The celebrated Chinese pilgrim, Hiuen Tsang, who visited Gandhara in the early 7th Century CE, had paid glowing tribute to the city and the Great Stupa of Kanishka in his memoirs. He also talked about a site, which many historians argue, refers to Gor Khuttree where “Buddah’s giant bowl was kept”. Pakistani historian S.M. Jaffar identified it with the place of Hindu pilgrimage, where the pilgrims performed the Sardukahr ritual i.e.shaving off heads
TRACING BACK THE ROOTS OF PESHAWAR
by Gopinath Kumar & Farzana Shah
Gor Khuttree (or Gor Khatri) in the ancient city of Peshawar was identified by Sir Alexander Cunningham with Kanishka Vihara (the Great Stupa of King Kanishka) while Professor Dr. Ahmad Hasan Dani identified it with the place where the famous tower of the Buddha bowl once stood.
Prof. S.M. Jaffar, in his monumental book “Peshawar: Past and Present”, identified it with the place of Hindu pilgrimage where they performed the Sardukahr ritual (shaving off heads).
The celebrated Chinese pilgrim, Hiuen Tsang, who visited Gandhara in the early 7th Century CE, had paid glowing tribute to the city and the Great Stupa of Kanishka in his memoirs. He also talked about a site, which many historians argue, refers to Gor Khuttree where “Buddah’s giant bowl was kept”.
THE SITE DURING THE MUGHAL PERIOD
Mughal Emperor Babar, who recorded its importance in his autobiography, visited the place. He had heard stories about Gor Khatri, a holy place of the yogis and Hindus who came from long distances for pilgrimage and got their head and beards shaved there. He wrote. “At once I headed for Bigram (or present day Peshawar), saw its famed, ancient tree and surrounding countryside. But much as we enquired about Gor Khatri, our guide Kamari said nothing about it. However when we were almost back in our camp, he told Khwaja Muhammad Amin that Gor Khatri was in Bigram and that he had said nothing because of its confined cells and narrow passages. Khwaja Amin repeated his words to us. But we could not go back because the road was long and the day was spent”.
Jehan Ara Begum, the daughter of Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan, converted Gor Khuttree into a caravanserai and named it Sarai Jahanabad. She also constructed a Jamia Masjid, a sauna bath and two wells inside Sarai Jahanabad for the convenience of travellers.
UNDER THE SIKH RULE
The Sikhs converted the site into the residence and official headquarters of their mercenary general [Paolo de Avitabile] who was governor of Peshawar from 1838-1842. They constructed a Hindu temple for Shiva there.
Gor Khuttree is a typical Mughal-era serai now and is located on one of the highest points of Peshawar City. It is a fortified compound consisting of an area of 160 x 160 sq meters. It has two prominent gateways: one in the east and one in the west.
The Gorakshanath Temple is situated in the centre, a network of cells and buildings in the southern and western side of the complex and a fire brigade building, which was built in 1917.
CURRENT STATE OF EXCAVATION AND RESTORATION
Dr. Farzand Ali Durrani initiated the first vertical excavations at Gor Guthrree in 1992-93 but his work could not be completed due to lack of funds. However, he confirmed the city foundation went back to at least the 3rd Century BC.
The second round of excavations carried on until 2007 in the north eastern aspect of Gor Khuttree pushed Peshawar’s age by another couple of centuries, officially making it the oldest living city in South Asia.
Excavation work on the site is currently suspended owing to shortage of funds.
DANGERS DUE TO IMPROPER CONSTRUCTION
Meanwhile Conservationists and Civil Society organisations are expressing grave concerns over the poor standard of conservation at the ancient site which the experts say is the cultural and historical core of the Walled City of Peshawar.
Sarhad Conservation Network is alerted over the shocking development that the Gorakh Nath Temple has been plastered all over with cement. “Principles and accepted standards governing the conservation of built heritage disallow and discourage use of any form of modern cement”, says Tahir Khattak an NCA graduate and local architect affiliated with SCN.
“The building at Gor Khatri is basically a brick and lime-mortar structure, which needs preservation under expert care. It is shocking that that the government departments responsible for its upkeep can be so negligent towards this critical aspect” he said.
The restoration work at the temple site is being carried out by the Directorate of Archeology and Museums, Government of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa.
SCN has learned that Communication and Works department has been assigned this role who has delegated this job to a local construction contractor. With such poor monitoring mechanisms and a lack of interest by the Directorate of Archaeology, if state of affairs continues like this, it seems we may permanently disfigure whatever leftover heritage structures we have left in Gor Khatri.
Mansoor Ahmed Khan, a member of Institute of Architects Pakistan (Peshawar Chapter) has submitted a pictorial report to SCN of his findings. It states:
The foremost prerequisite has not been met i.e. No proper documentation of the temple site has been carried out, as we know that “Heritage conservation without documentation is destruction”.The second principal of conservation is to determine the originality of the material and use the same ingredients with same proportions. Unfortunately cement plaster is now used throughout instead of Surkhi Lime Plaster/Mortar. (John Marshall’s Conservation Manual gives explicit details of the careful and delicate process of conservation. Marshall was a legendary archaeologist and founder of Taxilla museum whose principles laid down since 1920s form the basis of standard guidelines in the sub-continent).
Proper conservation requires the same material with same technique, we do not find such work over there.
The original structure of the temple is mud over choka brick over wooden planks over wooden rafters over wooden beams. It is now replaced by steel girder, wooden rafter and chowk brick with water proofing and mud.
All the stucco molding may need extraordinary care and properly skilled masters for restoration.The original levels, sizes, geometry and proportions seem to be neglected and permanently disfigured after the restoration work. Shrubs growing on the rooftops need to be removed immediately to stop further damage. Original fresco in the Hindu temple dome with Islamic Geometric Patterns and stories of Hindu gods are already damaged by intentional scratching however whatever is left, it needs to be properly documented otherwise it risks getting lost by such shoddy conservation/ construction work.
A media spokeswoman from Sarhad Tourism Corporation when contacted said that Gor Khatri is a place of great historical merit. Based on an excavation at the site has established Peshawar’s profile as the Oldest Living City in this part of Asia. Efforts are ongoing to give it international recognition.
Sarhad Tourism Corporation has proposed an elaborate conservation and management plan under guidance of right kind of experts to turn the premises into a cultural tourism cum artisan village site of international standard. Based on the success of the pilot project it could be replicated and extended to the entire Walled City in future, she said.
Meanwhile Frontier Heritage Trust, and CAPS NGO have also voiced their concern about the poor quality of work at Gor Khatri. For years now construction work at Gor Khatri has been going on and millions of rupees in funds in the name of conservation have been used up.
Source: Part 1 by G. Kumar & part 2 by Farzana Shah, Title Image, image # 2
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