“We have received a lot of love here,” Aruna Gupta said. Somehow, the exhaustion of having travelled by foot across the border to Pakistan from India seems lesser, as the happy pilgrim thanked the Pakistan government for giving them special care. She doesn’t feel unsafe.
A group of the 158-member Hindu yatrees (pilgrims) from different cities of India arrived here in Pakistan through Wagah border on foot. After their stay at Gurdawara Dera Sahib in Lahore, they will visit Katasraj, a complex of ancient Hindu temples situated in Katas village of Chakwal district, to perform religious rituals. At the Katasraj, the Indian yatrees will offer special pooja (prayer) on the eve of Maha Shivratri, the night of the worship of Lord Shiva which occurs between the 13th and 14th of the month of Phalguna or Maagh, according to the Hindu calendar in the Krishna Paksha.
This year, Maha Shivratri will be celebrated on Thursday February 27, with all temples being decorated in colourful ways. The Hindu yatrees from Lahore, Sialkot, Narowal, Rawalpindi, Rahimyar Khan and some parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh are also reaching Katasraj to celebrate the sacred occasion at this holy place of the Sanatan Dharma, considered one of the world’s oldest religions.
“In Pakistan, people do have the liberty to perform religious rituals and places of worship like churches, temples and gurdwaras are secure,” said Amarnath Randhawa, a local Hindu leader who is heading a 40 member delegation of yatrees from Lahore. Appreciating arrangements of the Evacuee Trust Property Board, he said that Hindus will pray for peace and prosperity in Pakistan after their pooja at the sacred temple complex. “Pakistan is our country and we always pray for it,” he said.
Last year, around 200 Indian yatrees celebrated the Maha Shivratri at the Katasraj which houses the Satgraha, a group of seven ancient temples, remains of a Buddhist place of meditation, a few medieval temples, havelis and some recently-constructed temples, scattered around a pond considered holy by Hindus.
On Maha Shivratri, people often fast on the night of Shivratri and sing hymns of praise in the name of Lord Shiva, said Heera Lal, a 60-year-old Hindu citizen from Lahore who is also ready to go to Katasraj.
Amarnath told The Express Tribune that Hindus offer night-long prayers on Maha Shivratri. “Very early morning, devotees flock to Shiva temples to perform the traditional Shivalinga worship and hence hope for favours from the Lord,” he said. On this eve, devotees bathe at sunrise, preferably with water from a holy water source like Gangajal or Katasjal. “This is a rite of purification, which is an important part of all Hindu festivals,” he said. Wearing clean clothing after Ashnan (the holy bath), worshippers carry pots of water to the temple to bathe the Shivalinga, he added.
R P Bhardwaj, who heads the Indian delegation, said on arrival that they had brought with them the message of peace, tolerance, coexistence and brotherhood from India. “I believe that people-to-people contact will promote peace and harmony between Pakistan and India,” he said, adding that the exchange of groups especially pilgrims, would provide a step forward in the peace process between the two neighbouring countries.
“We always want to come to Katasraj. We thank Bhagwan that we will be able to go on Shivratri,” said Manjana Sarandas, an Indian yatree. She also said that she is happy to be in Pakistan. “We always pray for peace and prosperity for people on both sides of the border,” said Santosh Kumar, another yatree. He pointed out that there would be thousands of pilgrims from India if visa restrictions are eased. “This journey will have a lasting spiritual impact on me,” he said.
Raj Kumari, a senior citizen from Lahore, told The Express Tribune that she will reach the Katasraj on Thursday along with the delegation. “This will be my fifth visit to Katasraj,” she said.
The Indian yatrees will return to their homeland through the Wagah border on March 3 after their seven-day stay in Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 27th, 2014.