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Ketas Raj Temple

The Shri Katas Raj Temples , also known as Qila Katas is a complex of several Hindu temples connected to one another by walkways. The temple complex surrounds a pond named Katas which is regarded as sacred by Hindus. The complex is located in the Potohar Plateau region of Pakistan’s Punjab province. The temples are located near the town of Kallar Kahar, and are near the M2 Motorway.

The temples’ pond is said in the Puranas to have been created from the teardrops of shiva, after he wandered the Earth inconsolable after the death of his wife Sati. The pond occupies an area of two kanals and 15 marlas, with a maximum depth of 20 feet.

The temples play a role in the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, where the temples are traditionally believed to have been the site where the Pandava brothers spent a significant portion of their exile. It is also traditionally believed by Hindus to be the site where the brothers engaged in a riddle contest with the Yaksha, as described in the Yaksha Prashna. Another tradition states that the Hindu deity Krishna laid the foundation of the temple, and established a hand-made Shivling in it.

The temples were visited by India’s former deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani in 2005. In 2006, the Pakistani government began restoration works at the temples, with further improvements announced in 2017. In 2018, Pakistan issued visas to 139 Indian Hindu pilgrims to visit Katas Raj dham.

 

Location: Katas Raj is located in Punjab’s Salt Range at an altitude of 2,000 feet.

The Katas Raj Temple complex is located near Kallar Kahar, and is located at an altitude of 2,000 feet. It is approximately 100 kilometres away by road from another important Hindu pilgrimage destination – the Tilla Jogian complex. Katas Raj is located near the interchange for the town of Kallar Kahar off the M2 Motorway which links Islamabad to Lahore. The complex is located alongside the road that connects Kallar Kahar to Choa Saidan Shah near the village of Dulmial.

Etymology: The name of the temple complex is believed to derive from the Sanskrit word kataksha, meaning “tearful eyes.” The pond was originally referred to as Viskund, or “poison spring”, but was later referred to as Amarkund, Chamaskund, and finally Katakshkund, meaning “Spring of tearful eyes.” The pond in Urdu and Persian is referred to as Chashm-e-Alam, meaning “Sorrowful/Tearful Eyes.”

History: The Salt Ranges have archaeological remains still hidden underground. A number of bones of the limbs and vertebrae of animals have been found at some nearby sites. Prehistoric axes and knives made of granite, and artifacts like terracotta bangles and pottery have also been unearthed at the Katasraj site. The latter have been found to be similar to those excavated in Harappa, but have not been dated.

Hindu tradition holds that the temples date from the era of the Mahabharata, and is believed to be where the Pandava brothers spent a large portion of their exile. It is also believed by Hindus to be the site where the Pandavas engaged in a riddle contest with the Yakshas, as described in the Yaksha Prashna.

Founding: The 4th century CE Chinese monk, Faxian, described a temple at Katas Raj in his travelogues. The 7th century CE Chinese traveler Xuanzang visited the area and reported the existence of a Buddhist Stupa dating to the era of the 3rd century BCE king, Ashoka. The stupa was reported to be 200 feet tall, and surrounded by 10 springs.

Following the collapse of the Buddhist empire of Gandhara, Hinduism gained traction in the region under the reign of the Hindu Shahis beginning around the 7th century CE. The Hindu Shahis established Hindu temples at Katas Raj from the mid-7th to 10th centuries, though the British engineer Alexander Cunningham dated the shrines to around 66 BCE. The Hindu Shahi empire also funded construction of several other temples throughout northern Punjab and the Potohar Plateau including the nearby Tilla Jogian, and Kafir Kot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak, is believed to have visited the Katas Raj Temples, as the site became a popular destination for ascetics. The Sikh emperor Ranjit Singh also regularly performed pilgrimage to the site. He visited the site for the Vaisakhi festival in 1806, in December 1818, and again in 1824.

The complex was a popular pilgrimage site for Hindus prior to the 1947 Partition of British India, with large numbers visiting for Shivrati. Following Partition, the local Hindu community left the region for the newly established Republic of India. The relationship of Hindus with local Muslim population was good, and local Muslims accompanied Hindus to the nearby town of Choa Saiden Shah, from where the local Hindu population departed for India. Indian pilgrims continued to visit the temple for the Shivratri festival until the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965, after which Indian pilgrims were barred from visiting again until 1984.

Modern: The temples fell into disrepair over the decades following Partition, and suffered neglect. Pakistani Hindus would continue to occasionally visit the site, but were unable to maintain the expansive complex. The pond was polluted with litter, while local villagers would also use the pool for recreation. Indian Hindu pilgrims were forbidden to visit the site in 1956, 1960, and after the Indo-Pakistan war in 1965. India pilgrims were not permitted to visit the site again until 1984.

In 2005 Pakistan proposed to restore the temple complex, while in 2006 the restoration project began in order to clean the sacred pond, paint and restore some temples, and installation of informational blue boards around the temple complex. 300 Indian Hindus visited the site for the Shivratri festival in 2006, which for a short time became an annual tradition for some Indian pilgrims, though Indians stopped coming after the 2008 Mumbai. 2,000 Pakistani Hindus resumed the tradition of celebrating Shivratri at the temple in 2010, and another 2,000 in 2011 with visitors coming from as far as Karachi. A wedding for Hindu couples was arranged during that year’s Shivratri festival for couples from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province whose families had lost much of their property in the 2010 Pakistan floods.

In January 2017, Pakistan’s government began installation of hikharas on the temples. In February 2017, 200 pilgrims from India traveled to the temple to participate in the Katas Raj Dham festival

Religious Significance: The complex consists of several temples and associated structures. The pond at Katas Raj is said to have been created from the teardrops of the Hindu deity Shiva, following the death of his wife Sati.

The temples are considered to be the second most sacred site in the histori Punjab  region, after the temple at Jwalamukhi in modern Himachal Pradesh.

The temples derive their holiness from the legend that following the death of his wife Sati, the Hindu god Shiva wandered inconsolably, while some of his tears collected in two ponds, one of which is the pond around which the Katas Raj Temples are set while the other is at Pushkar, near the famous Sufi pilgrimage center of Ajmer. Another version of the legend mentions the two pools at Katasraj and Nainital. Another version of the Shiva legend involves the death of Shiva’s horse Katas instead of that of Sati his consort.

The Katasraj temple complex is traditionally believed to date back to the Mahabharata era. Many legends are associated with the temples. The five Pandava brothers, mentioned in the Mahabharata, are said to have stayed here for a large part of their exile. The complex is traditionally believed to be the site where the Pandava brothers were challenged by the Yaksha before being able to drink from the pond. Four of the brothers failed, and were rendered lifeless by the Yaksha. The fifth brother, Yudhishthira, engaged the Yaksha in a riddle contest, and defeated him with his wisdom, thereby bringing his brothers back to life.

Some legends also state that very first Shiva Ling (Sihv-Ling) was in Kattas. some old manuscripts also consider Katas as the janam bhoomi (birthplace) of Hindu incarnation Rama, as well as that of Ayodhya; but this has become quite controversial.The oral tradition by local Hindus never mentioned it as being Rama’s birthplace or celebrated in annual rituals.

Scared Pond: The pond in the complex is believed by Hindus to be filled with Shiva’s tears after the death of his wife Sati. The water in the pond is of high clarity. The water and are believed to wash one of ones own sins, as the pond is associated with Shiva. In 2012, and again in 2017, water levels in the pond were noted to decrease because of water usage at a nearby cement factory, as well as the plantation of water-avid eucalyptus trees, that had lowered the area’s water table. After the 2012 episode, the local cement factory was shut down by government authorities in order to restore water levels.

 

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