Rawalpindi’s dilapidated Shamshan Ghat

Published December 14, 2014
The newly-restored cremation ground.
The newly-restored cremation ground.

According to Hindu religious practice, a Shamshan Ghat (cremation ground) is built near rivers or fresh streams so that ashes can be disposed of after cremation. One such old Shamshan Ghat is located at Tipu Road near Nullah Leh in Rawalpindi. In the past, the Leh Nullah used to be a fresh stream and the ashes of a cremated body were disposed in its waters. This Shamshan Ghat is still the only place of cremation for the Hindu community living in the city and nearby areas. Besides the cremation place on the premises of the Shamshan Ghat, there is an old building which is considered as the Dharmshala-cum-temple by the Hindu community.

Here, religious rituals were performed before and after cremating a body. According to the marble plaque erected at the Shamshan Ghat, it was built in 1923 by the sons and wife of Lala Tansukh Rai Sahib Syal, the Rais-i-Azam of Rawalpindi. After the partition when most of the Hindu and Sikh population migrated to India, this place remained abandoned for a couple of years. In 1949, it was handed over to the Hindu community to perform their religious rights. The Pakistan Hindu-Sikh Social Welfare Association president, Jagmohan Kumar Arora, told Dawn: “In July 2010, the temple building was given on lease to a media group which started digging and demolishing it. The Hindu and Sikh communities protested against it after which the demolition process was stopped.” Mr Arora said the original area of the Shamshan Ghat was 277 kanals. He said 10 kanals and 13 marlas were given to the Hindu community in 1949.

“The present area of Shamshan Ghat and the temple attached to it is merely two to three kanals,” he said. In 2012, the cremation area was restored and a new building constructed but the temple near the cremation place remained abandoned. Mohanlal Kashyap, a member of the Hindu community, said: “This is the only place of cremation for the Hindu community in Rawalpindi.” The Hindu community demands the reconstruction of the temple on the premises of Shamshan Ghat. “We don’t want anything from the government, just give us our right to die peacefully,” Mr Arora said.

The interior of the building shows its dilapidated condition.
The interior of the building shows its dilapidated condition.
The engraved artwork on the pillars is still visible despite years of neglect.
The engraved artwork on the pillars is still visible despite years of neglect.
The marble plaque at the Dharmshala-cum-temple in the cremation ground. According to the plaque, the building was built in 1923 by the wife and sons of Lala Tansukh Rai.
The marble plaque at the Dharmshala-cum-temple in the cremation ground. According to the plaque, the building was built in 1923 by the wife and sons of Lala Tansukh Rai.
Religious rituals are performed here before and after the cremation of the bodies by the Hindu community.
Religious rituals are performed here before and after the cremation of the bodies by the Hindu community.
A portion of the temple was demolished in 2010.
A portion of the temple was demolished in 2010.
A small pond on the premises also shows lack of maintenance.
A small pond on the premises also shows lack of maintenance.
The facade of the temple. — Photos by the writer
The facade of the temple. — Photos by the writer

Published in Dawn, December 14th, 2014

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