The Last Hindu Temple in Kabul

February 29, 2012 in Kabul Journals | Comments (19)

 

 

This hill, which looms over the center of Kabul, was once home to many Hindus and Sikhs. There was a Sikh gurudwara on it as well as a Hindu temple – the Asha Mayi Mandir. Many of the Hindus and Sikhs of this area had been in Afghanistan for generations. They had grown up speaking Pashto and were thoroughly assimilated into Pakhtun culture. They were protected by the Pakhtun tribal code, being regarded as guests. They prospered in Afghanistan in much the same manner that many Afghans did in India – through business and the retail trade. They ran shops and some  had extensive lands and property.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But in the last few decades most of the Hindus and Sikhs have left. Only a few managed to sell their houses and businesses. Mostly their properties were seized or encroached upon.

The Asha Mayi Mandir too has moved elsewhere. Today it is located in a featureless building with high walls. Until quite recently some fifty Hindu families lived within the compound. Now there are only five or six families left and they too may not last long.

 

 

 

 

 

The temple is tucked away under a gnarled mulberry tree. It is looked after by a few sevadars. Some of their families have been settled in Afghanistan for many generations. Some are more recent immigrants from Nepal: young men who came to Afghanistan to look for work.

Some of the caretakers  remained in the temple through the Taliban years. They told me that when the Taliban entered Kabul, they were quick to conceal their murtis. But even though the temple was empty, the community continued to gather for prayers and other ceremonies.

For the most part the Taliban left them alone. But at one point they decided that all Hindus and Sikhs would have to wear yellow robes and put tikas on their foreheads. “When they came and told us to do this, we refused,” said the caretakers, “and in the end they gave up.”

One time, there was a jagaran and all the remaining members of the community were present in the temple. This attracted the notice of the Taliban who forced their way into the inner sanctum. “There were thirty of them squeezed into that little space. They looked here and there, expecting to see our murtis, but we had hidden them all. Only one nishana remained, the most important one, and it was right in front of them. But still they did not see it. The Devi had closed their eyes.”

“How are things now?” I asked, and their answer surprised me. They said that in some ways they had been better off under the Taliban. In those years, despite all their other difficulties, when members of the community died they were able to cremate them, at a site that had been in the community’s possession for generations. But over the last few years the old cremation grounds have been seized by squatters; all their attempts to reclaim it have come to nothing. This is one of the principal reasons why they are leaving. They are no longer able to perform the last rites for the dead.

 

 


19 Responses to “The Last Hindu Temple in Kabul”

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  1. Comment by VaidyaFebruary 29, 2012 at 3:46 am   Reply

    When you say they are leaving or have left, where do they go? Do they have a strong diaspora that is willing to pull them out in some country? Or do they look to India?

    • Comment by Chrestomather — March 1, 2012 at 3:56 am   Reply

      Actually, many of them have close connections with Pakistan (some of them belong to the Pakistani Hindu community). In the Taliban years many of them moved to Peshawar for safety. But some do of course move to India or to Western countries. They are very well-informed about the world. Please do also look at the very interesting letter from Ratnesh (above).
      best
      Amitav

  2. Comment by premjit — February 29, 2012 at 3:59 am   Reply

    Very valid question by Vaidya.Keen to see an answer

  3. Comment by Guruprasad Bhat — February 29, 2012 at 5:57 am   Reply

    Dear Amitav,

    Good afternoon. I have been reading your books and liked “Sea of Poppies”, “Glass Palace” among the most. I have read it a few times and could experience the pain, anguish, insults, humiliations, passions, enliven the emotions as if it is happening live in front of my eyes. Wonderful indeed.

    Are you planning to write something on Kabul, Afghanistan, the plight of locals before and after the USSR invasion and aftermaths? We would be eagerly waiting to lap it up!

    Your blogs on Irravaddy Dolphins were very interesting.

    Best Regards,
    Guru

    • Comment by Chrestomather — March 1, 2012 at 3:57 am   Reply

      Thanks very much Guru; I really appreciate it. Afghanistan is a fascinating place and certainly well worth writing about!

      I’m glad you liked the dolphin posts.

      Best

      Amitav

  4. Comment by RatneshFebruary 29, 2012 at 11:19 pm   Reply

    Dear Amitav,
    Come to Delhi & meet the Indo-Afghan community. We should be able to trace out the temple priests throught the network in Kotla Mubarakpr & Lajpat Nagar area. Another network in Delhi which may interest you, is the ITEC-UN-Embassy one. Indian government sent hundreds of senior bureaucrats to Kabul for nearly 2 decades, to support Afghan government ministeries. I completed my senior school from Indian School, Kabul ( in the Babrak Karmal years). Our school alumni is spread across the globe now ( includes Anshul Jain, head of Deutsche Bank ) but we keep touch thru facebook groups etc. & meet up in small groups in Delhi, NY, Frankfurt etc. We should be able to fill-in the blanks on Indo-Afghan history through old photos, maps, carpets, , music, books ( yes, we knew the real “bookseller of kabul” – Ambassador JN Dixit was one of his biggest buyers & his library is now housed in JNU, but people dont realise it ! ) & people stories. Because of cultural similarities & economic/political realities, the Indo-Afghan identity within India, is already tough to identify. Your writings may just be the catalyst required to give this unique set of people, a voice & much needed visibility. We’ll open out our home archives, if it should help you. Finally, you reach our antique land – the land of “sulaimani” gul carpets & ” Daud” (David), which preserves old judaism in its culture; ” Kandhar” ( Gandhar of Mahabharata) & Afghanistan ( Ashva-ghanistan ( land of horse sacrifice) etc , which preserves early hinduism & sanskrit; and Bamiyan & Balkh ( Ballika) which preserves Buddhism; the land of taliban & many forms of Islam. We really look forward to your writings on this part of the world. Regards

    • Comment by Chrestomather — March 1, 2012 at 3:51 am   Reply

      Dear Ratnesh

      Thank you very much for this fascinating letter. I am really glad to know that there is a thriving Indo-Afghan connection. I do remember that as a child I had friends who had studied in the Indian school in Kabul. If you should choose to write about it at greater length I would be glad to help in any way I can (including posting on my blog). Please do stay in touch.
      Best wishes
      Amitav

  5. Comment by Swati Pathak — March 12, 2012 at 3:25 am   Reply

    Dear Amitabh ,
    I am a big fan of yours.

    Very interesting indeed toknow about Kabul and AFGHANISTAN. I too grew up reading about Kabul in the writings in Bengali by Syed Mujtaba Ali about Kabul where he worked in the education department .
    I had an Indonesian Aunt married to my Bengali Uncle who too had stayed in Kabul and heard lot of stories about this beatiful city. While I was studying in Hindu College DelhiI too had class mates from Kabul ,very friendly persons. And the affinity was more with these Afghani boys beccause of Kabuliwallah connection.

    Regs
    Swati

  6. Comment by Paulomi Gupta — March 12, 2012 at 3:50 am   Reply

    Dear Amitav,

    What about the Devi’s murti and the other nishanas? Did they say anything about restoration? There are people, communities and organisations all over the world to help in rebuilding, does this group have access to them?
    Wish I could help here,
    Paulomi

    • Comment by Chrestomather — March 13, 2012 at 9:51 pm   Reply

      Dear Paulomi

      Afghanistan is a very volatile place and there is no knowing what will happen in the future. Perhaps this is a circumstance in which too much attention may be counter-productive?

      best wishes

      Amitav

  7. Comment by AP — November 8, 2012 at 7:31 pm   Reply

    Hello Amitav and fellow readers,

    Just came across this vv interesting blog as I was researching for a documentary I’m about to shoot on Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan.

    Ratnesh, I was wondering if you could give me a few pointers as to whom I could contact in the Hindu community in Kabul or other parts of Afghanistan to get more information.

    Many thanks in advance for your help.

    Cheers
    Akhilesh
    email: akhilsd@yahoo.co.uk

  8. Comment by salima — May 26, 2013 at 9:06 am   Reply

    Dear Mr Gosh

    I also grew up in Afghanistan. My parents were there until the Mujahedeen marched into Kabul; you or rather your parents may have known my father, Paul Mathews.
    I have an unusual request – do you have contacts to alumni of the India School? I am trying to locate a family (Dr Williams and his wife, both MDs) who were in Kabul during the 80s.

    Would appreciate any help you can provide

    Salima

  9. Comment by sandeep antil — August 17, 2013 at 5:37 am   Reply

    Dear Amitav
    Namaste. plz. tell me are u living in AFGANISTAN. what is the actual condition of hindues & sikhs in afganistan? plz. jo bhe h usko hindi massage m likh kar batay. meri english ache nahe h. sirf m yahe janna chahta hu ki hindu or sikho ko vaha par respect milti h ya nahi. mera thoda bahut history m knowledge h. purane afganistan ka bhart k sath sambhandh raha h. muze ye bhe batana ki afganistan ka nam afganistan kese pada, ek hindu desh muslim kese bana. iske kya karan teh. muafh karna mene thode main bahut kuch puch liya h. kya kru jigyasa ese he hoti h. koi galti ho to muafh karna. plz. reply.

    sandeep antil

    • Comment by Chrestomather — August 28, 2013 at 4:11 pm   Reply

      No I am not living in Afghanistan – I was there for a short visit last year.

    • Comment by rajOctober 24, 2014 at 8:26 am   Reply

      Hindus are a persecuted minority here. Our culture is given virtually no respect. Living in Kabul is fine, just as long as YOU’RE WHITE.

  10. Comment by rohit — April 17, 2014 at 4:38 pm   Reply

    I heartly salute these people who were lived in afaganistan and followed to Hindus culture. they were brave forever forever. …..

  11. Comment by MAMUN — April 23, 2014 at 3:46 am   Reply

    I have visited a Sikhs’ Temple a few weeks back in old Kabul. The Sikhs are the life of business communities in Kabul.
    I am working here since 2006, inspired by the writings of Sayd Mujtaba Ali. There are many things to explore in Afghanistan!

  12. Comment by Chitra Akkoor — December 28, 2015 at 1:20 pm   Reply

    Hello,
    I’m currently a faculty member at a college in New Hampshire, USA. I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation on Afghan Hindus settled in Germany. If you want to read it, please got to http://www.afghanhindu.com. Currently I’m working on a book on Afghan Hindu/Sikh diaspora. I’m currently in India doing research for the book. Any help anyone can offer in putting me in touch with people from this community here would be much appreciated.

    Chitra Akkoor

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