With reference to my previous Weblog, on the 'doomed' Abbottabad (5th Gurkhas) temple, the much older Shiv Mandir (Temple) at Chitti Gatti, near Mansehra town up here has been at last reclaimed and now partially restored by the small Hindu community in this region.
The Mansehra Shiv Temple is one of the oldest still in existence and use, in Pakistan, dating back at least 2000 years. In 1947-48, it was forcibly seized by some local 'land mafia' group i.e. people who were influential and well-connected and who illegally occupied local property of weaker folk (and the Hindu community that was still left here at Partition/Independence was especially weak and vulnerable) and and they also seald up the temple on this site, covering about an acre or more of land close to Chitti Gatti (lit. 'White Stone') village and quite close to Mansehra town. Thus, from c. 1948 to 2008 the Shiv temple here was sealed up and abandond and out of bounds to local or any other Hindus --needless to say, to soon fell into a very bad state of disrepair (Pl see Photo 1 below)
This temple had seevral very significant and unusual features, including (a) the famous 'Durga cave' up on a hill beyond it, where there was a small cave with a lovely fresh water spring bubbling out of the ground, where 'Yatris' (religious pilgrims to the temple) would bathe and purify themselves and offer respects to the goddess Durga, before going down to the main Shiv temple; and (b) one of the oldest and biggest 'Shiva Lingam' idols anywhere in this region, inside a special little sanctum -- that in fact precedes this old temple by at least 5-600 years. (Pl see Photos 2 and 3 below)
This fine, old and historical temple was at last repossessed by our local Hindu community though the efforts of Mr Darshan LaL, son of Mr Sham Lal, who chairs the Hazara Shiv Temple Society (STS), and whose family have been custodians of various surviving Hindu shrines and properties here; and (at long last, after much furore) via the assistance of the Auqaf department of NWFP (now KP) and some Hindu members of the central/federal legislature, who were awakened to a realisation of the sheer antiquity and value of this unique temple. Over the last few years, now, the temple has been partially restored and is in use again,, happily-- some 1.2 million Pakistani rupees have gone so far into this restoration process, largely on a 'self-help basis': the Hindu community from various parts of Pakistan donating about 70% of funds and labour, Hindu parliamentarians donating about 15% of funds from official federal sources and the balance being met by some 5-6 local (Muslim) 'Khans' or landowners, who remain sympathetic to our small Hindu community here and who, historically, have been hosts and supporters of the annual 'Maha Shivaratri Puja' festival here since the 19th century at least--I am happy to say that some of my own elders were also among these, and that we were also able to make a small contribution towards the restoration of this lovely temple.
The 'Maha Shivaratri Puja' festival here, devoted to the celebration of the nuptials of Lord Shiva ('Mahadeva') to the goddess Parvati (who is also the primordial Shakti/force) and in earlier times, this used to be a very very special festival here at this temple. Pilgrims used to come from all over (then) British India, especially large contingents from former Kashmir state and the Maharaja there used to make sizeable fiancial contributions for the temple's upkeep and the hosting of pilgrims/annual visitors; and people from other places, as far away as Rajputana (Rajhistan), Dharamshala and Kangra, UP and Delhi, the Punjab, Sindh and other parts of the NWFP, all used to converge here for these festivities.
This annual festival is, once again taking place at this temple; with a proper 'Pujari' assisted by Mr Darshan Lal and the STS organisation here; and pilgrims and visitors are coming here again, albeit in modest numbers still, except for the local Hindus. This year, the Shiva festival was the biggest yet, celebrated between 19th and 20th February 2012, and with some (approx) 1500 Yatris. Unfortunately, because of lack of space -- much of the temple's adjoining land is still occupied by the 'land mafia' and litigation instituted by the Auqaf department to reclaim it still underway-- housing and feeding them is not easy and once again, our local STS members have risen to the occasion, with some help from a few local Muslim landowners, including my own family, and this year, the 'Maha Shivaratri Puja' was the best one yet. An occasion of great solemnity and yet of great joy, hope and merriment (Pl see some of the photos below) and it was good to be able to help, by making arrangements for about 200 pilgrims (my contribution in terms of food, firewood, tents etc) ; and it has been very, very good indeed, seeing this ancient place once again resounding with the age-old chants and happy and worshipful voices.
For some of us, in these parts, raised with ideals of communal love and tolerance and in line with the dream of the Quaid i Azam (MA Jinnah)'s true Pakistan at heart, the revival of the Maha Shivaratri Puja in this old temple, is indeed a happy event. Yet, this dream, this vision is still truly far from any large-scale achievement and is also simultaneously under threat from the rise of an extremist, narrow-minded 'Taliban' style manifestation of Islam in this country. But we must acknowledge with admiration, the efforts and dedication of the Shiv Temple Society (STS) here, their bravery and hardwork--in particular we thank Mr Sham Lal and his sons, Mr Darshan Lal, Sajaan Lal and Ashok Lal, who have been the moving spirits behind this venture and who still put in so much effort to make everything a sucess and who are also the ones to very kindly share these photos with me. Long may they prosper, insha'Allah, and may e in our little corner of Pakistan achieve fulfilment of our aim of communal harmony and freedom.
Finally, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, please, all of you who read this blog-- or share it with friends and well-wishers-- do remember that the work on the Mansehra Shiv Temple is still going on; and they need funds, financial assistance and donations, and any help that anyone is willing to give or volunteer. The most important things that are required at this time are (a) funds to complete the temple complex and fully restore it and (b) provide some housing and shelter for pilgrims, who brave our harsh mountain winters to come here. A total (approx) amount of Pak Rs 1.0 million is direly needed for these works-- about 11,000 US dollars or 7200 UK pounds sterling, not a very great amount. The STS and local Hindu community will be able to raise some of this money and some of us, with whatever limited resources we have, shall help them out as much as we can; and e will also try to convince the provincial and federal governments to make some donations; but we apprehend that substantial funds will still be needed. In addition to these please also seriously think about helping out with the annual Maha Shiva festivities, with your generous donations or whatever help in cash or kind you can make.
For further information, you can either make a post/query here and I shall try to respond asap; or write/email directly to the Shiv Temple Society (STS) which is a registered charity here, c/o Mr Saajan Lal at firstname.lastname@example.org . I would also like to take this opprtunity to thank some people abroad, who, on learning of the work being done by the STS out here, have come forth with material help recently-- it is not possible to name all of these people, but special thanks accrue to Dr HP Gupta in the USA and Mr Sagar in the UK; and thanks, again, to all others who have been thoughtful enough to help and continue to help.