The Mysteries of Manghopir: Shrine, Crocodiles, and Sulphur Springs (Part 2 of 2)

Posted on September 18, 2006
Filed Under >Owais Mughal, Culture & Heritage, Travel
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Owais Mughal

Building on the first part of this exploration, today we will focus on the Sheedi Jaat festival celebrated by Afro-Pakistanis at Manghopir and also the Sulphur Springs Public Baths.

The image to the right shows live feeding of Manghopir crocodiles circa 1870s.

Karachi has a sizable population of people of African origin. They are the descendants of those slaves who were brought from Oman to Makran in the past. Later, recurring famine brought them liberty. Every year the Sheedis, the local name for Afro-Pakistanis, gather in Manghopir area, where they erect a temporary colony and live there for an entire week with their families and dance and sing.

The week long festival is called Sheedi Jaat. The date of the festival is decided with mutual consultation among notables of the five socio-cultural groups of the Sheedi tribe each year. The five groups of Sheedi community are Lasi, Hyderabadi, Kharadari, Lasbela and Sheedis. The festival is arranged in moderate climate, thus its timings differ from year to year.

The festival is a curious combination of solemn spiritual rituals and cultural celebrations. These include collective sessions of meditation accompanied by sacred lyrics often rendered by an elderly woman or man in a soulful voice, followed by dhamaal sessions.

There are songs in a bizarre blend of Balochi, Urdu and Gujrati, with a few Swahili words, celebrating blackhood. Most of the songs contain the refrain of Sheedi Basha (read Badshah) meaning the black king. And, of course, with the singing comes dancing in typical African rhythms and African dance called Leva.

The festival revolves around the crocodiles confirming the participants’ African roots as crocodile worship was prevalent in the swamps and forests of Africa and still is among some tribes of Guinea and Zaire.

During the festival people make their pledges at the shrine of Pir Mangho through offering fresh meat (believed to be the sacrificial) to the crocodiles, and Sheedis believe that the creatures do not harm the saint’s followers. Owing to this belief, when a crocodile dies, it is buried with equal respect and formalities just as human being. There is also a reserved place for burying such dead crocodiles.

The highlight of the Manghopir festival is a garlanding ceremony, during which the Holy Successor (gaddi nasheen) puts a garland around the neck of the Chief of the Crocodiles called the Mor Sahib (Mr. Peacock). The image to the right shows feeding of Mor Sahib in 1878. He is 12 feet long.

Success of this rite depends solely on the mood of old creature, but according to his keeper, he obliges most of the time and presents himself for the ritual. If the mood of Mor Sahib Crocodile is not so good then a bribe in the form of chunks of fresh meat does the trick. The rest of the crocodiles are six to seven feet in length. Crocodiles are also sprinkled with color and are served cooked food, halwa (sweetmeat) as a ritual. People here believe the crocodiles won’t attack them because they (crocodiles) are the disciples of Manghopir.

The annual festival provides the sheedis with an opportunity to strengthen their community ties and reaffirm their roots, although many of them are unaware of their African heritage and some deny that their ancestors were slaves and instead insist that they are descendants of black soldiers in the army of Mohammad Bin Qasim.

Thus what happens here may be described as some pagan rituals of worshipping crocodiles along with Islamic influence.

In 1960s the population of crocodiles had dropped to just three. The pond in which they live had silted to a shallow depth of 3 feet and it was making crocodiles life miserable. Because of strong conservatory efforts of Wildlife conservation society of Pakistan the number of crocodiles has reached up to 100. Now the pit has become too small for them and many a times cannibalism ensues due to mutual fight for space and grabbing for food.

Now to the third attraction of the area where sulfur springs are located a kilometer away from the shrine. Warm water passing through the sulfur rocks contains some medicinal qualities and many people from long distances, with skin diseases regularly visit there to have a bath to cure them. There are separate swimming pools and shower rooms for men and women. As of 2006 the ticket price of taking a bath here is Rupees 5.

Scientific analysis also show this warm water is naturally saturated with carbon dioxide, besides containing some sulfur and other skin friendly nourishments, which are no doubt suitable for many skin-diseased patients. The temperature of these sulfur ponds remains between 43C (110F) to 54C (130F). The photo to the right shows people taking bath in the sulfur springs

In 1963 a 200-bed hospital called the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Center was established nearby and it is to date the largest hospital of skin care in Karachi.

If you are visiting Pakistan, I recommend a visit to Manghopir ponds in Karachi

Following are two videos of Crocodile Feeding at Manghopir

(1)

(2)

Photo Credits: Clicking on the photos above will take you to their source.

References:

(i) Crocodile Specialist Group Newsletter, Volume 23, No 3, July 2004 – September 2004.

(ii) Insight Guide Pakistan, Third edition 2000.

25 responses to “The Mysteries of Manghopir: Shrine, Crocodiles, and Sulphur Springs (Part 2 of 2)”

  1. Owais Mughal says:

    breakfast time for Manghopir crocodiles

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rajaislam/529916864/i n/photostream/

  2. Owais Mughal says:

    Another photo of Manghopir crocodiles here:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ameerhamza/527961743/

  3. Mohammad Khan says:

    Hi
    Another origin for the Sheedi community has been cited in the memoirs of Ibn Batuta. Due to the chronic problem of Pirates in the Arabian Sea area and the danger to the Red Sea – Arabian Sea – Malabar Coast – Ceylon trade route, the Abyssinian/African Black Muslim Warriors were employed on board trading ships as a means of protection. Their reputation was such that “the sight of one of them on board ship would send the pirates into a hasty retreat”. There is also a “Siddi” community in india’s Gujerat where they celebrate similar festivals reminiscent of Africa. The Siddis claim descent from the aforementioned warriors. Therefore a combined Warrior/Slave descent is likly.

  4. Owais Mughal says:

    AlHabsh (Ethiopian descent) community in Hyderabad celebrated Hoshu md Sheedi day. details in dawn at:

    http://www.dawn.com/2007/03/21/local34.htm

  5. Owais Mughal says:

    Faisal Nice to hear from you. In your visits to Manghopir, did you find the place as I have described in this article or was anything different. Any interesting experiences ? like seeing the feeding of Mor sahib alligator ? I would love to hear your ‘aaNkhon dekha haal’ from the place. My personal memories of Manghopir are very faint from the late 1970s.

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