To be fair, it was not the first time when my hands shook while clicking a photograph.
I was roaming around in the walled city of Lahore with Sohail Abid, the dark and narrow lanes, the busy bazaars and a lot of noise. That’s what I like about the walled city. Then, we came across a street, a bazaar, known as Vachhowali bazaar. It’s one of the several streets that connect Rang Mahal to Lohari Gate area.
The bazaar’s width was no more than 4 feet. It has jewelry shops, embroidery and wedding dresses and some other stuff like plastic materials used in furnishing houses.
While walking down the Vachhowali street, Sohail pointed out a sign board, a marble plaque erected at the top of a huge wooden gate, “Sanatana Dharma Sabha, Lahore” was the text, in Devanagari and English.
|The marble plaque “Sanatan Dharm Sabha, Lahore”|
It was fascinating to see such a huge gate, around 15 feed in such a narrow bazaar, it was surely a huge complex I assumed. We did Salam/Dua to the persons sitting just inside the gate; they were tailors if I remember correctly. We exchanged some words:
“Eh mandir aey?” [Is this a temple?]
“Haan ji” [Yes]
“Kithay hai mandir?” [Where is the temple?]
“Idher, hun muk gya, karr ae hun” [Here, now finished, it’s a home now]
I moved towards the courtyard of the complex, which is no more a courtyard now, the residents of this place have built new rooms here, those newly constructed walls were also in dilapidated condition. It appeared like that there are several families living inside this complex and had made divisions to adjust, accordingly.
|The huge wooden gate of the temple|
While Sohail was chatting with the guys at the gate, I was looking for the architecture of temple, a dome or any sign.
Then I saw at my right side, it was this narrow lane, and just at the end of lane there was a temple standing there, hidden among the walls, around twenty feet tall dome, I took out the camera and focused the architecture. But I couldn’t press the button. I gathered my courage again and tried once again. It was just matter of a click. I didn’t take the picture. I don’t know what was stopping me from taking the picture of this old temple. The situation became disturbing for me. I shook my head. Took a deep breath. Waited for few seconds. Then a little kid appeared from this door and I took this picture promptly. And we left the place.
Stepping out of this complex, I was satisfied. It made me feel that I didn’t break someone’s trust. Don’t know whose and why.
Vachhowali. The narrow lane. From Lohari Gate to Rang Mahal.
Now let’s see what does history say about this area. Kanhiya Lal Hindi, the historian, writes about it. In his book “History of Lahore” (Published 1884), he has mentioned four huge Hindu temples in Vachhowali bazaar and Mohallah Vachhowali. These are “Thakurdwara Jawala Dai”, “Makaan Ram Dawara”, “Bhero Ji ka Sthan” and “Mandir Bawa Mahr Das”
There were several other temples too in the area constructed later. One famous temple was Krishna Mandir which has been demolished recently.
|Vachhowali bazaar, a portion of bazaar which is relatively wide.|
Three of these old temples were located in streets of Mohalla Vachhowali, but one temple, according to Kanhiya Lal Hindi, was located in the Main Bazaar of Vachhowali and that was “Thakurdawara Jawala Daii”. The description he mentioned is his book is quite similar to what we saw at Sanatana Dharma Sabha complex. The huge gate, the high doorsteps and the huge complex.
I am not sure if it is the same temple. The Sanatana Dharma movement was started in 1921, almost 30 years after this book was published.
It’s an interesting fact that Vachhowali area was also home of migrant Kashmiri Pandits who settled here on mid-1800s. Among prominant figures, the first Indian Judge of Lahore Chiefs Court, Justice Pandit Ram Narain Dar was born in 1849 in his ancestral house in this area.
It is clear that it was a Hindu dominated area before the partition and surely this temple or complex at Vachhowali had a vital role. I haven’t heard or read anything about Vachhowali, but now this is a new chapter I want to explore. A chapter, which remained ignored and abandoned for many years, just like this temple.
This temple of Vachhowali has many stories to tell of several generations. The Hindu generations who lived here and the Muslim generations who are living here now. The stories of love, hate, violence and survival…
us gali ne ye sun ke sabr kiya
jane wale yahan ke thay hee nahi
Do our hands also shiver while writing the stories of the past?
There are some secret Hindus in old city lahore, especially near zofran pir bhola. They pretend to be muslims since 1947 to avoid trouble. I’ve seen their well tended little puja shrines even as they are called “Muhammed.”