The sun has just disappeared behind the mountains. Beneath the long hanging branches of the old banyan tree, a devotee is sweeping leaves to clean the floor for worshippers who are expected to arrive in a while.
Hundreds of birds above are chirping before settling down for the night. The fenced lawns outside are full, with noisy children running around and playing, the adolescent sauntering on the paved walkways, and their mothers gossiping.
These late evening visitors are usually from the nearby mohallahs who come here to escape power outages — and take refuge in the Gor Khutree Complex.
Gorak Nath Temple, at the Gor Khutree Archaeological Complex Peshawar, was built during the Sikh period around 1834 to 1849. Their Italian General, Paolo Avitabile, used the Complex as his residence. The temple is now open for Hindu worshippers who regularly visit the site to pray to their gods.
Six decades back, he was born in a humble little house adjacent to the temple. Many generations of his ancestors have served this temple before. His father died when he was seven. They were expelled from their ancestral house; his mother had fought back through courts. She won the temple back, in the year 2011, but their home at the compound is lost, almost forever, and she parted with life on the first day of last May.
According to Kaka Ram, more than 2000 people attended her funeral, the majority of who were Muslims. He recalls his childhood times, when the huge well under the banyan tree used to be frequented by parents with ailing children, both Hindu and Muslim,to receive ashnans, a sacrament that is believed to cleanse and protect its receivers from evil spells. His dealings and relationships with Muslim friends and neighbours are not tainted with biases or discriminations. They all celebrate Holis and Eids together and there is no purdah among their families, something reserved only for very close relatives in a traditional Peshawari society.
The Muslim guests have finished their prayers and are now waiting near the well for the ceremony to begin. Pundit Gokal has arrived from another temple to lead the prayers, and the number of worshippers is gradually increasing. The pundit is preparing a huge platter of fresh fruits at Mata’s mandir while the attendees are gathering in the arched aisle in the front. Following a few rituals, the congregation, with equal number of women, and quite a few children, started chanting the parshad.
The sky has turned deep blue and the banyan tree looks more imposing against it. The birds have gone almost silent. The visitors outside, in the lawns, are gradually thinning out and the peace of the night is gradually engulfing the compound, and the streets around it.
Originally published by The News on Sunday, 17 June 2012