Located in the narrow streets near the New Anarkali bazaar in Lahore, the Valmiki Temple on Holi was buzzing with music, laughter and lots of colours. The local shopkeepers and bystanders also found it hard to resist the temptation of splurging into a fight of colours with the Hindu community.

“Our temple continues to spread the message of unity and we welcome people from all faiths be it Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian in our place of worship to celebrate Holi,” says Swami, a saywakar at the temple.

He points towards the veranda of the temple and says, “When all the people are drenched in colours then how does one distinguish between faiths? Humanity is the biggest faith.

The 12,000-year-old Valmiki is the only other operative temple in Lahore along with Krishna Temple located on Ravi Road. It would not be an over exaggeration to call Valimiki temple a veteran, a personification of one bruised and tormented by the religious extremism of the subcontinent. The historical old building has survived several attacks by angry mobs and land-grabbers.

Back in 1992, in the aftermath of the Babri Mosque attack in India, an angry mob wielding weapons stormed into the Valmiki Temple, smashing idols of Krishna and Valmiki, including a tile of gold by Valmiki’s feet, breaking utensils and crockery in the kitchen and seizing the sacred gold and jewels, which embellished the statues. What was left of this monumental religious symbol was mere rubble and ashes

Today, the reconstructed structure where idols have been replaced with mounted photographs of religious figures, offers worshippers and outsiders a chance to experience and celebrate Hindu festivals like Holi and Diwali

“We Pakistanis need to celebrate all religions and love the diversity of this land. Red is a colour of love and that love was expressed by Krishna when he coloured Radha in red, that’s why on this day we celebrate and admire the idea of love,” says 28-year-old Sonia Raj, By Naila Inayat daughter of Pundit Bhagat Lal Khokhar. Khokar’s ancestors have been taking care of this temple and earlier the entire Valmikistreet, which had 35 Valmiki families in this area before the partition. But he voices his concern over the future of the place. “This is our sixth generation serving the Valmiki people of this region but how will this be carried on by the next generation is a question I often don’t have an answer to,” she says.

Not many people are aware of the worship and functioning of the two temples in Lahore. Usha, a 23-year-old Nepali student studying Pharmacy at Punjab University says: “I’ve been living here for the last four years, but I didn’t know that in Lahore there actually is a mandir, which has a worship space. I never thought that in a conservative country like this, there can be a mandir,” she smiles.
Similarly, Arif Masih a 47-year-old a Christian activist says that celebrating each religion’s festival is a sign of loving the diversity of what this land once stood for. “I am a Christian but my ancestors were Hindus so I don’t see a point in not celebrating Hindu festivals with as much fervour as Christmas or Easter,” he says.

The adoption of a resolution in the National Assembly proposing public holidays on Diwali, Easter and Holi in Pakistan was earlier met with much enthusiasm among people but the resolution failed to see the light of day.

“We have a long way to go until the government takes such steps,” says Swami. However, he says, Holi originated from Multan, Pakistan, where ruins of the old Prahladpuri temple still exist. After killing Hiranyakashipu, Lord Narasimha took a dip at a place called ‘SurajKund’, a pond in Multan. “With such a diverse heritage, one can only wonder how great this land can be, if we are to shed the religious extremism that ails our entire region,” he says.

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