Remarks Announcing $250,000 in Funding to Conserve Varun Dev Temple on Manora Island

December 22, 2015

Commodore Fawad Baig Dr. Asma Ibrahim

Dr. Kaleemullah Lashari

Distinguished Guests Ladies and Gentlemen

Assalamu Aleikum

It is my privilege today to inaugurate this project of the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation to conserve Shri Varun Dev Mandir. Although unfortunately I was unable to travel to Manora Island itself, the photographs and informational display provide some sense of the beauty and significance of the temple and its surroundings.

The United States and Pakistan have a broad agenda of mutual interests, from security to health and education, from energy and economic links to people-to-people ties. America is committed to forging a strong cultural partnership between our two countries and to working with Pakistan to preserve its rich, diverse history.

The Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation is one tool for preserving cultural heritage sites. Pakistan has many amazing historical sites. Since I arrived here a month ago, I have already visited the ancient city of Taxila and the Alamgiri Gate at the Lahore Fort, both recipients of support from the Ambassadors Fund, and the Badshahi Mosque. Across Pakistan, we have worked with colleagues in the federal and provincial governments and civil society to preserve 18 sites of unique cultural and historic value.

Today, here in Karachi, I am proud to announce Varun Dev as our second Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation site in Sindh. In 2014, we awarded a grant to restore the tombs of Sultan Ibrahim and Amir Sultan Muhammad at the Makli Hill necropolis in Thatta. Today, we begin the next chapter with the conservation of Varun Dev.

Cultural sites are at risk all over the world. In some places, the threat is existential.  In Syria and Iraq, extremist groups such as ISIS are destroying cultural monuments as part of their war against tolerance and peace. In other places, the threat is less deliberate, but no less pressing as time and neglect slowly erode cultural treasures.

Fortunately, all over the world there are also people and organizations dedicated to preserving our shared cultural heritage and treasures. The Ambassadors Fund is one, identifying sites that are at risk and providing resources to the hardworking and devoted people committed to preserving our shared global treasures and civilization. Today, I thank our partners Dr. Asma Ibrahim and Dr. Kaleemullah Lashari of the Sindh Exploration and Adventure Society (SEAS) for their hard work.  I am also grateful to the Pakistan Navy, the Manora Cantonment Board, and the Karachi Cantonment Board for their support for this conservation project.

Early this morning, I visited the Mazar-e-Quaid and reflected on the life and legacy of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. I recalled his vision of a strong, vibrant, unified, tolerant Pakistan, where people of every faith and background feel equally at home. In his own words, “We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.”

I can’t help but view of the Varun Dev temple and all of Manora Island as a fitting monument to that vision. While the current structure at Varun Dev dates back to the early years of the 20th century, I understand that the temple was originally associated with maritime trade in the Indian Ocean during the fourth to tenth centuries A.D.

What a wonderful miniature of Pakistan’s rich historical tapestry — a modern day temple attesting to the ancient presence of the Hindu faith, as well as of this region’s traditional openness trade and cultural currents from across the world! Aside from the temple, a Sufi shrine and a Christian church stand on Manora Island, further reminders of Pakistan’s diversity and complex, rich history, a legacy that shapes and belongs to all Pakistanis.

Our grant of almost $250,000 will preserve this site, but also so much more. The rehabilitation program is not just bricks and mortar; it is about people. Hindu devotees and visitors from all over will visit the temple and experience the place of religious minorities in this society. Our partners will also work with local communities to train skilled craftsmen, generate awareness about the temple and the value of heritage conservation, and foster a sense of shared ownership in Pakistan’s heritage. Lastly, our work here together will help build capacity in the field of heritage conservation nationally.

Thank you again for all you have done and all you will do to keep Pakistan’s culture and history alive for all of us, including future generations of Pakistanis.