August 21 - 27 , 2019

Gulf Weekly Naman Arora
By Naman Arora


Manama temple commemorates its 200th birthday

Bahrain’s historians are joining the Indian expat community this year in celebrating the second centenary of the Krishna Temple in Manama with a slew of events including a much-anticipated planned trip by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the coming week.

The temple, located in the heart of Manama Souq, has been a point of congregation for Hindus and the wider Indian diaspora for the last 200 years, and is the oldest Hindu temple in the GCC.

It has also attracted dignitaries from all over the world including the Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne, Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, former Singaporean president Sellapan Ram and the late ex-Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Earlier this year, the temple was also visited by Prince Andrew, the Duke of York to kick off the 200 year celebrations with the lighting of a ceremonial lamp.

The temple is annually visited by members of the royal family including His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander and First Deputy Prime Minister, his son, Shaikh Mohammed bin Salman Al Khalifa and Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, the Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Since its founding by the Thattai Bhatia Hindu community with the blessing of the Al Khalifa family, the temple attracts more than 10,000 visitors during festivals like Holi and Diwali and has become a stalwart symbol of cultural diversity in the region.

Sushil Muljimal, chairman of the temple’s board and trustee at the King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence said: “This temple has become a unique monument, especially since it’s one in a Muslim country for the last 200 years. It’s a symbol of the diversity in Bahrain and the contributions of the Indian community towards Bahrain’s growth.”

When the Bhatia community from Thatta, a province not far from modern-day Karachi in Pakistan, moved to the Gulf, they picked Bahrain due to its historic cultural, economic and trade ties to the Indian sub-continent as well as the incipient pearl industry.

In Bahrain, the mercantile community set up shop in the souq near where Bab Al Bahrain later came to be and lived right behind. While people have a tendency to romanticise the past as a ‘simpler time,’ in Bahrain, this was the time of no electricity, no automobiles and a few dirt roads.

Yet the community persevered and as they prospered, the deeply religious and devout community pooled the land where they had lived and donated it towards the building of the Gulf’s first Hindu temple.

Respected by the local and regional Arabs as honest and efficient, the community was permitted to set up temple grounds and a centre for worship by the ruling Al Khalifa family, which at the time was led by Shaikh Abdullah bin Ahmad Al Khalifa, Shaikh Salman bin Ahmad Al Khalifa and Shaikh Khalifah bin Salman Al Khalifa.

In the early 1900s, more Bhatias were attracted to the region because of the thriving pearl industry and Bahrain’s growing clout as a sophisticated port city with connections to Iraq and Yemen. As the community grew and its businessmen invested in the pearl trade, as well as gold, textiles and food import, the temple went through many renovations.

Numerous Thattai Bhatia families including the Kewalram and Muljimal clans spearheaded the changes through the years.

Baboo Kewalram, chairman of Kewalram and Sons, who has called the kingdom home for the last 65 years added: “The temple has grown a lot, especially in the last century. There was a time when the ‘dhobis,’ the laundrymen would use the large grounds at night to wash clothes and then empty out the next morning to go deliver the clothes.

“Since then we have built the community hall, removed the well that used to be here and added decorations around the complex. The head priest from Nathdwara temple in Rajasthan visited us and said that this temple feels like an offshoot of that temple.”

The temple complex has a deceptively small entrance at the end of a small alley enveloped by flower and incense stores. Even though this reporter visited the temple almost every week as a child, it was the flowery fragrances that reminded me of the path to the temple.

Over the years, the temple’s memory has been treasured by more than just the Bhatia community. Hindus from all over the world have visited and paid their respects and prayed at the temple, which features several beautiful murals of Lord Krishna but has made space for the numerous subsects of devotees within dharmic religions. Every weekend, as many as 4000 Hindus visit the complex to offer their prayers. Beyond regular prayers, the temple offers support in every leg of devotees’ lives.

The head priest, Shastri Vijaykumar Mukhiya, said: “From birth to death, no matter what the occasion, happy or sombre, we offer spiritual guidance to all our community members. In fact, in recent years, since Bahrain was declared as a top destination for Indian weddings, we have seen Indians from all over the world come here to get married. Before, we used to have maybe a couple of weddings per year but this year alone, we have had more than 15 already.”

As the GulfWeekly has previously reported, Bahrain was awarded the “Most Promising New Destination for Indian Weddings” title at the WOW Awards in Delhi earlier this summer. The kingdom has played host to a number of high profile weddings and as news of such beau monde weddings has spread globally, many Indians have started to explore Bahrain as an elite wedding destination. The temple’s heritage makes it a prime location for the religious ceremonies that accompany every Hindu wedding.

Among its best features as a welcoming wedding destination is the multicultural expat community and the openness with which Bahrainis welcome diversity. Bhagwan Asarpota, vice chairman of temple’s board added: “We have been very fortunate to have the support of the royal family in all our ventures. The freedom of religion and the genuine openness to diversity we experience here is a treasure on its own. Every year, the Crown Prince visits the temple at Diwali and even stops by some of the community elders’ homes. We are invited with open arms to many of the royal majaalis. Being such a valued part of Bahrain’s community is a matter of pride for us and we are proud to be celebrating 200 years of being a part of the kingdom this year.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a devout Hindu, intends on commemorating this relationship this weekend, while also visiting dignitaries and strengthening ties between the historical friends during his tour of the Middle East.

As the PM stops by to offer his prayers, GulfWeekly would like to welcome him to the country and hopes that the Kingdom of Bahrain can be seen as a model for cohesive multicultural diversity.

The temple has even more events to commemorate 200 years. It has already organised a hugely successful Yoga Day event and intends to organise bazaars, blood donations and of course, an extra special Diwali event this coming October.

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