The Sixth Karachi Conference kick started at the JS Auditorium, IBA, Karachi city campus. The conference started with a session discussing the sacred geographies of Las Bela through the eyes of students who had visited the Bela region and did their research on the myth and reality of these sacred sites.
Dr. Kaleemullah Lashari later summed up in his presiding speech, folklore is an oversimplification of history. He also praised the students’ efforts of understanding this relationship between the two. He also pointed out that the Bela region – like the regions of Dadu and Thatta surrounding Karachi – had ensured that Karachi remained safe from the powerful kingdoms surrounding it.
The students, Novaira Khan, Amal Hashim, Mowwiz Shaheen, Fatima Siraaj, Safina Shilwani, Ali Arshad and Anam Imran, in their presentations covered various aspects of the sacred sites in the Bela region. Khan’s presentation focused on the Nanakpanthi community of the area. This community was first called by the name in the 17th century by Shaikh Mohsin Fani, a Persian writer, because of their faith in Guru Nanak, the 13th century founder of Sikhism. Khan also pointed out that today, the two communities live in peace and harmony, respecting each other’s beliefs.
Hashim explored the myth of the seven sisters and compared this folklore with the similar myth that existed in Rohri in northern Sindh. She pointed out that the tombs of these “sisters” are quite close to the site of another temple, Hanglaj Mata, an important Shakti site.
Shaheen made a comparison between the tombs of Muhammad Ibna Haroon and Colonel Robert Groves Sandeman. While Ibne Haroon was a contemporary of Muhammad Bin Qasim who was believed to have been sent to the Mekran before the Bin Qasim’s Sindh campaign, Col Sandeman was a British officer from the 19th century. Shaheen pointed out that some people believe both these people were sacred and revere them just the same.
Siraj’s presentation focused on the shrines of love legends such as Shireen and Farhad and Sassui and Punhu, as well as graves that are believed to belong to the people who were with prophet Noah. “Folklore and history make a pair,” Siraaj said.
Shilwani spoke on the architecture of these sacred sites and pointed out that the designs and the colors of these buildings were very much related to the belief systems of the people of those times. She also pointed out that the sacred art of Bela was manifested through a sanctuary in which the Divine Spirit, invisibly presented itself in the universe and “dwelled” in a direct and “personal” sense. “Perhaps, this is a dream. A dream concealed, unfinished and work in progress,” she added.
In their joint presentation, Arshad and Imran spoke on the intermingling of nature and the religious sites in the Bela region.