Where Shiva Shed Tears, Today There Is Hope For Pluralism
It is a dark time, when the administration led by PM Narendra Modi in India is blindly bifurcating his own country – from the erasure of the Babri Mosque site, to communal discriminatory legislation and the repeated, ruthless human rights violations in Indian-occupied Kashmir.
But in Pakistan, there is a realization that this is neither sustainable nor desirable. More than seven decades after their time, Mr. Jinnah and Dr. Iqbal continue to influence policy-makers and citizens who aspire to build a country which cherishes its minority communities, in contrast with the official line in India – one of increasing hostility towards the Other.
The Katas Raj Temples in the Koh-e-Jodh mountainous terrain in the Sub Himalayas, called the “Salt Range” by the colonial British, are a living example of the relationship between the people of Pakistan and minorities in the country.
Katashel of the prehistoric mythological era is today’s Katas Raj in the spiritually serene valley of Choa Saiden Shah. It is an ultimate marvel of majesty and mythology, transcending into the realm of the mystical. And it is revered by three religions simultaneously!
The site is built at an elevation of 2,000 feet. It is hidden in the strategic mountainous range of Koh-e-Jodh, which is named after Jodh the Rajput, who ruled from Potohar till Jodhpur. It is located in a dense green forest of wild olive, the famous local loquat and wild sweet mulberry orchards of Choa Saiden Shah, nestled in the fresh fragrance of classic Rosa Damask, whose medicinal value adds to the virtues of the site.
Originally known as the Katashal, it portrays an epoch of passionate pain and immense grief of the tormented Shiva, his tearful eyes raging, raining tears, personifying pulsating passion for his life partner Satti, whose self immolation at the yagna festival brought a tragic tone to this revered love.
Satti personifies the ultimate sacrifice a wife would give for the honour of her husband: since Shiva was dehumanized by Satti’s father the king Daksha, she silently burned in agony during her early years of marriage, yearning for love and respect for her husband from her family. But tragically during the festivities of Yagna she set her soul free from this world and burned herself for eternity, this self immolation set the precedent for the ritual of self immolation for times to come.
Satti’s sudden and tragic demise brought immense pain and grief for Shiva. It is believed that Shiva carried the charred body, flying throughout the world in anguish. It was this depth of emotion that he sprinkled his tears over Katashel, blessing it with the Shiva lake.
The story tells us how Shiva’s tears adorned two revered water bodies. One was in Katashal near Choa Saiden Shah, as mentioned, known as Shiva lake. And the other was in Pushkar, near the famous Sufi pilgrimage center of Ajmer.
Today both attract thousands of souls every spring and autumn, bathing in the centuries-old lake Shiva, seeking redemption.
Katas is also held by some to be the birthplace of Shiva, as well as where his nuptials took place.
The existence of Katas Raj was evidenced in the 4th century, as it is described by Chinese monk Faxian in his travelogues.
Since time immemorial, the majestic Koh-e-Jodh has attracted the mighty: and also some seeking refuge and solitude.
Katashal and Koh-e-Jodh witnessed not only the exile of the Panadavas. But these monuments bore the brunt of the greatest and lengthiest war of all times, the epic Mahabharata. The thirst for a throne has cost countless lives since time immemorial. Accession to power required claiming precious lives, shattering dreams and trampling civilizations. One such impactful era was the struggle of Dhritrashtra, one of the hundred sons called the Kauravas, with his wife Gandhari, the Queen of Ghandhara.
Katashal served as a training ground for the Panadavas in preparation for the events of the Mahabharata. Here they trained thirteen years, strengthening their skills to counter the powerful Kauravas. It was this strategic training that finally lead to the crowning of Draupadi as the Queen of Indraprastha or Hastinapura, the capital of their ancient kingdom.
Katas Raj is equally revered by the Sikh community: as they believe that Guru Nanak Ji stayed here during his journey of spirituality around the world.
As a center of learning and culture, Katashel attracted many learned eminent philosophers from all over the world. In the 11th century the great Iranian scholar Abu Rayhan al-Biruni visited it during his research in the Indian Subcontinent.
Archaeological findings suggest that during the time of the mighty Maurya Dynasty, who ruled almost all of the Indian Subcontinent from 268 to 232 BC, in the reign of the famed King Ashoka, a Buddhist monastery with a 200-feet-tall stupa was built here in Katashal. This has also been reported by the 7th century Chinese traveler Xuanzang.
Famous British engineer Alexander Cunningham dated the shrines to around 66 BC.
Undoubtedly history repeats and tragedies of life revisit. Much as in the tales, Daksha debased Shiva’s wife to death, today’s demigods of development have drained the last drop from Shiva’s tears.
Humanity’s insatiable appetite for rapid growth and unabated, ill-organized industrialization has damaged the Koh-e-Jodh’s foliage. The revered tears of Shiva’s lake have been sapped and dried up.
Desolation and desertification has taken over the entire Choa Saiden Shah. The famous fruit orchards of Timurid Mughal Emperor Babur at the Bagh-e-Safa and the Ghandhala Louqat orchards have lost their bloom as the water table has been sapped out of these green valleys of Jhangar and Kahoon. And now, these picturesque valleys and their inhabitants are fighting an existential battle as pollution has caused severe pulmonary diseases, especially acute asthmatic complications.
But tourists still travel from far-flung localities to spend a wonderful sunset at these beautiful historical sights, irrespective of their religious connotations. As we, the followers of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) believe in equality, not the eradication of the the belief systems of minorities.
Looking at the rhetoric emanating from India today, one worries that the Modi regime is detrimental to its own Hindu worldview and culture. Pakistanis know that their path must be a very different one indeed.
The writer is a senior High Court lawyer from Choa Saiden Shah, Chakwal, and an ex-MPA