Hindu pilgrims from India worshipped at the Katas Raj temple for the first time since the 1947 partition in a symbolic confidence-building step as part of the two-year-old India-Pakistan peace process.
Amid chants of "har har Mahadev" and traditional blowing of conch shells, 176 pilgrims from different Indian cities, including some from Britain, began a two-day programme of worship with a holy dip Friday.
Pilgrims then prayed and sang bhajans (devotional songs). They also worshipped some trees in the complex in Lahore. The temple complex in Punjab's Chakwal district has the deity of lord Shiva or Shankara. Hindus across the world celebrated the Shivratri festival on Friday.
The complex, with its seven temples, has been specially repaired and restored for the occasion by the Punjab Archaeological Department. A team had earlier visited many monuments and sites in India to survey idols, learn restoration techniques and gather material required for conservation.
Reporting the event in picturesque details, the Daily Times said: "Locals have welcomed the step taken by the government to invite Hindu pilgrims, but they were disappointed when they were not allowed to interact with the pilgrims."
Several women were at the site to see the pilgrims perform their rituals, but security officials stopped them from doing so.
The locals said that there were around 100 temples around this site. Over the last two tears, informal delegations visited temples at the site and began performing rituals. Visitors have included former Indian deputy prime minister and Bharatiya Janata Party stalwart Lal Krishna Advani.
|The Katas Raj Temple in Pakistan|
Current visiting pilgrim contingent comprises people from Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Jallandhar, Mumbai, New Delhi and other Indian cities. Their visit is organised by the Indian Sanatam Dharma Pratinidhi Sabha Punjab. Pakistan's Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) and the Punjab Archaeology Department are hosting them.
Tight security arrangements had been made for the pilgrims, and they were escorted by heavy police contingents. The pilgrims are being provided free accommodation, meals and all other necessary facilities at the Government College of Mines.
"The government had made arrangements for us to worship at other temples, but the main temple should also be conserved," Hareesh Kapoor, a pilgrim, said.
Chakwal's Nazim, the senior-most district level official, Sardar Ghulam Abbas expressed willingness to spend money on the development of Katas temples. He hosted a lunch for the pilgrims Saturday.
The Pakistan government is giving due political importance to the event. Pakistan Muslim League (Qaid) president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain's participation is expected. The delegates visited Lahore where more Hindu shrines are located.
According to Hindu mythology, Lahore was established by Lord Rama's son, Lav.
The UK-based Hindu Culture and Heritage Society is likely to build a museum, a library and a shrine at Katas Raj according to reports in the media.