Sacred waters: Katasraj lake being rehabilitated

Water level rises after three pumping stations are demolished.

Sonia Malik July 22, 2012


Work has been started to rehabilitate a lake considered sacred by the Hindu community at the Katasraj Temple Complex.

A committee was formed a month ago by the chief secretary to expedite the restoration of the 10 temples in the complex. The work is due to be finished by August.

Earlier, the pond, which measured 200 ft by 90 ft, had shrunk to 5 ft by 4 ft over the last five months. This was blamed on two pumping stations set up near the temple complex to supply water to Choa Saiden Shah city and Wahula villages, around three kilometers away. Some of the water was also being used by three cement factories in the area.

The Hindu temples, built between 650 and 950 AD, witness a large number of pilgrims during early spring and autumn. The pilgrims bathe in the pool as part of an ablution ritual to ‘wash off sins’. According to Hindu mythology, two lakes – Katasraj and Kushkar, near Ajmer, India – were formed when god Shiva shed tears over the passing away of goddess Sita.

Saeed Iqbal Wahla, the environment secretary who is heading the committee, told The Express Tribune the Chakwal TMA had stopped pumping water from near the lake.

He said excessive water pumping had also affected subsoil water level in the area. He said two other pumping stations situated about four kilometers from Katasraj had been reactivated to supply water to nearby areas.

He said he had met Asmat Tahira, director general of the Punjab Archaeology department, and the secretary of the planning and development department, to discuss progress on the restoration of the temples.

He said with no more water being pumped, the lake was expected to grow larger during the monsoon rains.

Wahla said the project to restore the temple complex was started in 2009 and will be completed by 2013.

The work includes restoration of pavements leading to the temples; lining of the pool and a stairway.

He said facilities for pilgrims were also upgraded. The work is about 80 per cent complete.

Syed Faisal Maqsood, the Chakwal DO (environment), said the lake is being de-silted in two phases. In the first phase, the sides of the lake were mechanically de-silted by workers provided by a cement factory to a depth of five feet, he said. Last Monday, workers of NESPAK, TMA and the cement factory started de-silting the middle of the lake to a depth of around 12 feet. The cement factory around two kilometers from the area.

He said the three water pumping stations in the proximity had been removed. He said the around 7,000 residents of Wahula village were getting water from a local well, closer to the village. Similarly, residents of Choa Saiden Shah were drawing water from two pumping stations situated two kilometers from Katasraj.

“These pumping stations were abandoned a year ago since they had no generators to pump water during outages,” he said. The TMA has made a temporary arrangement and the Chakwal DCO has directed them to purchase a 50KVA generator for them within four weeks.

“The de-silting has helped restore the lake. The lake area at the surface level has increased to around 10-12 ft from 4-5 ft,” he said.

For the last four years, the Archaeology Department has been working on restoration of seven temples, built during the Hindu Shahi period, and three temples, built during the 19th and early 20th century. Three Sikh havelis are also being restored nearby.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2012.