Iqbal Qaiser’s wanderlust keeps him on his toes and that’s why he is able to startle readers with his findings. A few years ago, he went searching for historical Sikh shrines located across the length and breadth of Pakistan and the outcome was a book titled Historical Sikh Shrines in Pakistan which was published in three languages — Punjabi, Gurmukhi and English — simultaneously. Needless to say, this compendium of lost Sikh heritage became his magnum opus; since its publication, it has had several editions printed in Pakistan as well as India.
For quite some time, he was researching the lost remnants of Jain heritage in Pakistan and he visited many cities in this regard. After four years of hard work, he pinpointed more than 20 historically important Jain temples located in Pakistan. He has compiled these into a book and that was how Ujray Daran De Darshan [A Peek into the Deserted Doors] has seen the light of day.
It is important to mention that Qaiser wears many hats and not just a researcher’s. He is a Punjabi poet, critic, and Punjabi language campaigner rolled into one. He has written 13 books on Punjabi poetry, criticism, and research.
Qaiser has documented what is left of our common cultural and social heritage. It appears we love to vandalise history and we have proven this time and again. A classic case of our collective madness was the razing down of a Jain Temple in Anarkali, Lahore, in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition in India. Qaiser has drawn a picture of the demolished Jain temple in Anarkali which saddens one beyond words.
He has pinpointed two more interesting spots in Lahore. The first is Bhabra, in the vicinity of Model Town in Lahore which once held a sizeable population of Jains. The Jain temple there is no more and in its place stands a house now. And the second spot is in the dingy streets of Bhati Gate, Lahore; there stands a Jain Hall even today which was erected in 1940.
Thus started the journey of a peripatetic wanderer who scanned not only cities but also Thar Desert in search of Jain footprints and their religious and cultural heritage. He visited Gujranwala, Rawalpindi, Narowal, Mianwali, Bahawalpur, Bahawalnagar, D.G. Khan, Sialkot, Chakwal, Multan, and Kasur districts and tried to document any monument related to Jains.
He claims that Bhabras were Jains and many places and lanes are still named after them in many locations. There is a Bhabra Bazaar in old city of Rawalpindi where he found remnants of a Jain building. Similarly, there is another area in Bhera (Sargodha) that is also called Bhabra which held Jain population before 1947. Similarly, in Bhera (Sargodha) he found a temple which he claims dates back to more than five centuries and is still surviving.
He also visited Karachi and rural Sindh and documented the few traces of Jain heritage there which are in a decrepit state due to negligence and apathy. After four years, he was able to find 25 sites, old structures and temples that stand testament to our common cultural and moribund treasure.
This book is in Punjabi as Qaiser is a die-hard Punjabi rights activist and campaigner. Its Gurmukhi version is being published shortly from Patiala, India. To access readers across the globe who can’t understand Punjabi, the book is being translated into English as well.
This work is the first of its kind in Pakistan given that it highlights the traces of Jains in Pakistan. By compiling almost all the historical worship places of Jains in Pakistan, the writer has done a huge favour to research scholars, students and historians. He has added more than 60 pictures at the end of the book. This is praiseworthy because chances are that pretty soon these Jain-era structures will be razed to the ground. More power to the pen of Iqbal Qaiser.
Author: Iqbal Qaiser
Publisher: Punjabi Adabi Board
Lahore Pages: 352