Saturday, January 16, 2021

Who Was The Hindu Saint Whose Shrine Was Burned In Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa?

The 19th-century Hindu saint Shri Paramhans Ji Maharaj, whose shrine was vandalized by an angry mob in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is revered by thousands of followers across the globe.   

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According to the local police, the people in Teri village in Karak district, where the shrine and a temple is located, were angry because a Hindu leader was building a home alongside the structure. They suspected that it was an illegal extension of the temple and encroachment of the extra land. 

The police, who had been informed that the protest would be peaceful, said a local Moulvi had instigated the crowd to attack the structure. The enormous size of the crowd made it impossible to control the situation, although there were no casualties, they said. 

The authorities have said the situation is now under control, and that the guilty would be punished as per law. Around 30 attackers have been nabbed so far. However, the situation continues to be tense.   

Why The Shrine Is Important For Hindus

The shrine is said to be the final resting place of Shri Paramhans Swami Advaitanand Ji Maharaj, who was born in Chhapra, Bihar, India, in the year 1846.

A highly revered Hindu mystic, Shri Param Hans Ji Maharaj came to Teri almost a century ago. A saint of high standing, he was buried in a meditative posture, as per Hindu tradition.

Swami Advaitanand Ji Maharaj is considered the ‘first spiritual master’ of the Shri Paramhans Advait Mutt. Born on the day of Rama Navami, he was named ‘Ram Yaad’.

His father Pandit Tulsi Pathak was a famous scholar. With his mother passing away a few months after his birth, the responsibility of his upbringing came on the shoulders of his father’s disciple Lala Narhari Prasad, who also arranged for his education. 

Swami Advaitanand Ji Maharaj studied Sanskrit, Hindi, and Arabic. His father passed away when he was just five years old. He left his home at the age of 16 to pursue a spiritual life while shunning the ‘materialistic world’. In 1883, he was in Jaipur, where he met the 90-year old Swami Anandpuriji, from whom he gained the knowledge of Kriya of Pranayama and Yoga.

He declared Swami Swarupanand Ji Maharaj (also known as Shri Nangli Niwasi) as his spiritual successor, who went on to establish more than 300 ashrams to spread the teachings he acquired from his master. Swami Swarupanand inspired thousands of his followers to follow the path of ‘sanyas’ (renunciation).

His disciples have today established spiritual institutions around the world spreading the knowledge of Swami Advaitanand. The saint has followers among the Hindus in the US, Canada, and the Gulf countries.

Although his entire life was spent in present-day north India, gaining spiritual experiences and passing on his knowledge, Swami Advaitanand had expressed the desire to be buried in the Teri village in the Karak district where his Samadhi is currently located.

After the partition of India in 1947, all the Hindus in the area had been forced to migrate to India, with not a single household in the district remaining behind.

The process of securing the shrine had, therefore, become a monumental task for the small number of Hindus left in the country. The country’s judiciary has been trying to restore the space for the shrine and allow Hindu devotees to pay their respects.  

Source Of The Dispute

While arriving here a hundred years ago, Swami Advaitanand had built a temple in the village during his lifetime. Following his death, a room was added to the temple as a Samadhi where he was buried.

The site remains a source of vehement dispute with the local Muslim population which has been opposing the restoration of the shrine since it was destroyed by a mob in 1997. Pakistan’s Supreme Court had, however, ordered its renovation in 2015 under certain conditions. 

The dispute over the site has lingered between Swami Advaitanand’s disciples and the local community that had earlier destroyed the shrine to make way for local houses after the Hindu population migrated to India in 1947.

It was Mufti Iftikharuddin whose family is said to have occupied the place closing the door to the shrine, which is located just behind his house now. 

Bereft of any Hindu population, the site, nonetheless, continues to hold great spiritual significance for the community.

The patron of the Pakistan Hindu Council Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, who has been fighting the case in the Supreme Court, says the community has other pilgrimage places in Pakistan where there is no Hindu population, which doesn’t mean they should be taken over. 

The shrine was rebuilt as per the order of the Supreme Court albeit under certain conditions, which included Hindus not practicing their religion at the site and avoidance of large gatherings, along with restriction of any major construction work at the Samadhi.

Although the Khyber Pukhtunkhwa chief minister Mahmood Khan has directed police to take action against the attackers, it’s not yet clear what action will be initiated and if the shrine can be secured again.

The incident was condemned by the Pakistani leadership, with human rights activists calling for action against the culprits. The country’s human rights minister Shireen Mazari issued a condemnation through a tweet – “Strongly condemn the burning of a Hindu temple by a mob in Karak, Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. KP government must ensure culprits (are) brought to justice.”

The condemnations poured in from social media users across Pakistan, expressing shock at the incident. Many people questioned the seriousness of the government in tackling extremist forces in the country. 

The Pakistan Supreme Court has now taken suo motu notice of the burning of the shrine, with the chief justice directing the minority commission to visit the site and submit the report by January 4.

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