The lost idol of Gorecha

October 23, 2022

Religious sites of Jainism in Pakistan are mostly not functional, except in Thar and Parkar, where the situation is a little different

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he acceptance of Pakistan’s non-Muslim history and heritage at the official level has increased in recent years leading to restoration and renovation of some places of worship. The restoration narratives have rebranded some of these sites.In some cases this is being claimed to be a sign of a tolerant society and of pluralism. A large part of the non-Muslim heritage was demolished and discarded in 1947. What remained was mostly ignored until the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition. Many groups then tarnished Hindu, Jain and Sikh worship places. The recent examples of restoration of non-Muslim places of worship can be seen as a kind of ‘cultural reparation’.

Almost entire population of Jains from Sindh and many urban centres of the Punjab that became part of Pakistan, moved to India right away. Today none of the religious places associated with Jainism in most of Pakistan are functional. In Thar and Parkar, the situation is different. Most Jain temples there are still places of worship.

In Tharand Parkar, once the home of Jains, the Gori Jain temple is a fine example of how when Jains left these areas, their temples were not demolished. Many remained functional, though with Hindu deities. The sanctity of all these temples therefore remained intact. People entering these still remove their shoes and in general the protocol followed for Hindu temples is observed. The temple gets its name from the village where it is located. The Gori village is named after Gorecha, also known as Parshvanatha, a Jain god. The town of Gori is situated to the north of the road that connects Islamkot with Nagarparkar city.

The Goritemple is an architectural masterpiece. Its fresco art is visualised Jainism. The Sikhara of the temple, the spire that typifies almost all Jain and Hindu temples, was destroyed in an earthquake. The 1898 earthquake damaged its most significant part. The region has a history of earthquakes. In January 2001, a massive earthquake, measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, hit Thar and Parkar. Hundreds of houses in the area were damaged, and many temples were affected. Climate change is another factor in the degradation of these buildings.

The garbhagriha, where once the diamond-studded murti of Gorecha or Parshvanatha was worshipped, has now been repurposed as a Hindu temple with the posters of prominent Hindu deities filling the space left by the murti. It is so dark even during the dayin the inner sanctum or garbhagriha that the visitors have to turn on the phone torches. Even when there are no devotees in the temple, the fragrant smoke of incense marks it as a place of worship. The marble pillars are engraved with floral work. The lower portion depicts Jain deities. The domed porticos with magnificent polished marble pillars have inner ceilings with frescoes in a circular array. The pictures represent women with traditional Thari dresses. Some of the frescoes have degraded so that their colours look faded to dull maroon and black. The characters seen in the frescoes have clear lines but the colours are not as clear.

Outside the temple, a group of local folk singers make their melodious voices a refreshing experience for visitors, and devotees when they sing Bhittai’s poetry.

Some of the oral histories associated with the places were documented during the British colonial period. In 1376 AD, it is said, Mejha Sha Vania, a wealthy trader, acquired an idol from a Turk and had a temple built for it. Gorecha is a revered Jain deity. During its heyday, the temple was an important religious site and attracted Jains from all over India. It is stillamong the most sacred Jain temples in the subcontinent. As the temple grew rich over time, through donations from the devotees, the murti was decorated with three diamonds, two large ones on the breast and a smaller one on the forehead.

Indigenous language texts about the temple, besides the religious ones, are scarce. Mangha Ram Ojha, in his book, Purano Parkar (Old Parkar), translated from Sindhi to Urdu by Sindhi Adabi Board, writes: “Poonjajee was the second most prominent Sodha Rajput of Virwah (a town in Nagarparker) after Sodha ruler, Sattijee. During Sattijee’s reign, he committed certain sins on account of which he lost all of his five sons. Poonjajee was a more cruel person than Sattijee. Poonjajee’s daughter was married in Vaghar (the name of a town). One day her in-laws passed a harsh comment, and avenge for his daughter, Poonjajee looted seven goths of Vaghar. After Sattijee, the Gori Jain temple’s Paravashanth’s idol came into his possession. Poonjajee had bad relations with Mirs of Sindh. Fearing the Mirs, in case he lost the war and was subdued, he buried the idol of Parshvanatha somewhere. Later Poonjajee died while fighting the Mirs; since then, no one knows where he buried the idol.”

The mystery of Gorecha’s idol is fascinating.

Writer Salman Rashid, who has travelled extensively in the area since 1984 and authored the book Mithi: Whispers in the Sand, says,

“In the mid-1820s, the rulers of Sindh took Thar; old Poonjajee was captured and tortured to reveal where he had secreted the statue. But Poonjajee was a hard nut to crack. So the kept him in prison until he quietly passed away in 1832. And so the secret of the hiding place of the diamond-studded statue of Gorecha went up with the smoke of Poonjajee’s funeral pyre. The last fair to exhibit Gorecha was held in 1824 at Virawah, not far from Gori village, en route to Nagarparkar. I, therefore, think the idol lies undiscovered somewhere under the dunes around this lovely little place. Who knows if one day, an unsuspecting shepherd idly poking the ground with his staff outside Virawah will unearth the priceless idol.”

One comes across Gorecha’s story as a part of many a folktale of Thar and Parkar. Such tales never get highlighted in artistic expression at the national level. Outside the temple, a group of local folk singers make their melodious voices a refreshing experience for visitors and devotees when they sing Bhittai’s poetry.

The writer tweets at Ammad_Alee

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