Srinagar, India, March 6, 2008—
Hindus offer prayers at a Shri Soomyar Temple during Maha Shivaratri, or "Night of Shiva," an annual festival dedicated to one of Hinduism's principle deities.
The festival marks the first time the Kashmir valley temple has opened since the 1989 onset of a Muslim insurgency that forced the flight of many of the area's traditional Hindus, known as Kashmiri Pandits.
We have no words to express our happiness," Sanjay Tickoo, president of a local Pandit organization, told the Indian newspaper the Statesman.
"This temple is of great importance as it houses the idols of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, he said, referring to the Hindu god and his wife.
Tickoo said he hopes all the closed temples in India's northernmost state can reopen now that the threat from militants has diminished.
Multiple Islamic militant groups have fought for the region's merger with Pakistan. The violence killed more than 66,000 people, mostly civilians, in the last 18 years, according to the Associated Press.
This week's Maha Shivaratri festival was reportedly celebrated by local Muslims, too.
"It reminds me of those good old days when we could hardly differentiate between a Hindu and a Muslim here in our village," said a 70-year-old at a nearby temple, according to merinews.com, an Indian Web site for citizen journalists.
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Photograph by Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images