The temple and gurdwara in Saidpur have not seen any religious worship in decades
or 69 years, the Ram ki Devi temple has been without the sound of samriddhi (ritual bell). Although it is a Hindu temple, it does not have a single statue of Lord Rama or the Devi. The dharamshala worship hall has long been waiting for pilgrims. The temples are a rare edifice. These have survived for 300 years.
Only a few miles away from the country’s power corridors, the green Margalla hills house several heritage sites. On the foothills of the Margalla hills, at Saidpur village, glossy domes of the temple catch the eye.
Red and white bricks frame the periphery of Hindu and Sikh temples in Saidpur. From the stairs on the right side, one can approach a small traditional gurdwara. It is open for all but the Guru Granth Sahib, the primary instructional text, is missing. Adjacent to the gurdwara is a hall that once served as a seminary for the local Sikh community.
“This is where we spent our childhood,” says Raja Nasr Gakkhar, a local. He says he used to take primary school classes in the ashram hall. He says all his ancestors hailed from Saidpur.
“My parents and grandparents used to say that prior to partition, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims lived here without segregation. Pilgrims from all these faiths continue to visit,” he says.
According to Gakkhar, the temples have long been without worship, religious rituals and bhajans. He says the Sikh and Hindu communities have almost vanished from Saidpur.
The dharamshala walls feature stone engraving. Inside the hall, several windows provide natural light. Vibrant art used to decorate the outer wall of the dharamshala.
According to Gakkhar, the temples have been without worship, religious rituals and bhajans for a long time. He says the Sikh and Hindu communities have almost vanished from Saidpur.
Huma, a visitor from England, says, ”We came here for lunch and were drawn in by the beautiful architecture. These are our cultural heritage assets. This land has a history of diverse cultures. It is unfortunate that these temples have been closed for worship.”
To preserve the historical structures, the federal government had initiated a renovation of temples and dharamshala project in 2005. The picture wall was decorated with 97 historical pictures of the federal capital. Many visitors consider it a museum and do not recognise its religious significance. A 300 year old carving in Hindi script features poetry.
Rameez, the watchman, says that Sikh as well as Hindu visitors still frequent the place. “We had a Canadian family visiting the sites a few years ago. An elderly lady with the group said that she was born in Saidpur. She recounted her early years, worshipping at the Gurdwara alongside her parents. Her family had moved to Canada after the partition,” he says.
“Some of the visitors want to perform religious rituals but it is prohibited,” he says.
Saidpur can be turned into a site for heritage tourism. The stones, windows and carved doors have stood here for centuries. The temple and the gurdwara have several panels featuring religious texts.
Santosh Marwari, an activist from the Hindu community, says the government must restore these temples and make them functional. He says these are an important part of the national cultural heritage.
The government has announced that permission for the construction of new temples will be granted where local communities need those. “The government should at least permit us to sing bhajans and perform sacred rituals,” says Marwari.
The hall previously used for the education of the Sikh seminarians now houses the office of the supervisor of the structure. Four guards are present at all hours. A small group of custodial staff ensures cleanliness. Asked about the visitors, Nasurllah, the supervisor, says that students from the history department and the comparative religion department do visit for research assignments. “The veranda is sometimes used for fashion shoots, but only with permission from the Capital Development Authority (CDA),” he says. He says they also get visitors who claim that their families once lived in the area and worshipped at the temples. Some of them come from India.
The writer is a freelance journalist/documentary producer. He can be reached at email@example.com