There are still some towns in Gujar Khan tehsil which boast some historic monuments like majestic mansions, samadhis of Sadhus, grand gurdwaras, elegant Janj Ghars (wedding houses), well-designed schools and crumbling Hindu temples with their imposing architecture. In fact, a number of temples are to be found in this tehsil of the Rawalpindi district. Of these the temples of Gujar Khan town, Haryal, Gulyana, Narali and Sukho (now reduced to rubble) are quite prominent. Of them, Beval temple is the oldest in Gujar Khan tehsil. The temple is located in the heart of Beval town, which was constructed by the rich Hindu community of the town. This community contributed generously for its construction. The temple is built in a square plan on a square podium. The facade of the temple is decorated with false arches which are decorated with paintings.
One enters into temple from a main entrance, which opens to the east. It is approached by a flight of steps. On either side of the stairways are the platforms where devotees used to rest after puja (worship). Nowadays either the occupants of the temple or their animals sit on these platforms. These platforms were an essential part of haveli and temple architecture in Potohar. Similar platforms were also made at the main entrance of the gurdwaras in Potohar. These platforms were the essential element of Potohari architecture. They are elaborately decorated with either cut brickwork ornamentation or miniature pillarets.
The garbhagriha (the innermost sanctum) of the temple is a square superimposed by square shikhara (superstructure, a spire on a Hindu temple). The shikhara is further decorated with miniature shikharas. Generally, the shikharas of the temples in other villages and towns of Potohar are octagonal in shape, as seen in some of the temples in Potohar.
The outer walls of the temple were adorned with paintings depicting Hindu deities. The outer walls still have traces of the paintings. On the northern wall there is a painting of Lord Shiva with his family on Nandi. This painting is still visible. The paintings are now blackened by age and weather. Though in poor condition, paintings have survived on the inner walls. The painted panels depict scenes from Hindu mythology. The lilas (cosmic plays) of Lord Krishna are also painted in the temple. Of all the lilas of Krishna, raas (aesthetic emotion) lila is the most pivotal which is painted in the temples, Sikh and Hindu Samadhis and havelis. The ceiling of the Beval temple is also adorned with raas lila of Krishna with gopis (cow-herder girls) in which the deity is shown dancing with gopis in a circle. The gopis formed up in a circle after hearing the flute of Krishna that drew them from their homes.
This sacred ring/circular dance of Lord Krishna with gopis can also be seen in Krishna temple in the Kabari Bazaar and in Kalyan Das temple in the Kohati Bazaar in Rawalpindi city, Kot Fateh Khan Samadhi in the village of same name and in Fateh Jang temples in Fateh Jang town and in Makhad temple, etc. This was one of the favorite themes of Potohari painters – who mainly painted it on the domed ceilings of the temples.
However, there are a few exceptions in Potohar where one finds this theme of the raas lila of Lord Krishna depicted on walls – prominent being the temple of Kalyan Das in Kohati Bazaar in Rawalpindi.
On the northern wall are some paintings of other Hindu deities – Hanuman, Rama and Vishnu. Vishnu is shown seated on his mythical bird Garuda carrying conch, club, Chakra and lotus in his four hands. This is a popular iconography of Lord Vishnu seen in both paintings and sculptures. But this motif is peculiar to this temple and one does not find it in other temples of Potohar. Close to this panel is another panel depicting Hanuman attending on Rama. The third panel shows Hanuman, Lakshman and Sita standing in obeisance before Rama.
As one enters the temple, one notices five panels on the western wall. The first panel shows Krishna collecting offerings of curd and milk from the gopis which is known as daan lila of Krishna. This scene of the deity shows him as mischievous young boy who played pranks with the gopis. The second panel depicts Sheranwali (Durga) goddess seated on a tiger and third panel shows King Bali offering water as a vow to donate his kingdom to the dwarf Vamana – the fifth avatar of Lord Vishnu. The fourth panel depicts Matsya, fish incarnation of Vishnu. According to Hindu beliefs, Vishnu took the form of a fish to save humankind from a flood in the earliest period of creation like Noah who built an ark to save all species drowning in the flood that all eastern scriptures tell about. The fifth panel shows Radha pining for Krishna.
On the southern wall the most interesting painting is that of Vishnu in the form of Anantashyana. This panel shows Vishnu as resting on the coils of the cobra Ananta -Shesha with his wife Lakshmi. In popular iconography, he is called Sheshai Vishnu. From the navel of the Vishnu rises up a lotus on which sits the god Brahma. According to Hindu mythology, he then brought the creation into being.
Beval temple is unique in the sense that it depicts very important Hindu beliefs around the Vishnu Purana, Ramayana, Bhagavata Purana and Gita Govinda. But unfortunately the temple lies in a deplorable condition. It needs to be preserved before it becomes history. It is under the control of the local family of Beval town who have turned it into a barn. Beval town was formerly an important trade centre with Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs doing the business. The Hindus were leading traders of the town. There were many majestic mansions and shops of Hindus and Sikhs in the main Bazaar of Beval town. Today not a single mansion and a shop have survived. All of these were either demolished or renovated thus playing havoc with the heritage of Beval town.
The temple and nearby well are the last remnants of a significant Hindu presence in Beval town. Since the temple has been turned into barn and its garbhagriha into a haystack store, it is in significant danger. The precious wall paintings were damaged due to placing haystacks inside the temple.
The concerned authorities should take serious note of this destruction and vandalism with our collective heritage and immediately evacuate the temple. If the concerted efforts are not taken in time, we may lose it for good – like the many others which have now become history and are only preserved in the memories of the local community of Beval town and neighbouring villages.
The author is an anthropologist and has authored four books: ‘Symbols in Stone: The Rock Art of Sindh’, ‘Perspectives on the art and architecture of Sindh’, ‘Memorial Stones: Tharparkar’ and ‘Archaeology, Religion and Art in Sindh’. He may be contacted at: email@example.com