FIRST TIME IN 60-YRS OF PARTITION –THE MAHASHIVRATRI PUJA WITH IDOLS AT KATASRAJ –HINDU SHRINES IN PAKISTAN —
By Rashmi Talwar
KATASRAJ (PAKISTAN) March 26, 2007 ————
Often successive Jathas leaders during their trip to Pakistan were seen handing over printed copies of demands for maintenance, conservation of these ‘mute’ structures and environs of immense historical and religious value, but were crestfallen over mere assurances year after year.
However a ray of hope shone for the first time this year as the religious Puja at Katasraj and at Krishan temple –the only one left in Lahore, were conducted amongst idols of Lord Shiva’s family and Lord Krishna and Radha respectively, were installed for the first time in 60 years of Indo-Pak partition.
The idols were allowed to be carried across the Radcliff line for the first time in the Samjhauta Express —considered as a train of emotions between the two countries –.just days before the ghastly blasts in Samjhauta that took away innocent lives and left behind heart-rending tales of separation, loss and destruction.
With one eye on forging and fostering religious tolerance and the other on the immense potential of tourism, this time the Pakistan government seems to be serious.
Apart from handing over the project’s reins to Directorate of Archeology ( DoA) of the provincial Government from the Department of Archeology & Museums , Government of Pakistan , a massive outlay of Rs 108.107 million Pakistani rupees (roughly $1.8 million) for conservation, restoration , beautification of the shrines besides civic facilities has been demarcated . “It is the biggest amount to have been sanctioned for any religious project in Pakistan”, says Orya Mqbool Jan Abbasi, Director General DoA.
A whirlwind 17-day survey led by DG , along with Mr Shahbaz Khan Director DoA besides others to various religious shrines in India including Akshardham Mandir , Delhi, Ajanta –Ellora caves, Mandirs in Varanasi, Jaipur , Bikaner , Mathura too have been seen as part of project for conservation in a study of structures and architecture of that Era to be replicated for some structures and frescoes facing decay.
However Pakistan is overtly skeptical of carrying on the conservation and restoration ‘alone’ without the help of Indian experts, as fears of hurting religious sentiments cannot be dispelled.
Rightly so, as Brij Mohan Gupta president of Hindu Council , UK(who was on visit to Katasraj ) raised objections on the use of word “death” for ‘Sati’ –wife of Lord Shiva with Sardar Gulam Abbas District Nazim Chakwal and asked for a favorable way to describe the demise of gods and goddesses .
There is merely a trickle of Hindus left in this district of Punjab and no one knows any the better about religious customs and traditions, exclaimed Ravinder Kumar Chibber the lone Hindu member of district council, Chakwal.
If the claims of Orya Maqbool of preparation of 250- page dossier on Katasraj to be submitted in a few years for recognition as World Heritage Site are to be believed the vision could gladden many a hearts across the border in India . However Orya says the structures need to be first fortified and strengthened.
Presently hectic activity was seen in the precincts of the shrines with fencing by grills of the periphery. Embankment has been constructed on one side of the sacred Sarovar with grills on the opposite side and a water channel.
CHAUDHARY SHUJAAAT HUSSAIN FORMER PM PAKISTAN
“Our aim is to restore the ancient structures to their former glory” Chaudhary shujaat Hussain former Prime Minister and president of the Muslim League party announced at the civic reception to hindu pilgrims at Katasraj .
“no modern building material like iron , cement etc would be used in keeping with the character of essence of the ancient structures that were mostly built using lime with corbelled stones and bricks says Orya while giving a breakup of the fund to be spent .”it is a three year project with the first phase currently on at the outlay of Rs 63.650 million rupees for the conservation and preservation of Satgarha temples , Shiv temples , Gen Hari Singh Nalwa’s Haveli , Ram Chandra temple , Hanuman temple , library building besides fortification of wall , reconstruction of Buddhist stupa , landscaping, establishing a museum and detailed documentation of site .
while the second phase at rs 26 .816 million rupees entails civil works of public facilities, reception block , guest house, toilets residences and fencing of area . a sum of Rs 10.500 is to be spent in the final phase of de-silting the sacred Sarovar , embankment , storm channels and removing the pumping chamber .
No one however uttered any word over the large scale emergence of cement factories near the shrine that could be cause for large-scale pollution in the area or the heavy electrical cable wires that cross over the sacred structures. Katasraj is facing a discomforting predicament of pollution of its “unsullied” mountainous air, its natural pure water springs and water bodies, say experts in Pakistan.
Meanwhile it is indeed sad to note that no one among the pilgrims raised any concern over the conservation of the Loh (son of Lord Rama ) Samadhi –the founder of Lahore city– housed in a descript room at the Shahi Killa Lahore that is recognized as a world heritage site even as Lahore is enroute to the Katasraj shrines.
Legends of Katasraj Shrine :
Katasraj is considered second holiest pilgrimage for Hindus in north India
after ‘Jawalmukhi’ temple. The shrines connected with Shiva and ‘Pandavas’ of epic era of Mahabharata holds much sanctity even after partition of the country wherein the shrines became part of Pakistan in west Punjab. (PIC 1.)
‘Amar Kund’(holy sarovar) a huge sweet water spring with its crystal clear water flows at Katasraj , to fulfill water demands of 40 villages. At present, the Kund is unfortunately narrowing down and is infested by algae. Failure to de-silt it may eventually lead it into a marsh. (PIC 2)
Already in ruinous state, locals further vandalized the shrines in the aftermath of Babri masjid demolition in 1993. Consequently all idols in temples here are missing and ‘kalash’ (elongated tip of the domes) destroyed.
According to stone plaque by the government of Pakistan at the site, the mention of Katas is found in epic Mahabharta written in 300BC. The etymology of this place is mentioned in old edition “Tarikh –E –Jhelum” according to which lord Shiva wept on death of his beloved wife sati and two holy ponds emerged from his tears .one at ‘Pushkar’ in Ajmair, India and other at Kataksh’–believed to be two ‘netras’ of lord Shiva .
Heroes of Mahabharata the Pandav brothers spent 12 years of their exile here and built the “Satgarha” temples. The questioning session between eldest Pandav brother Yudhistra and the Yaksha also took place here. (PIC 3)
Another legend mentions an ancient ‘Sheesham’ tree that stood here half burnt and half green.
A legend connects it this to a meditating Rishi Chawan on the banks of Amar Kund whose body was covered with mud termite house, a chance piercing by stick by young lass led to blood flowing from the eyes of rishi who cursed her with marriage to him for disrupting his meditation, ultimately turning into a young man.
Locals say that violation of the Kund had led to severe floods in 1960s.
Another connection to Katasraj is that this is the place where Al-Barunni– the Arab explorer measured the circumference of the earth as mentioned on the plaque.
At present the site is under the archaeological department of Pakistan notified in 1956 and excavation was in progress.<br>
There are seven Shiva shrines and an equal number of satgarh shrines (‘Sat’—seven Garh—shrines) believed to be built by Pandavs in Kashmiri and Gandhara tradition learnt to be of the Hindushahiya period (650-950 AD) (PIC 4)
Distributed over a vast expanse of area through which a road passes now.
A once palatial Haveli of Hari Singh Nalwa a general in the army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh,
which too stands in ruins.
Gen Nalwa was given governorship of North West Frontier province and Afghanis still remember him with fear, say some old locals. No mention is made about this historical Haveli by the archaeological department in the plaque defining the history of the place. (PIX 5-6)
Also missing is the mention of a ‘Buddhist Stupa’ nearly 200 feet high that lies in shambles , according to Dr Muner Chand general secretary of Krishna temple in Lahore who accompanied this correspondent and some experts — The temples of the Salt Range are the missing link between end of Buddhism and rise of Islam in subcontinent.(PIC 7)
INDIA PAKISTAN AGREEMENT ON KATASRAJ
An agreement made in 1955 by Ghazafar Ali Khan –the first Pakistan ambassador to India agreed on the first Hindu yatra to Katasraj in 1956 but was cancelled merely 12 days before scheduled visit. The story of agreement and cancellation was repeated in 1960 and again in 1979. In 1982 the first Hindu jatha visited the shrines, 35 years after partition. The jathas were stopped due to several hitches including Kargil War , the Indo-Pak stand-off after attack on Indian Parliament in 2001 and restarted in 2003 when conditions eased a little between both countries.
Writer is freelance writer & journalist with The Tribune and Rising Kashmir
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