The spatial politics of Lahore’s Hindu temples – Prism

The Lahore that is now marked by a great infrastructure hides the Lahore that exists in historical imagination.

Lahore was dealing with the consequences of a heavy downpour; The price of a cool July day was having to walk along a muddy Ravi road.

We turn down a dark alley lined by one of the many Sufi sanctuaries that dot the city. In front of us stood a tall building made of ashen white marble and wrapped in electrical wires. On the same road there was a group of stores, indistinguishable from any other neighborhood market in downtown Lahore.

We walked through each alley looking for signs that could lead us to one of the last Hindu temples in operation in Lahore; an orange flag, a spire on top of a building, a banner, anything. Instead, there were only more stores and dead ends.

A boy who had been watching us for some time asked what we were looking for. Krishna Mandir, we told him. He pointed in the direction of the white building, which we had considered an office building.

A closer look revealed little more about the building. The door was closed and the windows were darkened; The only way to see inside was a side entrance that was half covered by a curtain. Our only indication that it was a temple was the soft aroma of the incense that surrounded the structure and a golden ceiling finish, visible only from several meters away.

Almost everything that complements the presence of a Hindu temple divorced this building. With the doors closed and the windows obscured, it was as if the place had been isolated from the hustle and bustle bazaar which once facilitated his Diwali celebrations in the past. the mandir the presence was not welcome in the neighborhood, as if there was a conscious attempt to mix it with the surroundings.

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According to the Hindus of the city, the interior of Krishna Mandir feels equally unpleasant. Raj Kumari, who has lived in Lahore since his birth, says that the temple has no living room, except for a place to eat and a latrine. "It's just a small two-story building with idols inside," she says.

Although the Constitution of Pakistan grants them nominal religious freedom, Hindus like Raj Kumari still face extreme obstacles in order to practice their faith. In a city of 11 million people covering almost 2,000 square kilometers, there are only two Hindu temples that work publicly.

One is this Krishna Mandir from Ravi Road, while the other is the Valmiki Mandir, located in New Anarkali. "We are not allowed to abandon our religion," says Raj Kumari. But living in Lahore has severely affected their visibility and how they practice their faith in public spaces.

To fully appreciate how the Krishna and Valmiki Mandirs operate today, one must understand them within the broader context of Lahore and its space policy, whose complex history goes back long before the state of Pakistan was established.

The foundation of Lahore and Pakistan in general, that is, the Theory of the two nations, depends on an exclusive definition of space, which ultimately leads to social cleansing and the answer to the control of space policy and architectural language. in Lahore.

Community violence

Lahore, as the already developed political capital of several empires, was financially backed by the British Raj, becoming one of the largest and most advanced cities in the Indian subcontinent after the rise of the British Empire. In 1947, it was on the border of the Partition of India, a centennial union undone by years of community violence sustained by the theory of the two nations.

The urban ecology of Lahore was defined by its spatial, religious and ethnic multiplicity. The 1941 Lahore census highlights that Hindus and Sikhs constituted almost 40 percent of the city's population, forming the backbone of the Lahore merchant class.

Reflecting this demographic diversity, Lahore was full of mandirs Y gurdwaras which welcomed the minority populations of the city. Model Town, the first modern suburb built for the elite class in Lahore, was headed by rich Hindu merchants.

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However, the beginning of the Partition changed to Lahore fundamentally, as millions of people emigrated through the newly formed Indo-Pak border in 1947. The consequences of the demarcation of Lahore as part of Muslim Pakistan were colossal; Thousands of Hindus and Sikhs fled their homes to India while Muslim troublemakers devastated their property and took their lives.

The Shah Alami market, a bustling center for Hindu merchants and business elites, was captured entirely by a Muslim mafia that had trapped its residents inside by burning the door. Bhagat Labha was 12 when he saw Shah Alami, the largest market in Lahore, catch fire. He remembers, “there were properties burning everywhere. None of us were allowed to leave. ”He narrowly escaped a Muslim mafia during communal riots.

Vidya, also known as Mary, lived on Jail Road during Partition. "We used to come to the channel and play as children," he said. "We would see the bodies of people slaughtered there." At that time, all of Vidya's relatives were traveling to Lahore from India; None of them survived the trip.

Simultaneously, hundreds of Muslim refugees who faced identical violence in India were arriving in the city on a regular basis, filling the gaps left by Hindu residents, all of whom had left or had been killed. Lahore's demography changed rapidly as its Muslim population grew and its Hindu and Sikh population declined. Today, Hindus and Sikhs make up only 1{7be40b84a6a43fc4fae13304fce9a2695859798abfc41afd127b9f8b21c5f9c5} of Lahore's population.

Transforming Lahore

The perception of a visitor from the city of Lahore is often dominated by his best-known landmarks: the Badshahi Mosque, the Liberty Market, Minar-i-Pakistan, the Packages Mall, all conveniently located near the newly developed Metro stations .

Amid the novelty and fluctuating styles of architecture, it is easy to forget the presence of a heterogeneous society that continues to reside in this same neighborhood.

As the Muslim population continues to grow exponentially, the city takes the form of a monolithic space, while curbing the footprints of other religions. In this process, a Lahore that was once home to a rich cultural and ethnic diversity quickly becomes something of the past. According to anthropologist Haroon Khalid, the Lahore that is now marked by a great infrastructure and daily hustle and bustle that extends beyond midnight hides the Lahore that exists in historical imagination.

In contemporary Lahore, the Mandirs of Krishna and Valmiki are remains of the imagined city and its multiplicities. To understand the current dynamics of Lahore's space policy and the extent of its deviation from the city's indigenous foundations, one must dive into the past and try to conceptualize this Lahore.

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Today, just when we see Muslims heading to Data Darbar on a Thursday night, Hindus would visit Seetla Mandir in Shah Alami to pooja. The stairs of the Fort of Lahore that cast their shadow on Hazuri Bagh, was the center of Dussehra Jaloos that later extended to other parts of the city.

Looking at the rusty buildings and restaurants around Lakshmi Chowk, the same neighborhood once drowned in color as the center of Holi. The animated Diwali celebrations were visible in the city's temples, with decorations that extend to the Hindu neighborhoods in the narrow streets of Anarkali.

Such festivals and religious practices were characterized by popular participation from all walks of life. Currently, however, these traditions are now isolated within the boundaries of homes rather than temples, resulting in dramatically fewer public manifestations of faith. The decrease in the presence of Hindu spaces is key to how Lahore has fundamentally redefined itself since the independence of Pakistan.

The current state of the Hindu temples and their importance within the broader context of the city depends on the destruction and isolation of the Hindu space expression that emerged during the Partition and continues to endure, reaching its zenith with the response to the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992.

Babri Masjid Replicas

The differences between Hindus and Muslims grew in Ayodhya in 1992, after decades of modern nation building in India and Pakistan in light of the Theory of the two nations: that Hindus and Muslims were in fact two different and irreconcilable nations. .

It is believed to be Ram's birthplace, Ayodhya is an important pilgrimage site for Hindus throughout the world. Until 1992, the city also housed the famous Babri Masjid, a mosque whose construction is said to have been ordered by the Mughal emperor Babur.

Ayodhya, with its rich Hindu and Muslim heritage, could have been a site for religious multiplicity, but ultimately was a victim of community hatred. Hindu nationalists claim that Babri Masjid was built on the site where Ram was born and where a temple was previously located.

Calls to free Ram Janam Bhoomi, or Ram's birthplace, from the property of Indian Muslims emerged in the 1850s and culminated on December 6, 1992, when a group of Hindu nationalists led by the Bharatiya Janata Party Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishva Hindu Parishad demolished the mosque brick by brick.

The demolition of Babri Masjid became the epicenter of a broader community response, whose far-reaching consequences included the deaths of more than 2,000 people in riots across India, most of whom were Muslims. Consequently, parallel violence spread across Indian borders to Pakistan and Bangladesh, where Muslim protesters razed dozens of Hindu and Jain temples in retaliation.

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Tara Chand, a Hindu resident in Lahore, remembers having been working at the Valmiki Mandir one morning when a man ran into the temple to warn him that he was in danger. "I ran out into the street, and everyone came with daggers, knives and guns, and set everything on fire," says Tara Chand. "The fans were removed, the idols broke … many other damages were done." The fire that Valmiki Mandir consumed continued furious for three days later.

Shams Gill, who keeps his real Hindu name a secret to mingle, attended a meeting on Mall Road that morning, protesting the demolition of the Babri Masjid in India along with other Muslim residents. Gill recalls hearing about numerous attacks on Hindu places of worship throughout Pakistan. "Many temples in Lahore were destroyed," he recalls, "including the temples in Ichra and the Jain temple near the university grounds. They used tank trucks to take them to the ground."

The destruction of Babri Masjid and the temples throughout Pakistan and Bangladesh is a demonstration of the hostage theory, described by Abdul Kalam Azad as a means to enforce minority rights: any treatment given to the Muslims in India would also be given to Hindus in Pakistan. . This would keep the "hostages" safe; The danger that could happen to religious brothers in the other country would be too great to risk harming minorities in the country itself.

But the founders never took into account that the construction of the nation may also require the ethnic cleansing of the Other, regardless of one's intention to protect minorities from a different country. Ultimately, the episode only exemplified even more the Theory of the two nations and how spaces belonging to the Hindu or Muslim Other cannot be tolerated in the exclusive functioning of the modern nation-state. Despite having a rich Hindu heritage that existed long before Pakistan, it becomes essential to limit Hindu spaces as much as possible to reinforce the monolithic self-definition of the nation state.

Destroying the mandirs it still wasn't enough; All evidence of Hindu structures had to be erased and assimilated into the visibly Islamic landscape of Pakistan. Seetla Mandir, an extinct site that had already been demolished during the Partition riots, faced renewed violence, fueled by the same energy that clouded it in the first place. A minaret was located above the Valmiki Mandir in a conscious effort to turn the building into a Muslim space.

The Krishna and Valmiki Mandirs were finally rebuilt after the replicas of the demolition of Babri Masjid. Although they have been rebuilt as Hindu temples, they have not been rearticulated as such. Bhagat Lal Khokar is the priest of Valmiki Mandir for a long time, whose family and associates have been the custodians of this land and temple for generations.

Valmikis are considered untouchable in Pakistan, marginalizing them within the Hindu community and within Pakistan. Many of them convert to Christianity and take Christian names, but they remain loyal to Valmiki Mandir, forcing him to become a more syncretic space.

Describe the current state of Valmiki Mandir as models of classrooms adjacent to an open space or offices in any ordinary square. "This is not what our temples look like," he says. The process of restoration of both temples only exemplifies even more the conscious effort to model these spaces as architecturally conformist, indistinguishable from any other building in the city, in fact for safety, but also as an easily assimilable and copyable architectural form that does not require a unorthodox difference.

"All of Lahore gurdwaras It seems gurdwaras, their churches look like churches, and their mosques look like mosques. Why doesn't our temple look like a temple? ", Asks us.

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Hidden in a narrow street near the famous New Anarkali bike shops, the Valmiki Mandir currently looks like an abandoned house with khokhas and stores grouped along its outer wall. The congestion of these stores and businesses leaves only a narrow space in the middle to be used as a gateway to the mandir. Initially it can be recognized by the saffron flag from a distance, standing next to the Pakistani flag at the entrance.

Once inside, you will see an open space with a worn brick floor and a semi carpeted living room in a corner to accommodate visitors. The inner chambers of the temple are restricted to two small rooms, prone to flood even with the least amount of rain. Inside the rooms, the garbhagriha It occupies a central position, with the saffron colored flag attached to the front and the Pakistani flag again at its side.

"We do not place the Pakistani flag as a form of protection," says Khokar. “If anyone ever tries to disturb our temple again, the flag serves as a reminder that this space belongs to Pakistan just like any other building. If they damage our land, then they should know that they are also damaging Pakistan. ”

John, another congregant of the Valmiki temple, disagrees. "Why should we raise the Pakistani flag?" He asks. “If we are so welcome in this place, why do we need to constantly show our Pakistani identity? Mosques don't even think about having Pakistani flags on their musalla. Why is the flag in our sanctuary?

Capitalism and the development of the nation state.

The scattered ruins of Lava Mandir, accidentally exhumed while the royal kitchen was being excavated over the temple, lie next to the great Alamgiri Lotus-lotus Gate of Fort Lahore. Hindu legend tells that Sita and Ram's son, Prince Lava, or Loh, founded the ancient city of Lavapur. The city would also be referred to by the prince's last name, Loh, which would become Loh-awar, and eventually give rise to the modern city of Lahore.

The abandoned temple has no congregation; only hindu yachts from the other side of the border visit and worship in the Lava Mandir. The small room remains fenced for Pakistanis and is easily overlooked under the majesty of Fort Lahore. Faded frescoes and worn arches surround the central sanctuary. the garbhagriha itself, composed of an ancient stone pavilion crowned with a dome adorned with lotus, remarkably lacks murtis in its hollowed out medium. Instead, muffled garlands and burnt incense sticks mark the ephemeral visits that the temple houses.

The deteriorated site of Loh Mandir is a manifestation of the lack of Pakistani public investment in Hindu heritage sites, especially in Lahore. The durability of the Hindu spaces in the city is not judged by its usefulness for the indigenous Hindu population, but by its viability within a complex nexus of international relations and capitalist development.

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The Kartarpur Corridor, for example, is the culmination of decades of Sikh diaspora activism to convince leaders on both sides of the border to open a street without a visa for Sikh pilgrims to visit Guru Nanak's place of death. The brick-laying ceremony was attended by the Prime Minister of Pakistan and several ministers from India, both sides eager to co-opt the opening to soften relations between India and Pakistan. The videos produced from the Kartarpur Corridor show great developments, an expansive road and future plans for five-star hotels and world star cuisine that descend on the space of this little ascetic gurdwara.

Similar arrangements for the repair of the Lahore flagship gurdwara, Gurdwara Dera Sahib, were funded and organized by the rich Sikh diaspora, rather than by the government agencies responsible for maintaining religious custody in Punjab, the Auqaf Department and the Property Board of the Evacuated Trustee.

While the government facilitates the arrival of a few thousand Hindus and Sikhs yachts from the other side of the border every year, he is particularly negligent and even exploitative of the precarious position of Pakistani Hindus living within Lahore. In the Valmiki Mandir, John states that his fidelity to the land is deeper than that of India or Pakistan. Bhagat Lal Khokar, the priest, tells us how during and after the Partition, the elders in the temple decided to stay in Lahore and take care of their ancestral temple, even giving up portions of the great mandir complex for Muslim refugees coming from India.

Those refugees never returned that property. The temple land was increasingly invaded by shops and khokas in the busy market, whose rent was initially collected by the mandir. The Auqaf had started a Jinnah Fund for minority communities in the 1950s, and when they came to Valmiki Mandir to receive contributions, the elders decided to lease these khokas to the Jinnah Fund.

However, the Jinnah Fund ended abruptly, but the Auqaf did not return the income to the mandir. Some parishioners demanded that the ruinous and invaded mandir He needed significant work, especially after the demolition of Babri Masjid. This February, after decades of struggle, the Valmiki Mandir finally presented a court case to recover the income rights of his own property.

"We never ask the Auqaf Department for anything," says Bhagat Lal Khokar, "We organize and fund all our festivals and celebrations for our brothers."

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Meanwhile, in Krishna Mandir, the only other publicly functioning Hindu temple in the city, Diwali and other festivals are celebrated with great fanfare with the economic support of the Auqaf, but with little substance since the whole road is fenced and the community Muslim around The temple is forbidden to visit.

That Muslims are not allowed to play at festivals with the Hindu community further stratifies their religious identities, demarcating them at a point of difference. The Ministry of Religious Affairs visits the festival every year to take ceremonial photos, taking advantage of the image of "interreligious harmony", but without taking into account the deterioration of the state of the mandir.

This space dispute depends on the role of neoliberal capitalism in the construction of the nation-state. Hindu temples not only fall under the coercive reach of government departments with no other option, but are also expected to accept and use these funds in a way that suits Pakistani ideology.

The specific deployment of religious minorities in Pakistan is at the service of the Pakistani state as a benevolent caregiver. An image of "harmony" is only maintained to the extent that it is relevant to the ideologies of the nation-states of the respective countries, but never in the interest of safeguarding minorities and their religious freedom.

The construction of a nation is inextricably linked to capitalist development in Pakistan. The only way to "develop" property under capitalism is in the name of profits, and government agencies do the same. In the case of Valmiki Mandir and its surroundings. khokhas, these Muslim-led agencies take coercive control of the mandir property and benefit from their rented stores.

Meanwhile, in the case of the Kartarpur Corridor, the framework for the benefit of the free market has already been established around the epicenter of the gurdwara. The opportunity to benefit from non-orthodox religious spaces is ripe under Pakistan's neoliberal regime, as Islamic nationalism is defended and development grows at the expense of further limiting Hindu spaces to the point of social cleansing. Therefore, these non-orthodox and non-Muslim religious spaces only become relevant in the context of profit.

Understand space policy

"In Pakistan, Hindus have never been persecuted," says Shams Gill, "but anger against us has been relieved in our temples." Gill has reached the crux of the matter: Pakistani Hindus, a term that many consider an oxymoron, are represented through physical space.

Now, there are only a few traces of Hindu visibility in Lahore, such as the building once known as Hanuman Basuli Mandir. Their shikhara peaks through the newly built plazas and the old heritage buildings of the Anarkali Bazaar. Is mandir, now a residence for many families, it easily distinguishes itself from its surroundings. It stands out with its ancient Hindu architectural language, sculptures of deities whose faces have been crossed out and engraved in Sanskrit that the city has ceased to neglect over time.

The mere presence of the mandir in the middle of the crowd bazaar It exemplifies the scope of capitalist development that continues to dictate the marginalization of Hindu temples and sacred spaces within Lahore. After so many attempts to eliminate evidence of Hindu visibility in Lahore, the Hanuman Basuli Mandir, which no longer functions as a temple, remains the sole survivor of these efforts.

However, the future of the building remains precarious in the contemporary political climate. History tends to repeat itself, and there is no certainty about the fate of the unorthodox religious spaces of Lahore.

Written with the generosity of the Pakistan Citizens Archive


Are you a minority living in Pakistan? Share your experiences with us at [email protected]

Source: https://www.dawn.com/news/1503671/the-spatial-politics-of-lahores-hindu-temples

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