200 Indians visiting Katasraj in Pakistan for Shivratri
By Faraz Ahmad,
New Delhi, Feb 13 (IANS) Nearly 200 pilgrims from India are leaving Wednesday for the Katasraj temple in Pakistan to participate in Friday's Shivratri celebrations there - being held for the first time since Partition.
Pakistan issued visas to the pilgrims whose names were forwarded by the Indian government, Rai Riaz, minister counsellor (press) of the Pakistan embassy here, told IANS Tuesday.
The Pakistan government had also made arrangements to facilitate their visit to the temple complex near Lahore, he added.
"This is being done on a reciprocal basis, just as the Indian government issues visas and facilitates the visit of Pakistani pilgrims to the Urs celebrations of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer and Hazrat Nizamuddin in Delhi," Riaz said.
The temple, according to the legend, dates back to ancient times. Mythology associates it with Hindu god Shiva's tear.
The Pandava brothers, according to the Hindu epic Mahabharat, spent some time at this temple.
A big fair used to be organised at the temple on Shivratri every year in the pre-partition days. However, as most Hindus living in its neighbourhood fled the place in 1947, the temple was in ruins.
Along with improving relations between the neighbours, Pakistan decided to take up restoration work at the temple. During his Pakistan visit in 2004, former deputy prime minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani inaugurated the restoration project.
Pakistan has also sought India's help for the project and a team of Indian archaeologists has prepared a report listing its suggestions after visiting the site.
A team of Pakistani archaeologists last month visited India to study leading Indian temples and visited the Hindu holy towns of Varanasi and Pushkar.
They had also met Advani and discussed progress on the temple's restoration.
However, BJP has no plans to send a delegation for the first Shivratri celebrations at the temple in the past 60 years.
"(There is) no delegation, no party plans to go to Katasraj," BJP spokesman Prakash Jawdekar said in reply to a query.