Model for faith tourism

Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
Friday, Oct 28, 2022

On the auspicious occasion of Diwali, I would like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to everyone. For the first time in the 75-year history of independence, Diwali, the festival of lights, was celebrated in a very unique way in the open sea of Karachi, and the ancient Manora temple, submerged in darkness for a long time, was lit up with beautiful lights.

The Pakistan Hindu Council with the support of the Karachi Port Trust, Navy and Manora Cantt Board, had made special arrangements for pilgrims to reach Manora island by boats. During the journey, an amazing display of fireworks was performed in the open waters of the Arabian Sea, followed by the main ceremony of Diwali in Manora temple. Dinner was served after a special prayer for the peace and prosperity of Pakistan.

The Diwali festival is one of the most significant festivals in Hinduism. Also called the festival of lights, it is associated with the heroic return of Shri Ram along with his beloved wife Sita and brother Lakshman to Ayodhya after defeating powerful king Ravana. This ancient festival gives a positive message that no matter how deep the dark night of oppression and despair, one day or another, a ray of light will end the darkness. It demonstrates the victory of light over darkness, victory of good over evil and victory of truth over falsehood.

The ancient temple on Manora, an island off the coast of Karachi, is dedicated to Shri Varun Dev, the chief governing deity of the Sindh river in Hinduism. The ancient temple is at least four hundred years old, first built in 1623. Later in different periods the followers of Hinduism played their role in its renovation. According to the local Sindhi community, this temple is also called Jhulelal Mandir.

However, after Partition, the local Hindu community migrated from here. Its condition due to decades of lack of maintenance became miserable. As a reaction to the Babri Masjid tragedy in the neighboring country, some extremists also targeted the Manora temple due to which it was sealed for a long time.

Finally, the Pakistan Hindu Council took over its management and appointed a Maharaj to perform religious rituals. His family is the only Hindu family currently living in Manora. This year, it was decided to celebrate Diwali on Manora island to highlight the main message of Diwali, the victory of light over darkness as well as to demonstrate that the non-Muslim minority community in Pakistan enjoys full freedom to celebrate religious festivals.

Another major reason was to promote faith tourism in Pakistan by showcasing Manora as a role model for religious tolerance, where people of different religions, including Hindus, Muslims, and Christians, have been living together happily. Historically, Manora has been an ethnically and religiously diverse settlement for centuries. There has never been any conflict reported there due to religious reasons. On the occasion of recently-held Diwali, Muslims, Christians and people of other communities were also present there to celebrate with us.

There are several other historical religious sites located at Manora. St Paul's Church, one of the oldest churches built in 1864 and St Anthony's Church, established in 1921, reflect British architecture. It is estimated that there are about 150 Christian families currently residing there. The ancient Shafi'i Masjid and the shrine of Yusuf Shah Ghazi are also tourist attractions. Moreover, Shree Gurunanak Sikh Sahib Gurdwara, located there was built in 1935.

In my view, the successful celebration of Diwali has proved that Manora island is a best example of religious harmony, endurance and tolerance, not only for Pakistan but also at the global level. This beautiful ancient island has the potential to generate huge revenue through religious tourism. Announcing public holidays for every citizen on Diwali, Holi and other religious festivals can also be very effective in promoting interfaith harmony in the society and bringing people of different faiths closer. Happy Diwali to everyone!

The writer is a member of the

National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

He tweets @RVankwani