The reconstruction of Jain Mandir in Old Anarkali is a landmark move by the government, initiated on the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan
Lahore has held immense historical and cultural significance in the subcontinent. As the regional seat of power, the city has seen several civilisations, religions, takeovers and massive sociocultural shifts that add their bit to its valuable history. From Gautam Buddha to Alexander to Akbar, the city’s history is replete with icons that constitute one of the most valuable examples of precious heritage in the region, and in the world today.
These eras brought with them fine examples of architecture which represent the civilisations that once flourished in Lahore during their respective heydays. The amalgam of beliefs, communities, and subcultures created a melting pot of sorts for the subcontinent; one where multiple communities co-existed and continue to do so even today.
The history of Jainism in the region is quite old, an encounter between legendary Greek King Alexander and local Jains being penned down in colourful words. Most members of the Jain clan hailed from a small town near Kot Momin, called Bhabra. Mostly traders and goldsmiths by profession, the Jain community was the life of Lahore for more than a thousand years. As such, numerous historic sites — including Jain temples — once dotted the city. At the height of Jain rule, over a dozen temples existed, largely within the confines of what is now the Walled City.
The Jain community was also noted for being highly educated for the time with notable works in literature and the arts. Vaka, authored by Jain historian Rugha in 1792, for example, provides insights into the history and life of old Lahore from 674 to 1707. Today, the Lahore Museum maintains a collection of Jain artifacts, which demonstrate the richness and depth of Jain culture.
Perhaps the most famous — and familiar to some — site of this ancient religion was Jain Mandir in Old Anarkali. Adjacent to the once famous Lahore Planetarium, this temple was located at a busy intersection, aptly named, Jain Mandir Chowk. Records indicate that the temple was built in the style of shikhara, which is Sanskrit for mountain peak. As the name suggests, this style of temple construction is centred on a narrowing tower, surrounded by open courtyards on all four sides for worshippers. The tower and accompanying buildings are adorned with various etchings of religious and historic significance.
Records indicate that the temple was built in the style of “shikhara,” which is Sanskrit for mountain peak. As the name suggests, this style of temple construction is centred on a narrowing tower, surrounded by open courtyards on all four sides for worshippers. The tower and accompanying buildings are adorned with etchings of religious and historic significance.
Jain architecture, unlike other styles of building from the same era, was heavily reliant on heightened geometric design. Temple walls were generally carved out of stone, narrowing as they rose upwards. Inside, temple walls had frames carved into them, with prominent art work and fresco on the pillars and ceilings. This style of construction is evident in the ruins and remains of Jain temples spread throughout Pakistan. The Jain Mandir in Old Anarkali, too, boasts the same inverted cone style and its location indicates its significance in ancient times. Decades of disuse had depredated the integrity of the structure well before it was razed.
The government of the Punjab intends to rebuild Jain Mandir in compliance with an order of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The chief justice had ordered the government of the Punjab to reassess the sites of Jain Mandir and Neela Gumbad and take immediate steps for the restoration of both the sites.
The Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) has initiated an assessment of both the sites and will present a feasibility report for reconstruction. This report will also highlight the possibility for the rehabilitation of the dilapidated (but still standing) portions of the temple.
onscientious efforts need to be mainstreamed by both the government and the civil society. Amidst the rising grey concrete jungle that Lahore has now become, dwindling green space and the increasing paucity of recreational sites, particularly those connected to the city’s once rich and vibrant history ought to raise more than a few eyebrows.
In addition to restoring and rehabilitating sites of historic significance, public-private partnerships to increase footfall — for example, by introducing day tours, or by upgrading the government’s sightseeing tour programmes — must be undertaken to preserve the cultural capital.
Finally, it must be reiterated that infrastructure development should be sustainable, inclusive and sensitive not only to the needs of the population, but also the ancient treasures which this city holds. In this case, for instance, the pathway of the Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT) may necessitate alternative arrangements or modifications to the proposed reconstruction of the temple. Conducting public consultations with civil society, particularly relevant educators, as well as policymakers and representatives from youth and marginalised communities must be made part and parcel of the development process throughout the province and the country.
The writer is a development sector professional with over a decade of experience in communications and reporting. He has supported the implementation of the World Bank’s Disaster and Climate Resilience Improvement Project (DCRIP) and ADB’s Flood Emergency Reconstruction and Resilience Project (FERRP) in Pakistan