Islamabad Pakistan Hindu temple Lal Chand Malhi
The groundbreaking ceremony of Islamabad's first Hindu temple was performed by Parliamentary Secretary on Human Rights Lal Chand Malhi with other members of the Hindu Council in Islamabad. Image Credit: MNA Lal Chand Malhi

Islamabad: Islamabad is all set to open its first Hindu temple to promote interfaith harmony in Pakistan, emerging as the “hub of religious tourism.”

The groundbreaking ceremony was performed by Parliamentary Secretary on Human Rights Lal Chand Malhi in the city’s H-9/2 area. “It will be first ever temple in ‪#Islamabad‬ since centuries. The government [has] provided 4 canals of land for construction of temple. Long live Pakistan,” Lal Chand tweeted.

The ceremony was simple and attended by Preetam Das, Mahesh Chaudhry, Ashok Kumar and Chaman Lal of Hindu Panchayat. The 20,000 square feet of land was initially assigned to the Hindu Council by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) in 2017 but the construction was delayed due to administrative issues.

Pakistan government will bear the cost of the construction of temple which is estimated at Rs100 million (Dh2.1 million), said the Religious Affairs Minister Pir Noorul Haq Qadri.

Temple to fulfill demand of the Hindu community

The temple named as “Shri Krishna Mandir” would comprise of space for religious rites as well as a cremation site – a long-standing demand of the minority community. The local Hindu community has been demanding the opening of a temple in Islamabad as they had to go to the twin-city Rawalpindi for worship. “The temple was needed as the Hindu population in Islamabad is growing significantly over the last two decades,” Lal Chand said.

Islamabad and its religious history

Islamabad and its adjoining areas were home to several pre-1947 era Hindu religious sites such as the one at Saidpur Village and near Rawal Lake, however, most “have been abandoned” and are non-functional.

Talking to Gulf News, Islamabad-based anthropologist, Dr Nadeem Omer Tarar, appreciated the initiative, as it would pave the way for interfaith harmony and understanding. But he requested city authorities to restore and revive the centuries-old temples near the Rawal Dam (constructed in 1883) in Islamabad, as well as the temples in Rawalpindi. Dr Tarar, director of the Centre for Culture and Development, also urged the city administration to open Pakistan’s only functional Buddhist temple, located in Diplomatic Enclave in Islamabad, to Buddhist community and tourists.

Pakistan to reopen and rebuild holy sites

In 2019, Pakistan decided to reopen and restore 400 Hindu temples across the country and hand them over to the Hindu community. When most Hindus left Pakistan in 1947, many temples suffered loss and degradation due to encroachment. A survey by All-Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement earlier found that most of the 428 Hindu temples were transformed into stores, restaurants, government offices and schools after partition.

In November 2019, Pakistan opened the Kartarpur Corridor facilitating Indian pilgrims a visa-free religious corridor to Darbar Sahib Gurudwara - one of Sikhism’s holiest shrine.

Pakistan — a hub of religious tourism

Pakistan is a revered destination for the followers of three major religions, Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism. The country lost many of the precious artefacts due to smuggling and government’s negligence over the years. However, Pakistan’s current government of Prime Minister Imran Khan is focused on promoting cultural heritage and religious tourism to make Pakistan “a major religious hub” for the Sikh, Hindu and Buddhist communities.