Visiting Katas Raj Temples

Situated near Chakwal, the temples are located in a complex built around a mesmerising pond paying quiet homage to Hindu folklore

Entrance nicely maintained with garden areas on both side.

Going by the puranas, a heartbroken Shiva was unable to find his peace as he continued to roam the earth following the death of his wife Sati, daughter of Daksha. It is said that it was his tears that ended up forming the pond where today the renowned Shri Katas Raj Temples stand. The temples derive their name from Kataksha, which in classic Sanskrit means: god’s tears. The water of the pond is referred to as amrit or holy water. It is believed that the water washes away the sins of a believer.

Lying in the Kallar Kahar region near Choa Saidan Shah in Chakwal, the Katas Raj Temples are located in a compound built around the pond, or in close vicinity to it. The temples are joined together by walkways. Believed to have existed at least since the seventh century, the temples are mostly attributed to the Hindu Shahiya (615 – 950 AD) making them an important pilgrimage site for Hindus in Pakistan.

Many local beliefs and folklore pertaining to Hinduism and Buddhism revolve around the Katas Raj Temples. The remains from a Buddhist stupa are also present in the compound – that many believe date back to the third century - the time of Ashoka the Great. Alexander Cunningham, British engineer turned archaeologist and the first director general of the Archaeological Survey of India from the 19th Century, visited the Katas Raj Temples in 1872-73 and confirmed the findings of the stone of Ashoka surrounded by 10 springs and ruins of a monastery on a mound. The findings were reported earlier by the famous Chinese pilgrim, Huen Tsang. According to information boards, Cunningham also traced the wall of a gateway tower of the old fortification which leads to the Sat Ghara temples. According to Cunnningham, these temples, constructed in a style similar to the Kashmiri temples of Karkota and Varma dynasties, were the only ancient remains of interest that existed in Katas. The stupa remains are situated at a level lower than the Sat Ghara temple. Ones need to climb the hillock to access it.

Temples surrounding the Amrit (Holy Water).

The Katas Raj Temples include Sat Ghara, a collection of seven ancient temples, havelis around the pond and five other temples including Shiva Temple, Hanuman Temple and Ramachandra Temple. Most of the temples are built on square, raised platforms. There is a haveli or a rectangular fort, namely Hari Singh Nalwa fort, which is built on a hill, from where the entire Katas Raj Temples compound can be seen clearly.

In the last couple of decades, the Katas Raj temples were in headlines for two reasons. First, according to some reports, cement factories located close to the temples were pumping groundwater through more than a hundred bores, having a severe effect on the water table. This was causing the pond to gradually dry out, reports suggested. When I visited the temples a few weeks back for the second time, I was delighted to witness the pond in almost its original state. Thankfully, with the Supreme Court’s intervention the original pond has been restored. Second, it was the high profile visits from across the border. India’s former deputy prime minister LK Advani visited the Katas Raj Temples in 2005 to inaugurate conservation work at Sat Ghara temple.

Sat Ghara temples on top of the hillock.

Surrounded by hills and loquat and mulberry orchards that attract honey-bees and birds, not to forget the ducks that roam around the pond, the temples are being very well maintained. Several benches and dustbins are placed around the lawns. Information boards, both in English and Urdu, describing the history of the architecture and instructions for tourists have been installed all around the compound. Names of the temples and other places of interest have also been mentioned in Sanskrit. If you plan to go to the nearby Khewra Salt mines in Kallar Kahar, you can easily spend a couple of hours at the Katas Raj Temples to be inspired by its remarkable architecture. There is no entry fee and no tickets to visit the historical temples.

The writer is a physician, healthcare leader, traveller and a YouTuber host for the DocTree Team promoting Organic Gardening in Pakistan. He tweets @Ali_Shahid82

Visiting Katas Raj Temples