Photo Essay | Belief beyond borders
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The 1,500-year-old Panchmukhi Hanuman Mandir is a busy place on Saturdays. The architecture of the shrine reflects Jodhpur-style masonry. Small Hanuman figurines grace the four corners of the stone structure; the front porch of the temple has carved yellow pillars on the sides, and black and white marble flooring.
This could well be a temple anywhere in India. However, the shrine, which houses a “natural, non-manmade idol of Hanuman” and an 800-year-old shivling, lies in the bustling Soldier Bazar in Karachi, Pakistan.
“It (temple) breaks the outside perception that the world has of Pakistan,” says Karachi-based journalist Reema Abbasi, who has authored the book, Historic Temples In Pakistan: A Call To Conscience, which released last week in India. “It highlights unreported aspects of harmony, and acts as a window for the people of India,” she adds.
The photographs in the book are supplemented with anecdotes about the temples. For example, how Katas Raj “provided refuge to the Pandavas” for four years of their exile. There are detailed narratives about the history and architectural importance of these temples, as well as a few chapters on the celebration of Hindu festivals like Diwali and Karva Chauth across the border. One section is dedicated to an artisan named Fakira, one of the few people in Pakistan who still makes idols of Hindu deities.
“The idea of the book was born out of the need to ignite a discourse and the collective conscience of a nation, be it India or Pakistan, numbed into silence,” says Abbasi.
The 400 photographs by Madiha Aijaz include images of green flags fluttering atop Hindu temples, and a wall painting showing Luv and Kush, sons of Lord Ram, sitting with the sage Valmiki, with the words “main yug yug mein avatar leta hoon (I appear in every era)”, written in Urdu, inscribed above it.
The 201-year-old Sri Laxmi Narain Temple at Chinna Creek in Karachi is the only temple on a creek. So all the rituals involving immersion—be it festivals like Navratri or Ganesh Chaturthi, or karni (the last rites of the dead)—are performed there.
Abbasi started working on the book in 2012 along with Aijaz, a professional photographer and teacher at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Karachi. They both travelled around Pakistan for a year to collect the information and images.
Most of the temples featured in the book are old shrines which have historic relevance and unique architecture. “My aim was to showcase the architectural heritage of these places and their surrounding environment,” says Aijaz. Most of the images, therefore, are wide-angle shots composed to bring out the rich, vibrant colours of these monuments and shrines.
“It was a challenge since most of these temples and religious sites are not well lit or have access to good public transport facilities. Accessing these sites was difficult at times,” recollects Aijaz.
The duo travelled through Balochistan, Thar, Nagarparkar, Karachi, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh, speaking to locals for anecdotes about the temples.