Saturday, May 4, 2013

Gor Khatree (Gor Khuttree) Shiva Mandir (Hindu Temple), Peshawar, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, Pakistan

Gor Khatree (Gor Khuttree) Shiva Mandir (Hindu Temple), Peshawar, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (formerly Northwest Frontier) Province, Pakistan

Sachi G. Dastidar

During a visit to a conference organized by Peshawar University of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (formerly Northwest Frontier) Province of Pakistan my wife and I stayed at the conference site for three days with hundreds of professors, scholars, journalists and researchers where we argued, ate together and shared our ideas. Twelve professors from India whose papers were accepted for presentation and were invited by the conference committee but did not receive their visa to join the meeting.[1] So by default we two became two “Indian” presenters as well as “American” participants and two “non-Muslim” attendees. After three days of camaraderie and joint trips one attending journalist asked this writer if he, as Hindu, will be able to help his group to bring back a pre-Islamic Hindu mandir (temple) back to life. “Some of us are trying hard to bring the historic mandir back as a living temple,” the journalist, a Muslim, mentioned.

“How can I help you from 10,000 miles?” I asked.

“I will tell you.”  So the process began.

In October of 2007 my signed “Dear Sir” letters went out separately to the Governor, Chief Minister, Minister of Religious Affairs, and Minister in charge of archeology requesting them to repair the Gor Khatree mandir and returning it back to the indigenous Pathan Hindu community of Peshawar. The signed letter was hand delivered to each of the recipients by the journalist.

In early spring of 2008, after the bitter winter was over, the journalist wrote,

“Dear Professor: It seemed that your letter and our activism have worked, Government has already started repairing the ancient temple.”

We all rejoiced by saying, “Baba Bholenath ki Jai” (Victory to Lord Shiva), and “Peshawar Zindabad” (Victory to Peshawar.)

And in the fall of 2011, right before the Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, the temple key was handed over to Hindu Mrs. Phoolvati and her son Kaka Ram, through their attorney Parvez Iqbal, by the order of the Provincial High Court.

Unfortunately soon after the celebration, it was vandalized, pictures of the deities were torn down and the place desecrated. Then with the help of a Pathan-American Hindu and their friends funds were collected to fix four wireless security cameras to prevent further desecration by intolerant extremists. Some of the people who contributed were Ms. Milita Chanda, Mr. Samir Kalra, Dr. Shefali S. Dastidar, Mr. Pratip Dasgupta, and this writer. The journalist spent tens of thousands of rupees from his personal savings for customs clearance.

Below are some of the pictures of the old mandir, temple during renovation, pictures of the first Diwali celebration, and of the posters and newspaper articles.

Credit for all the pictures goes to Shabbir Husain Imam of Pakistan, and a protector of the temple. First of these pictures were taken by him on June 21, 2008, latter pictures during Diwali celebration in 2011, and historical narrations are also provided by him.
 The Temple
Another View of the Temple

History of the place

       Gor-Khuttree literally means the 'Warriors Grave,' although there are no traces of any grave here. It is perhaps the oldest citadel in the ancient city of Peshawar.
       Buddha's alms or begging bowl was displayed here at one time. After the decline of Buddhism in the region following the invasion by Huns and Sassanians, it became a bastion for Hindu worship

A Gate in the Mandir Compound
“When Mughals arrived”
       Mughal Emperor Babar in the beginning of his memoir, Babarnama, recorded: “On Friday, the 1st Sefer in the year 932 (1525 AD, November 17th), when the sun was in Sagitarius, I set out on my march to invade Hindustan.”

       On reaching Peshawar, Babar with his usual curiosity visited Gor Khuttree and wrote, “There are nowhere in the whole world such narrow and dark hermit’s cells as at this place. After entering the doorway and descending one or two stairs, you must lie down, and proceed crawling along, stretched at full length. You cannot enter without a light. The quantities of hair (cut off by pilgrims as offerings), both of head and beard, that are lying scattered about, and in the vicinity of the place are immense.”
Ornate Decorations
The Present Situation
       The present buildings built at the site mostly date back to Mughal, Sikh and the British period. Lying at the crossroads of the old trade-route, Gor Khuttree became a major caravanserai in Mughal times and mainly served as a stopping place for travelers coming from other parts of the world.
Another View
The Temple
        During the early Sikh rule, around 1823, the mosque was destroyed and replaced by a temple to Gorakhnath in the south of the courtyard. Later Gor Khuttree became the residence of their Italian mercenary general, Paolo de Avitabile who also built a pavilion over its western gate.

Another Section of the Temple Area
A Section Needing Repair
 Old Brick Structure Needing Restoration

[1] In 2012 at Jawaharlal Nehru University of Delhi, India, one minority Muslim-Indian professor said that for the  conference he received visa from the Pakistan Embassy a few days after the conference was over.

Old Temple Undergoing Repair: Spring 2008
Poster of Diwali Celebration of 2011
Dia Lamps
Diwali: The Festival of Lights
Prayer Offering
Pictures of Hindu Deities
Lighted Dia Lamp Offering
A Report from Local Peshawar Daily
Report from Daily Aaj Peshawar; October 29, 2011
A Diwali Report from Tribune, Pakistan

Published: October 20, 2011

The 160-year-old temple is preparing to welcome worshippers after 60 years. PHOTO: EXPRESS

PESHAWAR: In a country fraught with incidents of discrimination against minorities, a 160-year-old Hindu temple in Peshawar is preparing to welcome worshippers after 60 years.

The Goraknath Temple, situated in the city’s archaeological complex Gor Kattri, will open for worship on  the Hindu festival of Diwali, which falls on October 26 this year.

“In accordance with the September 15 verdict of the Peshawar High Court, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Department of Archaeology handed over the temple’s keys to Phoolvati and her son Kaka Ram last week,” their attorney Pervez Iqbal told The Express Tribune.

A provincial minister is expected to attend the reopening ceremony of the temple, said Iqbal who spent almost a decade pursuing protracted litigation to win custody of the temple on behalf of Phoolvati.

Although Phoolvati and her son are now custodians of the temple, authorities have barred them from renovating the building, saying it is ‘protected’ property and changes cannot be made to it.

“We will fully support them [the custodians] and they can use the temple for worship or other religious activities at any time but they must avoid alterations,” Dr Abdul Samad, a consultant for the archaeology department, said.

But Iqbal says the temple has suffered from six decades of neglect and is in dire need of basic renovation. “The temple’s holy well is clogged with garbage and needs to be cleaned. Some years ago, authorities encroached upon the temple’s property to construct a park,” Iqbal said.

Kaka Ram has met Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Sports Minister Aqeel Shah, who directed senior officials of the archaeology department to provide the requisite facilities to the Hindu community.

In the long battle for its custody, the temple has changed many hands. The complex where the temple is located was named the city police headquarters and thus used for storing explosives. Later, in 2000, the police vacated its offices to police lines and the Peshawar Development Authority took over the temple.

Correction: An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated Diwali’s date as October 30. Correction has been made. 

Published in The Express Tribune, October 20th, 2011

A few comments via social media after the temple was rededicated in 2011:
  • Very interesting news indeed  ---  Prabhansu (October 25, 2011)
  • This amazing and indeed wonderful story heightens the spirit of Sri Sri Kali Puja and Deepavali/Diwali for me to the greatest extent.
    It also strengthens my conviction (yet again) that ardent belief conjoined with humongous activism and endeavor can change the history once and for all. 
    If, such, we do remain confident and strive without respite.
    Thank you a lot for informing me of this wonderful development. 
    May I wish you, madam and son, to mark this occasion, a great Diwali.
    Your's truly, Animitra Chakrabarty (October 25, 2011)
  • Wonderful. The Hindus of the world will be proud on you.
    Dr Jaganmoy Banerjee
  • Congratulations!Please keep on doing the good work you do.

     Aloka Sinha

  • **********
  • Great gift indeed.
    Regards, Kanchan
  • It is always good to hear such good news from you and Shefali. Wish you all a very Happy and prosperous Diwali.

    Raj & Prem (October 25, 2011)

  • Great Job Sachi da. Please convey my best wishes to Mr. Shabbir Imam for his efforts to restore the Temple. The world will be a much better place if there are more people like him. Ramen Nandi
  • Shubh deepavali  Sachi, Shefali and Shubo and other family members.

    What a pleasant gift this new is for the Diwali. A Shiv temple restored and those who have remained Hindus against immense pressure, and all those who were forcibly converted, this must a day of joy.
    Great work Sachi. Geeta
  • Congratulations Sachi kaku!   Great work. Tito Sinha (October 25, 2011) 
  • Good News. Mohit Roy
  • Great accomplishment! Congratulations! Ratna Karmakar
  • Shubho Deepavali. A great job done by you. Regards, Moloy Dhar
  • I am delighted to see Shiva temple in pre-Islamic Peshawar has remained and now being protected with effort of liberal Islamic person who not only showed his interest for such an archaeological piece for old  Hindu civilization one time was present in a country where fundamentalist are destroying some Buddha’s statue not far from that region. I hope person like this (Imam) who communicated with you deserve our appreciation and thanks and our hearty greetings on this auspicious Dewali festival. I hope every Pakistani people try to understand our feelings for our old heritage and share with us common heritage and be proud of it. God is for all and not separately created different religion for fighting and destroying part of our creation by God. Please forward my Email to him as I respect this person from my heart and believe more Pakistani people will come forward and respect our religion and culture the same way we in India preserve and proud of many Moghul architecture and name many places with old heritage of Moghul Rules.
    Accept my Dewali greetings. Dr. Samir Datta (October 25, 2011)
  • You and your work are truly a gift to people.  You both set a good example to me of what service to others can look like.  Happy Diwali to you! Joy Karim
  • Great news about the temple in Peshawar -- an incredible achievement. The news in indeed a special Diwali Gift!!!
    Our best wishes will stay with you always in all your wonderful endeavours.
    Dolly and Kamaleshda
  • It feels great to learn that race/religious relationships are improving in Pakistan/Afghanistan.
    Hopefully reason and humanity will prevail over bigotry and parochialism.
    Hats off to all those responsible for this great step towards Harmony. Atri Guha (October 27, 2011)
  • Dear Mr Shabbir Hussain Imam, Journalist - Peshawar, Pakistan  
    I am not a religious person so another new temple is not important to me. But your courage in an Islamic country to reopen a heritage temple is amazing. Congratulations for your concern for human rights and heritage. It also raises our hopes that Pakistan Court can stand up to deliver such justice in place like Peshawar, close to Taliban land.
    Thanks, Mohit Ray, Kolkata India (October 27, 2011)