Mangho Pir – The Saint with Crocodile Disciples

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Image000After our brief trip to Rani Kot, which appeared in the April edition of this magazine, my trusty Civic rode into Karachi, through Sohrab Goth. Once, my cousin Imran and I had rested up, we went over our list of places to see in this huge metropolis of Karachi, and decided to visit the Shrine of Mango Pir, also known as Sufi Sheikh Sakhi Sultan, before everything else. Getting there was easier said than done, since neither of us knew our way about the city. Conveniently enough, one of my college friends, Ahmed Fasih Qureshi, volunteered the services of his driver along with his official car to facilitate us in this little excursion, to ensure that we wouldn’t drag him along on the trip.

The next morning, at around 10 am, we left the house near National Stadium, we were staying in, for the Manghopir. The route to the shrine was to take us through areas dominated by Muhajirs and the Pakhtoon, which were at odds with each other for control over territories, and this made our driver a little antsy about his safety. Lucky for us, both the parties had recently declared a ceasefire, which was at best tenuous. After an hour or so, we reached the area, after driving over Karachi roads of varying quality. As we turned a corner, there it stood – the structure of the shrine behind a few date palms and a few graves. The building, itself, seemed neither imposing nor impressive, as most mausoleums we had seen, from a distance, but as we approached it, we realized that the structure was relatively new. A sign posted at the Shrine informed us that the building had been recently renovated largely due to the efforts and donations of Aqeel Kareem Dhedhi, one of the leading financial moguls in Pakistan. With a fresh coat of paint, intricate mirror inlay work on the ceilings and calligraphy, the shrine of Mangho Pir looks brand new, despite the shrine being over 700 years old!

Image006Legend has it, that Maango Wassa was a Hindu and notorious for looting caravans in the area which is now Karachi. On meeting Hazrat Farid-ud-Din Ganj Shakkar, Maango converted to Islam and devoted the rest of life to serve Islam and humanity. He became a disciple of Hazrat Farid-ud-Din Ganj Shakkar, who gave him the title of Pir because of his devotion and meditation. Mangho Pir’s Urs (death anniversary) is observed in the month of Zil-Hajj, and is known as the Sheedi Mela (Sheedi Fair) because a major portion of Mangho Pir’s devotees belong to the Sheedi community.

Interestingly enough, the Sheedi are the descendants of East African slaves brought by Arab armies and traders over the centuries. Most Sheedis claim descent from the slaves, which accompanied and fought for the army of Muhammad bin Qasim. These people were called Zanji or natives of the East Africa (consisting of territories of Somalia, Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania) by the Arabs and were known for their loyalty, bravery, endurance and hard work. The origin of the word Sheedi unclear, but most historians believe it is a derivative of the word “Syed” which is Arabic for prince, a nobleman and is also used for the descendants of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), as well. You can still see the Sheedi, mostly known as Makrani’s living all over southern regions Sindh and Balochistan.

Image015Enough of history. Lets move to the major attractions. Near the shrine of Mangho Pir are the natural sulphur springs which are warm in winters and cold in summers. These springs are said to be a gift of the famous Sufi saint Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar who came to this area for meditation. Image020His “Chillahgaah”, or the place where he meditated, is barely a few yards from the shrine of Mangho Pir. When we visited in December, the spring water was warm enough to tempt me into taking a dip in one of the pools there! Image022These springs are very popular among the locals for their curative powers and are said to cure not just the physical ailments, but also the spiritual ones, as well, thanks to the blessings of Mangho Pir. Over the past years, proper covered bathhouses have been built in the vicinity of the shrine, which pump waters from the springs into indoor pools where people from all over Sindh come to cleanse themselves. Of course, there are separate bathhouses for ladies, to ensure their privacy and modesty.

Image010 Image011The other thing that brings people to this shrine are the crocodiles. There are several stories about the origin of these crocodiles, as per tradition. Some say that these crocodiles were a gift from Hazrat Farid-ud-Din Ganj Shakkar to Mangho Pir. Others believe that when Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar gave the area the springs, the lice in his head which he gifted to Mangho Pir and they subsequently turned into crocodiles once they were placed into the pond adjacent to the springs. Yet, others believe that the saint Mor Mubarak brought the crocodiles to Mangho Pir from a cave in Korangi. The oldest crocodile is still called “Mor Sahib” – a 12-foot 100-year old croc – in the saint’s honour, giving credibility to this theory.

Even though, these crocs are huge carnivores, they’ve become docile and do not harm people, as they are frequently fed fresh meat paid for by the offerings of the many devotees of Mangho Pir. We wanted to have our picture taken with them inside the enclosure next to the 400’ by 200’ pond, but we weren’t allowed to. “You never know anything with these animals”, said one of the keepers, as he went to on explain that their teeth aren’t the only weapons they have with which they can inflict injury on people and animals. Not being Steve Irwin The Crocodile Hunter or Crocodile Dundee, we decided to heed his advice.

Travel advisory

  • Best season to visit: You can visit any time of the year. However, it gets pretty warm in the summers, here.
  • Ideal for: Day trips
  • Fastest route: Ask a local driver to take you. Negotiating Karachi’s traffic and roads in a tough ask.
  • Drive time (point to point):
  • Cellular coverage: Complete

Request: DO NOT TRY FEEDING THE CROCS YOURSELF!

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