Abandoned places of worship represent Neelah’s religious history

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A temple in Vahali. — Photos by the writer
A temple in Vahali. — Photos by the writer

Serene as ever, the Neelah village on the banks of the Sowaan River today represents the memory of a diverse and harmonious local history.

Before the toxic environment that accompanied the 1947 partition and the mass migration of people to India and Pakistan 70 years ago, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs lived side by side in the village.

Neelah’s most influential residents before partition were Sikh. Older villagers still recall Sardar Mota Singh, who built a high school and police station in the village 90 years ago, as a great benefactor. Although both buildings are now crumbling and dilapidated, the police station remains functional.

A dilapidated gurdwara in Neelah village.
A dilapidated gurdwara in Neelah village.

On the main street in the village stands what remains of a gurdwara where the local Sikh community used to worship. Now, its boundary wall is gone while the main gate remains. A faded plaque tells visitors that Sardar Teja Singh, the son of Bhai Bhagwandas Anand, once donated Rs150 to the gurdwara in memory of his beloved wife Shrimati Sita Wanti.

An abandoned Hindu temple stands nearby. The temple was under construction, but the builders left it unfinished when the mayhem of partition overtook them, according to Chaudhry Mohammad Ashraf, an old village hand. “They abandoned both their work and their village,” he recalled.

The inside of a crumbling gurdwara in Neelah village.
The inside of a crumbling gurdwara in Neelah village.

Pre-partition, every village in the Chakwal district had a temple and a gurdwara. These places of worship, once abandoned, were left to land grabbers and mafias to exploit all over the country.

Hardly a trace remains of the temples and gurdwaras of Chakwal city, Vahali Zer, Bhoun, Dhudial, Mangwal and Dhakku. Whatever survived the mafias was razed to the ground in retaliation for the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992.

A plaque at a temple in Kariyala village commemorates renovations made to the temple.
A plaque at a temple in Kariyala village commemorates renovations made to the temple.

The Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) has recorded 1,221 temples and 588 gurdwaras, but looks after only 12 gurdwaras and 10 temples. This leaves 1,809 listed abandoned places of worship that are vulnerable to land grabbers.

EPTB Additional Shrines Secretary Mohammad Tariq admitted to Dawn that his office cannot look after all abandoned temples and gurdwaras.

“We lease some temples and gurdwaras for a limited period, but we do not have the resources to look after all of them,” he said.

A temple in Neelah village. — Photos by the writer
A temple in Neelah village. — Photos by the writer

Another ETPB official suggested that India and Pakistan should address this issue, since mosques in India are in a similar condition to the temples and gurdwaras in Pakistan.

“Perhaps the best solution would be to sell these abandoned places of worship and the land attached to them, he said. “The buildings still in relatively good condition must be preserved.”

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2017

Courtesy : DAWN

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