The celebrations of the five-day festival of Diwali, which symbolises the triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil, started on Saturday in various Hindu neighbourhoods of Karachi, including Naz Plaza, Lea Market and other areas of the old city.
The main celebration was held at the Shri Swaminarayan Temple — the largest and only Swaminarayan temple in Pakistan — where Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims shared the joys of the festival with each other.
The Hindu community performed Puja at the central worship place at the temple and people were seen exchanging greetings with relatives and friends. The residential houses located on the temple premises were decorated with coloured lights.
The temple was also filled with lit earthen lamps, which are a common feature of Diwali celebrations. Stalls of sweets had also been set up at the temple and children fired crackers.
The Diwali celebrations this year, however, were different than usual as people wore masks owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and tried to maintain social distancing.
“Diwali tells about new beginnings and it’s a festival of lights in the darkness,” said Vijay Maharaj, the custodian of the temple.
Narrating the story of how Diwali started, Maharaj said that the festival was celebrated to commemorate the struggle of Hindu god Lord Rama who spent 14 years in exile before defeating King Ravana, and returned with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman.
According to Maharaj, people not only visit the temple for the festival celebrations but also perform Lakshmi Puja at homes.
Commenting about the security issues, he said law enforcement agencies were fully cooperating with the temple administration. “Every year we celebrate many festivals for which our security agencies always cooperate with us.”
A resident of the Swaminarayan Temple, Rajan Gopal Dundas, told The News that Diwali was the festival of happiness and its celebrations were for everyone regardless of their faith.
He said that his parents told him that in old days, people of other faiths would frequently participate in each other’s festivals with zeal. The old city area was known for the celebrations of festivals and there were many religious communities, including Parsis, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Hindus, who would participate in each other’s festivals throughout the year, he added.
Gotam Hayat, who is a Muslim and takes part every year in Diwali celebrations, said that he partakes in celebrations because he believes in interfaith harmony. Everyone should have the right to adopt religious beliefs, he said, adding that there should be complete freedom of religious belief as this was a basic human right.
He was of the view that people can come closer if they celebrate each other’s festivals. He said Diwali gave the message of erasing evil from hearts.
Naghma Shiekh, a political activist, said that people from minority groups felt alienated in the country. She stated that on such occasions, the high-ups should participate in their celebrations.
Asad Iqbal Butt, who has recently been elected as the co-chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said Diwali was a festival of this region and originated by the people of the Sub-continent. He added that the festival was about happiness and joy and people should participate in such festivals.