THE RICH HINDU TEMPLE HERITAGE IN ADEN
The city of Aden, which was administered as a British colony from Mumbai during 1839-1937, had a rich heritage of Christian Churches and Hindu Temples. During the British time there was a regular movement of people of all religious denominations from India to the thriving port of Aden in pursuit of trade and jobs. Several thousand Indians used to live in Aden, including Hindus, Jains and Parsis. It is mentioned in historical texts that the ‘Banyans’, who were the wealthiest among the Hindus, looked after the wholesale trade of Aden as well as the banking and exchange business, while the Parsis were mainly retail merchants.
The resident Indian community in Aden set up several temples in order to cater to their religious needs, taking advantage of the religious tolerance of the British regime. These were constructed on plots of land purchased or leased from government or private sources or acquired as grants from the British government.
Historical records point towards the existence of at least ten Indian temples in Aden, which included a Jain temple, a Parsi Temple and several Hindu temples. In 1972, when the Southern Yemen (PDRY) was under the Communist regime, all religious properties, including those belonging to the Indian community, were taken over by the Ministry of Endowments and Guidance. After the unification of the South and North Yemen in 1990, these properties were declared as state properties and brought under the administrative control of the Ministry of Wakf and Guidance.
Owing to the passage of time and long period of disuse, many of these structures had become targets of encroachment and were either demolished or modified beyond recognition. Currently, only four temples exist, of which only one is in active use.
The following is the information available on the temples that existed in Aden:
1. Shree Hingraj Mataji Mandir: Built sometime in the early 1900s, this temple is located in a picturesque mountainous location in a large cave in the Khusaf Valley, in the Crater area of Aden. This is the only temple in Aden where a regular ‘puja’ or worship is performed by the members of the Indian community every Friday evening. Since the past couple of years a congregation is also held once a month for performing the Ayyappa puja. The day-to-day maintenance of the temple is done by the Indian Association in Aden.
2. ‘Sheikh Othman’ Hanumanji Temple: The temple was built in 1882 and was spread over an area of five acres in the Sheik Othman district. It reportedly used to have a garden with a pool which was used by the devotees for bathing. It also had two lodgings for the Indian community. The temple no longer exists now.
3. Shree Shankar Hanuman Temple: It was built in the nineteenth century and was located inside a large cave in the Dashmi Bazar, Khusaf Valley in the Crater area. The temple no longer exists now.
4. Shree Ramchanderji Temple: This temple was built in 1875 by the Indian military officials and is located near the Police Academy College (Fattha Camp) in the Tawahi district of Aden. The temple is currently in a defence area and is not open to public.
5. Shree Trikamraiji-Haveli Temple: This temple was constructed in 1862 and was located in the Hassan Ali Street of the Crater region. It was called the ‘Haveli Temple’ as it was housed in a double storeyed building with a ‘Bharat Library’ attached to it. Several shops and residences have come up in the area of the temple, but the temple itself is intact and is kept locked.
6. Shree Jain Swetamber Temple: Located near the Cloth Bazaar in Crater, it was built in 1882 and was controlled by the “Aden Mahajan and Panjarapole”. The temple is intact but currently kept locked and is not in use.
7. Shree Shanker Hindu Temple: It was located on the Queen Arwa Road in the Crater area, near to the then National Cinema. The adjoining area was used as a Hindu cemetery for cremation. The temple is currently not in use.
8. Shree Krishna Panjrapole: It is believed that a ‘Goshalla’ (resting place for cows) used to be maintained in the Crater area by members of the Gujarati community.
10. Holy Fire Temple: This was a Parsi Temple, established in 1873 in the Tawila area of Aden by the family of the legendary Parsi figure Shri Nusserwanji Dinshaw, which was in the business of shipping. The Holy Fire was transported safely from Aden in 1976 in ‘Lhotse’, as specially chartered Air India Boeing 707 with all Parsi crew, and installed at the Adenwala Agiary at Lonavala, near Mumbai, with the active support and assistance from the Government of India, which was then headed by Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi. The Parsi temple complex had several properties attached to it, including a ‘Tower of Silence’ and a crematorium for Parsis.
11. Hindu Crematorium: A small temple was reportedly located in Holkat Bay, Crater, which had a 99-year lease signed on 29th June 1932. Currently a Hindu crematorium or ‘Shamshan’ exists in this area, which is run by the Indian Association in Aden. Services are rendered free of charge to Indian nationals and on a small fee for other nationalities.
A team of ASI officials recently surveyed all the heritage sites in Aden.