Midway through last year, in a 1,500-year-old Hindu site in Karachi, Pakistan-based writer and journalist, Reema Abbasi found herself meditating. This was not an ad for pluralism. The Panchmukhi Hanuman Mandir is a revered, historic temple that houses an organic, non-man made idol of Hanuman, and Abbasi was visiting the site as a part of her guerrilla research for a book she was writing. Titled Historic Temples of Pakistan: A Call to Conscience (Niyogi Books, Rs 1275), the book has now been launched after a year of extensive research and nomadic travels through the provinces of Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh, with photographer Madiha Aijaz.
The book includes close to 400 photographs of historic temples (Katas Raj in Chakwal district in Punjab, Kalka Cave Temple in Arore, Sindh and the abode of goddess Durga in Balochistan, among others), rituals, practices and the local population. “No idea can come to you in a moment,” says Abbasi, as she looks back at how she hit upon the idea for this book. While working with The Dawn in Karachi, and specialising in sociopolitical writing and crime reporting, she thought of writing a book on temples in the country.
“This is not a coffee-table book. There’s a reason it is called A Call to Conscience. Apart from it being a coverage of archival and academic value, the book also explores the motifs of the area and the beliefs. Each temple becomes a larger antiquated emblem of common history and faith,” she says, adding, “The perception of Pakistan among people who haven’t been here is very different from the reality. Through this book, I want to celebrate our shared history and heritage, and promote pluralism.” Without an entourage of security, and with complete help from the locals of the areas, Aijaz and Abbasi spent all of 2013 visiting and documenting these sites. “The locals took us through areas that protected us from desert storms, weather constraints and area politics. When we told them the book will be published in India, they were thrilled. It all boils down to accessibility,” says Abbasi. The book also features interesting people they met on their way, such as a Muslim lady who observed karva chauth for her husband, or a Balochi idol-maker. “It was completely a labour of conviction,” she adds.
Working with a professional photographer on her dream project brought another perspective to the forefront for Abbasi. “It was a good partnership because I was looking at this whole idea from an academical and research point of view. Travelling with Madiha made me see things visually,”she says.