People around the globe love to visit heritage sites of different religions. Hindu heritage in Pakistan is no exception, and people of all ages highly appreciate it. The many temples, ruins, and other important religious sites throughout the country are a must-see for anyone interested in Hindu culture. As India continues to develop and modernize, centuries-old temples remain in prime condition, receiving hundreds of devotees daily. It begs the question: what became Hindu heritage in Pakistani territory upon the Partition of India?
Pakistan’s cultural heritage sites are safeguarded under the Antiquities Act 1975. Designated as protected monuments, numerous special measures have been implemented to promote and preserve these sites, primarily Muslim sites. However, of the 145 monuments in Punjab, only one is a Hindu temple, indicating that there are currently no conservation measures actively in place for other existing temples.
The Hindu Temples
Hindu temples are scattered throughout numerous Pakistani cities, with varying degrees of upkeep. While some remain frequented by worshippers inside and beyond the country’s borders, others have been neglected and left to deteriorate. Many of these sites have begun to fall into disrepair, and without adequate protection, their future is uncertain. Hindu temples in Pakistan boast impressive and captivating architecture, providing a unique experience to tourists and worshippers alike.
The management and restoration of religious sites could lead to the region’s development of religious and cultural tourism. Increased visitation from Hindu pilgrims around the world is expected to promote tourism activities and nurture interfaith harmony in the country. It is anticipated that tourist activity in the region will result in economic growth and create a positive image of Pakistan.
Hindu Temples in Rawalpindi
Before the Partition of India, Rawalpindi boasted the most significant Hindu and Sikh populations of the cities, eventually becoming part of Pakistan. However, its diverse religiosity was significantly diminished when most of its Hindu and Sikh residents migrated to India, thus taking their significant religious and historical legacies with them. As a result, many of these places of worship have since been converted into living spaces, scrap yards, and storage facilities.
The renowned Krishna Temple, which lies in the heart of the lively old district of Rawalpindi, has a long history. According to a plaque at the entrance, the temple was constructed by Ujagar Mal Ram Richpal in 1897. Following the Partition of India and Pakistan, his descendants moved to India and have since become untraceable.
The Krishna Temple in Rawalpindi is the largest temple of its kind and can accommodate up to 2,500 people. Hindus from Rawalpindi and its nearby areas come here to celebrate traditional religious festivities such as Holi and Diwali. Although slightly worn, the temple’s structure remains an excellent example of Hindu temple architecture, boasting an intricately embellished spire that towers over the adjacent market area.
The Government of Pakistan has recently taken action to acknowledge the significance of the religious and cultural heritage of its non-Muslim population by renovating and expanding the Krishna temple. It will allow more devotees to be accommodated in the sacred space. The Krishna Temple of old Rawalpindi is one of many centuries-old temples urgently needing attention from authorities. Since Partition, several other temples in the area have been subjected to the destructive forces of time and are in danger of being lost if not addressed soon.
Katas Raj Temple
The Katas Raj Temples, located on the outskirts of Chakwal in the Pakistani province of Punjab, date back to between 615-950 CE. It is the only Hindu site from the region to have been included in the provisional list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. With deep-rooted historical and spiritual significance, Katas Raj is held in high esteem by Hindus both within and outside of Pakistan.
Legend has it that the pond in the middle of the Katas Raj temple was filled with the tears of Lord Shiva, who had shed them in grief after his wife passed away. It is believed that as he flew with her remains, two drops of his tears landed in two locations – one in Katas Raj and another in Ajmer, Rajasthan, forming two ponds.
The Katas Raj Temples boast a rich history not limited to Hinduism. According to Alexander Cunningham, the first Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India, the complex was built upon the ruins of a 61m high Buddhist Stupa, surrounded by flowing streams. The remains of these structures are still visible within the temple grounds today.
The Katas Raj Temples have stood as a testament to the 1500-year religious history of Pakistan, demonstrating the transition between Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam throughout its various eras. Guru Nanak took residence in the Sikh gurdwara close to the temple complex in the 11th Century, and Al-Biruni is thought to have lived there as he studied Hinduism. As a result of this layering of different religions, these temples provide critical insight into the cultural identity of Pakistan.
Recent years have exposed the impact of decades of neglect through structural failures, vandalism, and the drying up of a sacred pond. This mainly generated international attention to the deteriorating site, eliciting an outcry. The state of dilapidation at the Katas Raj temples has been of particular concern since an incident in the past. The issue was brought to the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2018, and at the end of that year, the site welcomed Indian pilgrims for a Hindu ceremony after decades of neglect.
Sun Temple of Mulasthana
The Sun temple in Multan, Pakistan, has a long and storied history. It was initially mentioned by Greek admiral Skylax in 515 BC during his invasion of northern India. Hsuen Tsang, a Chinese pilgrim from the 7th Century, recorded details of the opulent temple in his accounts. He noted the Sun God’s golden idol and its dancing girls with awe.
The city of Multan, located in the province of Punjab, has been referred to by various names throughout its history, such as Mulasthana, derived from the Sanskrit words Mula and Sthana, meaning original adobe. According to Hindu religious belief, twelve Sun Temples were constructed by Samba, son of the Hindu God Krishna, scattered throughout the Indian subcontinent. The one located in Multan is believed to be the oldest among them. The Sun Temple, believed to have been the largest temple in the city, has long attracted pilgrims from far-reaching locations. Moreover, this site is highly venerated for its contribution to the derived namesake of Multan – a city possessing a deep-seated association with Hinduism.
The Sun Temple, lauded in historical narratives for centuries, is now a forgotten relic of the past; its site is suffering from encroachment and neglect by both authorities and the public. It serves as a vivid reminder of how cultural heritage sites can be detrimentally affected by religious conflicts. The centuries-old Sun Temple of Multan, Pakistan, has been largely destroyed and all its idols removed. Only rarely is the temple still used to pitch tents for Muslim pilgrims who come to Multan for the Urs (death anniversary) of nearby saints. Moreover, its majestic spiritual grandeur has been forever lost to posterity, as the temple’s roof has caved in and significant portions demolished.
Hinglaj Mata Temple
Hinglaj Mata is an ancient temple situated in a small cave in the Kheerthar hills of Baluchistan. The temple has remained a popular pilgrimage destination for thousands of devotees from within and across the border to partake in its traditional rituals. These rituals have been carried out for generations, making it one of the oldest religiously-significant sites still in existence today.
The Temple of Hinglaj Mata is located in a remote part of India and does not feature artificial idols. Instead, a shapeless stone is used for religious rituals. According to Hindu mythology, the Hinglaj temple was built at this location as the head of Sati, the wife of Lord Shiva, had fallen there after she passed away. Hinglaj Mata is believed to be a powerful deity who grants her devotees blessings and divine grace. The Hinglaj Mata Temple, a revered Hindu site, is also venerated by some Muslims who refer to it as Nani Mandir and the goddess Bibi Nani. It is believed that Bibi Nani is the protector of the region, and Muslims from neighboring locations also partake in the annual pilgrimage, which Hindu devotees attend.
The temple site has been safeguarded against vandalism and mob attacks by Muslim residents, preserving the state of the temple and avoiding a similar fate as other temples in the country. It is due to the collective efforts and collaboration between local Hindus and Muslims.
The Temple of Loh, also known as the Lava Temple, is located next to the Alamgiri Gate of the Lahore Fort. It has been abandoned for some time but is said to have been dedicated to the son of the Hindu Lord Rama. Historians believe that the birth of Lord Rama’s son, Loh, may have occurred at this temple.
The city of Lahore, formerly known as Lavpor or Loh Kot, denotes the deep connection it shares with Hindu mythology, considering ‘Loh’ derives from Lord Rama’s son. This association is further reinforced by the Temple of Loh, which lies within the Lahore Fort and is believed to be as old as the city itself. Although open to tourists, this site is less visited than other attractions within the fort, and no religious ceremonies are being held here.
Recent archaeological findings have revealed that the temple at Lahore Fort was once more prominent than its current size of a few square meters. During excavations at the Royal Kitchen, remnants of a structure and fresco work were discovered, indicating that they had once been part of the temple. However, it is still being determined what stood in this area before the fort was commissioned by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.
Pakistan, now predominantly Muslim, has strong Hindu and Buddhist roots dating back thousands of years. Despite this rich cultural heritage, many of these religious sites are in various disarray due to administrative negligence and religious or political disputes. While there have been some promising attempts at preserving these sites, a more concerted effort is necessary to save them from being lost to time.