THE FORGOTTEN GURDWARA GURU NANAK at KATAS RAJ, PAKISTAN
Iqbal Qaiser (1998) in his famous book, Historical Sikh Shrines in Pakistan refers to Gurdwara Pehli Patshahiat the ancient Hindu pilgrimage site of Katas Raj at Chakwal district in West Punjab. The place was abandoned after the partition of Punjab in 1947 hence half a century later, the author was unable to apprise on the exact location of this Gurdwara. To make the matter bit complicated, no reference was mentioned, and it was not straightforward to find out from the bibliography, given at the end of the book, which manuscript or book would have these details?1
In 2006 Pakistan undertook the restoration project for the Katas Raj complex at $30 million. The sacred pond was cleaned, enlarged, and fenced. The Hindu temples, Buddhist Stupa and Haveli of Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa, the celebrated general and governor of Hazara of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, all within the complex were restored, and landscaping was completed. Information boards were installed across the complex. However, they failed to mention the Gurdwara Sahib. 2
Further in 2017, ETPB(Evacuee Trust Property Board), the government department which looks after Hindu and Sikh places of worship installed shikhar kalash (peak urn) on the conical domes of Hindu temples.3 There is a provision for Hindu pilgrims from India for an annual visit to Katas Raj. Sometimes this yatra becomes an unfortunate victim and gets canceled due to the peculiar relationship between India and Pakistan.
Guru Nanak’s visit
Giani Gian Singh (1880) in Twarikh Guru Khalsa writes that Guru Nanak came to Katas Raj in 1519 (Samvat 1579) and reached on Vaisakhi, the first day of Vaisakh month. Jogis, mystics, and ascetics used to come to the Vaisakhi fair and take a dip in the holy pond. The author adds that Katas Raj and Pushkar are two eyes of earth, and their ponds have holy water (Jal di Thahhnahin)
On Guru Ji’s arrival, they gathered around him for dialogue. Guru Ji gave the sermon on the futility of renunciation of household life, worship of one Almighty, and spoke against ritualism. He recited the following Shabadin Raag Maru
mnmuKu lhir Gru qij ivgUcY Avrw ky Gr hyrY]
igRh Drmu gvwey siqguru n BytY durmiq GUmn GyrY ]
Abandoning his home in some excitement,
An apostate is ruined by spying others homes.
He loses the, status of the family man, meets not with the True Guru
And is involved in the whirl-pool of evil understanding
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1012
Sujan Rai’s Account
Sujan Rai Bhandari (1695) in Khulasatut Tawarikh alludes to a lake, an ancient place of worship in the territory of Makhialah (old name for Salt range). Hindus on holy days such as Vaisakhi (entrance of the Sun into the sign of Aries) congregate to have a bath in this lake. The devotees believe that the Earth has two eyes, the right eye is the lake of Pushkar (in Rajasthan), and the left is this lake. Sujan Rai writes that this lake is at Kota Chhina. The translator, the great historian Sir Jadunath Sarkar was unable to locate it. Nonetheless, his description and the area match perfectly with Katas Raj.4 Mirza Safdar Baig, a local historian from Jhelum, West Punjab helped to confirm the location.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s visits
Umdatut Tawarikh by Sohan Lal Suri, is a contemporary chronicle, in Persian, primarily of the reigns of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his successors. The Maharaja visited Katas Raj several times during his reign on his way from Rohtas (famous for its fort) to Pind Dadan Khan. His first trip was in 1805 when he went to take a dip at Katas Raj. In 1810, Maharaja had planned to go to Katas Raj on the first day of the month of Magh but the administration of the state took precedence.5
The next sojourn was on 21st November 1813 and the Sarkar (Ranjit Singh, as referred bySohan Lal) distributed cash and in kind to the deserving and the poor. He again visited it in 1823.6In 1825the Maharaja reached Katas Raj on Diwali day. Sohan Lal writes that the Sarkar was pleased to see the illumination and took the bath in the sacred pool on the next day. The Maharaja then went to ChohaSaidan Shah, a Sufi shrine on his way to Pind Didan Khan.7
On 22nd November 1832, the Punjab ruler went to Katas Raj for the last time and the next day Captain C.M. Wade, the British diplomat based in Ludhiana reached there and sought an interview with him. Following this meeting, the Maharaja went to Choha Fakir Saidan Shah and offered Rs. 100 at the place. Then through the mountains, Maharaja entered the fort of Dilaur and inspected it.8
Other contemporary sources of Maharaja’s time
Ganesh Das Wadhera (1850) in Charbagh e Punjab also mentions Katas Raj as a pilgrimage place situated towards Makhyalain the area of Khaun. The pool of water, from ancient times, has been a sacred place for the people of the country.9
Captain James Abbott, Boundary Commissioner, provides an eyewitness account of the Vaisakhi Fairat Katas Raj in 1848. He describes families enjoying without inhibition, women wearing expensive clothing, and fair which was attended by 20,000 people passed off peacefully. He describes it as follows,
“For the first time in my life I saw whole families together, father, mother, husband, wife, and children, all enjoying themselves together without constraint. The women unveiled and dressed in their gayest attire, crimson, blue, yellow, and white with head ornaments of the
purest gold, occasionally with pearls and rubies. These ornaments are often elegant and always becoming to the native face. Few of them could have been worth less than £30 and many must have been worth £100. In no instance did I see a woman or a child on foot, while the male was unmounted; and I observed husbands attending upon their wives and mothers, by a most pleasing reversal of Indian etiquette. Every roof was covered with extempore tents and awnings. Every tree was crowded with gay figures reposing under its shade, and strings of men, women and children were passing along the narrow lanes and alleys, while the water itself was crowded with swimmers and dippers. The faqirs approached them as they bathed and presented their dishes for alms, and no man resisted the appeal. But I observed one who could not otherwise get rid of an importunate beggar, toss the water of the pool into his face. About 20,000 people were present in the fair which passed off peacefully without any untoward incident.”10
Dhanna Singh’s visit
Danna Singh (1893-1935) from Patiala travelled throughout British India visiting Gurdwaras from 11th March 1930 to 26thJune 1934 on his bicycle with his camera and recorded his visits in a diary. His eight diaries were edited by S. Chetan Singh, former Director of Punjabi Vibhag, Patiala, and were published in 2016.
The indefatigable pilgrim visited Katas Raj on 20th November 1933 and mentions the shrine (Baradari) of Guru Nanak which is next to the sacred pond (Amrit Kund) which still exists. Dhanna Singh notes in his diary that the shrine was previous under the possession of Suthra Shahi (a syncretic sect akin to Udasi) who left it due to lack of income generated from the shrine. Now the Dharamsaal (in November 1933)is under the control of Lal Singh, Dalip Singh, and Surat Singh who are the descendants of Bhai Mati Das (of Karyala village, district Chakwal) who were martyred along with Guru Tegh Bahadar in Delhi in 1675. Guru Granth Sahib was installed by them, though it seemed that regular Prakash was not performed.11
Islamabad based historian Shahid Shabbir who is an expert in Sikh heritage in Pakistan informed that he has been visiting Katas Raj every year since 2014 and in the premises of Sri Rama Chandra Mandir, there is a stone platform or flag post (with base only) which seems very similar to the one used for Nishan Sahib or the Sikh flag. There is no pole or Sikh flag now, but it seems once the base (which is still present) was used for a pole to hoist a flag, most probably a Nishan Sahib. The ground floor of Sri Rama Chandra Mandir has Hindu architecture including a number of places for the idols of the deities. However, on the top floor, the room/hall had 4 doors, one in each direction like a Gurdwara Sahib. Three doors have recently been closed. In the region which became Pakistan, where Hindus and Sikhs were a very small minority, they sometimes share the place of worship.11It could be an Udasi place of worship. This needs to be further studied and explored.
It is generally believed that Hindu Shahi kings (873-1026) built the temples at Katas Raj. This is not backed by any contemporary source as they did not leave any chronicle or historical document. This is primarily based on the fact that Hindu Shahi were the last Hindu rulers of this area before Mahmud Ghaznavi annexed Punjab till the Raavi River in the early years of the 11th century.
The temples somehow survived for almost 800 years, or they were rebuilt or repaired during Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s time and most probably under the supervision of Hari Singh Nalwa, whose Haveli exists in the complex. The Baradari Gurdwara of Guru Nanak must have been built during this period.
The ETPB, the department which looks after Hindu and Sikh places of worship in Pakistan which includes Katas Raj is requested to put an information board next to Guru Nanak Baradari/Gurdwara. The writer of this article had emailed ETPB twice last year but did not receive any acknowledgment. ETPB could verify all the claims made in this write-up and Sikh Sangat could re-claim the Gurdwara Sahib which commemorates the visit of their first Guru at Katas Raj.
1. Iqbal Qaiser (1998) Historical Sikh Shrines in Pakistan. Lahore: Punjabi History Board. p174
2. Accessed on 4th March 2022 (https://timesofindia.indiatimes. com/world/pakistan/pak-spending-30m-on-restoring-temple/articleshow/1725370.cms)
3. Accessed on 4th March 2022 https://timesofindia. indiatimes.com/city/amritsar/pakistan-government-begins-installation-of-shikhar-kalash-on-hindu-temples/articleshow/56357121.cms?from=mdr
4. Jadunath Sarkar (1901) India of Aurangzib. Calcutta: Bose Brothers p101
5. Sohan Lal (2002) Umdatut Tawarikh Daftar II. Translated by V.S.Suri. Amritsar: Guru Nanak Dev University p50, 84
6. Op. cit. p149,364
7. Op. cit. p397
8. Sohan Lal (1961) UmdatutTawarikh Daftar II. Translated by V.S.Suri. New Delhi: S. Chand. p154
9. J.S. Grewal & Indu Banga (1975) Early Nineteenth Century Panjab. Amritsar: Guru Nanak Dev University p47
10. Hari Ram Gupta (1991) History of the Sikhs Vol V The Sikh Lion of Lahore Maharaja Ranjit Singh 1799-1839. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal p459
11. Chetan Singh. (Ed) (2016) Gur Tirath Cycle Yatra (in Punjabi). Walsall: European Punjabi Saath p766
12. Accessed on 6th March 2022 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SlyK_u7uTIU)