Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

The idol of Gorecha

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The village of Gori (the r is palatal and the name of the village has nothing to do with fairness of skin) lies to the north of the road that connects Islamkot in the southern Thar Desert with Nagarparkar. With its huts of conical wattle roofs, thorn hedges and the few neem and kundi trees, Gori is no different from any other Thari village; but for the chunky grey Jain temple that stands just east of the clump of houses.

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Unimpressive from the distance, Gori Temple is a piece of art at close quarters. The sikhara — the spire that typifies Jain and Hindu temples — is missing and has always been in living memory. But if you climb the roof, you can see that it was neatly sheared off as if by a knife. That ‘knife’ was the great earthquake of 1898 which also did a good deal of additional damage to other villages.

The marble pillars of the domed portico and those in the inner sanctum; the door jambs and lintels are remarkable for their extremely fine polish. But it is the portico that is art par excellence: plain outside, its interior is resplendent with frescoes. From the top of the dome to its widest part, rows formed by concentric circles are crowded with a pageant of human forms in flowing Rajasthani dresses. Their colours faded to dull greys and blacks, the figures are yet of very clear lines and nothing seems to have been taken from them by the long passage of time since their rendering. The meaning of the show in the dome has eluded me, but that has never prevented me from appreciating the beauty of the art.

The physical beauty of the temple is one thing, but it is the legend of the idol of Gorecha that thrills. Captain Stanley Napier Raikes, magistrate of ‘Thurr and Parkur’ back in the 1850s wrote his Memoir on the district to preserve the yarn: it was back in the year 1376 that one Mejha Sha Vania, a rich merchant, purchased a marble idol of the Jain god Prasanath or Gorecha from a Turk. He does not comment on how the idol came into the possession of a Muslim Turk, but he does tell us that a grand price of one hundred rupees was paid to procure the idol which was established in the temple called Gori after the god.

Now, Prasanath or Gorecha was a much revered Jain god, and those who could afford it, travelled to Gori from distant places to give rich offerings just to behold the image and to pray in front of it. Over time, pious and moneyed devotees even endowed the idol with diamonds: a large one was fixed between its brows and two lesser ones on the breast. The stones, it is said, were of inestimable value.

Seeing the worth of the statue and that good money exchanged hands, the local Sodha Rajput chief thought it would be gainful business if he were to take possession of the idol and pocket the proceeds. This action, incidentally, is matched in our time by our dubious Auqaf Department.

According to Raikes, the idol was ensconced in the Gori sanctum from the time of Mejha Sha in the 14th century until 1716. However, the Sodha chief, Sutojee, was not very pleased with this arrangement because he had to share the proceeds with his brothers. Accordingly, Sutojee surreptitiously removed the statue to one of his forts. Surely there would have been an altercation between the brothers but Fort Bakasir, the new sanctuary of Prasanath being a strong one; there was little the brothers could do.

There Sutojee would exhibit the statue to rich comers pocketing the entire lot of offerings — and these, if Raikes is to be believed, were rather liberal indeed. As time passed Sutojee even turned the Gorecha idol into a sort of travelling show taking it from place to place under heavy guard to exhibit against huge payments.

Raikes tells us that ‘thousands’ of jogis and ‘lakhs’ of ordinary people assembled for the fairs held periodically between 1764 and 1824 for the idol’s exhibition. And it is not hard to imagine the huge amounts old Sutojee and, after him, his progeny were raking in. By the time the last festival was held, Sutojee’s descendant Poonjajee was in charge of the icon and the practice now was to carefully conceal the statue after each exhibition. It is said that the secret hiding place was known only to the incumbent Sodha chief who would pass it on to his son only upon his deathbed.

There is an interesting aside here, however. Raikes writes that the idol had by now acquired the uncanny habit of changing its hiding place of its own volition. But when the time for an exhibition drew nigh, Prasanath appeared to Poonjajee in a dream and revealed where he reposed. In plain speak this means that foxy old Poonjajee secretly moved the statue around to ensure no one could guess its whereabouts.

Now, the third decade of the 19th century was the time that the Talpur rulers of Sindh were firmly in the driving seat. It did not take long for word to reach the new rulers of the money to be had from the diamond-studded statue. An expedition was mounted; the Talpurs took Thar and captured Poonjajee. But the good Rajput that he was, old Poonjajee refused to divulge the secret of the hiding place. It is not recorded if the Talpur’s superintendent of police used third degree to extract the information or not, but history does tell us that the poor Sodha died in captivity in 1832.

The secret of the hiding place of the diamond-studded idol of Gorecha or Prasanath thus went up with the smoke of Poonjajee’s funeral pyre. The Talpurs tried every which way to discover where the priceless statue lay hidden, but to no avail. They eventually gave up. Time went by, memory of the fabulous statue dimmed and eventually passed from human minds because in all my excursions to Gori, I heard of it only once in 1984. And that from an elderly keeper of the temple. With his passing, the tale has also been lost.

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Raikes writes that the last fair to exhibit Gorecha was held in 1824 at Virawah, not far from Gori village en route to Nagarparkar. I therefore think the idol lies undiscovered somewhere under the dunes around this lovely little place. Who knows, if one day, an unsuspecting shepherd idly poking the ground with his staff outside Virawah will unearth the priceless idol.

Related: The Temple of Gori and the diamond-studded Statue

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 11 July 2014 at 12:58, Blogger Pat said...

Dear Salman,
it is Parshvanath, the 23rd tirthankara.
Jainism is an atheistic religion, hence has no 'Gods'.
A simple Google search would have straightened out these rather basic errors. It's especially important for someone like you, who does not shy away from proclaiming his Indic ancestry.


At 12 July 2014 at 06:41, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you so very much for pointing out my error, Pat. I have to admit I am completely illiterate about Jainism - as indeed about millions of other things.My sources, ie, British writers of the 19th c and the local keeper kept referring to Gorecha as the devta.
My error. I acknowledge and will see who soon I can correct it. Of course my dear friend Dr Khatau Mal in Mithi should be the one to throw some light on this.

At 14 July 2014 at 16:29, Blogger Pat said...

Entirely my pleasure, my dear Sir.
Just to mention the obvious, Buddhism too is atheistic, as is the Charvaka discourses inside the various Hindu (Sanatan is a better word) schools of philosophy. So even 'hindu' need not be of 33 million gods, or one God. Really depends on the context.


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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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Riders on the Wind

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