HYDERABAD: The 272nd urs celebrations of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, Sindh's most popular sufi saint, commenced formally Friday morning in the town of Bhit Shah in Sindh's Matiari district.
Informally, celebrations began after dusk on Thursday, in line with the religious tradition. The urs begins on the 14th day of the Islamic month, Safar. The urs will conclude on Sunday morning.
Officially, two separate opening ceremonies were held, with one attended by adviser to Sindh chief minister for Auqaf, Dr Qayyum Soomro, and the other by CM’s adviser on culture, Sharmila Farooqui. Both arrived at the shrine separately.
On Thursday evening, Waqar Hussain Shah, the 12th Sajjada Nashin of the shrine, visited the outer premises of the shrine along with his brothers (Mustafa Shah, Khaar Shah and Zulfikar Shah) and laid a floral wreath.
“A Sajjada Nashin never enters the shrine in line with tradition set by Shah Jamal Shah. This is a tradition that we have inherited from our forefathers as Shah Jamal Shah believed that he does not deserve to enter the ‘roza’ (shrine) of his murshid out of respect. Hence, the tradition continues to date”, explains Raza Shah, Waqar's uncle. Shah Jamal Shah was the first Sajjada Nashin of Bhitai's shrine.
Read: Waqar Hussain becomes 12th Sajjada Nashin of Shah Bhitai shrine.
The urs of a spiritual personality is a mega event in Pakistan, where a large number of Muslims follow sufi traditions.
Although the urs ceremony marks the death anniversary of a spiritual leader, it is considered to be a meeting between the saint and Allah, and is celebrated with jubilation
Festivities will continue for three days with food stalls and open-air markets set up, where retailers sell traditional Sindhi wares.
On the sidelines of urs celebrations, the Sindh government’s culture department is holding a literary conference on Saturday, where scholars will present papers on the life, poetry and the message of Bhitai.
Besides, Bhitai's devotees, singers and artists will gather around and sing passages from Shah jo Risalo – a collection of the mystic's poetry – in the shrine’s courtyard.
Shops have been adorned with colourful buntings leading to the shrine, with shopkeepers selling traditional items, books, portraits, etc.
Karar lake in Bhit Shah has its own importance for Bhitai’s followers. It is said Bhitai used water from it for ablution and drinking. In recent years, the lake has been rehabilitated at a cost of Rs 12.7 million.
Men, women, kids and the elderly inhabit the courtyard of the shrine during the urs, leaving behind the comfort of their homes. They cook their own food or opt for hotel accommodation.
Visitors adorn sufi dresses such as yellow kurtas and black turbans.
On the concluding day, the Sajjada Nashin adorns Shah Abul Latif Bhitai's dress, wearing his cap, carrying rosary, and wearing an "alfi" (a sleeve-less long kurta ) and puts on a "godri" on the shoulder. His prayer marks the end of the urs.
Before the Auqaf department took control of the shrine in 1960, when Shah Dino Shah was the Sajjada Nashin, descendants of Bhitai used to take care of it.
Shah Jamal Shah, son of the elder brother of Bhitai, was the first Sajjada Nashin when the sufi saint departed.
The shrine witnesses a turnout of close to 500,000 devotees including foreigners during the three days.