Leader of Opposition, LK Advani, has asked the External Affairs Ministry to organise visit by Pakistani officials to the shrines at Tirupati, Vaishnavodevi and Akshardam for a study so that an ancient Hindu temple complex near Lahore can be developed on similar lines.
Advani spoke to Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon on the matter after it was announced that a delegation of archaeologists from Pakistan are to visit some temples in India as part of efforts to renovate the Katasraj temple in Chakwal, 60 km from Lahore.
The issue figured during discussion between Pakistan's former prime minister Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee when the latter was visiting that country recently.
The historic temple complex, whose renovation was inaugurated by Advani during a visit to Pakistan in June 2005, is one of the most sacred Hindu religious sites dedicated to Hindu god Shiva. It was for the first time since 1947 that an Indian political personality had been invited to launch a project aimed at the restoration of Hindu temple in Pakistan.
Advani wanted the Pakistani officials to visit the Venkateswara temple at Tirupati, the Vaishnavodevi complex near Katra and the Akshardam temple in Delhi for them to get an idea of the facilities provided to the pilgrims.
The Pakistani team is to visit Pushkar, Ajanta-Ellora and some other temples on January 28, according Hussain, leader of Pakistan Muslim League (Q) who has been pursuing the Katasraj project.
After Advani had visited Katasraj in 2005, a decision was taken to involve the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in renovation of the ancient Shiva temple. ASI had prepared a three-phase $25 million development project for the purpose and its team had undertaken a visit to the site.
Accompanied by his wife Kamala and daughter Pratibha, Advani had toured the temple ruins on June 2, 2005. He had offered prayers at the ancient Shiva Linga in the presence of Pakistani Hindu priest Pandit Kanshi Ram amidst chanting of 'Om Namah Shivaya' and burning of incense sticks.
Hindus believe that Katasraj and Pushkar (Rajasthan) are the two eyes of Lord Shiva. Katasraj is rated as the second most important sacred place for devotees after Jwalamukhi in Himachal Pradesh.
The sprawling Katasraj shrine is believed to have been constructed at the site visited by the Pandavas during their 14-year exile.
Apart from the 600 BC temples, which are in a dilapidated condition, there is a sacred pool with mythical association with Lord Shiva. The pond is believed to have come into being with the tears of Lord Shiva on the death of his wife Sati.
The Pakistan government is considering nominating the Katasraj temple as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Hussain had assured Advani of the Pakistan government's full support for the project.
The Pakistani authorities are making arrangements for celebration of Mahashivratri at the temple on February 7 for the first time in decades and the job for making arrangements had been assigned to the Punjab (Province) Archaeology Department (PAD).
PAD Director Jan Maqbool has said this would be a ''grand festival'' for which the Punjab (Province) government had allocated Rs 10.8 million. He said several Hindus had been invited to attend the celebrations and negotiations with the Indian government had already been held.
According to the plan, embankments are being built around the holy bathing pond and boarding and lodging facilities repaired.