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Mela Chiraghan — Where the light is stronger than the darkness in Lahore

Updated Apr 04, 2016 01:19pm

Enter the third day of the Mela Chiraghan (Festival of Lights) in Lahore and I decided to pay a visit.

My visit came barely a day after the Lahore park massacre. I needed to block out the images and footage of the blast victims out of my mind.

Dias at the Mela Chiraghan in Lahore.
Dias at the Mela Chiraghan in Lahore.

The festival marked the 428th annual anniversary (Urs) of great Sufi saint Shah Hussain, popularly known as Madhu Lal Hussain, who lived in Lahore in the 16th century.

The police had sealed off all the roads leading to the shrine. There was only one designated spot where doors and metal detectors were installed. It was oddly heartening to see beefed-up security — I was body checked three times.

When I entered the festival, the lack of fear among the crowd was palpable. Children were running around without a care, people from all across the country had come to pay tribute.

There was a visible lack of fear in these residents of Lahore.
There was a visible lack of fear in these residents of Lahore.
People from all ages participate in this annual gathering.
People from all ages participate in this annual gathering.

The festival also featured a large bonfire at the shrine of Hussain, in which people threw in candles, oils and lit up cotton lamps with the hope that it would fulfill their wishes. The fire was lit for the entire duration of the Urs.

The fire is lit for the entire duration of the Urs.
The fire is lit for the entire duration of the Urs.
Devotees buying dias.
Devotees buying dias.

For children, a number of swings and merry-go-rounds offered recreation.

Children enjoying a ride.
Children enjoying a ride.
Snacks are sold just outside the shrine.
Snacks are sold just outside the shrine.

It occurred to me the relevance of what Gautama Buddha had once said,

"Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts."

I stuck around there for a while, trying to understand the mystical behaviour of people.

A man blows a herald at the shrine of Hazrat Madhu Lal Hassan.
A man blows a herald at the shrine of Hazrat Madhu Lal Hassan.

Stopping a few in their tracks, I asked them why they had come after what happened yesterday? This is a crowded place and therefore an attractive target for a terrorist attack, I pointed out.

Their response,

"We have no fear of these cowards because our belief is strong. We have come here for our saint. Our wishes are fulfilled here which is why we light candles, oil lamps, burn incenses and recite Surah Fateha for him."

A devotee, who had arrived barefoot, said he felt a spiritual connection with Shah Hussain's teachings. "I have been participating in these Urs celebrations for many years. I feel cleansed when I visit the shrine."

An old woman is pouring oil from a lamp which is considered a blessing.
An old woman is pouring oil from a lamp which is considered a blessing.

Seeing an old lady lighting an oil lamp, I walked up to her and posed the same question. A bit apprehensive of my camera, she nonetheless uttered with a smile:

"Jako rakhe saiyan maar sake na koi"

The one who has God on his side, nobody can hurt that one

As I took a picture of her and turned to walk away, her words brought me a comfort that replaced the fear I had felt only a day ago.

A woman sitting on the steps of the shrine of Sufi saint Madhu Lal Hussain.
A woman sitting on the steps of the shrine of Sufi saint Madhu Lal Hussain.