A ravaged Jain temple corroding away with time
Text and photos by Amar Guriro
KARACHI: With bells ringing and the air perfumed by the smoky smell of agarbattis, barefooted Muni (Jain priests) and Jain nuns would have prepared for their dawn prayers in the temple courtyard. But this once magnificent scene of the past is not to be seen anymore.
Time is fading away the multicoloured images of animals, war fields, plants and religious leaders that have been painted on almost every wall of the deserted temple. The walls, made with heavy granite stones, are in a bad condition and the roof plaster has cracked into a million little pieces.
The temple is said to be around 500 years old and is one of the few Jain temples that still stand in Pakistan. Made in the Jain architectural style, with statues of Jain gods and goddesses, lions and other animals, the temple is located at the base of the mysterious scattered mountains of Karoonjhar, behind the main market of Nangar Town.
Nagar or Nangar is a legendary town mentioned in love stories and mysterious folk tales and songs of Nagarparkar and Thar. Nangar is located on one side of the Karoonjhar, whereas, on the other side, lies the vast scattered Rann of Kachh, a legendary area famous for its quagmires.
Parkar is a Sindhi word which means to cross and Nangarparkar means to cross the Rann of Kachh to reach the Nangar Town, as in the past, Rann of Kachh was a major route taken to transport different commodities. When entering the city, the sad domes of the temple are seen looking down about the main market of the town. The market comprises of around four dozen shops with shingle-roofs made with earthen glass and wooden doors. The market buildings and the faces of the shops reveal that the market itself is very old, though not as old as the temple.
The white coloured temple is the tallest building of the town, as it sits on top of a slope and looks down onto the town. Behind the temple, red-coloured Karoonjhar Mountains stand, silently watching over everything. A small faded blue board hanging in the market reads, both in English and in Sindhi, the directions to the temple. Reaching the temple, a huge sign, put up by the department of archaeology warns that the temple is a protected site and no one is allowed to destroy it. Unfortunately, it seems as if no one pays attention to what the board says, as someone has removed the stones from the compound wall of the temple and the main gate has been unhinged and taken, making it open to wild animals to freely roam around and enter the temple.
Almost all the paintings on the temple walls have been scratched and the temple is entirely deserted. For the past many years, no one has even bothered to sweep this heritage site. Not a single Jain is living in the area to look after the temple. In the past, there were several Jain families living in Nangarparkar, but now there is no one. 84-year-old Ali Nawaz Khosho, a resident of Nangar town, is the only person who witnessed the temple being used and in its prime. “There were several Jain families living here when I was a child, I still remember my Jain friends,” Khosho said, recalling the past.
He still remembers the last Jain family. “Before the partition of sub-continent, Rann of Kachh was the only route used to transport silver, gold, species and China Boski cloth, as at the time, there was no transport tax levied on the route; Jain families once lived in Nangar, Adhigam, Gorri and Sabo Sirh and were businessmen,” said Khosho. He still remembers the year and the day when the last Jain family left Nangar Town. “It was early morning in 1941, when Popat Lal, his wife, Daiwari, and their two-month-old son, Muni Lal, left Nangar on camels for India. They left because there was no other Jain family left in the area,” Khosho recalled.