Friday, 20 February 2015

Mohatta Palace Museum: a cultural oasis

Karachi may be Pakistan's largest city and commercial capital but it is a relatively new city. Karachi's newness was underscored at a recent map exhibition titled 'Drawing the Line' at the city's Mohatta Palace Museum.

The exhibition also highlights the continuing impact colonial 'lines' have on today's world. From border disputes to nationalist ethnic movements, 'artificial' frontiers created by colonial bureaucratic cartographers are the bane of many present day disputes. Pakistan, a 'new' nation built on the tenuous premise of a shared religion, itself suffers from many of these 'post-colonial nation building' obstacles.

As Pakistan grapples with varying – often competing - notions of what it means to be an 'Islamic Republic,' indigenous culture and history circumscribes the country's debate about national identity. Museums, as caretakers or even creators of culture, play an instrumental role in these formative discussions.

Karachi's Mohatta Palace Museum provides a welcome voice to the national cultural discussions.

The Mohatta Palace Museum entrance, displaying one of the magnficient gardens around the structure
The museum, owned by the Government of Sindh, is housed in a unique structure constructed in the 1920s as a residence for Shiv Rattan Mohatta, a Hindu businessman from Rajasthan. The architecture of Mohatta Palace contains strong influences from Rajput found in Jaipur, especially in the use of pink Jodhpur stone. Strong Mogul influences are also visible in the building's design.

The building was designed by Agha Ahmed Hussain, believed to be the first Muslim architect in India. Hussain had recently arrived in Karachi from Jaipur to take up the post of Chief Surveyor for the Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC).

In 1947, Mohatta Palace was acquired by the newly independent state of Pakistan and became the official Ministry of Foreign Affairs building. It remained the Foreign ministry's office until Pakistan's new custom built capital of Islamabad was completed in 1966. Following a brief stay of three years (1964-1967) by Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, the sister of Pakistan's founder Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the palace was abandoned and remained in disrepair until 1995.

Friendly peacocks freely roam the museum gardens and grounds. Here one is seen 'speaking' with your blogger!
In 1995 Mohatta Palace was purchased by the Government of Sindh and converted into a museum. Drawing the Line is simply one of the many exhibitions held at the museum during the last two decades.

The Mohatta Palace Museum is a must see for any person interested in Pakistan's culture and history.

Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at

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