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The Katas Raj pond, which had dried out a few months ago, has been refilled by a cement factory. — Dawn
The Katas Raj pond, which had dried out a few months ago, has been refilled by a cement factory. — Dawn

CHAKWAL: Indian pilgrims will not be travelling to Pakistan this year to attend the Maha Shivratri festival at the Katas Raj temples.

Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) Deputy Secretary Syed Faraz Abbas said: “As many as 171 Indian pilgrims had applied for visas before the Pakistan embassy, but at the eleventh hour, they took back their passports saying they were not allowed to travel to Pakistan by their government.”

A Pakistani official said all the arrangements to host the pilgrims in Pakistan had been completed, and a meeting was held in this regard at the Chakwal deputy commissioner’s office on Feb 8.

Local Chakwal journalists were also issued security passes to cover the festival, which was to be held today (Tuesday).

Editorial: Protecting Katas Raj

Mr Abbas told Dawn all the arrangements for the visiting pilgrims were in place.

“We have also issued a directive to the principal of a public sector college in Katas Raj to grant leave to students, as the Indian pilgrims were supposed to stay at this college for three days,” he said.

Speaking to Dawn from Yamuna Nagar city in Haryana, Shiv Partab Bajaj – who had led the caravan of pilgrims to Katas Raj for three decades – confirmed that 171 visa applications were submitted to the Pakistani embassy. However, he held both Indian and Pakistani authorities responsible for obstructing the religious tour to Katas Raj.

“First we used to submit our visa applications before the Pakistani embassy and the Pakistani and Indian authorities themselves fulfilled the process, but this time we were asked to get clearance from the Indian Ministry for External Affairs [and] unfortunately we could not get approval,” he explained, adding that this could be because officials from the external affairs ministry are currently accompanying Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a visit to Oman.

“Shivratari is our major festival. Pilgrims from across the India were excited to celebrate the festival at Katas Raj but unfortunately we could not make it to Katas Raj,” he said, adding: “Religious tours must not become casualties in governmental affairs. Both countries should facilitate the pilgrims.”

In December last year, India has refused visas to Pakistani pilgrims who wished to attend the annual urs of Khawaja Nizamuddin Aulia, which was held in New Delhi between Jan 1 and Jan 8.

Shivratri is considered one of the most important Hindu festivals, and is celebrated to honour Lord Shiva. There are different legends associated with Shivratri, but the most popular among them is that it marks the day Lord Shiva married Parvati. Shivratri translates to ‘Night of Shiva’.

“Although Indian pilgrims would not be able to attend this auspicious festival, we have finalised all the arrangements to host Pakistani Hindus who will celebrate Shivratri at Katas Raj today,” Mr Faraz said.

Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2018

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