In late March this year, my friend and I travelled to Rajasthan, a western Indian state. Our destination was the India-Pakistan border near Jaisalmer, a small town at the edges of the Thar Desert. Somewhere less than a hundered kilometers from the border, we stopped at a temple. Although I’m not religious, I’m not averse to visiting temples for I believe there is much to be learned about history, art and human behaviour at religious places. This trip was also unavoidable since our car driver insisted that we visit, for it had an interesting story to be told. But first, a little history.
India and Pakistan have been regional rivals since their birth. Both nations have fought three major wars and have had several smaller standoffs and armed conflicts. The war between the two nations in 1971 was the largest in terms of scale and impact. One battle, a part of this war, took place in Longewala. During this battle, the areas around this temple were bombed by Pakistan, for Indian armed forces had been stationed in this general area.
The legend surrounding this temple is that while the bombings destroyed nearly every structure and killed several forces and civilians in this area, the Tanot Mata temple campus – which is relatively large – was left unscathed. Apparently, none of the bombs that fell into the temple campus exploded. The claim is that many villagers and soldiers had taken refuge inside this campus, and they all survived. A few of these unexploded bombs lie inside this temple in a showcase to this day.
“Tanot Mata (goddess Tanot) saved and protected all those who sought shelter in her shrine that day”, said a guide at the temple.
The purpose of this post isn’t to bust this myth (feel free to talk about possible explanations in the comments section below), but to bring to light a larger issue: the government has helped keep this myth alive. The para-military force in charge of the India-Pakistan border officially maintains this temple by keeping up the necessary infrastructure and employing people to work here. It also showcases this temple to all official dignitaries visiting this region.
Interestingly, this temple complex also houses an Islamic shrine. The guide showing us around was proud of this “secular” (Indianism for “inclusive”) symbol.
What is your opinion: is this a “harmless” myth that can be ignored, and must the para-military help propagate this myth?