Lahore: It is Diwali today and the Hindu community in the city is celebrating, one of their most revered goddesses. There is a joyous spirit around as an increasing number of people enter the small single entrance gate of the Balmeek Mandir in the old part of city.
When the Babri mosque was demolished in Ayodhya,” Rioters came and attacked the temple and burnt everything that it had.”
The 200-year-old temple, probably as old as the Badshahi Mosque, is situated right behind the famous Neela Gumbad mosque. Right at the entrance, it says, “Yeh insaaf ka mandir hay, Bhagwan ka ghar hai (This is the house of justice, of God).” A Pakistani Hindu Arune Lal says that Muslims, Christians and Hindus all come here to rest in the cool shade of the trees. “Many non-Hindus come here on ordinary days, and even on festival days to celebrate with us.”
Meanwhile, a small group of young girls, dressed brightly, with flowers adorning their hair, carry a plate full of fruits, coconuts and ghee and walk slowly up to the second temple which houses Goddess Lakshmi and Durga. There are several paintings of Lakshmi and Durga inside the temple.
The girls approach the Lakshmi painting, and everyone completes the aarti, rotating the tray of fruits from left to right a few times, and then passing it on to the next worshipper. The fruits are touched lightly to the lips of the goddess and then eaten by the congregation after they have been blessed.
Bhagat Lal, the chief of the Hindu community in this temple, as his family are the oldest residents here, takes on the role of authority and starts to sing bhajans, while his wife grins happily and coaxes everyone to clap louder and sing along. Then they shout in unison, “Sherawali Mata di Jai (Victory to the Mother Goddess)”.
When the puja finishes, young boys andchildren gather in the small courtyard of the temple. They start lighting firecrackers, including one that skyrockets with a burst of light high above the trees and startles everyone. The boys are having the time of their lives. Happily free to make as much noise as they want, they watch the coloured droplets fire fall to the ground.