Katas Raj Temple Complex

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The Katas Raj Temple complex is a Hindu mandir found in Katas village 40 kms south of Chakwal in Punjab, Pakistan and can be reached by road by the M2 Motorway and then following the road to Choa Saiden Shah. The complex, consisting of several temples and palaces, dates back to the 6th-7th century AD, and has also yielded a large number of fossils, making it both a historically and geologically significant site. Scholars believe that most of the temples were constructed when the Shahi kingdom, driven from Afghanistan by Mahmud of Ghanavi, fled to the region and created a new base.

The temples, dedicated to Shiva, are steeped in mythology. Legend has it that when Shiva’s wife Satti died, he was inconsolable, shedding so many tears that two holy ponds were created, one at Nainital in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, and the other at Katasraj. Other variations substitute Shiva’s wife for his horse, Katas. Furthermore, it is said that the five Pandava brothers, heroes of the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, stayed here for four out of the 14 years they spent in exile. Once again, the lake is important in their myth. The Pandavas were about to drink from the lake when a Yaksha (spirit of the lake) appeared and, much like the story of the Sphinx from Greek mythology, tested them with questions which they had to pass else be killed. The first four brothers failed and were thus killed by the Yaksha. However, the fifth and eldest brother, Yudhistra,  used his wisdom to answer the questions correctly and brought his brothers back to life. Today, bathing in the holy lake is seen to be auspicious, helping to cleanse one’s sins and helping in the attainment of salvation.

Katas Raj also holds historical significance. It is said to be the place where the Islamic scholar al-Biruni (973-1048 AD) attempted to measure the circumference of the earth, studied sanksrit and wrote his famous ‘Kitab-ul-Hind’, a book exploring the religious and cultural customs of Hindus. After Guru Nanak visited the complex, Katas came to be known as Nanaknawas and was a site of contemplation for many groups of mystics and ascetics.

The Katas Raj complex houses seven ancient temples or Satgraha, remains of a Buddhist stupa (mound), and a few medieval temples and constructions which centre around the exquisite turquoise lake which is a must for visitors. The temples are predominantly elevated, constructed on square platforms.

The Ramachandra temple is situated to the east of the Hari Singh Haveli and is closed from all sides except for an entrance on the east. The double-storied structure has eight rooms of various dimensions on the ground floor and a staircase at the south leading to the first floor. The temple has two jharokas (balconies) that have been severely damaged.

The Hanuman temple is on the western extreme of a high rectangular enclosure with entrances on the south and the north. The temple’s ceiling is undecorated, and lime-plastered. The Shiva temple is also built on a square platform. Its entrance is a recessed round arch with faint cusps and a rectangular opening to the north.

Apart from the temples, the Katas Raj site has been a rich source for prehistoric tools and weapons along with terracotta artefacts and pottery, similar to those found in the Harappa valley but have not yet been dated. Nearby salt ranges have also yielded prehistoric fossils, which some experts have placed in the period between 6000 and 7000 BCE, and further excavation is required.

Although the temple complex was abandoned by local Hindus who migrated to India during Partition, the area still retains its function as a site of pilgrimage for many worshippers, who perform rituals and bathe in the sacred pool every year.

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