Saturday, June 12, 2010
Legend has it that God, through his angel, commanded Prophet Abraham to build Kaaba, the House of God, in Mecca. Over the centuries, the black-velvetshrouded shrine and the mountainous city of Mecca built around it have become the epicentre of Islam, one of the faith’s great binding forces.
No Sindhi Hindu anywhere in the world claims to have received any such divine diktat to build a shrine dedicated to Jhulelal, the community’s presiding deity. But thanks to the efforts of a group of identity-conscious Sindhis, a ‘holy city’ on the lines of Mecca, Vatican City, Jerusalem and Amritsar is set to rise in the barren environs of Kutch in Gujarat.
It was at a seminar organised by the Institute of Sindhology at Adipur, a township in Kutch established by philanthropist Bhai Pratap to rehabilitate Partition refugees from Sindh, that the dream was first seeded by Subhadra Anand. This retired principal of Mumbai’s R D National College spoke passionately at the seminar on how a religious-cultural centre for the community, whose one binding force was Jhulelal, was a necessity. “A centre dedicated to him has the potential to become a cultural Mecca for the Sindhi community,” says Anand who, in her seminal book, National Integration of Sindhis, has forcefully argued about the need for Sindhis all over the world to be integrated.
Listening keenly to Anand hold forth on her dream at the seminar was Madhav Joshi. A Partition refugee who sailed from Karachi to the shores of Kutch, the octogenarian Joshi never returned to Sindh in Pakistan, but lived on memories of his beloved birthland. After the seminar, Joshi, a known social worker in Kutch, told Lakhmi Khilani, director of the Institute, of the huge expanse of barren land near his village , close to the Kori Creek, which could be developed into a big pilgrimage centre. And things took off from there.
After they set up the Jhulelal Dham Trust in 2007, Anand, Joshi and a few like-minded Sindhis met Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi at his Gandhinagar office, telling him of their desire to have a community centre in Kutch. “We told the CM how the Centre could push tourism and help develop the infrastructure-starved Kutch,” recalls Anand. Convinced, Modi sanctioned the 75-acre piece of land, adding that the delegation’s dream was his dream. M Thennarasan, the district magistrate in Bhuj, told TOI Crest: “The CM is taking personal interest in the project. It will certainly be a source of pride for the state.”
The barren Kutch landscape will thus within a few years metamorphose into the huge Jhulelal Temple complex which will house, besides the temple, a meditation centre , an auditorium, a museum, dharmshalas and an arts and handicrafts centre. Here, Sindhis from across the globe can perform a variety of rituals, including baptism, birthday celebrations and pind daan (prayers for the dead). The dhoti-kurta-clad, Gandhi topi-sporting Joshi has reason to believe that Kutch could house the ultimate pilgrimage place for Sindhis in India. “Till the earthquake of 1819, the waters of the Sindhu would swell during the monsoon and lap this shore. Even today, I smell the fragrance of Sindh here,” says the 81-year-old who, despite his advanced age and a mercilessly May sun, took a stroll down the identified and marked land with us.
The Kutch site has the potential to grow into a major place of pilgrimage also because it is sandwiched between two ancient Hindu religious places, the Shiva temple of Koteshwar and Narayan Sarovar, one of the sacred water bodies dedicated to Lord Vishnu, which also finds mention in the Bhagwat Puran. “Even non-Sindhi Hindus who visit Koteshwar and Narayan Sarovar will drop in for a darshan of Jhulelal , as our temple will be just 1.5 km away from both the sacred sites,” explains Lachchman Bhatia, the project promoters’ pointsperson in Ahmedabad.
Known for building institutions, including housing societies, colleges and hospitals, affluent Sindhis are opening their purse strings to contribute to the project. Among those backing the project is Mumbai-based builder Niranjan Hiranadani who says the estimated cost of the project is Rs 100 crore.
As the Jhulelal Temple project begins in a few months, Anand braces up to travel extensively to collect funds and invite Sindhis from across the world to visit this temple at least once in their lifetime. Never mind that no Prophet ever dreamed it up.
The centrality of Jhulelal in Sindhi culture is important. Legend has it that when Mirk Shah, the 10th-century king of Sindh, ordered his Hindu subjects to embrace Islam or face death, the Hindus gathered on the banks of the river Sindhu (Indus) and prayed to Varuna, the sea god. A handsome young man emerged from the sea, performed many miracles and saved the people from imminent genocide. Many say he was born in a silver swing (jhoola) and hence the name Jhulelal. Elsewhere in Sindhi scriptures, he has been shown as a man with a flowing white beard, seated on a fish. Fables and folklore abound about Jhulelal’s heroic deeds and his spectacular benevolence. Even Muslims in Sindh know Jhulelal as Sufi saint Kwaja Khizr and have dedicated several dargahs to him.