Carrying the ‘asthi kalash’ — pots containing the ashes of the cremated — of 160 Pakistani Hindus, Ramnath Maharaj, a Karachi temple priest, is in India to immerse the ashes in the holy Ganga river at Haridwar.
Maharaj, head priest of Panchmukhi Hanuman Temple, said to be 1,500 years old, is accompanied by his nephew Kabir Kumar. The two crossed over into India through the Wagha border on Thursday evening.
The ashes of these Pakistani Hindus will be immersed in the Ganga at Haridwar on September 24, the seventh day of Pitru Paksha, the day Hindus pay homage to their deceased and forefathers.
"The 160 asthi kalash was all that we could carry from Karachi. There are more than 40 other asthi kalash waiting at Sondari Shamshan (the cremation ground in Karachi). We could not carry them all because just two of us — out of 10 other priests and sewaks (helpers) — were granted visas," Maharaj said.
Pakistani immigration officials asked him for affidavits for the asthi kalash at the Wagah border due to which he had to stay back and arrange the papers, he said.
After he crossed over on Thursday evening, he was received by volunteers of a Delhi-based organisation, Shri Devodhan Sewa Samiti (SDSS).
Since he was not granted permission to travel to Delhi, Ramnath said he went directly towards Haridwar from Punjab.
Ramnath said most of the ashes were three to four years old and were waiting to be immersed in the Ganga.
"Our visa applications were rejected by the Indian High Commission three times. The visas of eight others is still pending. If they are also granted visa by the Pitru Paksha, then they will arrive with 40 more asthi kalash from the Karachi shamshan," the priest said.
Speaking to media, Ramnath recalled his last visit to India in 2011 when he arrived with 135 asthi kalash, some as old as 30 years.
The tedious visa process, a by-product of the tense bilateral ties, adds to the delay in immersing the ashes of Pakistani Hindus in the Ganga.
"Due to religious value of the Panchmukhi Hanuman Temple, many people approach us and express their desire of immersing the ashes of their relatives in the Ganga. The ashes are kept at the 400-year-old Sondari Shamshan or Asthi Ashram in Karachi, which is near the temple," he said.
The priest said that recently both the temple and cremation ground were renovated with the help of the Pakistan government.
The Panchmukhi Hanuman Temple is one of the few in the world to have a "natural" idol of Hanuman.