Katas Raj Temples- The Oldest Hindu Temple in Pakistan
Indus valley civilization is one of the ancient civilizations of the world. It extended from present-day northeast Afghanistan to Pakistan and northwest India. Indus Valley civilization holds great importance in Hinduism; it was in this period that Hinduism found its footing and was adopted as the religion of the valley during 2300-1300 CE. Many of temples of the ancient age have been excavated at the civilization sites, of which many are present in Pakistan. Although Pakistan was founded as a predominantly Muslim country after partition, the map of the country is dotted with temples of all ages. One of these temples is the Katas Raj Temple, or Qila Katas as it is locally known.
The town of Kallar Kahar in Chakwal district of Punjab province of Pakistan houses one of the holiest sanctuaries of Hinduism in the Indian subcontinent. The Katas Raj temple is a complex of seven or more temples, collectively known as Satgraha.
According to the first directorate general of Archaeological Survey of India, Alexander Cunningham, the temples are situated along the foothills of the Salt Range extending from the river Jhelum up till the Indus river.
Katas Raj temple is highly revered by Hindus world over. It is believed the pond around which the Katas Temple is built is filled by Lord Shiva’s tears. He is believed to have lived here with his wife Sati, and upon her death, grief stricken Shiva couldn’t hold back his tears. These tears then led to the creation of the Katas Raj pond. This water body is thus said to symbolise his inconsolable and unfathomable grief. The name of the pond and the temple is also derived from a word that conveyed his grief, Alexander Cummingham traced back the origin of word Katas to Katasha, a Sanskrit word for “teary eyes”.
According to another legend, the Pandava brothers found refuge in the caves near the temple after the eldest Pandav Yudhishtra—King of Indraprastha lost his kingdom to their cousin Duryodhana. This incident is mentioned in the Hindu epic Mahabharata and it refers to Katas Raj as the place where the Pandava brothers settled during their 12 years of exile.
The caves are now restored and preserved by the archaeology department of Pakistan for their historical and religious importance.
Owing to these important stories of the faith, Hindus in large number from both the sides of the border congregate every year at different occasions to pay their respects, especially during Maha Shivratri. Although currently there are no idols placed in the temples, the pilgrims come here to commemorate the sacrifices of Pandava brothers and venerate Lord Shiva’s grief. The sacred lake is held in high regards and it is believed a dip/bath in it helps one attain salvation.
Besides these important temples, there are hundred other temples scattered around the ancient holy city of Katas. This includes Buddhist stupas, havelis and temples built about 900 years ago during the Buddhist rule and Hindu Shahi dynasty. Many of the small medieval temples have been constructed during the rule of Hindu Shahis— Hindu rulers from Afghanistan, that fled from their hometown and set their base here at Katas and ruled from 850-1026 BCE. Most of these temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva, and others to Lord Hanuman and Ram.
Within the complex are also remnants of an ancient Gurudwara where Guru Nanak took residence while he travelled across the world in the 19th Century.
Besides being a place of veneration, Katas Raj is also believed to be one of the ancient education centres. Recorded as per history in the 11th Century, Al-Biruni—Persian scholar and mathematician from the court of Mahmud Ghaznavi landed in Katas Raj to study Hinduism. He is believed to be the first Muslim scholar to carry out extensive research on Hindusim. To translate and understand the Hindu scripts he learnt Sanskrit at the linguistic university situated in the complex of the temple. And it was here during his stay that he studied the movements of planets and calculated the circumference of the earth. The Katas Raj temple finds a mention in his book Kitab ul Hind, Book of India.
Architecture of the complex
The construction and architecture of the complex reflects the Kashmiri design of Karkota and Varma dynasties. The temples are built on small square platforms and the cornices are formed where these platforms merge with the elevations of sub shrines situated in the complex.
The temple entrances are guarded by large wooden doors and some by open arches. The entrances are decorated with floral motifs atypical of Kashmiri style. And the defining characteristics of the temples here are the dentils, trefoil arches, fluted pillars and pointed roofs which are present in most of the temples that are found all along the Salt Range foothills.
Conservation of the site
Although the complex was neglected in earlier years, the authorities of Punjab Archaeology Department have undertaken the task to preserve and restore the Katas Raj temple. Renovation of the site began in 2006, post L.K. Advani’s trip to the complex in 2005. And as a gesture of goodwill, Pakistan’s high commissioner Abdul Basit sent him a pitcher of water from the holy pond in 2015.
Some temples in the complex are under renovation while those that are well maintained serve as a destination of pilgrimage for Hindus. Katas Raj Temples is enlisted on the World Heritage Site tentative list of UNESCO.
The Katas Raj is a conglomeration of multi-religious and multi-cultural monuments and shrines, and serves as a reminder and testimony of the syncretic nature of Pakistan.
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