Katas: The Hindu Temples
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I have a deep fascination with temples, ruins and ancient landmarks. Ever since exploring the Aztec and Mayan ruins and pyramids in Mexico, my obsession with knowing more about the decaying areas of the world has increased tenfold. Erosion is a look into the depths of history and answers many questions about our origins as people. However, the one area I have not burrowed into extensively, until this year, is my homeland, Pakistan.
Pakistan is rich in heritage, history, culture and is the inheritor of one of the oldest civilizations in the world: the Indus civilization. We have archaic ruins and cities that are practically antediluvian, such as Moenjodaro and Taxila, but we also have one of the most beautiful and neglected temples I have ever come across during travel exploration: the Katasraj Mandir.
I began my trek to the salt range with two explorer friends, bottles of water and home made sandwiches. Once we had walked through the underground, dark wonders of the salt mines we emerged into a blazing Punjabi sun, well on our way to the sacred temples of Katas. We had to ask around quite vigorously, because the innocent and curious pedestrians carrying hay and goats on their backs kept pointing us in the wrong direction. I knew I would not leave Punjab without laying my eyes on this mandir. It had called out to me, and I was going to succumb to it’s visual splendor.
The complex and architecturally wondrous temple was located in the village of Katas in the Chakwal district of glorious Punjab. It was perched steeply, above the surrounding rugged and rural landscape, shining in all its forgotten glory, awaiting visitors, pilgrims and tourists. The large temple dates back to 6th century AD and the smaller, but in no way insignificant temples, are much more recent, having been built around 900 years ago.
There are beautiful legends and stories attributed to the romanticism and highly charged energy engulfing the deserted mandirs, involving characters from the Mahabarat, but the most important, and my personal favourite, tale is that of Lord Shiva’s tears. It is said that at the death of his wife, Sati, Lord Shiva was so devastated, he cried hysterically and his tears formed a holy pool of water at the foot of the temples, where many a pilgrim bathed to seek salvation. Unfortunately, as we entered the space in which the temples were enclosed, with our soft footsteps and ever-ready cameras, we were met with the demise of Shiva’s tears. The water was heavily polluted and most of it had been pumped out for industrial purposes. A starving duck was struggling to get out of it’s murkiness, as two men drained away what seemed to be the last of “Shiva’s tears.”
It should be noted that the disappearance of this sacred pool and the overall neglect of the temples has disappointed Hindus in more ways than one. These sites, including the surrounding areas and the salt range, have unearthed fossils, artifacts, weaponry and treasures, and are representative of human history and heritage. A heritage that is now largely ignored because Pakistan is slowly, but surely, losing the voice of it’s minorities; negligence of sacred sites such as these is a prime example of the indifference we are facing as a nation. In fact, many Hindu families have complained of their marginalised plight, lack of freedom of religion, desecration of holy sites and the desire to leave Pakistan for greener pastures: India. It is estimated that in 1951 Hindus made up at least 22 per cent of Pakistan’s population (Bangladesh included) and now their population has decreased to a measly 1.7 per cent.
Any other place in the world and highly informed archeologists and paleontologists would be brought in to conduct thorough research, providing us with answers from century old times. In the face of these fundamentally intolerant times, not even the statues and faces of the gods/goddesses remain in the temple complex. I hope that in seeing and observing the photography conducted in this area, you will be able to take a visual journey into what stimulated me most during my recent travels to Pakistan.
Photos by Mariam Magsi – http://www.mariammagsi.com
Mariam Magsi is a photographer, writer and curator working in Canada. Her professional work can be viewed at http://www.mariammagsi.com. She is the recipient of a prestigious publication award from the “World Poetry Movement” for poetic works highlighting natural disasters in Pakistan.
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