Blame Game Over Cancelled Visit of Indian Pilgrims to Hindu Temple in Pakistan
The Katas Raj temple in Pakistan’s Punjab is a sacred Hindu site.
India and Pakistan are blaming each other over denying visas to 173 Indian pilgrims, who wanted to visit the Katas Raj temple in Chakwal district of Pakistan. While India accused Pakistan of refusing visas, Pakistan said on Feb. 14 that the pilgrims were “forced to withdraw their applications from the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi due to non-issuance of NOC (no-objection certificate) by the Indian External Affairs Ministry,” according to the Tribune.
India, on the other hand, said that Pakistan did not follow “due process” as “granting of visa is a sovereign right of any country.” Indian official sources told the Tribune that the High Commission could have granted the visas without blaming India.
Pakistan, meanwhile, said that “India has also denied the visits of Sikh pilgrims, followed by that of Zaireens from Pakistan, and now Katas Raj pilgrims, the opportunity to participate in their religious festivals. Indian actions run counter to the letter and spirit of the 1974 Pakistan-India Protocol on ‘Visits to Religious Shrines’ and an obstruction for the people-to-people contacts,” the report added.
Shiv Partab Bajaj, who has been organizing the visit of Indian pilgrims to Katas Raj for three decades, said officials of both the countries were responsible for the cancellation of the trip, Pakistani publication Dawn reported.
“First we used to submit our visa applications before the Pakistani embassy and the Pakistani and Indian authorities themselves fulfilled the process, but this time we were asked to get clearance from the Indian Ministry for External Affairs [and] unfortunately we could not get approval,” Bajaj, who lives in Yamuna Nagar city in Haryana, was quoted as saying. The report cited him as adding that the reason could be Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to West Asia and Gulf, which kept the External Affairs Ministry officials occupied.
Significance of Katas Raj Temple
The temple, which is believed to have been created after Hindu god Shiva’s teardrop fell there to form a pond, gained political significance after then Indian Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani visited it in 2005.
The Pervez Musharraf regime looked after the temple amid improvement with ties with India, and pilgrims were encouraged to visit it during the Shivratri festival. However, the number of pilgrims fell after the 2008 Mumbai attacks. In early 2017, then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited the temple and ordered for its renovation.
The temple is located near Kallar Kahar in Punjab, Pakistan, and is dedicated to Hindu gods Ram, Hanuman and Shiva. It is also believed that the Pandavas came to the temple during their exile. Apart from being a Hindu site of worship, it is also close to a gurdwara, where Guru Nanak is believed to have stayed during his travels around the world.
The site also has excavated remains of a Buddhist stupa and the architecture suggests that it was part of a 11th century Kashmiri kingdom.