Protecting heritage

September 18, 2022

Concrete measures have to be taken for the preservation of the historic Toomri Mandir

Protecting heritage


After the partition of the subcontinent a number of historical buildings that were once built and used by Hindu emperors and Sikh gurus either for worship or as dwellings were in Pakistan. After the Partition a large number of Hindus and Sikhs abandoned their holy places and migrated to India. The historical places relate to a long history of Hindu, Sikh and Muslim cultures and civilisation and are a part of a majestic legacy. Regrettably, due to the inattention of the government, many of the precious assets are turning to ruins.

The magnificent monument that is the subject of this feature is popularly known as Toomri Mandir or Nanda Ram Mandir. It is located near the Baddoki Gosaian town. The temple lies two miles south west of Gakkhar Mandi on the Grand Trunk Road, about 16 kilometres from Gujranwala. For nearly seven years, the mandir has been surrounded by the newly established DHA Society. Unlike some other monumental temples, it is located amidst lush green fields. Its surrounding area have not been urbanised on a large scale.

The extant building of the glorious mandir was built in 1892. However, some local legends hold that a mandir has existed in the place for around 500 years. Reliable sources say the construction of the elegant building was initiated by the order of Sai Das. It is generally regarded as a Hindu temple but some of the villagers contend that the mandir was built by the Sikh community. Most historians favour the earlier belief. Sai Das Ji is generally acknowledged as its founder.

Ayappa Panikar writes in his book, Medieval Indian Literature: Surveys and Selections, that Gosain Gurbani is the fourth Gurmat text written by Baba Sai Das, the founder of the Toomri Mandir and the Goswami community. It says the Baba Ji encouraged his successor to undertake the responsibility of helping people with his divine powers.

The village Baddoki Gosaian where Sai Das was also born derives its name from one Baddo a devotee of Sai Das, who helped the Baba Ji establish this village. This historically significant place in Gujranwala district remained home to Hindu, Sikh and Muslim communities for centuries until the Partition in 1947. Being the birthplace of Baba Sai Das, founder of the Goswami community and a contemporary to Baba Nanak Dev Ji, the ancient town is also revered for the Tombri Mandir. In 1947, most Hindu and Sikh families in Baddoki Gosaian migrated to India. Eventually they were replaced by Muslim families migrating to the village from East Punjab. Some villagers still live in houses built and owned by Hindus and Sikh. Currently, the town has a population of more than 35,000 people, a majority of them Muslims.

The mandir has been built on a raised platform that is surrounded by a square-shaped pond on all sides. The total area of the complex, including the pond, is about 5,625 square metres (1.4 acres). A wonderful bridge extending over six arches connects the main edifice of the mandir to the carpeted road. The arches have been well designed and built with red tiles. The temple bridge divides the pond into two parts. The pond itself is made of Mughal-era bricks. It is surrounded by big banyan and peepal trees. The trees add to the beauty of the temple complex.

Protecting heritage

There are ten stairs each on all four sides to approach the pond. There is a walled enclosure (locally called peyala) in the north-west corner of the pond - probably built for and used by women. A canal used to bring water into the pond from the north. Villagers say it was linked to a well located near the Miran Sahib village. For a few years, water was provided for the pond from a canal flowing a mile away. There are mighty columns on both sides. The construction speaks of Mughal era skills. Towards the rear of the mandir, there are a number of palm trees. There is a 100 years old cemetery nearby.

The perpendicular structure is a masterpiece. The walls have been raised perfectly and there are skilful engravings on the exterior. The patterns crafted inside the building are refined and well executed. The green marble work on the corridor floor is captivating. The red tiles, patched delicately in various styles around the temple add to its beauty.

Repair of the collapsing parts of the temple building can save the onument from vanishing prematurely.

There is a grave beside the mandir. Local folks say an old man grazing his sheep close to the site was swallowed alive by the earth so that only his herding staff remained visible above the surface. The staff, it is said, later morphed into a berry tree that has survived. Some locals hold the place sacred and routinely light candles by the graveside.

I recently interviewed Raja Muhammad Riaz also known as Sain Boarh who lives in Baddoki and has been deeply attached to the mandir. Riaz said, “this 400 year old temple was abandoned and has been neglected since 1947”. Sadly, the mandir has no custodian to look after it. Riaz says, a large part of the mandir was attacked and vandalised following the demolition of the Babari Masjid on December 6, 1992. He says a large mob attacked the spectacular mandir and pulled down the secondary structures. He says the mob also damaged other buildings and plundered some parts of the main complex. He says the gold steeples on the top of the tower were removed and stolen.

Riaz says the mandir was built by Raja Sundar upon the request of Sai Das. He says Toomri Temple was a stronghold of the Hindu community. It attracted devotees from far and wide. Besides Hindus, the place was also revered by Sikhs and some Muslim communities in the area that held it sacred. He says Sai Das himself used command many Muslim followers who called him their pir. The Sikhs of course treated him as their guru and the Hindus as their Gosain. After the demise of Sai Das, his son Baba Ravanand became the custodian of the mandir and its manager. Ravanand enjoed support of the Raja and imparted religious learning to the Hindus. Hindus from Baddoki and other areas used to come to this temple to study their holy books: Gita, Ramayan and the Vedas from Baba Ravanand.

The temple used to be a prominent place of worship amongst Hindus. A gigantic idol was placed inside for worship. Hindus from the whole region used to come here to worship and seek redemption from their miseries and hardships. Hindus used to have a small house of worship named Raam Laas at Baddoki, too. There had been a shamshaan ghaat (crematory) southwest of the village to burn the dead. Three kinds of trees: banyan, berry and pipal, were planted around the complex. Some of those have survived to this day. Riaz says they represent distinctive religious values in Sikhism, Islam and Hinduism, respectively.

Riaz says he was saddened and remains upset over the destruction of the mandir. He says he wishes that the mandir should be restored and handed over to Hindus for their use.

Noor Hassan, 90, who had migrated from Shadipur in India following the Partition, says that the “Mandir once had several buildings around it including the dharamshala, living rooms and a Sikh samadhi. He says some of those were demolished by local people in order to clear the land for cultivation. The rest of the secondary buildings deteriorated over time. He says there used to be an ancient well on the south side for water supply that has disappeared. “For more than 55 years, I saw the temple pond full of water. Sorrowfully, it has dried up and remains abandoned for the last 20 years. The lack of water has dulled the beauty of this remarkable monument”.

Protecting heritage

Mian Mohammad Khan has lived here since independence. He tells me that “visitors used to bathe in the temple pond in order to have their wishes fulfilled. Moreover, there used to be a big fair, known as Jhag Da Mela at the temple. There also used to be a Langar Hall opposite the mandir that has vanished now. Hindus and Sikhs in the past used to make devotional visits to this mandir every year. We no longer see any Hindus or Sikhs here. The mandir used to be well maintained and cleaned. The water in the pond used to be drained regularly. The pond was then refilled with fresh water once a month. A few years ago someone converted this pond into a fish farm”.

Currently, the iconic building is a hub of attraction for tourists. A lot of Tiktok-ers are to be seen around all the times. They are shooting videos to share on the social media. People even from far off places come to this temple now for photo sessions. Some of them admire the awe-inspiring artworks on the walls. Some marketing companies and various brands have shot commercial advertisements around it. Some Punjabi films have also been shot around here. Write Mustansar Hussain Tarar visited the place in 2019 and has mentioned the temple in his travel writing.

It is deplorable that the temple building has fallen prey to sheer negligence of the concerned authorities. The secondary buildings have been in a state of ruin for a long time but the main complex and the pond too are now on the verge of extinction. The plight of the magnificent heritage building is really heart-wrenching. Visiting the area during local body elections, some political leaders have voiced deep concern about the renovation of this remarkable monument. However, promises in this regard have not been kept.

The mandir belongs in the Auqaf Department jurisdiction. However, the department has maintained a deliberate dissociation with it. Recently, the DHA authorities got this temple building and the pond cleaned. They also arranged for weeding of the lawns twice in the last three to four years.

The government must pay more attention to the heritage building and take concrete measures to restore and maintain it. Repair of the crumbling parts of what remains of the temple building can save the valuable place from vanishing prematurely. Its restoration can help educate the nation’s youth. Heritage buildings are always a great source of learning about history and culture.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Gujranwala.  He can be reached at waseemshabbir78

Protecting heritage