Jump to content

Ratan Talao Guruduwara: Between A Mosque And A Madrassah - Akhtar Balouch


Recommended Posts


Akhtar Balouch, also known as the Kiranchi Wala, ventures out to bring back to Dawn.com’s readers the long forgotten heritage of Karachi. Stay tuned to this space for his weekly fascinating findings.

The above title must have piqued your interest. Many of you must wonder if it is even possible. I can assure you, it is, and with emphasis. You do not have to go very far to find out if this is in fact true, for no web search or any other such resource will provide any information on it.

There is, however, a mention of it in Zahid Choudhary’s book, a renowned researcher Zahid writes in Sindh Masala-e-Khud Mukhtiari Ka Aghaaz:

There were tragic incidents of violence at the Ratan Talao, Karachi’s guruduwara for the Sikhs, where 250 Sikh men, women and children had sought refuge, awaiting their departure to Bombay. The guruduwara was set ablaze, injuring at least 70 people.

I take pride in being well acquainted with the Ratan Talao area. However, I never knew the locality housed a guruduwara there. Although, I did know that a guruduwara was located somewhere on a road in Karachi called the Temple Road. Unfortunately, in post-partition Karachi, the streets and roads were renamed in such haste that finding Temple Road itself was no easy feat.

There is a Temple Road in Lahore, too – and quite known at that. Mubashir Hassan, who was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s close friend and a minister in his government, used to live on Temple Road. Another minister from those days, Ghulam Nabi, lived there as well. Whether there is or ever has been a guruduwara on that road is not known to me personally. However, this was brought to my notice by my benefactor, Mr Hussain Naqi sahib. We are speaking of Karachi, though. Of course, there is a temple on Temple Road as well, but that, I will save for another day.

Before I get back to the story of my search of the guruduwara situated somewhere between Temple Road and the Nabi Bagh mosque, let me share a little something about the Sikhs of the pre-partition Karachi, their residential areas and their guruduwaras. Mehmooda Rizwiya writes on page 34 of her book, Karachi: Malika-e-Mashriq:

Punjabi Sikhs started coming to Karachi in 1930 and progressed almost instantly. They were good blacksmiths, good electricians, and woodworkers. Sadly, though, Sikhs and Muslims could not coexist peacefully in Utar Pradesh and Punjab. Thus, in August 1947, the Sikhs had to resort to leaving Karachi once and for all.

About the residential areas of Sikhs living in Karachi before the partition, Muhammad Usman Damohi sahib writes in the second edition of his book, Karachi Taareekh Kay Aaeenay Main:

“They [sikhs] lived in the Lee Market. The area name Nanak Warra was also given to the place by them. They had established a school for Sikhs, and many guruduwaras in Karachi. After the partition, they all moved to India.”

One fine Sunday, I went out to treat myself to some halwa puri. I went to the halwa puri shop adjacent to the temple on Temple Road. While I sat there, I could not help observing a building in plain sight, the Government College Nabi Bagh. Once done with breakfast, I moved towards the college. The gate was open so I entered. From experience, I almost instantly knew that the name of the college too had been changed.

There was a pathway by the outer building of the college which lead all the way to the back of the building. As I took the path and kept on it, I saw what could be called the remains of an old building. I noticed the silence in the college was nothing compared to the desolate state of this poor, worn out structure. The roof was all rubble, and the windows were well, not windows anymore. In summary, it was all either debris or soon-to-be debris. There was a man there who was feeding shrubs to his goat. He looked at me suspiciously. I inquired, “Sir, was this the old college building?” He shook his head in negation, replying, “Guruduwara!”

Then, he asked who I was. I told him I was a photographer by hobby, adding if I could take a couple of pictures of the place. He said, “As many as you want.” The man opened the door of the building-cum-rubble for me. Even though he had told me to take as many pictures as I could, I still made haste. It was only that my experience of taking pictures of things and places as such has not been very joyful.

The next day, a Monday, I visited the same college by 11 in the morning. I went to see the principal. I told him I was writing on old educational institutes and asked if I could get some details on the history of the college. The man had an expressionless face or perhaps, his level of disinterest was more than what I had expected. He told me to drop by a week later.

He was accompanied by another man in his office. After the introduction, he told me in an Urdu overcome by a natural Sindhi accent that he teaches Urdu literature at the college. He insisted that I write on the guruduwara behind the college. The principal gave his colleague a look and then stood up to shake my hand. It obviously meant that he wanted me to leave.

After coming out of the college, I searched my mobile phone for the number of a Sikh friend, Ramesh Singh. Unfortunately, I had lost the number. So, I got in touch with Michael Javed, four-time member of the provincial assembly on the minority quota, for Ramesh’s number.

Ramesh told me that he was in Daharki, a town in the north of Sindh, and that he would be back in Karachi in a week. He also told me that he had some pictures of the guruduwara, to which I replied that I had some of its pictures, too.

A week’s wait was difficult for me. Finally, when Ramesh Singh was back in Karachi, I accompanied Michael Javed to call on him. In the meeting, we decided that Ramesh and I would visit the guruduwara the coming Sunday.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Is that a reality or pattern we should acknowledge? That we are generally a mobile community, and we set up metaphoric camps all over the place that then fade as small populations might merge with the wider; or we get shifted for various political reasons like partition, or the Iranian revolution. There were Gurdwaras in Iran and China during the British imperialism days that are no more for instance.

Sikhs might land in a modest area, and then congregate for a while. Gurdwaras get built, they are the focus point of the community. Then a slow process starts, the more successful move out to better areas. The original concentration of Sikhs starts to decrease. Some of the children become indifferent to religion. More people move out. Some move for job prospects, some through marriage. Other waves of migrants arrive. Given time, certain Gurdwaras exist at sites where the size of the community is tiny compared to the one that originally led to its emergence.

Or as in the above example, where no community now exists at all.

Edited by dalsingh101
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Join the conversation

You are posting as a guest. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...