katas raj temples

Written by Azan Ijaz and Hanan Ijaz 12:02 pm Articles, Pakistan, Published Content

Chipping Away at the Katas Raj Temples

The authors recount their visit to the Katas Raj temples, a site of extreme cultural and religious significance. They shed light on the degradation of the site caused by both controllable factors like the government and multinational companies and uncontrollable factors like climate change.
About the Author(s)
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Mr Azan Ijaz is a student at Aitchison College.

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Mr Hanan Ijaz is a student at Aitchison College.

The Mysteriously Divine Temples

The Katas Raj temples are a conglomerate of temples reserved for the reverence of gods of Hindu mythology. These are, however, mainly reserved for the all-powerful god Shiva, who sits atop the Hindu deva power hierarchy and is one of the members of the ‘Trimurti’, a trinity of premier Hindu demiurges.

According to the infamous and archaic epic, Mahabharath, the formation of the 5000-year-old central lake was a consequence of Shiva lamenting over the death of his wife, Sati, and shedding a tear in the process. The unmistakable temples are visible from afar, being situated atop an escarpment in the Chakwal district.

In addition to its historical significance, the mandir is extremely important in terms of religion to the Hindus of Pakistan. Temples for Lord Hanuman and goddess Kali were also built and specific icons related to the respective Hindu gods can be seen on the pillars of the temples such as serpents and the head of an elephant.

Katas Raj Temples

It’s easy to get lost in its labyrinthine building upon entering. You can imagine its grandeur and stateliness from the fact that it consists of more than a hundred temples that were built over a period of more than 1000 years by the Hindu Rajas. The temple lake, which is also the main attraction of the site, is supposed to be used for the immemorial Hindu ordinance of submerging during Prathana.

The lake is also connected to Al-Biruni, a famous Muslim scholar, who came to Katas to study Hinduism. A little distance away from the temple complex, we can find the remains of a Sikh gurdwara connected with Guru Nanak and the partially excavated remains of a Buddhist stupa.

Crumbling Away

The temples have, however, seen much better days, and its once pellucid waters have been muddied due to extractive capitalism. The Katas Raj temples serve as an exemplar of neglected national treasures that are slowly disintegrating into dust at the hands of neo-liberal governance.

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Bestway Cement, the 2nd largest cement-producing company in Pakistan with an annual production of 10.8 million tons, has recently been involved in a controversy regarding the pond. Founded in 1993, the company is based in Islamabad and listed on the Pakistan Stock Exchange. Bestway Cement expanded its operations to Chakwal by installing a plant in 2004 which substantially enhanced its operational capacity.

A five-man committee of investigators was established by the Punjab Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) with the sole purpose of investigating the construction of cement factories in Chakwal. During the scrutiny/examination of the record, it transpired that the land for the establishment of Bestway and D.G. Khan cement factories had been acquired through the industries department on the excuse of public purpose.

Massive illegalities were committed to acquire the land of private people such as the acquisition of 237 Kanals and 15 Marlas which was common land such as graveyards and public passages that could not be acquired as per the Punjab Land Acquisition Rules 1983. The cement factory also failed to plant 30000 trees of indigenous species in the area to compensate for the environmental damages inflicted by them.

Being a major producer of cement, the company pumped up groundwater for usage in its industrial processes. Around 2.5 million gallons of water were pumped up every day, which resulted in the drainage and blocking of the Katas Raj lake. Smoke emissions also contributed negatively to the temple, being, once again, a major cause of smog.

Bestway Group agreed to deposit a security fund until they found and switched to an alternative source of water. They also agreed to build a small dam in the area and foot the bill for replenishing the water that they used. The company was acquitted by the Supreme Court for its involvement in the destruction of the holy site in December 2017.

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Ironically, the same company that has been repeatedly blasted by environmentalists for its role in the depletion of water resources at the Katas Raj temples was the recipient of five Corporate Social Responsibility awards. Bestway also won coveted awards from the National Forum for Environment and Health (NFEH) in the categories of Green Energy Initiatives, Community Development and Service, Education and Scholarship, Vocational Training, and Sustainability Initiatives.

The Neglected Structure

We clearly saw dark residues on the sides of the main buildings left by smog. Further, a general disregard for conservation has led to wear and tear by erosion. The standard sandstone which was originally used to build the temple has been replaced by marble which has foiled the archaeological integrity of the temple. Local guides have requested the government to use the local sandstone that was originally used for the building of the temple but to no avail.

In the past, legend held that the depth of the water body was endless, but water receding downwards from the edge it naturally held has been a cruel reality check. Hindu pilgrims, when visiting the place for Yatra, bathe in the sacred pond and seek forgiveness to help attain salvation. Unfortunately, the pond is now unfitting for dipping.

According to the tour guides, the legendary lake used to be crystal clear—fit for the gods. The lake used to be fed naturally by 6 streams underneath the surface of the water. The natural springs had dried up, having been replaced by a motorized pump in an attempt to keep the water level from falling further and to try to restore the lake to its former glory. This had failed and the lake had lost a lot of water, evidenced by the clearly visible original edges of the pool several feet above the current water level.

We could see algae that were beginning to give the atrophying pool an off-putting aesthetic, leaving local Hindu residents dismayed at the condition of their beloved site. The chief caretaker of the site had put in a species of fish known as ‘grass carp’ or ‘Asian carp’, renowned for its ability to naturally clean water bodies, which we could see in the silvery flashes as the beautiful fish dived around clumps of vegetation inside the pond. 

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Partnering to Restore the Site

We feel that a two-pronged approach involving both the citizens of Pakistan and the government could help restore and preserve the site. Firstly, the government should ban the building of any kind of industrial unit or factory within a set distance from the Katas Raj temples. They should also forbid any sort of industrial material sourcing from the area such as the pumping of groundwater or the mining of stones.

The Government of Pakistan should also urge corporate entities to build dams to replenish groundwater sources so that the lake could flourish naturally again. Pakistani citizens in the private sector, on the other hand, should work together with state tourism development corporations to establish a tourist-friendly website to draw tourists from all over the world to the Katas Raj temples.

A standardized ticketing system could be set up which would charge tourists for their visits to the temple, with the funds going towards restoration and the recruitment of environmental experts who could help repair and maintain the site for years to come. What people fail to recognize is that we are letting these legendary sites fall to the tyrannies of capitalistic ventures made by foreign companies.

We, as a nation, should embrace these sites as an integral part of our cultural identity. Our country Pakistan’s flag has white in it for a purpose, the founders of our country made a vow to protect all minorities within our borders.


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