Manora Island is a site that most Karachiites know well - they’ve either visited on a school trip or gone for day trips or “picnics” with their families on the weekend. The island feels like a peek into what Karachi might have been like before the 1800s. It is quiet, peaceful, diverse and most of all, a true sea settlement - before the colonisers, developers, and real estate moguls came to play. This part of Karachi’s history is fascinating because we know so little about it - there are a few documents or archives, so the visitor is often left to imagine its story.
The Shiv Varun Dev Mandir on Manora Island is an incredible structure - much of its past, like Karachi’s, is shrouded in mystery but it stands tall and imposing on the Manora coastline. The Mandir itself, dedicated to Lord Varuna, the God of the Oceans, is a rare structure since it seems to be the only mandir dedicated to this once-great God in all of Pakistan - maybe even India. It seems fitting that a sea-god be revered near a city that has been shaped by its deep connection to the ocean.
Researching and writing about this secret history project triggered a series of questions: how many such mandirs exist in the region? How many ruins have been created of sacred spaces such as these? How has the ocean shaped subcontinental histories? And why don’t we explore it more - especially those of us living in cities by the sea?
How, crucially, should we go about telling the stories of places that have little written about them but were still vital to the history of the subcontinent?
“Secret Histories” is a reminder of the incredible stories that hidden in the spaces we know and love; a valuable example of the many facets of our shared history that remain to be uncovered.