KARACHI: A 200-year-old temple here in Pakistan's largest metropolis is not only an important place of worship for the minority Hindu community in the country but also a source of livelihood for the young and enterprising Muslim boys in the area.
Members of the Hindu community visit the Shri Laxmi Narayan Mandir located at the Native Jetty bridge close to the Karachi Port regularly for worship and during religious festivals, and this has given an unusual livelihood for the local Muslim boys.
The temple is important for the Hindus as according to Ramesh Vankwani of the Pakistan Hindu Council it is also a sacred place for performing funerals and other religious rituals by the sea.
"It is the only temple located at the banks of a creek in Karachi," said Vankwani, who is also a member of the National Assembly.
"This temple is important because we Hindus need access to seawater as one of the essential things to perform worship.
We throw many objects into the seawater as part of our rituals," said the lawmaker from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party led by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Shafiq, a local Muslim youth, said Hindus who come to the temple throw many things including valuables into the seawater under the bridge as part of their rituals and this means the local boys can earn their livelihood by collecting them from the Arabian Sea.
Shafiq, 20, and 17-year old Ali along with some others dive into the sea from time to time to retrieve the objects thrown by the worshippers and visitors to the temple.
According to Shafiq, the boys have found gold jewellery, silver ornaments, coins and other valuable objects from the seawater.
"We have now trained ourselves and become expert divers, swimmers and can keep underwater and hold our breath for a long time as we search for the objects, " he said.
Asked whether the visitors to the temple or its caretakers object to them retrieving and taking away objects given as part of religious rituals, Ali said sometimes they are shouted at and told to go away.
"When the heat is on we disappear for a few days but return to our spot under the bridge. We remain here till the temple is open for worship. Throughout the day we are in the seawater searching for the thrown objects," he said.
Asked what they did with the objects retrieved from the sea, he said they sold them.
"We have found many things in the sea in the last few years. The Hindus who come here are very devoted in their worship and to their rituals," Shafiq said.
But Ali complained that these days there was no rush at the temple due to the coronavirus pandemic and it has made their livelihood more difficult.
"Nowadays there is less rush because of the coronavirus problem. We also follow social distancing for the devotees. We don't allow more than four or five people into the temple at same time," explained Vivek, one of the caretakers at the ancient temple.
Eight years ago, the Sindh High Court stopped the Karachi Port Trust authorities from demolishing the temple when a big recreation spot and food court, now known as Grand Port, was being built close to the temple.
Pakistan is home to several temples revered by Hindus.
The Katas Raj temple in the northeastern Chakwal district and Sadhu Bela temple in southern Sukkur district are the two most-visited sites by Hindus, who form the biggest minority community in the Muslim-majority Pakistan.
According to official estimates, 75 lakh Hindus live in Pakistan.
However, according to the community, over 90 lakh Hindus are living in the country.
Majority of Pakistan's Hindu population is settled in Sindh province where they share culture, traditions and language with their Muslim fellows.