Karachi’s Forgotten Chapters of History

Posted on February 19, 2010
Filed Under >Mohammad Ayaz Abdal, History, Travel
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Mohammad Ayaz Abdal

I have always been interested in the history of this city. Karachi is a relatively a new city by the Subcontinent 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.

1. Has Karachi or its adjoining areas played any part in the theatre of ancient Indian history
2. Who were its real founders?

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 it always was 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 Hajj by local Muslims, takes place before summer. The pilgrimage starts at a place near the Hub River which is 10 km from Karachi. It is perhaps logical to deduce that Karachi was thus a stopover point for people going to Hinglaj from very early days.

Ram Bagh

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 Hinglaj. 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.

Ram Jharoka

Between Clifton 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 journey, 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 Kothari 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 sweet 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 Sindhi 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 a while 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 and the North Eastern door was called Mitto darwazo 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 Kalat in a skirmish and Karachi was handed over to Kalat 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 brothers. Kalat cannot save you. Seth Daryanomil, who was the head of the clan (after confirming that Khans of Kalat 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 Daryanomil 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 stopped doing business with Muslim. The Muslims, to avenge this, threw impure things in the sweet 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 sent 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 Shuja defeated the Talpurs in Sindh. The stage was then 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 broken to the local population in time so they could 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 Naomil. 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 encyclopedia of history of this great city.

Another great source can be found here

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14 responses to “Karachi’s Forgotten Chapters of History”

  1. Rashid Ali says:

    Excellent article.

  2. Ayaz Abdal says:

    1. Soomro sahib, Thank you very much for your correction. I have made amends in my records.
    2. I am not sure. Frankly I have heard/read so many different versions of the same story. I have seen the 7 graves and have been told that they are graves of 7 sisters…Maybe you are right.

  3. Aziz says:

    Excellent read. I want to get my hands on this book now. You have noted several important milestones in Karachi’s history that I wasn’t aware of.

    And yes, I agree that the government needs to spend some money to erect monuments at these historical places so our future generations can relate to our rich history.

  4. khairsoomro says:

    Interesting. Only few correction:
    1) It is not Koolachi ka Gun but Kalachi jo Kun. (Rhyming with sun (hear) in Urdu). Kalachi is said to be a local fisher woman whose descendants later became the first inhabitants of Karachi. A bridge in Karachi is named after her as Mai Kolachi Birdge. A kun in Sindhi is a deep water hole.
    2) It was not Mai Kolachi that killed the alligator. Probably the writer has another legend in his mind. It is the The Legend of Morroro, a lame fisherman, who killed a sea monster ( a whale probably) to avenge the death of his six brothers. There is site in Karachi where the the graves of the seven brothers are situated. A Machh in Sindhi is a big sea creature and it should not be confused with Magar Machh in Urdu.

  5. checker47 says:

    Story about the making of saddar bazar. Very interesting. Iwonder if anyone knows about its name being ‘The Camp’ because I remember in the 50’s I remember seeing some ads which addressed this area as The Camp. I would appreciate if someone could trow some light on the above.

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