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PHOTOS: Sikhs celebrate Baisakhi in Pakistan

Last updated on: April 13, 2012 18:28 IST

PHOTOS: Sikhs celebrate Baisakhi in Pakistan

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Tahir Ali in Islamabad

The three-day colorful Baisakhi festival popularly known as Vaisakhi Mela in Hassan Abdal, the historic town in northern Punjab, Pakistan peacefully concluded on Friday. Tahir Ali reports.

As many as 15,000 Sikh pilgrims from across the globe and different parts of Pakistan celebrated the 313th Baisakhi festival at Gurdawara Punja Sahib in Hassan Abdal.

Baisakhi is an ancient festival dating back to the 17th century, also marks the beginning of a new solar year and harvest season. It is one of the most significant holidays in the Sikh calendar, commemorating the establishment of the Khalsa at Anandpur Sahib in 1699 by the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh.

To mark the celebrations, devotees, irrespective of Sikh religion, throng at Gurdawara. The celebrations start when devotees with flowers and offerings in their hands, proceed towards the Gurdawaras and temples before dawn.

Every year, a large number of Sikh Yatrees (pilgrims) arrive in Hasan Abdal, which is located 60 kilometers in the west of Islamabad, and mark the festival with great zeal and zest.

According to Sikh historians, in 1521, the founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak arrived in Hasan Abdal; sat under the shade of a tree, and started singing Kitran as his devotees gathered around him.

At first, he got severe opposition from a local saint, Shah Wali Qandhari, but it was his charismatic personality that his rival also converted to Sikhism. The Panja Sahib Gurdawara is believed to be built on the spot where the Guru stayed .It also contains a sacred rock that has the handprint of Guru Nanak.

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Image: An inside view of the Punja Sahib
Photographs: Tahir Ali

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Sikhs believe the hand print was left when the rock was hurled at Guru and he held out his hand to stop it. Every pilgrim places his or her hand in the impression as a holy ritual.

In Punjabi Punja, means hand or paw, so the Gurdawara became popular as Punja Sahib. Talking to rediff.com Gurvinder Singh, a pilgrim, said, "The moment I touched the handprint, my heart filled with happiness."

"He added, the people of the town have been very warm towards us. Before coming here I was worried about the security situation, but I found a peaceful and secure environment here."

"This time, around 2,200 Sikh pilgrims came from India compared with last years 1,400 devotees to perform the rituals including Akhand Paat Sahib, Bhog, Ardas and Hukamnama," Tanveer Hussain,  deputy administrator, Evacuee Trust Property, told rediff.com.

He added that extra rooms for accommodation were constructed before this festival while the basic needs including food, medical facilities, travelling and decoration of Gurdawara has been arranged by the government.

The overall security situation in Pakistan, especially at the worship places of minorities is not satisfactory, but at Hasan Abdal security measures were taken to allow the yatrees to perform the ritual in a peaceful way.

"We have deployed more than 1,500 security officials, including women police and members of the special elite force," said Deputy Inspector General (DSP) Chaudhary Aslam.

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Image: Devotees taking 'Asnan'
Photographs: Tahir Ali

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"Our officials worked round the clock and all the roads leading towards the Gurdawara were patrolled. Jammers, metallic detectors and close circuit cameras were also installed to monitor the moments and activities," he added.

"It is very hard for the people from abroad to visit Punja Sahib. In that context I am extremely lucky, as I visit every year," said Kaur, 25, a resident of Buner, a district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The pilgrims 'Ashnan' (bath) in a stream with a belief that it could washes away all of their sins. "Lucky are those who find an opportunity for Ashnan in theis stream,"  says young Mahindra Singh who crossed the Wagah border to participate in the Baisakhi.

Pakistan is always in the news when it comes to the issues related to minorities. Recently, dozens of houses were torched while more than 10 Christians were killed in Gojra town of Punjab over the alleged issue of burning of Koran.

In 2011, Federal Minister for Minority affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, was reportedly killed by the Taliban in broad daylight in Islamabad. The abduction and forcible conversion of Hindu girls in rural Sindh has become a routine activity.

Although the Sikh community enjoys religious freedom compared with other minorities, there were some reports of the Taliban torturing the Sikhs, especially in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

The militants in Swat, before the military operation in 2009, had made the lives of Sikh miserab#8804 resultantly the Sikhs took refuge at Gurdawara Punja Sahib, Hassan Abdal but they returned to their homes when the Taliban were flushed out of the area.

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Image: Devotees at the Punja Sahib
Photographs: Tahir Ali

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"Thank God, now the situation is controlled and we have returned to our homes; I am running my own business again," Gurjit Singh, 42, a resident of Pir Baba Swat said.

Apart from Swat, Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud in 2010 imposed jizya (tax collected from non-Muslims in Islamic state) over the 40-Sikh families living in Orakzai Agency.

This act compelled the Sikh community members to shift to the other parts of the country. During the same year, three Sikhs were kidnapped from Khyber Agency near Peshawar for ransom. One of them was killed, while the other two were later recovered by Pakistani security forces. The incident sent shocking waves amongst the Sikh community living in the region.

After visiting Punja Sahib, the pilgrims will visit Nankana Sahib and will leave for their respective homes on April 19, 2012 after completing their 10-day journey.


Image: Pilgrims buying religious paraphernalia
Photographs: Tahir Ali

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