Monday, October 6, 2008

Katas, A Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained!

Katas Raj

Ketaksha’s past is a Paradise lost
Where Shiva met
His love at last

by Nayyar Hashmey

A bouquet of colorful, divine celebrations is presented every year to Hindu gods in Pakistan’s valley of Adam and Eve. Located at a distance of 25 Km from Kalar Kahar is this serene and paradise-like abode of gods, where Maha Shivratri, the festival of Shiva is celebrated every year.

The festival falls on the 15th day of Phalgun (the day of Amavas) and is an event full of fervor and festivities. Pilgrims from all parts of India come over this place to pay homage to the Hindu god Shiva.

The area is home to Hinduism’s holiest shrines in the subcontinent. It’s here that Shiva entered into a nuptial bond. The yatris celebrate the day by offering pooja, the ritual dances and sing bhajans, all a part of Maha Shiv’s wedding celebrations. This month WOP goes down the history lane to commemorate the wedding in this place of gods where Pandava brothers spent a part of their exile in Katas, some like Lord Shiva triumphed over the evil world of Dakhsha and left an eternal message to the world that truth and nothing but truth always prevails….Ram Nam Sat Hae....

School children in Pakistan generally know about the hilly Salt Range. They learn that its home to world’s oldest and largest rock salt mines. Every Sunday, groups of students visit the mines and gaze in wonder and awe at the fascinating spectacle of light filtering though the solid walls of salt, with the gentle sound of river Jhelum in the background. In contrast what they don’t know that the Salt Range which has recently come to the fore, is home also to the treasures of ancient culture and history. That it boasted to have many thousands of years BCE, the knowledge of science, arts, religion and philosophy which in its contemporary world no body could claim to have one.

The Salt Range is now at the centre of new discoveries in archeology and ancient architecture. Its importance spans thousands of years, judging from skeletal remains of prehistoric animal found in many of its out-of-the-way locations. Even though these archaeological remains have not yet been dated by experts, they probably go back to three or four millennia, and along with prehistoric bones discovered at Mehrgarh in Balochistan, can provide many missing links in the ancient history of the

Besides sculptures unearthed by the Department of Archeology dating back to the 6th and 7th centuries, the Salt Range is dotted with divine structures, of which the most notable is the Katas Raj, located 25 kilometers from Chakwal.

Katas is notable in many ways. Associated with the temple are many legends sacred to the Hindu faith. Some of them involve Shiv Devta himself. The site has always been a place of holy pilgrimage. Even nowadays, through an agreement between India and Pakistan, in early spring worshippers from India and from the interior of Sindh perform pilgrimage to the temple and bathe in the sacred pool around which Katas Raj is built.

While Katas has not received the publicity that it deserves, the two semi-ruined temples of the Hindshahi period (650-950 AD) have been frequently photographed by newspapers and history journals. The remains are beautifully carved and conform to the best in temple architecture.
Katas Raj is also held sacred by Hindus for another reason. They believe that the five Pandava brothers, heroes of the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata, stayed here for four out of 14 years that they spent in exile. While it takes a little effort to go there by road – one has to go off the Grand Trunk – Katas is partially visible on train journey from Lahore to Rawalpindi. It is a picturesque sight.

As mentioned already, the Salt Range has been yielding many prehistoric finds. While some local experts place the fossils discovered in the period between 3000 and 7000 BC, the fact remains that they have not yet been examined by trained paleontologists. A large number of bones of the limbs and vertebrae of giant animals resembling the extinct mammoth and dinosaur have been found at some sites. “An entire range of low mountains in the area appear to be fossilized, revealing to the naked eye layer upon layer of a variety of plants and soils,” says one writer.

The Right Flank of the Temple
Prehistoric tools and weapons such as axes and knives made of granite, and artifacts like terracotta bangles and pottery have also been unearthed. The latter are similar to those excavated in Harappa, but have not been dated for want of expert opinion from international community of Archeologists. The fascinating Salt Range has a vast archeological treasure still hidden underground and requires exploratory work to expose evidence of an ancient civilization.
I am the dust in the sunlight,
I am the ball of the sun . . .
I am the mist of morning,
the breath of evening. . . .
I am the sparkle in the stone,
the gleam of gold
in the metal. . .
The rose and nightingale
drunk with the fragrance
I am the chain of being
the circle of spheres
The scale of creation,
the rise and the fall
I am what is
and is not. . .
I am the soul in all
Right in the foothills of the Salt Range one does have a feel of divineness same as felt by Rumi while writing this couplet in his native Konya, for here lies the original garden of Eden in which Adam and Eva wandered. It’s a magical valley which stretches from Kallar Kahar in the west to the magnificent ruins of Katas in the east.
Top of the Sivalingam Dome
At the time of creation, according to Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva shed a tear which fell at Kataksha (corrupted over time to Katas) to form a pool of immeasurable depth and limitless water. The blue watered pool is still there, its depth plumbed by none and its water said to be limitless. Along the valley on either side run a line of low lying hills which rise high towards the east before merging into the upper reaches of the Salt Range. Small farmsteads dot the valley and fresh water springs flow down from the hills.

The landscape is not stark or dramatic. Its soft and languorous, done in soft colors, painted with a light brush by the Lord of Creation in happy and gentle mood. No exaggeration!

Travel through the valley and a Hindu will believe that this indeed was the place where Lord Shiva shed tear. A pagan will believe that when the world was young the gods walked through the large amphitheatre formed by the hills. A Christian will believe that when God created the whole world in six days, on the seventh, the Sabbath, He rested from His labor in the valley. While a Muslim will need little convincing from Mullah that if there is a paradise on earth, this is it.
A view of haveli's interior
From the dawn of history if not the beginning of time, this land has remained like this, a visible manifestation of the Hand of God, touched only sparingly and, for the most part lovingly, by human hand, humans, animals, birds living in harmony with each other and their surroundings.
It’s in this heaven like surroundings that the complex of temples stands in veneration to Lord Shiva and other deities of Hindu mythology. The most venerated amongst all the temples is obviously the Katas Raj. The temple was a focal point to attract Hindu yatris not only from the Indian subcontinent but also from other parts of the world. However, in 1947 when Pakistan appeared as an independent nation on the world map, the flow subsided and after the 1965 war it virtually came to an end.
Inside the haveli - looking west
Katas is located in Chakwal district of Punjab. The area is potentially rich in producing men who earned a name not only in Jhelum valley but their fame spread even beyond our national borders. The array of men ranges from gods to mortals, gods that control the life pattern of millions of believers in the subcontinent. Then it has produced men who excelled in the arts, politics, religion and military warfare. And it has a huge storehouse of archeological finds, ruins and shrines which many locals consider older even to Moenjo-Daro and Harappa.
The oldest book in Hinduism, Rig Veda was written in Katas. It is composed of 18 books and is world’s longest poem (a war epic) the Mahabharata. The book was written in ca 300 BCE though many Hindu scholars believe it was written some time in the year 1300 BCE. The book contains a detailed account of Katas, no wonder then the place is sacred to Hindus just like Varanasi (Benares), Amarnath and Pushkar in India.

Katas is located at 2200 ft above sea level. Its original name was Kataksha which in Sanskrit means a stream of tears. In Mahabharata the pool has also been called “The Pool of the Universe”.

Katas also remained the capital of Hindu Sinha kingdom. During British rule before Pind Dadan Khan and Jhelum it was also the Head quarter of Jhelum Valley.

North of Katas at a distance of 1.50 Km lies an ancient city called Singhapura.
Katas is also reported to be the birth place of God Shiva. When prince Yudishtra and his four brothers were sent into exile, they spent a long time at this spot. It’s here in Katas where the beloved wife of god Shiva breathed her last. In the great Hindu epic, upon the death of his wife Satti, god Shiva wept so profusely that a river of tears came out of his eyes. A tear from his right eye fell in Pushkar in Rajasthan. A big pool arose there. The tear from his left eye fell in Katas and there a pool sprung up too. Its said that the miracle of Shiva created these two pools and both are a manifestation of his weeping eyes who so melancholy wept for his love.

In book I of Rig Veda it is said that just beneath the Katas pool there is a small river which has a depth of 300 yards. British archeologists believed the great pool of Katas is formed from water that comes out of a series of natural springs found in the upper reaches of Jhelum. In Tazkara-e-Jhelum we learn that the pool is partially man made and has been carved out of rock. It has a length of 122 ft. There is a strong wall on the pool. This wall has a length of 19ft. According to Aurel Stein the sacred spring is located in North West at 43 ft on 32 degree and in the east at 44 ft on 72 degree. Cunningham had the opinion that the depth of this pool is 23 ft, however the Hindu scholars believe it’s limitless.

In history of Girjakh, it is mentioned that deep down under the surface of water in Katas under the temples and in the base of pool itself, there are a number of water streams; but the pool is much depreciated now. Originally it was 70 yards long and 50 yards wide.

Along the pool east to west there is a wall. On the wall front there is place for taking holy bath by men whereas on the southern side there is ladies enclosure for same purpose. These baths are of marble.

Hindus believe that by taking bath in the sacred pool, one’s sins are washed and one becomes as pure and chaste as from the womb of one’s mother.

In Katas the biggest temple is of course the Shiv Devta’s temple. From this site a statuette was also found. The statuette has had three heads and four arms. In between the heads there is a human face, on the left a lion and on the right there was a pig. Hindus believe that human head is of “Vishnu Narayan”, the pig head is “Visnhu Varha” and lion’s head is of “Vishnu Narsingah”. Its three heads carry a lotus flower and the forth hand again carries a statuette. This statuette is sitting cross legged.

The second temple is of Ganesh Ji Maharaj (god of truthfulness and universality). The third one is of Shivlingam Maharaj (the god of fertility and reproduction), the fourth of Kali Mata (the goddess of wrath and destruction). The fifth is of Paravati (wife of Shivji Maharaj) and the sixth belongs to Lakshmi Devi (the goddess of wealth).

Aerial View of haveli Hari Singh Nalwa
Though most of these temples were built during the reign of Hindu Shahi kings, several others were built around 900 years ago or more. Although earliest of Katas Raj temples date back to the later half of the 6th century AD, scholars believe that most of these temples were actually constructed when the Hindu Shahi kings driven from Afghanistan by their ethnic cousin Mahmud of Ghazni, they fled the region and set a base here in Katas.

Apart from ancient temples of Satghara, the complex also has a Buddhist Stupa and some temples of much recent dates. All these constructions are scattered around the holy city of Katas.

The temples in Katas are built on square platforms. The elevation of sub shrines seems to form a series of cornices with small row of pillars, crowned by a ribbed dome.

The Ramchandra temple is situated to the east of the Hari Singh haveli and is closed from all sides except for an entrance to the east. The double storied structure has eight rooms of various dimensions; on the ground floor is a staircase at the south, leading to the first floor. The temple has two jharokas (balconies) that are severely damaged.

The Hanuman Temple is on the western extreme of a high rectangular enclosure with entrance on the south and north. The temple ceiling is undecorated and lime plastered. The Shiva temple is also built on a soft platform. Its entrance is a recessed arch with faint cusps and a rectangular opening to the north.

It is said that Albairuni also spent some time at Katas to learn Sanskrit in a University of Languages which then existed in Katas. During his stay at Katas and Nandna Fort Albairuni wrote his famous “Kitabul-Hind” which depicts the religion, scientific knowledge and social customs of Hindus in the region at that time. A prominent scholar Panikar states that this book is a study of foreign civilization and culture which not only touches the peak of Muslim scholarship but also due to its impartial analysis ranked as a highly literary composition. Besides learning Sanskrit in Katas Al-bairuni during his stay also performed various geographical experiments and eventually succeeded in discovering the radius of the earth.

Katas is also held sacred by other faiths. Paras Nath Jogi breathed his last here. Jagat Guru Nanakji also visited Katas and set his foot here on the first day of Vaisakh. The place came to be known as Nank Nawas. It has been a favourite abode for contemplation / meditation by groups of mystics, ascetics and Jogis.

According to a local writer, in Gandhara age and prior to that as well, scholars from Sri Lanka, Thailand and Burma visited the then Katksha University. In prehistoric era ca 300 BCE Kataksha had world famous School of Scholastics (university). The university had academies in Maths, Astronomy, Algebra, Sanskrit, Music, Dancing, Arts and Politics. The school attracted knowledge seekers not only from ancient India but also from countries such as Babel, Nineveh, Greece, Japan, Tibet and China. According to some writers, even Pharaohs of Egypt also visited the academies of Katas to learn the art of wisdom, politics and governance. The scholastic importance of Katas can be gauged from the fact that all ancient scriptures like Rig Veda, Mahabharata, Ramayana and Upanishads derived inspirations from a single source, Katas.

There is another reference to Katas by the famous Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang who visited the area around 630 AD. The kingdom lasted over a period of ca 3500 years, he wrote. On the west was Indus River, in the south a huge 200 ft high Stupa from the time of Ashoka and here were also 10 interconnected clean water ponds with fish. There were plenty of fruit tress whose shadows were reflected in clean waters.

Hieun Tsang also mentions a place where the young girls semi nude (Dev-dasis) gathered for worship whose manners and looks were akin to Buddhists except that they were in white when dressed and also had black tied hair like Buddhists.

Dr. Stein who visited the area in 1889 felt the Chinese traveler Hieun Tsang loved the place where stands today the famous Katas temple. His letter of accounts were published in the 4th Volume of Voyage Orientale Generale in 1890 in which he also mentioned that there was a hill named Mortee where idols and scripted stone arcs were found but later on were used in the construction of temples along the bridge on Choa Saidan Shah.



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