Rawalpindi is situated on both sides of the Grand Trunk Road which is internationally famous for being connected to the Silk Route- a historic network of routes mainly used for trade. The region has remained the center of political activities since time immemorial witnessing the passing of religions like Buddhism and Hinduism during the reign of Ashoka and Huns and has seen great individuals like Alexander and Darius. This gave birth to numerous historic architectures diverse in cultural symbolism.
Kalyan Das temple, being one of the historic buildings, is approximately 200-year old Hindu temple constructed by a businessman in honor of his brother, Kalyan Das, in pursuit of God’s Grace. The existing structure comprises of the main sanctum as the major feature, rich in Hindu religious art and architectural elements. Kalyan Das Temple is standing tall to the adversities of being an abandoned religious monument now surviving as a school for special children, Government Qandeel School for the Blind. It is situated inside one of the small streets consisting of furniture shops in the crowded Kohaati Bazaar of Rawalpindi.
Front view of Qandeel School with the temple inside (photo by the author)
Oral history of the temple indicates that the once majestic monument revered by Hindu devotees was handicapped due to the great divide of the subcontinent. The temple originally occupied three acres of land but soon after the partition, it was attacked by fanatic Muslim elements in 1950s converting it into a madrassa, still existent adjacent to the site. Even after partition, devotees used this temple as a resting point during their journey to the Amarnaath Temple in Jammu and Kashmir. During the time of the attack, a local philanthropist successfully fought in converting a portion of the madrassa into a school for special children which now acts as a guardian by surrounding the remaining of the temple. The plan of the temple is equilateral (9.90 x 4 meters) with the entrance to the sanctum sanctorum (garbhagriha) provided from the eastern side. The square shape and an eastern entrance are sacred in Hindu mythology.
Simple ground plan of Kalyan Das Temple (prepared by the author)
The sanctum sanctorum is surmounted by a main spire (shikara) with subsidiary spires on all four corners of the sanctum; all the five spires consist of miniature spires (urushringas). Temple appears to be falling in the pancha-ratana style of architecture that comprises of five shikaras with the main tower in the center and the other four on each corner of the temple placed above the subsidiary shrines, as has been indicated in the diagrams. Pancha-ratana style of temples usually stand on a higher ground level and the circumambulatory path (pradakshina-patha) ‘runs around the central sanctuary, which is octagonal or almost circular.’ (Verma 1971, 204). Kalyan Das temple also has an octagonal sanctuary almost similar to a circle but we are not sure if the temple originally consisted of more than five shikaras, as a major portion of the temple had been attacked and demolished in 1950s. Below the four subsidiary spires are four shrines in a square plan. The façade of the temple shows cinquefoil provided with four pillars, three pointed arch entrance, decorated with Corinthian style leaves with base moldings. The original floor of the temple is in black and white marble cut into square shaped tiles placed in a checker-board design.
General view of the main spire surrounded by the four subsidiary spires placed over the shrines (photo by the author)
The basic material of construction is burnt brick, a technique of the construction comprises of lime mortar with red color. Use of wood is limited to doors, windows and the frame of the ventilators installed in the sanctum sanctorum and the shrines, there is also the use of traditional decorations in the form of relief moldings. In the subcontinent, under the rule of the Mughals, lime mortar and plaster had acquired significance for the building of massive structures like mosques, tombs, forts etc. The use of the technique and material continued even as late as 200 years ago as witnessed in Kalyan Das Temple.
Fresco mural painting technique on the temple has survived the test of time indicating the ingenuity of the then artists. The style of the paintings relates to two themes: religious referring to Hindu mythology and secular, with the religious placed at prominent positions in order to grasp the viewers’ attention and the secular themes used as fillers to embellish the former. The fine paintings of flowers, birds and fruits give a very naturalistic appearance, an illusion of being in a garden. This style of decoration was common in the 18th and 19th centuries in the sub-continent used on religious monuments, palaces, havelis and residences of the rich and noble.
Fresco painting at the entrance of the main sanctum from Hindu mythology, Ganesh with his consorts (photo by the author)
Although the site is owned by Auqaf, a regulatory body entrusted with the management of religious monuments, but nothing appears to be stirring with reference to its conservation. The current state of Kalyan Das temple is deteriorating due to lack of conservation, also reported in few newspaper articles. Major parts of the monument had been blatantly white-washed, permanently erasing a significant portion of the rich religious frescoes. Conservation of the monument will give insight into the construction of the temple, its architecture and the style of painting implemented, subjects important for scholars working in the realms of promoting heritage, thus also converting into an attraction for heritage enthusiasts.
Hasan, S. Khurshid. 2008. Pakistan: Its ancient Hindu Temples and Shrines. Islamabad: National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research, Centre of Excellence, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
Shah, A.H. (2010). Needed: renovation of Kalyan Das Temple. The News 25th September, Islamabad. http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-6-6508-“Needed-renovation-of-Kalyan-Das-Temple retrieved 20th January 2013 at 6:18pm.
Rabbani, Z. (2012). Pindi Architectural Heritage – part 1: History in shambles. The Express Tribune, Pakistan. http://tribune.com.pk/story/413967/pindis-architectural-heritage-ii-the-sacred-banyan-tree-and-the-neglected-hindu-temples/ Retrieved 19th December 2012, 5:14pm.
Verma, T.P. (1971). The Temples of Banaras. Bhāratī: Bulletin of the College of Indology. Department of Ancient Indian History Culture and Archaeology. Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi (India).