Kalka Devi Temple: A Living, Functioning Site From Antiquity Immemorial

Kalka Devi Temple: A Living, Functioning Site From Antiquity Immemorial
In Pakistan, there are a number of objects and spaces of very old times that are living and – even now – functioning accordingly in a particular socio-cultural context, retaining their identity. Such material symbols of the ancient past are the “living antiquities” which are part of the living heritage of Pakistan. Living heritage can be found in other forms as well, such as art, crafts and games to name a few. Archaeologically speaking, mention must be made here of the religious spaces, as in the case of Pakistan they are the only places that are in use for a long time and where antiquity is usually kept for worship. One such place is Kalka’s temple at Arror, the history of which remains to be established.

In order to determine its antiquity, I thoroughly examined it and recorded traditions during my fieldwork in July 2022, when I was writing a coffee table book on the built heritage of Sukkur.

An image of Kali or the black goddess

Situated about one mile south of the Arror fortress in the limestone plateau of Rohri in district Sukkur, Kalka Devi Temple is built in a cave in which Hindus worship their gods and goddesses, particularly Kalka, as the name of the temple implies. The temple’s caretaker Gulab says, “Not just Hindus but people of other faiths also come here to seek blessings of [Kalka] Mata and majority of these pilgrims are Muslims.” It is believed that the image on a wall of the cave is the self-manifestation of Kalka, and likewise, Shri Kalkaji Mandir Delhi in India also portrays an image that is similarly believed to be her self-manifestation.

Kalka Devi is also known as Kali, who is the goddess of power, destruction, time, doomsday and death. Kali is usually depicted as black or blue, naked and terrifying—with red eyes, multiple arms and a lolling tongue, wearing a necklace of human heads and a girdle of human arms and holding a decapitated head in one hand.

As per the Hindu belief system, Kali was the wife of Shiva, and she is the incarnation of Durga and Parvati, which is her benevolent aspect. However, the malevolent aspect of Kali is Durga, a fierce goddess. At Arror temple, Kalka Devi is portrayed in all of her aspects, as Kali, Durga and Parvati and the figures and symbols of Shiva are also placed inside the sanctum: cave.

The sanctum: a cave

Of all the living Hindu temples of Sindh, the mysterious one is Kalka Devi Temple. While talking about the origin of the temple, in personal communication, the caretaker of the temple Gulab referred to an oral tradition, according to which it was built during the reign of Raja Dahir (c. 695–712 CE). The legend goes:

Kali depicted as a terrifying goddess

[Kalka] Mata came here [Arror] and met Raja Dahir during her pilgrimage to Hinglaj. Mata and Raja Dahir came to this place [cave]. Mata told Raja Dahir about her image inside the cave. At that time, the mouth of the cave was too narrow for a person to enter. Raja Dahir said, “Mata if you go inside the cave and come out of it, I and my people will become your followers.” When Mata approached the cave, its narrow hole [entrance] widened, allowing her to walk through it. Then Mata took Raja Dahir inside the cave and showed him her image on the rock. After seeing Mata’s miracle, Raja Dahir and his people became Mata’s devotees, and they built a temple inside the cave.

No one knows when exactly it was built. But the structures, objects and images at the Kalka Devi Temple seem contemporary, except for the cave which, too, has been refurbished with modern materials. With these, Kalka’s image on the wall of the cave, which is believed to be her self-manifestation, also appears to be recently painted. Given this, nothing can be said about the antiquity of Kalka Devi Temple with certainty.

In any case, the cave in which it is built can easily be several million years old, as we know that archaeologists have discovered 1.9 million-year-old anthropic evidence in the form of stone tools in the Rohri Hills.

Self-manifestation of Kalka Devi inside the cave