The Temples of the Indus : Kafirkot
Bilot is a non descript little Village in the Dera Ismail Khan district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province of Pakistan. It is situated along the Indus where the lowest spurs of the Hindu Kush meet the Salt Range. There is nothing really special about the place except for something that lies on a Hill overlooking the Village. The locals call the place Kafir Kot. There are actually two ruins called Kafirkot at a distance of around 50 kms from each other but similar locations. One is called the Bilot Kafirkot and the other Tilot Kafirkot. Both the Temple Complexes are surrounded by ruins of Fortifications of what once would have been an impressive Fort watching over the Indus.
The temples of Bilot (and Tilot as well), among a chain of temples that stretch from Nandna on the eastern extremity of the Salt Range right though the hills to the Indus, are collectively known as the Hindu Shahi temples. There are supposed to be 8 Temples Complexes built by the Hindu Shahi Rulers till the time the Dynasty fell in the 11th Century.
The Hindu Shahi were a group of Rulers who’s Kingdom was located in the Gandhara and Upper Punjab areas and bordered the powerful Kashmir Kingdom in the North East to Afghanistan in the West and went down to the Punjab with the Indus running through the heart of their Kingdom. They were related to the Kabul Shahis, who were Buddhist once upon a time but had become Hindus and split into the Hindu Shahis and the Turki Shahis or the Patola Shahis. The Turki Shahis or the Patola Shahis in power in Dardistan / Gilgit Baltistan and they were staunch Buddhists.
The exact origin of the Shahi clans is still a topic of discussion. The Title Shahi was derived from the Kushan Shao which was converted into Shah / Shahi later. Al Beruni writes that they descended from a Tibetan prince while other people stated and evidence speaks that they were descended from the later Kushans or the Hepthalites. Some also mention they were Turkic in origin and they came down from Central Asia. Yet others say that they actually descended from the Kamboja clans that were strong in this Region.
That being said the Temple complexes especially the ones are quite big and prominent and ringed by fortifications. It is a point noting that in the Ghaznavid invasions and later invasions from the West these Temples somehow managed to survive. Even more strangely there is hardly any mention of this Temple Complex at Kafir Kot, which at one time would have held quite a prominence in the Kingdom in any historical records of the period.
Also interestingly all these Temples of the Indus, as they are also called, show a distinct and strong Kashmiri confluence and a mix of Gandharan influence as well. It should be remembered that Kashmir itself was once a part of the Gandharan Kingdom under the Kushans. Hence there were relations between the Hindu Shahis and the Dynasties of Kashmir. Kalhana in his Rajtarangani also mentions the Hindu Shahi Rajas. They were also related to the Kashmir Kingdom by matrimonial alliances. Infact Queen Didda, the last Queen of Kashmir was said to be the daughter of of King of the Hindu Shahi Dynasty. The Kashmiri influence is strongest in the entrance and main squarish Pillars of the Temples. However the Gandharan influence is seen in the tops as they are rounder instead of the pyramidical tops that the Temples in Kashmir had. I imagine in simple terms in Kashmir a pyramidal roof enabled the heavy Snow to slide off easily and since these Temples of the Indus are in the lower foothills they needn't worry about snow like else-where in the plains of Northern India.
The Gazetteer of Mianwali 1915 describes the Kafirkot Temples complex as such : “The Kafirkot ruins consist of two forts, situated on the skirts of the district on small hills attached to the lower spurs of the Khasor Range, and overlooking the Indus River. One lies a few miles south of Kundal and the other near Bilot. These forts are of great antiquity and interest. Their main features are an outer defensive wall, consisting of rough blocks of stone, some of great size, and various groups of buildings resembling small Hindu temples and more or less carved. These are built of a curiously honey-combed drab-coloured stone not to be found in the adjacent hills, which is said to have been brought by river all the way from Khushalgarh. The area of the forts is considerable and they could have held a fairly large garrison. The only legends attached to them relate that they were occupied by the last of the Hindu Rajas, Til and Bil; but all traces of rulers and ruled are now lost.”
Another interesting fact point out by Sir Salman Rashid, a Travel historian and a Member of the Royal Geographic Society notes “Interestingly John Wood, the 19th century explorer, who journeyed up the Indus on his way to discover the source of the Oxus River, paused to explore another Kafir Kot. Called Kafir Kot Tilot it lies atop a low hill smack on the Indus about 30 kilometres north of Bilot. Like Bilot it has an encircling rampart but flaunts only three temples besides a ruined double-storeyed house, all apparently contemporaneous with Bilot. Tilot also finds mention is the works of Alexander Burnes and the mysterious Charles Masson, both Wood’s contemporaries. But strangely enough all three fail even to hear of this far grander Kafir Kot at Bilot. “
An aura of mystery still hangs around these Temples, their origin and people who built them and how they have survived the ravages of History and time as its clear that the condition that the Temples are in today is due to the passage of time and not due to wilful destruction by an iconoclastic invader.
And the name Kafirkot sums it up. Even the locals contend that these Temples were built by a people who are long gone. A People lost in History. Only the Temples of the Indus give us a hint of what these people were like and where they went. They still stand in the majestic opulence like they have for hundreds of years.
Pics credit : Sir Salman Rashid / Wikipedia / Other Internet Sources as mentioned. I would have loved to use my own pics.
This Article is the first in the Series of articles on the Temples of the Indus, there being 8 such reported sites which exist in different conditions.