Have you heard of the mythical cave temple of Hinglaj Mata similar to Vaishno Devi? Or the accounts of a Muslim gatekeeper at the Shiv Mandir in Umerkot across the border? A new title, Historic Temples in Pakistan by Reema Abbasi with photos by Madiha Aijaz, presents spiritual myths and urban legends that are a window into the syncretic past of the undivided subcontinent.
Q. Given that Pakistan is an Islamic state, the perception of other religions is highly under-represented. Which are the must-see Hindu sites of worship that hold great historical significance?
A. Pakistan is a vestige of invaluable antiquity. The book concentrates on historic Hindu temples, which are still active, and host thousands of pilgrims from across the globe. I would especially name the ancient and consecrated temple complex of Kataas Raj in Punjab, Hinglaj in Balochistan, Swaminarayan Temple and Panchh Mukhi Hanuman Mandir in Karachi, Sadhu Bela and Kalka Cave Temple in Sindh, Shivala Mandir in Mansehra, and Gorakhnath Mandir in Peshawar.
In pictures: Pakistan's historic Hindu temples
A woman immerses the idol of Ganpati on the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi in Pakistan. Pic Courtesy/Madiha Aijaz
Shreds of wish lists say ‘Jai Mata Ki’ at Mata Singh Bhavani Mandir at Thatta, Sindh.
Q. As you scoured the length and breadth of the country, what examples of interfaith harmony did you witness?
A. This was a wonderful journey of revelations vis-à-vis the people of Pakistan. Almost each shrine was an emblem of unity. It was about humanity and not just inter-faith relations. Peshawar, contrary to all that it is painted to be, has an entire Kali ki Gali (lane of Kali) where people of all faiths reside and pay homage to her temple. The only heartbreakers were the inner, older quarters of Lahore, which are bent on erasing the Mughal city’s secular past.
Neel Gumbad Mandir is dedicated to Valmiki. Located in Lahore (where only 35 Hindu families exist), the temple had a turbulent time during the Partition when vandals stripped the temple of everything sacred, including a tile of gold by Valmiki’s feet. Pics courtesy/Madiha Aijaz
Kataas Raj in Punjab is seen as Shiva’s land of birth where his beloved Sati breathed her last; the Mahabharata calls its stream ‘the pool of the Universe’ and narrates that the inconsolable god wept here for his lost love, creating this vast pond and another in Pushkar. Shiva’s hallowed pond and Durga’s beautiful baradari of curved arches with the bulbuous domes of Shiv Mandir rising behind it.
Q. Has this book been released in Pakistan as well? Did you face any kind of resistance?
A. The book will be formally launched in the winter in Pakistan, however it has already evoked tremendous interest, and is eagerly awaited. There is no question of resistance as Pakistan is presently at war with extremist elements and that alone says a lot about its people, and their commitment to liberty and tolerance.
Hinglaj at its holiest: Situated in Balochistan, this holy cavern is believed to be the spot where Sati’s head had fallen when Vishnu in an effort to end Shiva’s dance of fury and lament, divided Sati’s corpse in 52 parts. History of Sindh observes that the Hinglaj Puran contains a mention of Ram’s visit to the cave during his 14-year exile.
Fakira has made 250 statues for churches, temples and homes, privately commissioned pieces such as busts, commercial works and pieces for exhibition in galleries
Q. In your book, you quote 600 Maharashtrians who celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi in Pakistan. Do Hindus face opposition when they celebrate their festivals there?
A. Liberals, Shias and Ahmedis are the ones that have been and are being targetted. It is important to understand that displacements have been due to security issues and not faith. Therefore, the Maharashtrians have mostly been one of the smaller communities. Hindu festivals enjoy mass media coverage and support and the community celebrates with abandon. Interestingly, many Muslims for its colours and fervour have adopted Holi.
Historic Temples in Pakistan: A Call to Conscience, by Reema Abbasi and photography by Madiha Aijaz, Niyogi Books, Rs 1,250. Available at leading bookstores.
Reema Abbasi. Author of Hindu Temples in Pakistan
Q. You have dedicated space to Fakira, a sculptor of idols of gods and goddesses. Please tell us about his artistry.
A. Fakira has a special section because his craft is simply world class; he took on this art form to keep his family legacy alive. Today, he has achieved international recognition. As a sculptor, he intends to exhibit in Europe and other parts of the world, and has renowned and affluent patrons. He now wants to encourage his young son and many students to take it forward.