1st time Idols Installed at Katasraj Hindu Shrines in Pak, After Partition .. Rashmi Talwar

Katasraj (Pakistan ) February 2007 —-


By Rashmi Talwar

KATASRAJ (PAKISTAN) March 26, 2007 ————
For many of those who had devotedly participated in ‘Mahashivratri Puja’ at the holy Katasraj shrines located at Chakwal district of Pakistan, for a number of years, the sight of defacement, decaying temples, missing idols ,doors and Kalash– that had been cut from the tops of temple structures) has been extremely painful .
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.


“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)


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.

Rashmi Talwar
Writer is freelance writer & journalist with The Tribune and Rising Kashmir
rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com, rashno1@hotmail.com

Rashmi Talwar

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by harish on May 16, 2008 at 11:07 PM

    Great Work… Keep it up..
    all da very best for future..



  2. The marriage made in heaven

    Haroon Khalid………march 2011

    participates in a poignant religious ceremony, marred by the rude realities of present-day Pakistan, at the ancient Katas Raj temples

    Standing on a hilltop, under the pattern of the stars that emerged after a continuous drizzle, I wondered if this was the exact sight that greeted Al Beruni. Where once stood the famed Hindu university, attracting scholars from all over the world, including the Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang, is now a couple of newly built rooms, under the Punjab Archaeology Department. The old stairs that Al Beruni would have used a thousand times is no longer usable. This is one of the higher points of the surroundings. I stood on the relics of the university, listening to the sound of the flute in the background, gaping at the sky, with the stars shining in the darkness that enveloped the valley (this is due to hourly load-shedding), trying to figure out how Al Beruni had so accurately calculated the radius of the world while working in this Hindu university at Katas Raj. What changes would he have noticed in the sky, and which ones would he have held constant to make the calculations?

    Set in the picturesque valley of Chakwal District, the Katas temple complex has various structures. The earliest is a partially excavated Buddhist stupa, and the latest is the haveli of Hari Singh Nalwa, a general in the army of Ranjit Singh. There was also a famous Hindu university here, where Al Beruni studied, in the 11th century CE, which led to the writing of his famous book ‘Al Hind’. The principle point of the temple is the natural pond, which is said to be created from a single tear of Lord Shiv, the Hindu lord of destruction. Legend has it that when his wife, Sita, died, Shiv dropped two tears. One of them landed here, creating this pond, whereas the other one fell in Pushkara, Ajmer, where there is even today another pond similar to this one.

    Shakeel, a local guide at the temples, tells me that the depth of this pond is around 300 feet. The water is turquoise in color, and gives a beautiful reflection of the surrounding buildings during a bright sunny day. A dip in this pond rinses all past sins, according to Hindu beliefs.

    Shiv had another spouse called Parvati. According to legend, the Hindu festival of Maha Shivratri is the day when Shiv married Parvati. This year the event fell on the 2nd of March. Since the sanctity of this temple is strongly affiliated with Shiv, this place was an important pilgrimage site before 1947, at the time of this event. Even after the creation of Pakistan, Hindu pilgrims regularly visited the temples on this auspicious day. After the war of 1965 this stopped, but the process was begun once again in 1984-5, when Zia ul Haq started the policy of entertaining larger groups of pilgrims from India. In 2005 Lal Krishna Advani, then Deputy Prime Minister of India, visited the site, after which the government of Pakistan (riding an unusual wave of Musharrafian “enlightened moderation” in those days) decided to take up the cause of renovating it. For the next couple of years hundreds of Hindu pilgrims came to Pakistan to visit this shrine for Shivratri, as the facilities in the complex improved. This included conserved structures, clean water, rest-houses, and various guides. (The Punjab Archaeology Department and the Evacuee Trust Property Board used to make the necessary arrangements.) However, after the Mumbai attacks of 2008, Indians have stopped coming here, which has resulted in the complex’s slide back into disrepair. Now the temple complex serves mainly as a romantic ruin that attracts local (mostly Muslim) tourists, and their names, epithets, mobile numbers and love notes are written on the ancient walls.

    The local Hindu population, however, doesn’t want the temples to disappear into obscurity. There is a sizeable Hindu population in Pakistan. According to the census report of 1998, the Hindus are the largest minority in the country. For the last couple of years, various local Hindu organizations have taken up the cause of worshipping here. Amar Nath Randhawa, President of the Hindu Sudhar Sabha (Lahore), tells me that ever since foreigners stopped coming here for Shivratri, the local Hindu community has taken it upon itself to celebrate the event. He tells me that last year, in 2010, when they celebrated the event for the first time, there were around 2000 people. This year a collaboration of various Pakistani non-government Hindu organizations was able to once gather about 2000 people for the event. These organizations include: the All Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement (Peshawar), Shiv-Kabir Mandali (Rahim Yaar Khan), Balmik Sabha (Nowshera), Samajh Balmik Sabha (Peshawar), and Scheduled Castes Rights Movement (Pakistan). Pilgrims from as far away as Karachi and Kohat descended upon this site to celebrate Shivratri on the 2nd of March 2011.

    The celebration of Shivratri includes keeping a fast at midnight and praying all night long. At 4 am, which is when Shiv and Parvatri are said to have gotten married, a marriage ceremony is performed to mark the event. This date and this particular time are considered auspicious for tying the knot for mortals as well. (This year the various organizations arranged 4 marriages here.) Most of them were victims of the flood from Khyber-Pakthunkhwa and FATA and couldn’t afford to have elaborate weddings. The sangat , or the collective of Hindu organizations, contributed to make the marriages possible. The ceremonial acting-out of the marriage between Shiv and Parvati is preceded by a mehndi ceremony, in which maidens and married women take mehndi and water to prepare the groom, who is the Shiv-ling in this case. (The Shiv-ling is a phallic black structure, made out of stone, which represents the potent fertilizing force of the Lord.) The festivities end the following day after the break of fast at midday, and are followed by a community prayer called bhog .

    The Deputy Superintended of Police (DSP) at Choa Saidan Sharif told me that this year the government had asked the Hindu community not to come here. The community wrote letters to the Punjab Archaeology Department and other concerned authorities to make arrangements for them, but they refused to cater the demand, citing a “security threat” as the reason. Despite receiving a red signal from the authorities the Hindu community went ahead with the plan to celebrate Shivratri at Katas Raj. When about 2000 people reached the spot, the DSP was left with no option but to open the offices of the Punjab Archaeology Department and allow the women and children to rest. The men folk stood in the wet, cold night.

    Haroon Sarab Diyal is the President of the All Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement. He is a Hindu based in Peshawar, with a Masters degree in Islamic studies, and teaches Comparative Religion to Doctorate Students in Peshawar. He tells me that they had been assured by the Federal Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti that all arrangements for them would be made here. However, on the morning of the 2nd, Mr Bhatti was assassinated. “There was no point contacting his Personal Secretary,” he tells me. “These people are discouraging us.” He said he has been told that the Punjab Archaeology Department has not paid the electricity bills for the temples for the past 4 months, which is why there is no electrical connection here. However, he refuses to believe this, and says that the authorities are only trying to stop them from coming next year.

    Despite the lack of arrangements, and in the cold weather, the Hindus were enthusiastic to make the festival a celebration. All night long different bhajans blared out of the speakers that the community had arranged for. Young boys in bandanas and jeans danced to these tunes taken from popular Indian movie songs. The women, on the other hand, dressed up for the celebrations in colorful clothes. A bindi , mehndi , and bangles were a must for everyone. After all, this was the marriage of Shiv. Langar was served at around 11:00 pm, so that people got ample time to eat before the start of the fast at midnight. After food, women started preparing for the breakfast at noon.

    At around 3 am, when it was time to take the mehdni of Lord Shiv a musical band appeared out of nowhere. They had been brought from Peshawar. Dancing to the rhythm, the boys, girls, women, and men took the mehndi to the Shiv temple in the darkness. Milk was offered to the Shiv-ling , as part of the custom. The symbolic mehndi also became the mehndi of the ‘real’ grooms. Because of the lack of seating arrangements, and the constant rain, we couldn’t stay till the actual pheras at 4 am. So we retired to our hotel at around 3:30.

    Iqbal Qaiser, author of the book ‘Historical Sikh Shrines in Pakistan’, is of the opinion that if the Hindu community continues to assert itself in this way, in a couple of years they could make this a huge a festival. And then the authorities would be left with no choice but to recognize the event at the state level.

    The festival reached its climax in the morning. The DSP had opened the offices of the Archaeology Department at his own discretion. When the officers saw the situation in the morning, they ordered the immediate removal of the pilgrims. The Police, which had in the night opened the doors, now threw the public out of the rooms. This caused a scene, as all the occupants were women, children and the old. After putting up an initial resistance, the pilgrims succumbed and were kicked out at 10 am. All their belongings, including the cooked and the uncooked food, was thrown on the roads.

    This nonetheless didn’t deter the community from concluding the ceremonies. At noon the pilgrims broke their fast and followed it up with a community prayer. By this time various stalls had been set up inside the complex, selling various idols, posters and toys.

    While the Hindu community was being kicked out of the offices, we were involved in a dilemma of our own. I was accompanied by a few friends and we were staying at the TDCP at Kalar Kahar. At about 11 in the morning, there was a knock on the door, and I was told by the “polite” waiter from last night, who wasn’t very polite this time round, that the CID wanted to see our Identity Cards. Unfortunately for us, one of our colleagues was a foreign student, and so there was an additional need to check visas and passports. When I went to see the “CID” personally, I learned that they weren’t really CID but men from the dreaded “Agencies”. (Which agency? They never tell you. But can you guess?)

    They were rather understanding when I explained to them why our friend wasn’t carrying a passport or a visa. However, what I didn’t understand was why the “Agencies” would ask for our ID cards. My friend, who is not from Pakistan, looks as Pakistani as anyone else. Were their suspicions aroused because of our visit to Katas? After all, I met a couple of “Agencies” people there too. Or was it Masood, the hotel Manager, who informed them about our unholy trip to the Shiv Temple? Maybe they thought we too were linked to some “agencies”…

    Haroon Khalid is a staff reporter at Newsweek Pakistan



    • Posted by Anonymous on July 8, 2012 at 2:35 PM

      Kaash Ke koi Rasta mil jaye tujh tak pahunchane ka,
      Qeher ban ke Baras rahi hain mujh pe yaadein teri …..



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