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Sacred rocks of Islamabad

August 02, 2009

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Three natural menhirs at Peja village, Islamabad.—Photo by the writer

The territory of Islamabad abounds in prehistoric and historic sites. Almost every village in Islamabad boasts of sites of historical and archaeological significance.

During a survey of archaeological sites and documentation of monuments in Rawalpindi and Islamabad by the research team of Taxila Institute of Asian Civilizations of the Quaid-i-Azam University, many prehistoric sites, later used by Hindus as sacred ground were identified. One such site is located near the village of Bobri in Islamabad.

This site is locally called Jira, where one finds rock shelters overlooking the dry Nullah. As regards the term Jira, there are many possible theories; it could be the phonetic variation of the word jatra or yatra meaning journey or pilgrimage to tirtha or crossing place or some shrine dedicated to goddesses and gods of local origin or fame. Another possible derivation of the word could be from Jiva, a Hindu deity. One finds female garments offered to the deity when their wish was fulfilled. Upon their first visit after marriage to such sites or shrines, they used to offer their clothes to the deity. This custom is still widespread in some parts of Tharparkar, particularly in Nagarparkar, Sindh, among the Megwal women who offer their clothes to Sachia Devi.

A large number of china pottery and other utensils found from the site show that the site was a sacred ground for the Hindus before partition. Most of the china pottery pieces bear the swastika representation thus indicating that it might have been the sacred space dedicated to Ganish because Swastika sign is associated with this deity.
Such sites had always fascinated ancient tribes who made shrines to invoke the help of the various deities.

During the prehistoric period this site was used as shelter while hunting. Many stone tools were found from the site. However, the most prominent stone tool was the hand axe which was used for hunting.

There are two other sites which surround the Bobri village where pots and stone tools are found. One such site is located south of the village where there are two rock shelters. To the south-east of the village is another ancient sacred site overlooking a nullah. This huge rock was used as shelter by prehistoric humans. It is still used by the shepherds against heat and rain.

Other sacred rocks are located in Phulgran village of Islamabad. These natural menhirs and rock shelters overlook the agricultural fields. These were invoked by ancient people before sowing. One finds some votive tables there indicating that ancient people offered the tables to their gods whenever the crop was good and in surplus.

A number of such sacred rocks are located in the villages of Darwala, Bora Bangial, Peja, Gora Mast, Bhimbar Tarar and Bagh Jogian where there are a number of sacred spaces for the performance of rituals by the ancient as well as modern humans. The sacred rocks emerge from the Soan River at Bagh Jogian and run North-South.

These rocks terminate at the village of Peja in the shape of a three natural menhirs making a trinity. These menhirs could be the trinity for the Hindus. These natural landscapes were domesticated by ancient people through various rituals. Through the performance of various rituals these natural landscapes were converted into cultural landscapes and a number of shrines were made to magnify the power of the supernatural.

At these rocks one also finds some geometric designs particularly triangles cut deep into rocks possibly for appeasing the gods and the goddesses.

At Bagh Jogian, literally meaning the garden of the Jogis, are located a number of caves and rock shelters which were used by the followers of Nathism, a renunciatory order believed to have been founded by Gorakh Nath. However, Naths, masters of the yogic powers, consider Shiva as the original Nath and first guru. Bagh Jogian was once centre of the Jogis. Formerly, there existed akharo (monastic establishment) of the Jogis in the village who came here for ascetic practices (tapas) and other rituals. Caves and rock shelters still can be seen near the southeast of the village of Bagh Jogian where there are many sacred spaces used by Nath Jogis.

The writer is a staff anthropologist in PIDE and PhD scholar at Taxila Institute of Asian Civilisations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He can be reached at zulfi04@hotmail.com or re.isb@dawn.com