LAHORE: People from various religious communities on Sunday gathered here to celebrate the Hindu festival of Diwali.

The event, arranged by the Institute of Peace and Secular Studies in collaboration with the Hindu Sudhar Sabha, began with prayers led by Pandit Deep Chand Chohan, who had been invited from Peshawar. The venue, Loyola Hall, was decorated with earthen lamps and flowers, while rangoli – patterns created with various powered colours – was also created outside in the lawns.

After the prayers, the audience jointly sang bhajans – devotional songs – as a ritual on such religious occasions, lit some earthen lamps as well as firecrackers. The event was held a couple of days after the actual Diwali day, as most local Hindu families were travelling out of city to celebrate the occasion with their relatives.

Addressing the event, Hindu Sudhar Sabha President Amarnath Randhawa extended his wishes to the participants and shed some light on the history of the festival. He said Diwali evoked a feeling of spirituality among individuals belonging to all faiths, and asked affluent families to contribute to the welfare of fellow human beings.

“We pray for our country, our leaders and our people. May [God] bless us with prosperity, tranquility, peace and harmony,” said Mr Randhawa. “Let each lamp we light today bring happiness on our faces, enlighten our souls and bring goodness to those around us.”

Pandit Chohan told Dawn that he visited Lahore each year for Diwali, adding that due to the current security situation it was difficult for the community to organise festivals because “if they are after their own people, then why would we matter to them”? In Peshawar, they had to cancel a scheduled Diwali event due to volatile security, but Mr Chohan admitted that the situation was much better in Punjab.

He also mentioned how such private events were in stark contrast to those organised by the government’s Evacuee Trust Property Board. “I don’t attend the event held at Krishna Mandir only because Hindus are not given ownership to their festival and don’t get the environment that we get here. Here, it’s the Hindus leading the prayers and conducting the entire event. They get ownership. I did the puja when it was prayer time, which we don’t get to do at the temple,” he added.

Published in Dawn, November 12th, 2018