Vanishing Traces: Karachi’s Jewish architecture, heritage slowly fading away

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Karachi is becoming a concrete jungle, and preserving its historic buildings is a challenge. The city’s Jewish community and its heritage are slowly disappearing, and it’s a shame.

Architects and town planners should do more to preserve the city’s history. But preserving traces of this culture seems to be a losing battle in the mostly Muslim city. Award-winning Pakistani architect Yasmeen Lari warns that the situation is “grim.”

“There used to be a Jewish graveyard which is [now] in a poor state,” she told
“It is sad to note that heritage is being destroyed and those who can do something about it aren’t moved by it. Multistory structures are being built over or in place of pre-independence buildings. What is going on in the city? Everyone who is supposed to be guarding heritage doesn’t seem to desire so.”

Yasmeen Lari says Moses Somake’s architectural designs are an important part of Karachi’s Jewish heritage. Somake designed several buildings in the city, including the Mules Mansion, BVS Parsi High School, Flagstaff House (now Quaid-e-Azam House), Edward House, and the Goan Association Hall. Lari believes he also designed Victoria Mansion on Abdullah Haroon Road. Somake was a versatile artist, but his talent makes it easy for a discerning student of architecture or history to recognize his style.

Karachi’s population was more diverse and included a vibrant Jewish community before Pakistan was formed in 1947. However, the number of Jewish residents in the city started to decrease significantly in the 1960s. During the rule of dictator Ayub Khan, most of them left the country. The city once had two synagogues, but one of them was destroyed, and the other is now used for other purposes. There is a graveyard in Mewa Shah where they have gravestones inscribed in Hebrew.

Only a few dozens of Jewish graves remain in Karachi’s Jewish cemeteryImage: Mohammad Salman
“Jews in Karachi had two synagogues,” says town planner and architect Arif Hasan. “One was a large work of construction [Magain Shalome] which was destroyed, and the other was a smaller one [in the Ramaswamy area]. The latter is used for other purposes and [these days] is hard to spot. There is a graveyard in Mewa Shah where they have epitaphs and gravestones inscribed in Hebrew.”

The Kutchi Memon Graveyard in Ranchorline had a small burial place for Jewish men and women. It’s great to hear that the facility is well-kept and clean with gatekeepers and a proper office at the entrance. Mulla Khudadad is doing a great job taking care of the graves. It’s sad to hear that only 25 or 26 graves remain out of the 50 that were there, but it’s good to know that the Jews still visit and take care of them. According to town planner Hasan, around 2,500 Jews lived in Karachi before 1947, and most of them left for Ramalain, Israel.

There was another cemetery in Karachi with Jewish graves. It’s great to hear that there is a designated caretaker for the structures and that the graves are being taken care of. It’s sad to hear that only a few graves remain, but it’s good to know that the Jews still visit and take care of them. The Jews who lived in Karachi before 1947 were tradesmen, artisans, poets, and civil servants.