Take a bath in this Holy Pond of Tears and your sins will wash away! This is what the Hindus believe about this pond inside Katas Raj. A Brahmanical story said that the pond at Katas Raj temples was formed by the tears that Lord Shiva shed after the death of his wife Sati. The name of the temple complex is believed to derive from the Sanskrit word kataksha, meaning “teary eyes.” An old town, sanctified by the Hindus and located in Chakwal, it is known as the Katas Raj. You will be lost into its maze like built as you enter this ensemble of several old structures. You can imagine its grandeur and stateliness from the fact that it consist more than hundred temples which were built over a period of more than a 1,000 years by the Hindu Rajas. These temples are attributed to the eras of the Hindu shahis (royalty) dating from about 615-950CE and are dedicated to Lord Shiva. The complex is traditionally believed to date back to the Mahabharata era. According to references, Katas Raj is the place where Alberuni attempted to measure the circumference of the Earth, studied Sanskrit and wrote his renowned Kitab-ul-Hind (Book of Hind) which depicted the religion, scientific knowledge, and social customs of Hindus. Paras Nath Jogi drew his last breath on Katas. Moreover it is said that Guru Nanak also visited the place on the first of Visakh. Katas came to be known as Nanaknawas and was a site of contemplation for many large groups of mystics, ascetics and jogis. Interestingly there is another reference to Katas by the famous Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang who visited the area around 630AD. He is the same who had also mentioned Lahore. He wrote that the kingdom lasted over a period of 3,500 years and on the west was Indus River, in the south a huge 200 feet high Stupa from the time of Ashoka and there were also 10 interconnected clean water ponds with fish. According to Archaeological Survey of India director general Alan Cuningham in 1872-73 CE, Katas Raj is the second biggest holy place in Punjab for Hindu pioneers after Jawala Mukhi. It is believed that the site was visited by the Pandawa brothers of “Mahabharta” fame and this complex of temples was constructed to commemorate their visit. The location of the Sath Ghara or Seven Temples is said to be the place where the Pandawas made their home during their 12 year exile. In a book of Rig Veda it is said that just beneath the Katas pool there is a small river which has a depth of 300 yards. It is said that the British archaeologists, upon researching on this place, believed the pond of Katas is formed from water that comes out of a series of natural springs found in the upper reaches of Jhelum. In Tazkara-e-Jhelum it is said that the pond is partially man made and has been carved out of rock. It has a length of 122 feet with a strong wall on the pond and has a length of 19 feet. In history, it’s mentioned that deep down under the surface of water in Katas under the temples and in the base of pond itself, there are a number of water streams; but the pond is much depreciated now while originally it was 70 yards long and 50 yards wide. Along the pond from east to west there is a wall whereas on the wall front there is place for taking holy bath by men while on the southern side there is ladies bath and all these baths are made of marble. I came across another interesting fact about this place. According to few historians and writers, in Gandhara age and prior to that as well, scholars from Sri Lanka, Thailand and Burma visited the then Ketaksha University. In prehistoric era 300BC, Ketaksha had world famous university with academies in Math, Astronomy, Algebra, Sanskrit, Music, Dancing, Arts and Politics. The school attracted knowledge seekers not only from ancient India but also from countries such as Babel, Nineveh, Greece, Japan, Tibet and China. Some writers also claim that Pharaohs of Egypt also visited the academies of Katas to learn the art of wisdom, politics and governance. The scholastic importance of Katas can be gauged from the fact that all ancient scriptures like Rig Veda, Mahabharata, Ramayana and Upanishads derived inspirations from a single source. It is said Al-Beruni also spent some time at Katas to learn Sanskrit in a linguistic university which, at that time, was established there. It must have been so because the area and structures of Katas Raj are huge and you will not be able to see the whole of it in a day. While standing on the location just imagine the past days of glory at this place, which is now deserted. It is said that the complex was vacated by Hindus in 1947 when they migrated to East Punjab and no one stayed back, thus leaving the Holy Place isolated. Still it is the site of holy pilgrimage for the Hindus and it is said that their god Shiva lived the years of his marital life with Sati here. Story goes on like that after the death of Sati, Shiva was depressed and in pain. He cried with the grief and from his tears a pond was formed there and it is believed that it is the same pond. The Hindu pilgrims, when visit the place for Yatra do bathe in the sacred pond and seek forgiveness as Hindu belief holds that bathing in the pond leads to the forgiveness of sins and helps attain salvation. Until today, the worshippers of all Hindu faiths perform pilgrimage to this Katas Raj temple. Hindu pilgrims from all over Pakistan and India frequently visit this town to worship on different occasions. Unfortunately, some of these temples are dilapidated but a large number of them have been well maintained. When we take a look at the different temples inside Katas Raj, we get to know that the biggest temple is the Shiv Devta’s Temple. The second is of Ganesh Ji Maharaj, third is of Shivlingam Maharaj, fourth of Kali Mata, fifth of Paravati and the sixth belongs to Lakshmi Devi. According to the historic references about Katas Raj, most of the temples were built during the power of Hindu kings while many others were built around 900 years ago or more. Although earliest of Katas Raj temples date back to the latter half of the 6th Century AD, some scholars believe that most of these temples were actually constructed when the Hindu kings driven from Afghanistan by their ethnic cousin Mahmud of Ghazni, they fled the region and set a base here in Katas. Apart from ancient temples of Satghara, the complex also has a Buddhist Stupa and some temples of much recent dates. All these constructions are scattered around the holy city of Katas. Now let me take you to the built and structure of these temples. When you visit the place you will see that the temples in Katas Raj are built on square platforms and the elevation of sub shrines seems to form a series of cornices with small row of pillars, crowned by a ribbed dome. The Ramchandra temple is situated on the eastern side of the Hari Singh haveli which is closed from all sides except for an entrance from the east. The double storied structure has eight rooms of various dimensions; on the ground floor is a staircase at the south, leading to the first floor. The temple has two jharokas (balconies) that are severely damaged. The Hanuman Temple is on the western extreme of a high rectangular enclosure with entrance on the south and north. The temple ceiling is undecorated and lime plastered. The Shiva temple is also built on a soft platform. Its entrance is a recessed arch with faint cusps and a rectangular opening to the north. In many ways this site is one of the wonders of the world. I think that if this place is completely restored it can become the biggest tourist hub in Pakistan and religious tourism can also contribute in the economy of the country. The nearby areas of Katas Raj also need to be developed so that the tourist can make an overnight stay. The surrounding areas like Salt Range and Kallar Kahar add to the value of this location and all these can be taken up in a guided tour which can be a three days package for the tourists. Katas Raj is a very scenic and beautiful place with a green and blue water of lake surrounded by lush green hills. The tourist guides are available there but there are no fixed charges for the guides and they demand whatever they want and I think it doesn’t leave a good impression on the tourists. The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, January 13th 2019.