It took a long time for the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) to declare the historical Panj Tirath a protected heritage site. By the time it did, land grabbers had already done their damage.
Panj Tirath is a Hindu religious site located in Hashtnagri in Peshawar. It derives its name from the five pools of water there. It was declared as a national heritage site on January 4 this year by the Directorate of Archaeology under the KP Antiquities Act, 2016
The historical structure, with two temples and a gateway, is in a dilapidated condition and in urgent need of archaeological conservation. Most of its ground is covered by a family park, while the buildings are being used as godowns by the park owner.
According to the government’s record, the total area covered by Panj Tirath is about 14 kanals and seven marlas. However, a major portion is now part of the Chacha Younas Family Park, given on lease by the district government.
Here, once upon a time, the five pools of the religious site use to exist along with Peepal trees.
“The structure is crumbling and falling apart. It should be handed over to archaeologists so that there can be serious efforts for its conservation,” said Nawazuddin, an archaeologist associated with the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums.
“The contractor of Chacha Younas Park is not taking good care of the ancient buildings and is using them for storage of useless items.”
The archaeologist added most of the original components and designs had been removed or damaged. “A building that existed till 2012 was demolished by the park management,” he said.
Besides the two temples, there is a hollow structure which is also on the verge of collapse and occupied by a tenant of the Auqaf Department since 1960. Archaeologists say that they are not permitted to go inside the park to examine the site by the security guards of the Chacha Younas Park.
Panj Tirath was an important Hindu pilgrimage site in Peshawar before 1947. Archaeologist SM Jaffar in his book An Introduction to Peshawar, published in 1952, wrote that, “The Panj-Tirath (five tanks) is among the places of interest and antiquity in or around Peshawar, dating back to the Buddhist times. Archaeologists believe Panj Tirath holds marks of the Buddha’s Begging Bowl.”
English archaeologist Sir Alexander Cunningham and French archaeologist Alfred Foucher have also identified the site with the place of Buddha’s Alam Bowl. The Brahmans of today and Munshi Gopal Das, the author of Tareekh-e-Peshawar published in 1874, trace its origin to the five sons of Pandu (the Heroes of the Mahabharata).
Nawazuddin said Hindus come to bathe during festivals and in the month of Kartik (between October 23 and November 21). He said they held celebrations under the trees for two days.
“It has been a place of great reverence. Besides the five sacred ponds, the temples were also constructed here.” Nawaz added the sacred ponds and temples were disfigured during the Durrani period (1747-1834), and were reconstructed by local Hindus during Sikh rule in Peshawar (1834-1848).
Of all the original temples, only two have survived the ravages of time. These are inside the park and a gateway leading to the temple complex is outside the park. The temples stand a few metres away from each other. The gateway is occupied by a tenant of the Evacuee Trust Property Board, Alam Khan. He, too, does not permit archaeologists to enter the place. Khan says his family had been living there since the 1960s.
In the western temple, which is the larger of the two, had an arched entrance on the east side which opened on to a pillared outdoor hall with three arches and a vaulted ceiling. This temple is generally in a better state of preservation but many of its decorative designs have been badly damaged.
Small bricks – locally known as Waziri bricks – were used in the construction of both temples at Pancha Tirtha. They were set in lime mortar and plastered. The style of construction and decorative scheme – arched panels, slender pilasters of the dvarashakhas, a ribbed dome, miniature niches and decorative half-dome wrought in stucco at the apex of arched panels on the northern wall – and other features of the western temple are comparable to the late-nineteenth century.
In the eastern temple, there were spaces for placing deities/sculptures for worship. The dome was decorated but is now in a terrible condition.
The gateway or the entrance of the temple complex had a cusped arched entrance on the east side which opens into a small mandapa with three arched openings. There are two rooms on each side of the gateway with a veranda in the front.
Directorate of Archaeology’s research officer Nawazuddin, Field Officer Amanullah and assistant research officer Muhammad Jahangir have inspected the site and recommended it be handed over to the Directorate of Archaeology for better upkeep and protection.
“Due to its dilapidated condition, conservation and preservation of all three structures must be done on an urgent basis,” they say. “As the site has great archaeological and historic significance, excavation is also suggested for preservation of ancient relics.”
The archaeologists also stressed that all three structures must be separated from the family park by a fence or a wall. On January 7, Directorate of Archaeology issued a notification to the deputy commissioner to give them possession of the ancient site and vacate the area from the park. However, so far no action has been taken by the district administration to secure the site.