important part of Mughal history……a stone shiv-ling, believed to be present during a
visit by Humayun, father of Akbar……shrine attracts many Muslims for
“curative purposes or to ask for a child”….
Reema Abbasi was born in Pakistan, went to school in England, college in Karachi, is a “spiritual Muslim” and “who has aspects of most religions in her home, such as an idol of Sai Baba, the cross and quranic verses” and who has now compiled a book on Hindu temples in Pakistan.
More than the temples, what is of interest is the life and precarious times of the Balmiki community (Dalits) who themselves seem to be highly spiritual (as in they appreciate all religions).
Reema Abbasi, the book’s author, traveled the country to write this
narrative of about 40 old religious sites, including Hindu temples in
the jagged terrain of the western state of Balochistan. She also visited
the Thar desert and the Indus River valley in the state of Sindh, as
well as Karachi, Lahore, Punjab and dangerous stretches of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, along the border with Afghanistan.
Born a Pakistani in the Netherlands, she went to school in England,
college in Karachi, and then worked as a journalist. A self-described
“spiritual Muslim,” she has aspects of most religions in her home, such
as an idol of Sai Baba, the cross and quranic verses.
“In the last 10 years, I have been focusing on socio-political
[reporting] and then the whole hardliner issues here, and sectarianism.
Not in the cities, but in upper north where there are pockets of
extremists and terrorists. Given that climate, the kind of issues that
were arising at the time and what I was writing about – I think that was
the part towards this [book].
“[The shrines] were spellbinding. For me some of the structures were
imbued with so much energy. … These places continue to bring so much
together and serve multiple functions in their own capacity — their
shelters, their inscriptions, their half-way houses for travelers, they
provide relief to homeless. So in their very being they are doing so
much. I think that’s the beauty of all ancient faith. Mosques do that,
churches do that.
That’s where all ancient faiths merge. It is very
important to celebrate that kind of unity in diversity, rather than deny
it,” Abbasi told India Insight in a telephone interview from Karachi.
“This book concentrates on Pakistan’s fraying social order and the
sad prospect of it bringing about its own destruction by documenting
Hindu places of worship, major festivals, prominent orders of
priesthood…,” she writes in the book’s introduction, which is dotted
with Urdu poetry on faith and identity.
Pakistan’s Hindus, Christians, Ahmadis and Shi’ite Muslims make up about less than 5 percent of the nation’s 180 million people. In a recent report, the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom said the government failed to adequately protect minorities.
Parts of the book mirror this anxiety, like a visit to the Balmiki
Temple located in a nondescript street in Lahore, the capital of Punjab.
Hindus, Christians and Sikhs congregate at the shrine of Balmiki,
deity of the untouchable caste. The devotees come together in the belief
that renders their respective religions “irrelevant to humanity”.
Muslims also join them on important festivals. A cross is also seen
inside the temple.
The utopia turns out to be a facade when Abbasi writes that the Hindu
residents are expected to adopt Muslim names or Christianity to “avoid
upheaval”. Followers of Balmiki, the author adds, consume chicken and
fish to avoid being “conspicuous”.
In her travels, Abbasi stopped at shrines that faced backlash from
Muslims because of the destruction of the Babri Masjid in India by a
She contrasts stories of desecration of temples, whether due to a
backlash or land disputes or commercial gain, with visits to shrines
that represent a fusion of faiths, untouched by social disturbances.
One of the reasons why minorities are worried is because of Pakistani blasphemy laws. The Ahmadis, for example, are not recognized as Muslims in Pakistan. The Supreme Court has ordered the government to look after the minorities, and its human rights panel says conditions are worsening.
In far-flung Balochistan rests an idol that is revered by Hindus and Muslims. Umerkot, the birthplace of Emperor Akbar,
becomes the symbol of a “confluence” of Hindu god Shiva and an
important part of Mughal history. In the central chamber of a colorful
temple is pictured a stone shiv-ling, believed to be present during a
visit by Humayun, father of Akbar. The shrine attracts many Muslims for
“curative purposes or to ask for a child”.
And close to Umerkot
is the only Ram temple in Pakistan, situated in a Hindu-majority town.
In a Sunni Muslim town, more than 200 km from Karachi, Dalit Hindus and
Muslims worship a Hindu saint who embraced Islam to embody Hindu-Muslim
Such instances of the fluidity and opaqueness of faith abound in this
book. Particularly striking is the image of Muslim men in skull caps
worshipping Kali inside the Kalka cave in Sindh, which attracts Hindus,
Muslims and Christians from all over the subcontinent.