vithal

Actress and princess Zubeida is pictured with actor Master Vithal in Alam Ara (1931). Alam Ara was India’s first talkie film.

Zubeida, born in 1911, had been acting in Indian films since she was 12 years old. She later married Maharaj Narsingir Dhanrajgir Gyan Bahadur (unable to find date of marriage) and somewhat retired from film in 1949. She returned to the screen in 1957 and sporadically worked in movies until her death in 1988.

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A dance with the deities

By Yumna Rafi, Danyal Adam Khan and Akber Ali

Legend has that Lord Rama was sent into a forest exile of 14 years by his conspiring stepmother. The noble crown prince was accompanied by his devoted wife Sita and brother Lakshman. It was soon after that the rakshas King of Lanka, Ravan, showed up in the guise of an ascetic to kidnap the loyal princess.

“Come to me and I will forgive you,” narrated Lord Rama’s messenger to Ravan. On his refusal to comply, Rama led an army to the gates of Lanka and the epic 10-day battle of the Ramayana ensued, leaving Ravan and his empire devastated.

A few thousand years later, crowds at Karachi’s Swaminarayan Mandir jump for joy as the flaming arrow from Rama’s bow lodges into the defiant Ravan’s abdomen. Hundreds of women and children sway to religious tunes as the age-old tale unfolds night after night.

The staging of the Ramleela – a retelling of Rama’s battle with Ravan – is an essential part of the Hindu festival of Navratri, which could very well be as old as the religion itself. Celebrated in the name of the goddess Durga, the event goes on for 10 days at temples across the world. After much worship and festivities, a 20-30 foot tall effigy of Ravan is brought out on the last day to be set aflame.

“The burning of Ravan signifies something much deeper than what is visible to the eye,” says Vithal Babu, the maharaj of a mandir near Soldier Bazaar in the city. “It is symbolic of ridding oneself of inner evils and purifying the soul.“

The enthused pundit explains how the various names and depictions of Hindu deities are all mere manifestations of the same thing: the fundamental contrast between good and evil.

Vithal Babu has been invited to oversee Navratri rituals at the Lakshminarayan Mandir, a small temple under the Native Jetty Bridge, which has been the centre of a long-standing conflict with the authorities. Leaders of the Hindu community and organisations like the Human Rights Committee of Pakistan have claimed the ceaseless surrounding construction has indelibly affected the environs of the site.

In September 2012, the Sindh High Court had to intervene to prevent the Karachi Port Trust from demolishing the 200-year-old structure. A case has been filed against the provincial minister for excise and taxation, Mukesh Chawla, who is also a member of the Hindu Panchayat.

Sindh has an ancient relationship with Hinduism, which some claim dates back to the Indus Valley Civilisation. After persevering through the centuries, this dominance eventually lost out to the Islamic invasions. There was still a considerable number of Hindus in Pakistan at the time of partition in 1947, most of whom left for India. However, Sindh – both urban and rural – still has a higher percentage of Hindus than the rest of the country: approximately 6% as opposed to 2%.

“The problem is a lack of support from our representation in the provincial and national assemblies,” claims Vijay Dhakecha, a nearby resident and visitor at Lakshminarayan Mandir during Navratri. “This temple was almost shut down, while Hindus in Parliament did nothing to prevent it. They continue to mishandle funds and leave their people to fend for themselves.”

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