Book review: Historic Temples in Pakistan- -the forgotten Pakistan

Published: October 12, 2014
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Author Reema Abbasi.

Author Reema Abbasi.

It is no secret that dishonest scholarship is an important catalyst of faith-based bloodshed in Pakistan. Such works are known to snuff out entire peoples, geographies and eras to afford intellectual backing to exclusionist arguments. In such times, Reema Abbasi’s book, Historic Temples in Pakistan: A call to conscience reminds us that insisting on a wholly ‘Muslim’ history of Pakistan is both dangerously myopic and factually incorrect.

Through this book, Abbasi traces the cultural and artistic histories of some of the oldest Hindu, Jain and Sikh temples across Pakistan. Using her observations of rituals and architectures, she tacitly broaches the discourse of multi-faith existence which Pakistan’s national identity is in dire need of. Abbasi reminds us that the country has never been the exclusive custody of the people of any one faith but belongs to scores of men and women whose differences bequeath richness and flexibility to our national identity.

Abbasi also reports on the centrality that these temples continue to have in people’s lives using examples such as the Varun Dev temple in Karachi’s Manora Island. The site is heavily frequented by Muslim devotees who come to the temple to pay homage to the traveller saint Jhule Lal, also revered by Hindus as the water god Varuna, making for a wondrous crisscross of beliefs which knit both communities together. She cites several similar examples such as the Krishna Mandir of Rawalpindi, the curious healing powers of which beckon Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs alike, and the mysterious Nani Mandir of Lasbela, Balochistan, thronged by both Hindu and Muslim pilgrims.

The book repeatedly alludes to the fact that human beings are too interconnected to be divided by hastily-penciled maps. Abbasi chronicles temples that, according to legends, have secret passageways connecting to other partner-temples across the border. She visits and describes in breathtaking detail the unworldly Katas Temple, revered as the site where the most sacred of Hindu scriptures, the Rig Veda, was composed. With so much of Hindu legacy in Pakistan (and similar Muslim legacy in India) what, then, is one to make of a political boundary whose proponents insist on an unnatural ‘pureness’ of faith on either side?

Throughout the book, the text is studded with photography and journal notes by Madiha Aijaz, who accompanied Abbasi to the temples.

It is, however, important to note that Abbasi’s work, while affording a thorough, one-volume study of temples in Pakistan, is not scholarly. That the subcontinent is, and has been, susceptible to fresh fusions of religion has already been established. Syncretism (the confluence of religions) in South Asia is a heavily-researched area that has long been in the careful hands of historians such as Richard Eaton and William Darlymple. Therefore, the author does not bring forth an original thesis which can push the paradigm and nor does she intend to. Her work is of a different nature — she seeks to show a mirror and tame the furious spirit which causes humans to concoct the ‘us’ and ‘them’ divisions. In times where news bulletins and newspaper stories are replete with accounts of faith-based killings, Abbasi’s effort qualifies as a refreshing reminder of a Pakistan that the extremists are trying to erase from our collective consciousness.

Faiza Rahman is a subeditor for the Opinion & Editorial section of The Express Tribune.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 12th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Sam@ABE
    Oct 15, 2014 - 1:20AM

    Kudos to the author. I don’t know if I will be able to visit the temples of Pakistan in this lifetime, but at least I will have the vicarious if I read the book. I’m off to buy the book.

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  • Oct 15, 2014 - 4:50PM

    I congratulate Reema Abbasi and Madiha Aijaz. It takes courage to go against the grain in such an important area as religion.

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  • Shayan
    Oct 15, 2014 - 5:28PM

    Excellent review and brilliant initiative by the author – brave woman! Look forward to getting a copy!

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  • umar
    Oct 16, 2014 - 9:09PM

    Good Review

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  • Oct 17, 2014 - 10:11AM

    Why there are non Muslims Temples in Pakistan they should be destroyed at once.

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  • JSM
    Oct 17, 2014 - 4:28PM

    @Deepak:
    I agree with you.

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  • Oct 18, 2014 - 4:48PM

    Historic Temples in Pak is a good work to reunite India & Pak who share common ancestors and heritage. India & Pak were divided by British rulers by sowing seeds of hatred. Now it is for new generation to weed out those British seeds of hatred and reunite under Confederation of India Pak Bangladesh.

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  • Yo2Da2
    Oct 18, 2014 - 10:35PM

    @yoginder aggarwal: Please, don’t blame the British for the Partition and injecting sectarianism in the Subcontinent. That takes a lot of people, including believers and their leaders alike. Reunion is not in the cards as the cultural, political, and economic distance among the three countries continues to widen.

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  • K-10
    Oct 19, 2014 - 4:05AM

    Great article! It is for Muslims to realize their Hindu (Sanatan Dharma) origins, and that by denying this and even insulting and terrorizing Hindus, they are doing a disservice to themselves and their ancestors.

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  • Roshan Kumar
    Oct 19, 2014 - 7:47PM

    Its a very good research by Reema Abbasi and Madiha Aijaz, Next generation should know our common heritage of this region.India Pakistan are now two countries and people to people communication is too low,this book will encourage people from India to know pakistan and travel there.

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  • Anand
    Oct 21, 2014 - 5:21PM

    Inspiring stuff. Kudos two the authors, and also to Faiza Rahman for capturing the spirit of the book so succinctly.

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  • Positivethinker
    Oct 22, 2014 - 8:26PM

    Congratulations to Reema Abbasi for choosing to write on such a sensitive subject and to Faiza Rahman for writing this review. Books such as this will serve the purpose of reminding the average Pakistani and Indian about their common history.

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  • the eddy
    Oct 22, 2014 - 9:08PM

    @Yo2Da2:
    fully agreed

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  • M Shoaib
    Oct 23, 2014 - 3:00AM

    A great review. Where I used to live in Model Town Lahore there is a pre 1947 temple in the D block still intact. People in the area saved the temple by endangering their lives in 1992 from destruction by a mob of extremists who were angry at the destruction of Babri masjid.
    I remember seeing many old houses in Lahore with word Om written in Sanskrit on their front. Lahore definitely had a significant hindu presence before 47.

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  • OldPaki
    Oct 23, 2014 - 6:38AM

    Good article! Violence in human comes naturally by searching for food & shelter. But for peace all have to work hard. It’s easy to start a controversy but to educate & find common grounds need daily gardening. Talking of gardening; Human creat gardens from wild plants; “Nature” if get the chance will spread thorn bushes and useless weeds with the speed of lightning on untended ground. If we understand that first then it will be easy to solve all the issues in society,

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  • rohit950723
    Oct 24, 2014 - 10:08PM

    Unless Pakistan turns secular till then these books are crocodile tears only…

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  • Joginder
    Oct 25, 2014 - 6:48AM

    Is this book available in India? I couldn’t spot it in any of the book shops on the Mall, Shimla. And the price of Rs 2,500, (if it is in Pakistani rupees) might be interpreted by sellers in India as Indian rupees. INR 2,500 would be a rip off. Hope the international edition is priced in dollars.

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  • Libra
    Oct 27, 2014 - 2:45PM

    @K-10:
    It is saddening to note that Indian trolls hardly spare any chance to bring hatred forth in every topic or discussion.

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