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  • Dr. A. A. Quraishy

Manghopir’s Crocodile Cult

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Dr. A.A Quraisy


Manghopir, a stone’s throw from Karachi, is the only mausoleum in Asia where the cult of crocodile worship has been practiced through centuries.



Although the arrival of a saint somewhere in the Middle East was only some centuries old, the abode of the marsh crocodiles, in the well known "Mugger pit" could well be forty to fifty million years old. In the Mesozoic era, while the earth was young and geological changes were in the process, Hub River flowed in the region with its load of freshwater flora and fauna with the crocodiles.

 

With constant geologic upheavals and the topographical rise and fall, which still goes on, the river changed its course. The spot being the deepest in the recent earth structure, retained the reptiles that subsisted on the aquatic fauna with wild grasses and bush that kept the pond tolerably cool for the cold-blooded crocodiles.

 

In the neighboring spring, the subterrarian strata kept the rise of temperature slow, because it emerged from the deep layer of the earth in this volcanic stratum. A slightly cold spring still flows from the earth that refills the pit, fit for the crocodiles to live. That gave rise to the "Garam Chashma” (lit. hot spring) and “Thanda Chashma" (lit. cold spring) lore where sick still bath seeking cure from the spring water that has the added solace of the Pir Baba resting nearby.

 

The saint later known as Hazaat Khwaja Hasan Maroof Sakhi Sultan Baba lived around this tranquil, calm spot to preach Islam. When the Arabs came with Mohammad Bin Qasim along with their soldiers they scattered date palm seeds along the Baluchistan coast, which sprouted and covered the belt with date palm trees that are still the mainstay of the residents. They settled down in the coastal belt and their progeny still reside in the area.

 

One of the reasons of devotion to crocodiles was the belief of the Africans that they        were special from the days of Pharaohs. As the word of the saint spread, some of them shifted in this fertile valley for pastoral life and used to pay their respect to this blessed soul, who laid a pious life and preached the faith of the prophets.

 

In this wilderness, dacoits and pirates also lived; one of them was a well-known dangerous one by the name of Mangha. Mangha ruled with sword and spear as his means of livelihood. He threatened the saint several times to move away and to stop his preaching, but his persistent refusal convinced him of his being harmless. So he left him alone but as the legend goes, he also listened to his preaching which convinced him that he was preaching peace and human welfare. Legend holds that eventually, Mangha left his nefarious profession and became the disciple of the holy man. He turned into a Muslim and served the saint faithfully and practiced what the holy man preached.

 

Before he died, he advised that the dacoit turned into a dove need not to be expelled but be allowed to continue the noble mission. When he was buried in this locality, Mangha was buried beside his hermit mentor.

 

The people built a mausoleum around them, where both lie under the dome. Since the saint fed the crocodiles, the followers considered them sacred, and the trend continues.

 

Devotees commemorate an annual festival lasting for four days in which they sing, dance, and perform "dhamal." The dance is accompanied with the beating of drums, playing jingles. They don colorful attire and recite hymns – all marching slowly for hours in trance to reach the crocodiles where they offer sweets, shower rose petals and when the "Mor Sahib"—the largest of the crocodiles accepts their offering, they consider it a great honor and think good fortune will bring prosperity.

 

Zikries is an offshoot of this tribe that are Muslims but a different class: they do not perform prayer in the Muslim way but congregate to sing hymns and other devotional chanting.

 

The crocodiles have had hard times in the last fifty years, when the silt turned the depth of water unlivable for the reptiles. Consequently, they started dying; their number was reduced to three when the scribe intervened through the SPCA—the society that took care of animals in distress.  The chairman of the society, the commissioner for Karachi came to the rescue of the sacred animals. The pit was made deeper, and the scribe arranged better breeding facilities of the remaining three and supervised the nesting technique. He advised the keeper to look after the hatchlings when they emerged from the nest.

 

Four hatchlings were fed nourishing food, kept in comfortable temperature until they were three years old. At this age they were returned to the main pool. The present population is over a hundred. The faithful has enlarged the resting arena where they sum themselves. Years of nonviolent behavior of the keepers has calmed them down; they have never attacked any human so far.

 

The festivity songs still carry their ancestral African color: the drumbeat, the dance style and communal singing in soulful chorus is captivating. Film makers arrive from outside the country to show this strange cult of crocodile worship that still has the stamp of ancient African touch, a unique flavor that has no parallel in Asia or in any other community.

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