahadev Temple At Clifton Karachi. This is at the side of Jehangir Kotari parade. In the olden times, sea was upto the walls of this temple and this temple was a cave about 30-40 feet in the sea. There used to be a stream of sweat water. This temple contains the langham of self created Mahadev. The shape of the langham is like an egg or zero meaning this whole world is nothing but a dream. As per another source the ships used to pass from here after offering ablution. There was no idol in this temple, only a lamp placed there was worshipped by the Hindus. The Talpur ruler used to offer 7.5 seers of oil for this lamp every month. Sat Guru Nanak Dev Ji meditated in a cave just beyond the lamp. An other lamp is kept burning at the place where he had meditated and it is called “Guru Joti”
FOUNDERS OF KARACHI
Now let’s look at the memoirs of Seth Hotchand. In his introduction, Ajmal Kamal, the learned scholar mentions that Seth Hotchand was regarded as a traitor by the Sindi nationalists because he handed over the reins of the city to the British but in the words of Pir Ali Mohammad Rashidi, “ If Naomil would not have committed this act of treason, Sindhi Muslim would still be on horses and camels and Hindus on donkeys and mules.”
As per Noamil, it was his great grandfather Bhojomil, a big trader of his time, who moved from Sehwan and settled at Kharak Bandar, a seaport and a big city of its times near the Hub River. When the opening of the ports of Kharak Bandar and Shah Bandar (another important port of yester years) was closed due to sand, he send his agents to find a place to establish a new seaport. They identified the place of the present Karachi. It was home to about 2 dozen fishermen huts. It was also known as Darbu or Koolachi ka Gun (Waterhole of Koolachi). There are various stories about this Koolachi about how she avenged the death of her husband by killing the alligator which ate him. After awhile of settling over here around 1729 they constructed a mud fort. Canons were imported from Muscat to safeguard the fort. It had two doors, the western or sea facing door was Kharo Darwazo or Kharadar (Salt Gate) and the North Eastern door was called Mitto darwazo (Sweet Gate) or Methadar. The whole populations used to live inside the fort and outside there were nothing but jungles of Date and Thorn Apple trees.
Because of the closure of the Shah Bandar port and loss of the revenue, Kalhora nawabs of Sindh had their eyes on the upcoming new city of Karachi. They soon took over Karachi without any fight. However this was short lived. They killed the brother of Khan of Kallat in a skirmish and Karachi was handed over to Kallat as blood money.
Bhojomil died in 1782. In the same year, the throne of Sindh changed hands. The Talpurs defeated the Kalhoras and became the Mirs of Sindh. They sent two armies to take over Karachi however they were defeated by the own forces of the Karachites. Finally the Talpurs sent a strong 20000 army to Karachi and a message that why you want to fight with us. We are brother. Kallat cannot save you. Seth Daryanomil, who was the head of the clan (after confirming that Khans of Kallat are too weak to help him and gave them permission to decide on their own) gave the keys of the city to the Talpurs in 1791 on the conditions that the army will not be allowed to enter the city and the Governor will not rule without their consultation. Mir Fateh Ali (the Talpur ruler) was so happy to hear this news that he waived quite a few trade taxes on Seth Daryano Mill and he and his successor maintained a very cordial relationship with him.
In 1811, the area of Sindh and Gujrat was hit by famine. The family of Seths opened their warehouses and all grains were distributed in charity to the poor.
In 1815 the four sons of Seth Bhojomil separated their businesses. There were some family disputes on the distribution of wealth but were later solved.
In 1831-32 a Hindu boy had some differences with his father. He sat down near a mosque. Muslims of that area invited him in. This resulted in huge fury among the Hindus. The Hindu shopkeepers stop doing business with Muslim. The Muslim, to avenge this, threw impure things in the sweat water wells of Liyari (which were specific for Hindus). One Syed Nurul Shah came to the Seth’s residence and had an exchange of words with his brother. He went out and said that Parasram (Naomil’s brother) had insulted the Holy Prophet. He even went to places like Hyderabad and Matiari and infuriated the population against the Seths by placing the Quran in front of them. Parasram was sent to Jesalmir for his own safety whereas Mir Murad Ali asked Hotchand to come to his darbar. He even sends armed guards for his safety. However Seth Hotchand was kidnapped in between and was even pressurized to convert however he remains steadfast. Later he was released and Mir Murad Ali himself apologised. This was the start of the rift between the Seth family and the Local Sindhi rulers.
Mir Murad Ali died in 1831 and Shah Shujah defeated the Talpurs in Sindh. The stage is now being set for the British.
During 1831 Naomil started building his relationship with the British. They set up their camps in Sindh and he was responsible for providing all supplies. They did this in so effectively that they won the hearts of the British. In 1838 when a large contingent of the British Army was travelling from Gujrat to Sindh, the contract for supplies went to Seth Noamil. He did all this in a very professional manner, however the prices of grain jumped due to his purchases and he was put under a lot of pressure by the Mirs and the local population to stop. During 1838-41, the tensions between the Talpurs and the British were raised considerably. Noamil was always on the side of the British helping them in any way possible. The Talpur ruler even told him that he is taking the revenge of his father but he did not budge.
A very interesting incident happened during these days. Sadar bazaar in Karachi was established. Local traders were given tax amnesty as this bazaar was for the British. The Talpurs pressurizes the traders not to open shops as this amnesty was hurting their revenues . When the British learned this, they sought the help of Naomil who opened various shops and buildings in that area. Mir Nasir Khan, the Talpur ruler was infuriated and ordered Naomil’s arrest. However the British forced the ruler take back his order.
On February 16, 1843, the Talpurs decided to invade the British camp and take over Karachi. However this news was broke to the local population so they can save themselves. Naomil told this news to Captain Preedy, (the Preedy lane fame) the local commander of the English forces. He took him to the local Talpur representatives, took them along with him to the parade ground near the Jodia Bazar. He took down the Talpur flag and hoist the Union Jack and told them in certain terms that Karachi is now the under the rule of the British.
So this small town of yesteryears came into the hand of the British without a shot fired. The above is just a brief summary of the detailed account of Seth Noomil. To read it yourself and to have a look at its magnamous transformation in the next 150 years, i strongly suggest you to read Karachi Ki Kahani. It is an encyclopaedia of history of this great city.
Another great source can be found here