Culture of Karachi

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Karachi has been thought to be the southwestern pillar of the cultural edifice of Sindh. The cultural history of Karachi goes back at least 500 years from the emergence of Indus Civilization in the 3rd millennium B.C. The culture appears to be essentially Neolithic with widespread use of small chart implements and semi-precious stones. A large number of Megalithic graves around Karachi put it in class with the Megalithic movements of the Arabian Peninsula.[1]

History of Karachi[edit]

Part of the town of Karachi, with mud houses; camels and villagers in foreground. April 1851

The ancient name of Karachi from the accounts of Alexander's historians appears to be KROKOLA which literally means "a place of crocodile worship". Around 1558, Karachi was a conglomerate of about two dozen fishing villages, called KALACHI or KALATI. This small settlement was projected into prominence when Seth Bhoju Mal laid the foundation of a small township on the left bank of Lyari River in 1729. "Its rise into notice began with the period of the Kalhora princes in 1793. They first recognised the value of the harbour for commerce. The capture of the Manora fort in 1839 put the British in possession of the town."[2]

The modern port-city of Karachi, however, was developed by authorities of the British Raj in the 19th century. Upon the independence of Pakistan in 1947, the city was selected to become the national capital, and was settled by Muslim refugees from at the time of the independence in 1947, which radically expanded the city's population and transformed the demographics and economy.


The cultural heritage of Karachi has great significance, more so because of the 'Kalachi-Jo-Kunn' (whirlpool of Kalachi) in which Moriro had exhibited the feat of his strength by killing a monstrous shark which had killed all six of his brothers during their pursuit of fishing. This folklore is sung by Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai (1689-1752), the greatest poet of Sindh in his poetic collection of RISALO making it an immortal legend in the history of Sindh. Besides, there are a number of cultural sites in and around Karachi testifying the glorious past of Karachi.

"WAGU DARR" (earthen cavity for living of a crocodile) is located at the coastal village namely Chashma Goth near Korangi. A natural sweet water spring is flowing perennially by the site of this site. It is also a crocodile worship center besides Manghopir where people offer meat to the crocodiles and bath in hot and cold sulphuric springs for treatment of their skin diseases. The ruins of RATO KOT are located in the Korangi Creek. This fort is thought to have been a contemporary settlement of Debal port (Bhambhore in the view of some archaeologists) conquered by Mohammad Bin Qasim in 712 AD. Baked earthen balls used in mechanically-driven cannons of the olden days, shards, glazed tiles and other artifacts are found scattered on the surface of the site. The CHOWKUNDI graveyard, a protected monument of the 17 and 18th century AD and BALOCH TOMBS near Memon Goth of Malir exhibit monumental structures of the stone- carved graves.

MOKHI-MATARA is yet another cultural site situated on the top of Narathar Hill near Gadap and located on an ancient route emanating from ancient Debal port to the Central Asia. The folklore of Mokhi-Matara is also sung by Sindh's greatest poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai.[3]


Historically, Sindhi and Balochi were spoken by the native population before the British conquest in 1843 by Charles James Napier. During British rule, many Gujrati and Parsi business families and Christian Goans bureaucracy migrated from Bombay Presidency to Karachi as it was being developed as a major port. After independence of Pakistan in 1947, Muslim refugees (Muhajirs) migrated to Karachi. The vast majority of Muhajirs spoke Urdu. Today Karachi is predominantly Urdu speaking city with many other languages also spoken in the city. The Pashtuns (Pakhtuns or Pathans), originally from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA and northern Balochistan, are now the city's third largest ethnic group in Karachi after Muhajirs.[4][5] With as high as 7 million by some estimates, the city of Karachi in Pakistan has the largest concentration of urban Pakhtun population in the world, including 50,000 registered Afghan refugees in the city.[6] As per current demographic ratio Pashtuns are about 12% of Karachi's population.[7]

According to the census of 1998 linguistic distribution of the city is: Urdu: 48.52%; Sindhi: 7.34%‎;Punjabi: 13.64%; Pashto: 11.96%‎; Balochi: 4.34%; Saraiki: 2.11%; others: 12.09%. The others include Dari, Gujarati, Dawoodi Bohra, Memon, Marwari, Brahui, Makrani, Khowar, Burushaski, Arabic, Persian and Bengali. Also due to Globalization an increasing amount of the city's youth has taken to converse in English.[citation needed]


Religions in Karachi[8][9][10][11]
Religions Percent

Karachi is predominantly Muslim (Sunni 66% and Shia 34%) city with small religious minorities. The religious break-up of the city is as follows: Muslim: 96.45%; Christian: 2.42% (predominately Roman Catholic and Protestant, with smaller Orthodox populations); Hindu: 0.86%; Ahmadi: 0.17%; others 0.10%. The others include Parsis, Sikhs, Bahai, Jews, and Buddhists.


Poetry is deeply embedded in Pakistani culture and is considered a sign of artistic and intellectual commentary. Karachi boasts a large community of intellectuals who come together in designated open spaces to share their talent in poetry events known as mushairas in the local language. A large number of intellectuals and aspiring poets from all over the nation also flock to Karachi, hoping to find better work opportunities in the city. The theme and subject matter of the poetry can vary immensely, but most are socio-cultural commentaries, often infused with a biting sense of humour.

Certain poets are worth mentioning like Ishrat Afreen, a pakistani feminist and a prominent poet. Afreen recently launched her second Urdu Poetry collection under the name "Dhoop apnay hissay ki".[12]

Some literary figures shifted their focus from poetry to prose and fiction like the case of Mustansar Hussain Tarar, who recently released a collection of short stories entitled "Pandra Kahaniyan".

Non-fiction is also popular in the literary scene of Karachi. This is noticeable through the praise that Ahfazur Rahman received on his book "Sab Say Bari Jang".[13]


National Academy of Performing Arts

Art Academies, Arenas and Festivals[edit]

Karachi is home to some of Pakistan's important cultural institutions. The National Academy of Performing Arts,[14] located in the newly renovated Hindu Gymkhana offers a two-year diploma course in performing arts that include classical music and contemporary theatre. The All Pakistan Music Conference, linked to the 45-year-old similar institution in Lahore, has been holding its Annual Music Festival since its inception in 2004. The festival is now a well established feature of the city life of Karachi that is awaited anxiously and attended by more than 3000 citizens of Karachi as well as people from other cities.[15]

Aside from regular performances by the nation's biggest musical stars, Karachi also boasts one of the biggest underground music scenes in the country, where traditional musical influences blend with modern, Western style to create a unique brand of fusion music. This style of music has been very popular all across Pakistan and it's becoming quite trendy amongst the nation's up-and-coming musicians. Many of the nation's emerging musicians have based themselves in Karachi because of the excellent employment opportunities in the burgeoning entertainment industry of Karachi. Many of the nation's fresh musical acts can be found in cafes, restaurants and concerts across Karachi, especially in the city's upper middle class and upper class areas.

The National Arts Council (Koocha-e-Saqafat) also has musical performances and mushairas. Karachi has a few museums including the Mohatta Palace Museum and National Museum of Pakistan that regularly have exhibitions related to performance arts. Karachi is also home to the annual Kara Film Festival, which is one of the biggest film festivals in Pakistan and showcases independent Pakistani and international films and documentaries.

Recently, youths inspired by theatre and improv have formed Karachi's first drama club, called The Acting Wheel. Groups of young theatre enthusiasts meet twice a month to act out famous film and theatre scripts spontaneously. These are not rehearsed performance but rather a forum to encourage spontaneous, improv acting. Participants are encouraged to let go of their inhibitions and just act out. Recaps of each act-olution can be found at

Galleries and Fine Art exhibitions[edit]

Emerging new artists in the filed of painting, digital art and calligraphy are currently experiencing a boom. Karachi is home to the Clifton Art Gallery.[16] The Calligraphy Artist Bin Qulander is currently exhibiting his work in the aforementioned Gallery under the title of "God in the details".[17]


Karachiites are avid shoppers, and, as such, Karachi boasts an incredible diversity in terms of shopping, accommodating anyone's preferences and budget. Products that shoppers can buy in Karachi come from a vast variety of sources, from one of the many local cottage industries to authentic brand wear by renowned international designers. The city has many modern, high-end shopping malls such as Park Towers, The Forum and Dolmen Mall, in addition to local mid-range bazaars and a gamut of streetside vendors. In places such as Park Towers and Dolmen Mall, all famous stores such as Khaadi, Amir Adnan, Sputnik Footwear and English Boot House, all have a presence.

The main shopping places are: Tariq Road, which has clothing shops; Saddar, which has an electronics market; and Boat Basin, which has restaurants.

However, due to increased modernization and awareness, the once-flourishing hawking business has recently seen somewhat of a slowdown in most areas of Karachi, especially in regards to street food vendors.

Karachi has a thriving textiles industry, which is one of, if not the largest in Pakistan. This industry alone covers a vast variety of businesses, from large-scale suppliers that cater to international demand in developed countries, to locally hand-made goods by grassroots vendors.

Most vendors in Karachi are open to bargaining, which is a common sight at most bazaars and among hawkers. As a result, prices of products vary immensely among every vendor, with the exception of upscale high-end shopping malls, which usually have fixed prices. In Karachi, it is also general knowledge to be cautious when bargaining with vendors, especially in bazaars and with hawkers, as they often sell substandard goods at high prices to unaware shoppers. Apparent foreigners, in particular, are often ripped off.

A major contributor to Karachi's wealth in shopping is that most of its residents belong to the middle class and are relatively well-off.


Sports and recreation[edit]

Cricket is the most popular sport in Pakistan. The best cricket academies are found in Karachi, such as Rashid Latif Cricket Academy and Pakistan Cricket Academy.


Chicken Biryani

Meat (mainly beef) plays a dominant role in Karachi food. Curries, pulses like Lentils, called dal, are also very popular. Of all the meats, the most popular are: beef, goat, chicken and seafood. Barbecue food is also extremely popular. Dishes made with rice include pullao and biryani. Different kinds of breads like: Chapati, Naan, Tandoor bread, Paratha and Puri are very popular. Sindhi biryani is also very common in the city.


Teen Talwar decorated with traditional Ajrak on Sindh Cultural Day

Karachi is a festive city, and many religious and cultural festivities are observed across the city. Religious events such as Ramadan, Chaand Raat, Eid, Milad un Nabi and Ashura are among the most prominent festivities and are observed passionately with fervor. Shopping reaches its peak during the Eid season, as not only established businesses but vendors from all over the country come to the city to sell their goods to the city's large population, a majority of which is middle class and relatively well-off compared to most other parts of the country. Many rallies and parades are carried out during the events of Milaad un Nabi, Ashura, Jashn-e-Baharan and Nowruz by religious leaders and followers all across the city. Ethnic and religious minorities, like Christians, Hindus, Ismailis etc. also celebrate their events, although not on as large a scale as Islamic events.

Independence Day, which takes place on 14 August, is also a very important event for all Karachiites. A national holiday is commenced all over the country on this date, as homes are decorated with flags and patriotic embellishments, and children sing patriotic songs, known as milli naghmas, to show their love for their nation. The festivity of this day is such that a small cottage industry has emerged in large cities, like Karachi, to supply the decoration demands of Independence Day. And although not as feverish as Independence Day, Defence Day is also passionately observed across the city on 6 September every year. Pakistan Day or Resolution Day is observed on 23 March every year.

The Sindh Cultural Day also gets celebrated in the city in the month of December every year since 2009. People wear traditional Sindhi Topi & Ajrak and gather in different areas of the city where they play songs, dance, attend functions where artists come and perform.

Popular media[edit]


There are numerous channels that have their headquarters in Karachi.

Sindh TV, KTN, Kashish, MEHRAN, AWAZ, Dharti, Ajrak TV, Indus, GEO TV, Dawn, ARY, PTV, Samaa Metro News and Duniya News have their TV stations in Karachi.


Pakistan Radio, FM 89, FM 103, FM 101, FM 96, FM 106.2


Karachi film industry had its golden days in the 1960s when some of the prominent film studios were located in Karachi, making films for the viewership of a large and growing working-class population. With a metropolitan area the film viewership is still popular in Karachi. However, the interest has shifted more towards Hollywood and other international productions. One of the reasons for the shifting trends is attributed to the moving of film-making industry to Lahore, locally termed as Lollywood. There are several hundred cinema theatres in Karachi with releases in Urdu, English, Sindhi, Punjabi, Pashtu, Balochi, etc.

National dress[edit]

The national dress of Karachi is Shalwar Qameez (Urdu: شلوار قمیض ‎), a traditional dress worn by both women and men in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Shalwar are loose pajama-like trousers. The legs are wide at the top, and narrow at the bottom. The Qameez is a long shirt or tunic. The side seams (known as the chaak) are left open below the waist-line, which gives the wearer greater freedom of movement.

Ethnic communities[edit]

One aspect of Karachi is its dwellers prefer to maintain their basic ethnic identity and lifestyles, and prefer to live together with their respective groups in their respective neighborhoods. For example, Kiamari is known for the Kachchis or Kharadar is for Memons and Agha Khanis, similarly Lyari is known for Baloch and Memons, Nazimabad and Liaquatabad for Muhajirs (Urdu speaking people), and Malir is known for Sindhi. The mentality has been reinforced as a result of serious clashes which have taken place in the recent past among different ethnic groups in this city.

Karachi in popular culture of Sindh[edit]

Karachi has been sung in many Sindhi songs, notably the folk songs sung in Sindhi marriages, called Sehra (سهرا) and Ladda (لاڏا ) such as:

آيلڙي مون ته سُئي وڃائي
ڪراچيءَ جي شهر مان مون سُئي گھُرائي

sung by Zarina Baloch and

ڪراچيءَ جي شهر مان منڊيون جوڙايم
سونا گل ڪراچيءَ جي موٽر ڀرجي آيا

In addition, Karachi is also known for the legend of Morirro Mirbahar, whose braveness has been praised and sung by Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai in his poetry. This legend has also been adapted in a Sindhi movie Ghatoo Ghar na Ayaa (Sindhi: گھاتُو گھر نه آيا ‎).

Karachi jaa ddeeha' aee' raatioo (Sindhi: ڪراچيءَ جا ڏينهن ۽ راتيون ‎), Days and Nights of Karachi is a novel written by Muhammad Bux Johar.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Heritage Sites of Karachi". DAILY NEWS e-paper. Retrieved 20 December 2010. 
  2. ^ Willium Wilson Hunter. "The Imperial Gazetteer of India (Volume 7)". Retrieved 20 December 2010. 
  3. ^ "Heritage Sites of Karachi". Daily News e-paper. Retrieved 20 December 2010. 
  4. ^ Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (17 July 2009). "Karachi's Invisible Enemy". PBS. Retrieved 2010-08-24. 
  5. ^ "In a city of ethnic friction, more tinder". The National. 24 August 2009. Retrieved 2010-08-24. 
  6. ^ "UN body, police baffled by minister’s threat against Afghan refugees". Dawn Media Group. 10 February 2009. Retrieved 2012-01-24. 
  7. ^ [1], thefridaytimes
  8. ^ "Religions in Pakistan". CIA World Factbook. Retrieved 2013-07-09. 
  9. ^ Curtis, Lisa; Mullick, Haider (4 May 2009). "Reviving Pakistan's Pluralist Traditions to Fight Extremism". The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 31 July 2011
  10. ^ a b c "Religions: Islam 95%, other (includes Christian and Hindu, 2% Ahmadiyyah ) 5%". CIA. The World Factbook on Pakistan. 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-28.
  11. ^ # ^ International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore: "Have Pakistanis Forgotten Their Sufi Traditions?" by Rohan Bedi April 2006
  12. ^ "KARACHI: Poetry collection launched". DAWN.COM. 2005-04-29. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  13. ^ "What was staple of Pakistan’s literary scene in 2015? - The Express Tribune". The Express Tribune. 2016-01-02. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  14. ^ National Academy of Performing Arts. "Welcome to National Academy of Performing Arts". Retrieved 2006-04-17. 
  15. ^ The All Pakistan Music Conference History of festival Retrieved 1 January 2008
  16. ^ "Clifton Art Gallery Pakistan –Paintings & Master Collection". Retrieved 2017-04-11. 
  17. ^ "44 artworks of Bin Qulander on display in Karachi - The Express Tribune". The Express Tribune. 2017-04-11. Retrieved 2017-04-11. 

External links[edit]