he Tharparkar district, situated in the southeastern region of Sindh, stands witness to the beauty of diversity and the strength of religious harmony. Encompassing a wide range of landscapes, cultures and religions, Tharparkar serves as a shining example of coexistence and mutual respect. People of varying faiths live and celebrate their differences in peaceful harmony, making it a unique place in the world.
The region is renowned for its exceptional religious diversity. Hinduism, Islam and Christianity are the most practised faiths in the district. The Hindu population is substantial. There are numerous temples throughout the region. Mosques and Islamic seminaries also form an integral part of the district’s landscape, catering to the needs of the predominantly Muslim community. Churches stand as a testament to the presence of the Christian minority, underscoring the district’s acceptance and respect for different religious beliefs.
The people of Tharparkar embody the true spirit of community cohesion. They recognise the significance of mutual support, irrespective of religious affiliations. In times of necessity, such as (rare) floods and (frequent) droughts, the community rallies together, extending assistance and care to affected individuals and families, regardless of their faith. This collective spirit strengthens the district’s social fabric and showcases the profound power of unity and compassion. In Tharparkar, some Hindus observe Ramazan fasts and participate in Muharram processions. Similarly, some in the Muslim population join in Hindu festivals such as Diwali, Holi and Janam Ashtami, marking a heartening cross-cultural engagement.
Jainism, once a dominant religion in Tharparkar, has a rich history and heritage, having had a significant presence in what is now Pakistan. Due to various historical factors including the small size of the Jain community dwelling in the region, many Jain temples in Pakistan have either fallen to abandonment and disrepair or have been repurposed for other uses. Consequently, locating operational Jain temples in contemporary Pakistan is quite a challenge.
It’s crucial to acknowledge that religious sites can transform over time, leading to variations in accessibility and condition. If you intend to visit a Jain temple in Pakistan, it’s advisable to gather current information and consult local authorities or Jain community to ensure accurate details.
Nagarparkar houses several Jain temples of profound historical and religious significance. These temples have a serene ambience and serve as havens for prayer, meditation and spiritual contemplation. The Jain temples in Tharparkar attract local devotees as well as visitors from various parts of Pakistan and beyond.
Believed to have been raised during the 15th Century by Jain traders residing in the region, the Jain temples in Nagarparkar symbolise the historical presence and influence of the Jain community in the area. These temples have exquisite architecture, featuring intricate carvings and meticulous craftsmanship. Ornate pillars, domes and sculptures are recurrent features. For adherents of Jainism, these temples hold immense religious significance, serving as sacred places of worship and pilgrimage. They offer a sanctified space for Jains to engage in rituals, meditation and respectful homage to their deities.
Promoting religious tourism in Pakistan, including visits to Jain temples, can promote cultural exchanges and deeper understanding. It allows visitors from diverse backgrounds to embrace the region’s religious heritage and diversity. The development of religious tourism infrastructure may have tangible economic benefits for local communities. The influx of tourists can create job openings and invigorate the local economy through accommodations, dining establishments, transportation services and sale of handicrafts. By encouraging religious tourism, the preservation and upkeep of historical sites, including Jain temples, can be sustained. The revenue generated from tourism can be channelled into the conservation and restoration of these temples, ensuring their long-term survival.
The people of Tharparkar embody the true spirit of community cohesion. They recognise the significance of mutual support, irrespective of religious affiliations.
Promoting religious tourism can help Pakistan showcase its steadfast commitment to religious tolerance and harmony. This will sends a resounding message of inclusivity and respect for a broad spectrum of faiths, bolstering a positive global perception. The architectural magnificence and historical relevance of Jain temples in Nagarparkar have the potential to attract tourists from all over the world. Religious enthusiasts, history buffs and aficionados of ancient architecture may also wish to explore these temples.
Recently, under the auspices of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, the government has established the Pakistan Hindu Mandir Management Committee. The formation of this committee reflects the government’s resolve to enhance facilities and services for Hindu pilgrims within Pakistan. It also signifies a proactive approach to maintaining and restoring temples and shrines. The committee assumes a pivotal role in overseeing infrastructure development at pilgrimage sites, guaranteeing the safety and security of pilgrims, and fostering cultural interchange between Pakistan and other nations.
The committee can propose measures to streamline the visa process; orchestrate cultural events and festivals; and strategically market and endorse pilgrimage sites to draw more visitors. The committee’s responsibilities can also include establishing centres catering to pilgrims’ needs and training local guides.
On the whole, establishing the Pakistan Hindu Mandir Management Committee marks a decisive stride towards advancing religious tourism for Hindus in Pakistan. It promises to enhance the experience of Hindu pilgrims journeying to Pakistan and augment the nation’s reputation as a welcoming place for religious tourism.
To increase religious tourism in Pakistan for both Hindu pilgrims and Jains from around the globe, the government should take some more measures. It must allocate resources for the development and promotion of essential infrastructure. This includes enhancing road networks, transportation options, accommodation facilities and amenities that would facilitate Hindu pilgrims’ seamless visitation to religious sites in Pakistan.
Streamlining and expediting the visa application process for Hindu pilgrims who intend to embark on religious tourism to Pakistan should be a priority. This will encourage more people to consider visiting the country for religious purposes.
Ensuring that security measures are not only adequate but also highly effective in guaranteeing the safety of pilgrims is of paramount importance. This will foster a sense of trust and confidence among pilgrims, encouraging more visits to the religious sites.
The government should actively promote cultural exchange programmes that facilitate a deeper understanding and stronger relations between the people of Pakistan and individuals from other countries. This can include showcasing local customs, traditions and cuisine.
Establishing tourism boards exclusively focused on promoting religious tourism is also important. These boards should collaborate closely with other stakeholders, including the tourism industry, travel agencies and local communities, to create a unified and practical approach.
Launching impactful advertising campaigns to publicise the array of religious sites in Pakistan that hold significance for Hindu pilgrims should be a central strategy. Such an endeavour will raise awareness and generate genuine interest among the targeted visitors.
By implementing these strategies, the government can stimulate religious tourism throughout the country. This not only promises economic advantages but can also contribute to cultivating stronger international relations. It is important that promotion of religious tourism be undertaken with utmost sensitivity and respect for the religious beliefs and practices of the relevant communities. The overarching goal should be to preserve the sanctity of these sites while ensuring accessibility and safety for all visitors.
The writer is a lecturer at Mithi, Tharparkar. He can be reached at mukeshraja1983gmail.com