Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Ketas: where Shiva wept

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When the goddess Sati died, her husband Shiva was distraught as only a god could be. He wept so inconsolably that the tears flowed as rain from his eyes. The two streams from the divine eyes formed two ponds, one Pushkara in Rajasthan and the other Ketaksha in the Salt Range of Punjab. Both are sacred to followers of the Vedic code. Among their many pilgrimages, it is Ketaksha that the Hindus consider one of the more important ones.
Over the years the word Ketaksha was corrupted to Ketas, by which name we now know the group of ancient buildings sitting by the road outside village Choa Saidan Shah in the Salt Range. Here the late 17th century domed temple of Shiva casts a narcissistic shadow in the placid blue waters of the pond and dominates the rest of the ruined buildings sprinkled all around. Here are roofless hulks of the dharmsala that housed visiting pilgrims and here are other temples, some pre-dating the main temple by as much as seven centuries.

In the midst of all these ruins is a grass-covered mound, the remains of the plinth of a Buddhist stupa that was raised in the 3rd century BCE on the orders of King Asoka. The Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang who visited Ketas in the year 631 wrote of this stupa and the monastery that grew around it. Other than that, we would never have received written testimony of the Buddhist influence that pre-dated the Vedic importance of Ketas. Xuanzang was saddened to note that the monastery had been taken over by Jains whom he considered heretics. He knew this had happened because of the setback Buddhism suffered by the savage depredations of the Huns only a hundred years before his visit.

Situated as it is on a deep, fresh water pond, this site has always been considered holy. It knew other worshippers long before the Buddhist Asoka chose it for the stupa. But if those ancient worshippers left behind any relics, they are buried beneath the present buildings. With the rise of Vedic belief in the 6th century CE, Ketas became sacred to Shiva.

Long before the temple that is today considered the main worship house, the Hindu Shahya kings of Punjab endowed two smaller ones to Ketas. Dating back to the late 10th century, these stand on the raised ground in the shadow of the whitewashed temple to the west of the ruined stupa.

When the Sikhs overran the Salt Range in 1809, Sardar Hari Singh Nalva briefly governed over the region. He thought no place better for residence than Ketas with its ample supply of fresh water. Accordingly, the general ordered a lavish fortress-like haveli right behind the main temple.

Until 1947 Ketas was a very important and a fiscally well-endowed pilgrimage. But with the departure of the Hindus, it was deserted. Vandals moved in and removed the timber doors and rafters from the residential buildings. They did not even spare Nalva’s haveli, a perfectly liveable mansion. It was stripped of all its fittings and today stands a roofless hulk. All other buildings were likewise plundered.

A trickle of Hindu yatris have started to make their way to Ketas again. But only when the annual Besakhi festival is re-instituted at Ketas will this site begin its long journey back to its lost glory.

How To Get There: From Kallar Kahar (on M-2) take the road to Choa Saidan Shah, 29 km to the east. The temple complex of Ketas lies 5 km short of the town on the right side of the road and cannot be missed as one drives along.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:06,


At 5 April 2013 at 12:03, Blogger Sajini Chandrasekera said...

I have seen so many pics of this salt range and today thanks to this wonderful post I was able know lot about the place I found beautiful....

At 5 April 2013 at 13:02, Anonymous Aabheer said...

Thanks for adding the directions to your stories Salman. This will not only woooo to commoners about seeing the historic sights but also will urge them to be there. Do that. I know many in nearby Chakwal may not know about Kitas what to talk of us in India.

At 5 April 2013 at 14:06, Blogger rockankor said...

Once again your simple straight forward narrative, precisely written brings home the message. The directions is a plus.

At 6 April 2013 at 12:35, Blogger Gazelle said...

during my last trip to Pakistan this was one of the places I visited. An amazing experience of seeing such ancient structures. I was pretty disappointed by the restoration work. so apparently in order to restore the structures they are almost rebuilding them and adding the adornments, new paintings and stuff. Also I noticed a broken part of the original tomb with all the detailed paintings on it and it was sitting in a corner as if a piece of trash,with a used pamper right next to it. I wish it was restoration and not renovation.

At 13 May 2013 at 15:10, Anonymous AZ said...

It is the same all over. But who is to be blamed for this plundering. Lack of civic sense, failure of uninterested governments or what. Who is responsible for protecting the bits and pieces of historic heritage all around?

At 13 May 2013 at 15:40, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

AZ, We are all responsible. So shame on us. Let us not blame inept governments. Does anyone of us stop a vandal when we see one at work? We don't. Of course the government and all these moronic private TV channels could do their bit to educate. But they will not.

At 6 May 2014 at 11:39, Blogger Amardeep Singh said...

Thanks Salman for continuing to open our eyes about the rich heritage of the people of sub-continent in Pakistan.

At 8 May 2014 at 12:08, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you, Amardeep. Really appreciate your interaction here.

At 5 April 2015 at 18:31, Blogger Trueman said...

@Salman Rashid , Neither will the government nor we the people care for our heritage, for we (that mean all of us) believe more in inheritance (of wealth , property, than heritage and if we do not inherit, make up wealth or property by hook or by crook. As far the heritage, wo kis chirhya ka nam hai bhayi?

At 6 April 2015 at 06:11, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Trueman, you are a True Man. You've hit the nail on the head.

At 7 April 2015 at 12:48, Blogger Patrick Jackson said...

Very interesting article. Presumably there are loads of Hindu special places in Pakistan like this.

At 7 April 2015 at 14:45, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

There are indeed loads of such places, Patrick. Once Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikh, Jains, Zoroastrians, everyone of us lived together before we divided up the land.


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

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