This magnificent complex of temples devoted to Ram, Hanuman and Shiva is built around a natural pond and is located near the Salt Ranges of Kallar Kahar Punjab. The Katas Raj Temples near Chakwal are dated to the period of the Hindu Shahis (kings) from about 615-950 EC. As such, they are one of Pakistan’s most important Hindu places of pilgrimage in Pakistan and are still used till now by Hindu community members both in the country and from abroad.
Historical records indicate that many of the temples built in the architectural style of Kashmir were built in the 11th CE when, together with parts of Punjab, this area fell into the rule of Kashmiri.
According to the religious views, the pond was built by the crying Shiva when he flew over the heavens with his wife Sati’s dead body. He cast two drops, one for this pool and one for Ajmer, Rajasthan’s pond. Legends quote that the lake of the complex has magical powers and it’s the place where Yudhisthira with his insight vanquished Yaksha and took his brothers back to life.
The Pandawa Brothers from the “Mahabharta” are thought to have visited this site and this temple complex was constructed to honor their visit. The place called Dvaitavana, it is said epically, and it is here that the Pandawa lived during their exile and also where the Pandawa and Yakshahs had concerns. The place where the Pandavas made their home during 12 years of exile is called Sath Ghara or Seven temples.
Yet Katas Raj is not only a sacred Hindu place. Short distances away from the pond are the ruins of Gurdwara, in which Guru Nanak is believed to have stayed while visiting shrines of various religions on his trip around the world. Hari Singh Nalwa, the most prominent general in the army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Havelis remnants are adjacent to Ram’s temple.
The ruins of a Buddhist stupa are partly excavated, originally a temple complex confiscated by the time the Subcontinent fell under Buddhism during emperor Ashoka’s rule. In the 11th century, Al-Biruni is thought to have spent some time here researching Hinduism, a prominent Muslim scholar who brought Hinduism to the West.
Nonetheless, Katas Raj was overlooked for much of Pakistan’s history. In 2005, LK Advani, former Indian Deputy Prime Minister, visited the shrine, which prompted the government to refurbish the temples. As a result, Katas Raj was well looked after and Indian tourists were welcomed to visit Shivratri as Pervez Musharraf’s government started to develop pleasant relations with Delhi by the mid-2000s. As the relations between India and Pakistan worsened after the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, the influx of pilgrims waned.
Prior to its Hindu origins, the site had a Buddhist stupa that, as described by Alexander Cunningham, the first General Director of Archeology of India in 1872-73, had topped 61 meters (200 ft) in height, with ten streams around it. This was confirmed by the Chinese XuanXang pilgrim who visited it in the 7th century CE and identified the numerous Buddhist sites in the subcontinent.
The seven temple complex at the highest point of the site is, according to Cunningham, the main part of the site, representing the Kashmiri temples’ architectural style of Karkota and Varma dynasties that dominated the period 625-939. Such temples have certain distinguishing characteristics such as dentiles, trefoil arches, fluted pillars and pointed roofs that can be seen in many of the temples along the foothills of the Salt Range. The primary construction material is smooth, plastered sandstone.
Located east of the Hari Singh Haveli, Ramachandra Mandir is closed on all directions except an entrance to the east. The two-story structure consists of eight rooms on the first floor, each of varying sizes, with a south staircase to the first level. The mandir has two jharokas (balconies) seriously damaged.
On the West end of the rectangular high enclosure with entrances to the South and the North is the Hanuman Mandir. Undecorated and lime plastered are the temple’s ceiling. The Temple of Shivah is also built in a square shape. It has an angled arch with slight cusps and a rectangular north-facing opening.
Therefore, Katas Raj has a series of buildings and ruins that extend from the Buddhist period to British rule, preserving in that particular space at least 1,500 years of history.
At the site of the Katas Raj have been unearthed ancient tools and weapons such as axes and swords, and objects such as terracotta bracelets and pottery. The latter was similar to those excavated in Harappa but were not dated due to a lack of expert advice. There is a major archeological treasure in the mysterious Salt Ranges now hidden underground. Prehistoric findings were also found in the salt fields.
Although some local experts found the fossils between 6000 and 7000 BC, the fact remains that qualified paleontologists of an international standard did not yet study them. In some areas, a large number of bones from the hands of giant animals have been discovered that resembles the extinct dinosaurs and mammoths. According to a writer, “the entire range of low mountains in the area appears to be fossilized, revealing to the naked eye layer upon layer of a variety of plants and soils.”
Due to the ignorance of the government, this house was in poor condition for decades. Pakistan preferred in 2006 to restore the original temple complex, by installing the murtis of Hindu gods in 7 temples. A team of three archeologists visited India, Sri Lanka and Nepal to collect murtis of Hindu gods.
Nonetheless, this exotic ancient complex needs to be carefully look-over to protect the heritage of our country. Just as Kartar Pur corridor, we could utilize this pilgrimage site for better economical earning through travel and tour. Moreover, these temples could also serve as a bridge between India and Pakistan, if visits become more easily accessible.
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28 March, 2020