Many temples that exist in the land now designated politically as Pakistan largely go unnoticed because most of these temples are either not living places of worship or have a very small Hindu community to make the presence felt. But in certain places in the country, mostly in Sindh or in Balochistan, there are both living places of worship that serve as a nucleus for the community at large.
This beautifully produced book again brings to light both the cultural diversity of the land and the rich architectural heritage that somehow got neglected or sidelined. It is understandable that in countries like Pakistan, which are always saddled by problems due to limited resources, enough cannot be spared to look after and properly document the cultural landscape in its full plurality.
Many years ago Iqbal Qaiser also documented the large number of Gurdawaras that dot the landscape particularly of the Punjab. It was astonishing to know that so many gurdawaras still exist despite the fact that they do not have worshippers or followers of the faith. In other words these are not living places of worship.
This book is also useful because it just doesn’t enumerate and identify the places but then also brings out any particularity associated with the temple. May it be anything that is special about the structure or that there is a story behind its building or its expansion. Usually such sites are not only the outcome of the community’s desire to worship collectively but invokes a certain story or reaffirms the vision of an individual who was inspired to build the temple in the first place.
It is thus not only about buildings but about human beings as well. This document purports historical references and cites people and places that have made the site possible or workable. It is a cultural guide or a set of information that tells us so much about the places, the buildings, the people and their cultural practices. It is an anthropological treasure trove.
As the author says “the temples of Pakistan are so much more than mere symbols of faith and religious minority. Not only are they vestiges of ancient lore in Hindu mythology they also stand like warrior of time, pitted testaments of peaceful , pluralistic past.”
The first five chapters of the book look in detail at the life and times of the most antiquated in every region.It details renowned teeraths like Hinglaj in Balochistan, Katas Raj in Punjab, Sadhu Bela, and Panchmukhi Hanuman Mandir in Sindh and Kalibari Balmiki Temple in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Each temple has a brief write up about its significance, its reason of coming into existence, the lore around it and if significant its architecture peculiarity. But besides the author the photographer too has mentioned her own observations and that adds another dimension to the narrative.
The photographer Madiha Aijaz has been equally involved in the project because the photographs add poignancy to the narrative. The beautifully-taken photographs like any photographic representation bring to life the site, the temple and the people. It’s a project jointly shared by the two and they make a couple that works well together.
Some of the temples mentioned in the book are Shiv Mandir, Katasraj, Gor Khattree and Gorakhnath Temple, Neela Gumbad, Balmiki Temple, Krishna Mandir, Kalka Cave Temple, Sadhu Bela, Mata Singh Bhavani Mandir, Ram Pir Mandir and Fakira.
And then there are religious rites mentioned in greater detail in temples like the Diwali and Garba Night, The Love Fast of Karva Chauth, Holi at Ranchore Lines, Janmashtami at Swaminarayan Temple and Ganesh Chaturthi.
At times like these, civilisations in denial can reinvent themselves through free expression of faith and ideas. Coming to grips with the past and highlighting the places and events therein does not necessarily mean a reversion to the ideals, values and social religious structures but it implies the courage that is needed to look squarely in the face of the past and be conscious of the vast changes that continues to inform the present.
Usually movement and phases like cleansing of the past both in terms of language, culture, art and cultural practices is a self-defeating enterprise for the various colours that have gone into the weaving of the fabric cannot be whitened by dipping into the tub full of bleach. It is an acknowledgement of the diversity, pluralism and syncretic nature that has made mankind what it is today. It may be true of all cultures but more so of regions that have seen civilisations born and die for this process stretches far back into the mists of time.