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Volume 15

Fables and Folklore - Fall 2015


Written by
Jahanzeb Hussain

Jahanzeb Hussain was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan. He has studied and lived in Montreal, Paris, and Vancouver. Jahanzeb is Ricochet's South Asia Bureau Chief. Currently based in Islamabad, he is a journalist, writer and community radio broadcaster. He has worked with Newsline, Pakistan’s premier English language current affairs publication, and has helped organized Vancouver’s Media Democracy Days. Jahanzeb also writes on South Asian politics for Collateral Damage.


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Photo Essay: The Legends of Noori Jam Tamachi and Lahut La Makaan – Part I


Part 1: The Temple of Noori Jam Tamachi

I would often hear people say that Karachi, unlike Lahore, has no history or monuments. This is not exactly true. Even though Karachi did not enjoy the stature that Lahore did, since the latter was a major city under the Mughal rule as well as for the different Sikh kingdoms, one should not forget that Karachi is a part of Sindh and must not be seen in insolation to it. Unfortunately, many people in Karachi are not aware of Sindh’s great history – mainly because Karachi, being a megapolis and Pakistan’s richest city, is a world on its own. Largely a city of Urdu-speaking mohajirs, who were the driving force behind the creation of Pakistan, keepers, so to speak, of Muslim high culture, Karachi has generally treated Sindh, its people, language and culture with contempt and disregard. Also, Sindh, being a pitifully poor place in sharp contrast to Karachi, has largely been looked down upon by the latter. It is a truth that has resulted today in the unfortunate lack of awareness about Sindh, one of the world’s oldest and greatest civilizations.

Also read: Part II: The Caves of Lahut La Makaan

Being a Karachiite myself, I never had the chance to visit interior Sindh – not because I had any such prejudice against Sindh, but the environment I lived in didn’t really give me much leeway to discover Sindh. But now that I am at an age where I can travel on my own or with my friends without needing anyone’s permission, I am very determined to know more about Sindh. I returned to Pakistan after many number of years last year, and took the decision of making a trip to some of the most well known places in Sindh.

Sindh is a difficult place to travel to, because it is so underdeveloped and people are often reluctant to go. So I made sure to find a driver, a guide, and a group of friends to accompany me. It was easy to find people who wanted to go as well, since they too were curious to discover Sindh but never had the chance to. After a few phone calls, I found a driver and booked a 12-seater van. I think my enthusiasm might have inspired them to come along.

And so we were all set to visit the Keenjhar Lake, the Makli Graveyard, and the ShahJahan Mosque in Thatha.


In the middle of the Keenjhar Lake – one of Pakistan’s largest freshwater lakes, the source of Karachi’s water supply – a city of ~24 million people – is the Noori Jaam Tamachi temple.

The temple was built when this area was dry, yet when the lake was formed, the water covered everything except the top of this shrine. The shrine was built in memory of a local prince Jaam Tamachi and his lover Noori. Noori was a common fisherwoman who Jam fell in love with, raising her above every other woman because of the honest love she gave Jaam.

The story is also told by the greatest of all Sindhi Sufi poets Hazrat Shah Abdul Latif Bhithai, who wrote seven love epics. In all of them, the main character was a woman – Noori being one of the Seven Heroines. (In South Asia, Sufi love tales always have women as protagonists and the stories are often told from the point of view of women.) Out of the several Shah Abdul Latif stories, the story of Jaam and Noori is the only one that speaks of fulfilled and requited love – the story shows how the Master does not discriminate between low or high caste, the weak and mighty. Ego becomes a great dividing wall between the seeker and the sought.

According to local interpretations, the story is a lesson in humility and devotion, which are the only true values that carry us to our destinations.

Noori came to be known as the embodiment of humility, signifying the divine light – and hence was even appropriated as a pen name by Sadhu T L Vaswani, the famous saint of Sindh.

My local guide told me that he believes that the lake water didn’t cover the shrine because God wanted to honour true love and tell the world of its value by protecting the shrine and leaving it as a symbol for everyone to see.


We visited next the tomb of Sultan Ibrahim, the son of the first Tarkhan ruler Mirza Muhamad Isa Tarkhan. In 1552, Mirza Muhammad became the ruler of Southern Sindh with Thatta as his capital. The Tarkhan rulers were descendants of Chingiz Khan and had received the title of Tarkhan from Tamerlane the Great. This tomb dates to the year 1558.

Next to it is the Makli Graveyard. The Makli necropolis is one of the world’s largest cemeteries, containing hundreds of thousands of graves and tombs. There are varying local stories surrounding the lore of its name – according to one, the graveyard was named after a pious woman named Mai Makli. Her prayers are said to have saved Thatta from the conquest of a certain Sultan Feroz Shah Tughlaq, a tale that is reminiscent of Karachi’s own local legend – the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi that keeps the seawater at bay and the city safe from floods.


The stunning tomb of Mirza Isa Khan Tarkhan at the Makli Graveyard. The building is made of imported yellow sandstone from Kathiawar, India. According to little information available online about the heritage site, the extensive use of surface tracery, which can be found nowhere else in Pakistan, is unusual. Each and every corner of this tomb is decorated with the most exquisite calligraphy and floral designs. The tomb dates to the 16th century.

Also read: Part II: The Caves of Lahut La Makaan




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