Saving Katas Raj

November 13, 2022

Preserving local history through architecture requires consistent effort

Saving Katas Raj


he Katas Raj temple is the apex of the historical and cultural significance in the history of Pakistan.

The remains of the Buddhist stupas transport you to the age when the Pandava brothers spent their exile here. This rich epi-centre of immaculate historical significance beams with potential greatness. The temple pays homage to the architectural style of the Kashmiri temples with illustrious fluted pillars and immaculate trefoil arches aplenty.

A small trek up one of the hills leads to Hari Singh Nalwa Fort and Haveli. Truly a spectacular sight to behold, the fort’s architecture is composed of limestone, ultimately creating an exceptional visual spectacle that is completely distinct from any other monument in the country. Al-Biruni, the Persian scholar and polymath, had computed the earth’s circumference in an exercise around here — enhancing the intriguing mystique of Katas Raj.

Shakeel Malik has been a resident of the area since birth. He is one of the most informed individuals on the rich history of Katas Raj. A historian, architect and chemist, Malik can answer any question, from the chemical composition of the limestone that gives it its impenetrability to the ancient craftsmanship of the temple. Malik speaks with passion as he discusses the divinity of the monument.

Unfortunately, despite being the second most important religious site in Hinduism, the temple is a prime example of neglect. The effect of government funding for its keep remains invisible. The central lake runs dry, with water only knee deep - a shell of its former self. The legend goes that it was filled with the tears of Shiva as he held his deceased wife in mourning. Its current state is dismal.

Cement factories sporadically surround the premises, producing ample waste that ultimately leaks into the water at the temple. Murky green liquid precludes the possibility of devotees using the lake for a religious ceremony—in effect, completely defeating the purpose of their visit to the temple in the first place.

The parts of the temple that have been renovated are still not free of immense scrutiny. Solar panels scantily cover various parts of the temple but interfere with the archaic serenity of the 1,400-year-old monument.

Despite being the second most important religious site in Hinduism, the temple is a prime example of neglect… The central lake runs dry, with water only knee deep - a shell of its former self.

Ultimately, Katas Raj is in a precarious position. Reconstruction efforts that properly pay homage to the historical significance of the temple leave a lot to be desired. The Punjab government lacks qualified individuals needed to make plans and take the initiative. Unrealistic deadlines frequently mar restoration projects. To make matters worse, there is a severe lack of local architects familiar with the style of architecture of the temple. Thus, reaching out to expensive foreign parties is the only potential option.

Despite its shortcomings, the reconstruction of the temple has yielded some benefits for the Hindu community. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, during his visit, remarked on the importance of building Pakistan as a minority-friendly country—leading to the renovation of the temple by the Evacuee Trust Property Board. Pilgrims visiting the temple are accommodated by the government, and the infrastructure has enhanced the quality of their stay. Paved, well-maintained routes have made the temple more accessible and added to the allure of visiting the site. All in all, restoration efforts at Katas Raj have allowed the temple to enter the collective stream of consciousness of the nation, highlighting the importance of preservation.

Nevertheless, for the future preservation of the temple, it is imperative that architects and historians are familiar with dentils, fluted pillars, trefoil arches and rooflines. This would determine the measures to be taken to give the architecture a fresh coat of paint while at the same time keeping it true to the original. A single dedicated team needs to be assigned to the project. Managing strict deadlines and monitoring progress must be at the forefront of the operation. Most importantly, a singular plan must be followed through the restoration journey, dictating what steps need to be taken next. It is futile for one group to pick up bits and pieces from where the previous one left off with conflicting ideas on how to proceed.

Katas Raj needs a savior, salvation from its current plight and a return to its former glory. Given proper attention, the temple possesses immense potential as both a historically significant monument and a tourist attraction.

The writer is a freelance contributor

Saving Katas Raj