TAXILA: Sikhs from across the country and abroad poured into Gurdwara Punja Sahib in Hassanabdal, the third holiest site in the Sikh religion, to mark Shaheedi Jor Mela, the 412th death anniversary of the fifth of 11 Sikh gurus, Guru Arjan Dev Ji, on Saturday.
The gurdwara is over a hundred years old, and welcomes hundreds and thousands of worshippers from around the world on religious occasions.
Attendees, Sikh or not, are asked to cover their heads before entering the gurdwara, and no one is asked for their religion, caste or creed when entering. Sikhs prostrate to their Guru as soon as they enter, while a priest, known as a granthi, recites from the scripture.
Saturday’s festival begins after dusk ends, with a musical ritual known as Kirtan - a form of devotional singing - that is led by two people on a specially designed stage with a harmonium and tablas while surrounding worshippers chime in as they listen.
“Our pilgrimage to Pakistan is above political, diplomatic and military issues, and Sikhs living on the other side of the border consider it the land of the Guru,” said Sardar Jang Singh, who is leading the contingent of 84 Indian pilgrims, while speaking to the press at Punja Sahib.
He said the Sikh community considers Pakistan to be their second homeland, as some of the holiest sites of the religion are situated here.
He added that both Punjabi cultures, taboos, language, dress and living styles are the same, and they have lived in the same environment for decades, which was why both Punjabs are considered brothers that parted 71 years ago but have the same soil.
The 84 pilgrims arrived earlier the same day abroad a special train to Hassanabdal. They were received by Deputy Commissioner Anwarul Haq and Assistant Commissioner Jannat Hussain Nekokara, and were escorted to the gurdwara in a security cordon.
Hundreds of Sikhs and Hindus from across the country, particularly from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and interior Sindh, are also participating in the religious festival.
Speaking to the press, Evacuee Trust Property Board Deputy Secretary Shrines Imran Gondal said the government has made elaborate arrangements to ensure the utmost facilities are provided to the pilgrims so they can perfrom their rituals.
He said the Sikh yatrees will be provided foolproof security during their stay in Pakistan. They will be provided free buses between railway stations to gurdwaras, and 48 CCTV cameras have been installed inside Gurdwara Punja Sahib, he said.
Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2018