Let’s mourn the Katas Raj temple – by Ayaz Amir

Katasraj temple is a Hindu temple situated in the Chakwal district of Punjab in Pakistan. Dedicated to Shiva, the temple has existed since the days of Mahābhārata and the Pandava brothers spent a substantial part of their exile at the site. The Pakistan Government is considering nominating the temple complex for World Heritage Site status. It also proposes to spend about Rs 20 million in three phases for the restoration of the complex. - Wikipedia

What the ages couldn’t accomplish…

The hills of the Salt Range are amongst the oldest on earth, the valleys of the Salt Range amongst the most haunting on earth. In the Kahoon Valley, over which the fingers of the Almighty must have tarried as He went about shaping it, is a site sacred to the Hindu religion. This is the ancient temple complex of Kataasraj, rising over the waters of a deep and mysterious pond which has existed since the world as we know it – when the mountains rose and the seas receded – was first created.

Lord Shiva, the most powerful deity in the Hindu pantheon, grief-stricken over the death of his beloved Sita gave vent to his tears and from his immortal eyes a teardrop fell at this spot and created the pool at Kataasraj. So the legend goes. A second teardrop fell in Pushkara near the holy city of Ajmer, creating another pool of holy water. From times past pilgrims from far and wide have come to both places, to bathe in the holy waters and seek salvation.

They need not come to Kataasraj any more for the first of Lord Shiva’s teardrops has finally dried up and much of the bottom of the pond – about which it was said that no one had ever plumbed its depths – lies exposed to profane view.

For as long as anyone can remember water from this pond flowed to Choa Saidan Shah in an uninterrupted, never-stopping stream, Kataas being at a higher elevation than Choa. For years past it supplied water to the nearby villages of Wahoola, Tatral and Dulmial, and never for a moment would its water level, fed by spring waters underneath, fall even by so much as an inch.

But what time could not accomplish a nearby cement plant (Bestway) has, its massive turbines relentlessly sucking up groundwater and diverting the flow of the springs, thus bringing about the death – for it is nothing less than that – of the holy waters of Kataasraj. No ashnaan is possible in them anymore. The ancient ghosts themselves would have fled. For salvation some other destination will have to be found.

In 2006 Lal Kishen Advani visited Kataasraj. His host was Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. After the visit the Punjab government undertook to restore the temple complex, appropriating a good sum of money (I was told 11 crores, but I am not sure) for the purpose. The result is unmitigated disaster, enough to make the angels weep. A hideous iron railing, cheap marble tiles on footpaths that were not needed and, worst of all, lime plaster on the ancient brickwork. Crucifixion would be too light a sentence for the Punjab Archaeology Department and its so-called restorers. Restoration? It’s more like the leaden hand of destruction.

Some of the buildings of the Sir Syed Government High School Katas are within the temple complex, where they have no business to be. Underneath one side of the temples is an ancient corridor leading from outside and falling into the lake. This was meant as a channel for rainwater. Right in the centre of this natural channel two septic tanks serving the school have been dug. The sense of form of government building departments is hard to beat.

The Parthenon does not belong to the Greeks alone but to all of humanity, part of our common heritage. The Taj Mahal may be located in Agra but it belongs to the world. So it is with the temples of Kataas. They may be sacred to the Hindu faith but they are part of our civilisation too and it should have been up to us to safeguard and preserve them. Sloppy restoration work is one thing, and the marble tiles truly drive one to despair, but the drying of the pond is murder and sacrilege.

The three cement plants in the Kahoon Valley given the go-ahead and all possible encouragement by Gen Pervez Musharraf and his prime minister Shaukat Aziz, including the use of unbridled state power to acquire ancient landholdings, are a monstrosity in any case. These plants are huge, producing anything from 7,000-10,000 tons of cement each a day. Put this together and it comes to 30,000 tons a day. Imagine the amount of limestone, clay and water required for this infernal production, some of the most beautiful hills on earth – I am not exaggerating – stripped away and water, precious and pure, sucked up from the depths to feed this demand.

The plants are also a form of vandalism. The Kahoon Valley is a wonder of creation, blessed by the Lord. It is a slice of paradise, rolling hills on both sides, a gentle valley in between, all the way from Kallar Kahar to Choa Saidan Shah.

The Lord is merciful and forgiving. Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz may be forgiven other things but not the rape of Kahoon. Paradise lost, paradise destroyed, paradise betrayed. We are a people without culture and taste. If culture is destiny what hope for us?

And when they were being set up all the factory owners spun exceptionally long tales about where they would be getting their water supply from. The fiction prize should have gone to the Bestway owners for they said that their water supply would come – wait for this – the Khanpur Dam and the River Jhelum (their feasibility reports can be examined).

But they set up their factories here because it was so convenient. The pool of holy water created by Lord Shiva’s teardrop was doomed from that moment as one of the factories was located just nearby. The aquifers underneath, the underground springs which were so bountiful and life-giving, this plant has sucked dry: death on the march, in the name of progress, but actually at the altar of greed and blind profit.

And what is all this cement for? Not for Chakwal or the Kahoon Valley which have gained nothing except pestilence and future disease, not a morsel of revenue. Nato containers have not destroyed Pakistan’s roads as fully as the trucks servicing these factories have destroyed Choa’s roads. (Imagine the army of trucks required for all this stuff.) This cement is in excess of national demand. We are exporting it, much of it going to Afghanistan. In other words, the hills of Chakwal and Choa Saidan Shah being denuded for all time to come for the sake of Kabul and American bases in Afghanistan. When limestone is pulled out nothing remains, fertility lost forever. This is our idea of progress.

To get an idea of the effects of a nuclear strike go and see the hills from where limestone and clay are extracted. It is not the scene of a battlefield. It is something far worse, something more destructive. And this is happening to something as close to the Garden of Eden as anything on this planet.

Tailpiece: After I had all but cried out at Kataas, heart heavy and thoughts gloomy, I went up to the Choa rest-house for a cup of tea. The outside lawn commands a bewitching view of Choa and the surrounding hills. Just then it was the time of the Maghreb prayers and from a score if not more of loudspeakers set at their fullest volume the valley below erupted in a deafening cacophony of uncontrolled sound.

The evening was beautiful, even a sinner like me drawn if not to prayer at least to something resembling contemplation. Yet the beauty was shattered by the competing loudspeakers and I was forced to think once again that in our very infancy as a nation we must have been the victims of a conspiracy to deprive us so completely of a sense of form and proportion.

Source: The News

Source: Daily Jang



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