In Pulwama, temple builds a bond
Two days after the Pulwama terror attack, Muslim residents and the sole Kashmiri Pandit family in Achhan village in the same district got together to restore a century-old Shiva temple.
On Monday, the Pandit family celebrated Shivaratri at the Swami Jagarnath Asthaphan temple with their Muslim neighbours.
“People joined in their celebrations. They (the Pandit family) served us kehwa (Kashmiri tea) and distributed sweets. We all enjoyed it,” Mir Nazir Ahmad, head of the local Auqaf committee that manages Muslim places of worship, told The Telegraph.
Sanjay Kumar Sharma, an ATM guard, and his three brothers and their families are the only Pandits in the village, 35km from Srinagar.
Sharma said the restoration became possible after the Auqaf committee members pursued the case with top officials and accompanied them to government offices.
“We hope people from all states visit the temple again as they did in the past. We used to host feasts for visitors here and pray it happens again,” he said.
The Pandit family said the temple had been torched by miscreants in 1995 in the aftermath of the burning of the Sufi shrine at Chrar-e-Sharief where militants had taken refuge during a massive operation by security forces.
“There is only one Pandit family in our village which did not migrate. Since the temple had no caretaker, it fell into ruin. In August last year, the Pandit family approached the local Auqaf committee and asked our help to repair it and we assured them all help,” Nazir said.
The Auqaf chairman said work on restoring the temple began on February 16 — two days after the Pulwama attack — and several villagers had volunteered their help.
Achhan is around 15km from Lethpora, where Jaish-e-Mohammed militant Adil Ahmad Dar, also a Pulwama resident, had rammed his car into a CRPF convoy, killing 40 paramilitary personnel and injuring dozens.
Villagers said the work on the temple stopped for some days after the India-Pakistan tensions over the Pulwama attack had peaked but had resumed recently to ensure that the Pandit family could celebrate Shivaratri.
Nazir said the government had set aside funds for restoration of religious places in the state and the Auqaf had approached top officials to allot funds for the temple.
“It was the Auqaf that approached K. Vijay Kumar, adviser to the governor, and other senior officers. We pursued the case for months, after which the government sanctioned Rs 4 lakh,” Nazir said.
The sprawling temple complex, which also has a spring, is spread over six kanals (a little less than an acre) and shares a wall with the local Jamia mosque and an Idgah.
“The restoration will need some more time as the roof is still incomplete and the tiles are yet to be laid,” Nazir said.
Once complete, local residents said, the Pandit family can place an idol inside the temple.
Farooq Ahmad, a resident, said in the old days the muezzin’s call for prayers and bhajans would reverberate together and villagers were glad that would happen again.
Sharma said he hoped the Pandits would return. “But that can happen only after the government improves the lot of Pandits like us who did not migrate, which the government has not done so far,” he said. “That will motivate other (migrant) Pandits to return.”