JAISALMER: For soldiers posted to the Rajasthan border, it is a custom to stop by at the Tanot Mata temple, some 145 km from Jaisalmer, apply a teeka of sand to their foreheads, and then move towards the border.
The temple is close to the site of the famous battle of Longewala in the war of 1971. Back then, a band of 120 men of the 23 Battalion, Punjab Regiment, led by Maj. Kuldeep Singh Chandpuri held off 3000 Pakistani soldiers and gained an inspiring victory after martyrdom had appeared certain.
It’s the kind of lore that reinforces the men’s faith in local deities, in this case Tanot Mata, who is looked upon as the saviour of the border guards.
The temple is locally reputed to be 1200 years and attracts its fair share of tourists to Jaisalmer. For the soldiers posted on the border, it’s a must-visit site. “Without Tanot Mata's darshan, no soldier will move towards the border. Her blessing is a must for all of us,'' says a soldier R K Sharma. Not a day goes by without a BSF convoy coming to a halt at the temple to pay obeisance.
In the barracks, soldiers tell the lore of Tanot Mata. During the 1965 war, Pakistan lobbed 3,000 bombs over the border and soldiers and villagers took cover in the temple. Not one of the bombs exploded.
Tanot was attacked again in 1971. Pakistani tanks began a barrage on the village but by Tanot Mata's grace enemy tanks got stuck in the sand for several hours, giving time to the Indian Air Force to pick them off one by one.
The priest – incidentally, a soldier, for the BSF runs the temple -- is an enthusiastic teller of the lore. After the 1965 war, the defeated Pakistani general asked wondrously of his Indian counterpart how come his shells had not exploded over the temple and was informed that it was all the magic of Tanot Mata. He then asked to visit the temple and was allowed.
Don’t believe it? The unexploded shells are displayed to this day in the Tanot Mata temple, just a few feet from the sanctum sanctorum.
“The temple is very powerful,” says BSF DIG Amit Lodha.
The force has plans to turn the Tanot Mata temple into a tourist attraction akin to the Wagah border in Punjab. ''A proposal has been sent to New Delhi. We want to construct a memorial park with murals depicting war stories and a museum to display weapons used in the war,'' says Lodha.
The centre has already approved Rs 25 crore to develop Tanot and the Longewala area. ''Its a joint venture between Tourism ministry and union ministry of culture and the works are expected to commence shortly,'' he said.
Temple on the border
The Tanot Mata temple is located 10 km from the border and is surrounded by sand dunes and hills. Tourists are not allowed beyond the temple. This temple was shown in the pop patriotic film Border. Sources said that both sides of the border near here are mined.