Muslims preserve an ancient Shiva temple in Pulwama in Kashmir

About 4km from Pulwama town, the village of Payer cradles a hidden treasure dating back more than two millennia. At first glance, the structure resembles a square stone cenotaph or chhatri with open sides, but a closer inspection reveals an ancient temple dedicated to lord Shiva from the supreme Hindu trinity. The shrine has a two-foot-tall Shivling inside – a testament to the region’s deep-rooted connection with Shaivism. That scores of Shiva temples existed in Kashmir of the olden days is not a matter of surprise, but when seen from the perspective of the changed situation, it is remarkable that this small shrine with intricate carvings still stands tall in a park in this remote village.  All the 300 families of Payer follow Islam, a religion that prohibits idol worship. But the residents host this Shiva temple from 9AD with pride and care – untouched by the hands of worshippers, yet immaculately maintained. Hamid Khan, a 63-year-old retired Urdu teacher, said no Hindu family has lived in Payer for decades. “I was born here, I have not seen any non-Muslim family living here.” Despite being followers of Islam, the villagers have safeguarded this ancient Shiva temple in Kashmir, respecting its historical and emotional significance. It remains unscathed by the violence that has affected some surrounding areas, a living example of coexistence in a region marked by turmoil. A paved road leads to Payer, and within the village, a narrow path guides to the temple located in the sparsely populated southern end. This area also encompasses a cemetery and two mosques. A tall iron fence atop a short concrete and stone wall surrounds the park and the temple, preventing entry for stray animals. Access is restricted to two iron gateways – the larger one remains consistently closed, and the smaller one is frequently padlocked. The key to the gate rests with Ghulam Nabi Shaikh’s family. His daughter-in-law Akhtar is the temple’s caretaker. “No one comes to the temple, so there is little litter or dirt. Sweeping the place once or twice a week is enough,” she said, sweeping dry leaves and twigs that have fallen from a huge walnut tree shading the structure.  The resilient old walnut tree thrives without human intervention, relying solely on winter snowfall for nourishment and water. The surroundings feature minimal vegetation, with only a handful of self-grown bushy fennel plants. The temple, protected by the government as an archaeological site, restricts traditional worship practices like lighting incense sticks and fire lamps. Akhtar picked up two fallen walnuts and said: “Take these. The temple’s prasad for you.” A hint of history emerges. The initial phase of Islam’s arrival in Kashmir possibly saw Payer as a Hindu settlement. Over time, the inhabitants may have either embraced Islam or migrated elsewhere.  Despite this transformation, the temple retained its significance, protected by successive generations, preserving it as a link to their shared past. The local Muslim population express no animosity towards the temple, and ensure its protection from any potential harm.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.