A pilgrim recites the Granth Sahib at Gurdwara Punja Sahib in Hassanabdal on Tuesday. — Dawn
A pilgrim recites the Granth Sahib at Gurdwara Punja Sahib in Hassanabdal on Tuesday. — Dawn

TAXILA: A total of 482 pilgrims have arrived at Gurdwara Punja Sahib from India on Tuesday for a three-day pilgrimage to mark the 180th death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh (Nov 13 1780 – June 20 1839) was a 19th century ruler of Punjab and the first maharaja of the Sikh Empire. He belonged to a Sikh claim from northern India and was born in Gujranwala, in what is now Pakistan, into a Jatt Sikh family.

The pilgrims were welcomed by officials from the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and the local administration.

Speaking to the press, the leader of the Indian pilgrims Sardar Gurumeet Singh said that Indian Sikhs were thankful to the Pakistani government for providing them the maximum number of visas.

“Pakistan is sacred for us and we love it, and we come here with a message of peace and brotherhood,” he said.

Sardar Roop Singh from the Shriomani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee in India said: “There should be cordial relations between India and Pakistan so that we have ease in getting visas to visit our holy sites here in Pakistan.”

He said Sikh pilgrims consider Pakistan a second homeland, as some of their holiest sites are located here. He said the Pakistani government has always been welcoming and has taken good care of Sikh holy sites, which was why the country and its people are so dear to Sikhs. He also praised the arrangements made by the ETPB.

A number of other pilgrims also told the press they felt overwhelmed by the respect, hospitality and love shown to them by the people of Pakistan and the authorities.

Sardar Vinindar Singh, from Amritsar, said Pakistan is very important to Sikhs because this is where Guru Nanak Dev was born and died.

Sardar Ballinder Singh thanked the government for making good arrangements for them, and for providing them with security and keeping their sacred sites in good condition. He said the people of Pakistan and especially of Lahore are loving and caring.

ETPB Deputy Secretary Shrines Imran Gondal told the press that pilgrims have been provided all the necessary facilities, including foolproof security.

“As per the 1974 bilateral protocol between Islamabad and New Delhi, the Pakistani High Commissioner in India has issued visas between June 21 and June 30,” he said.

The issuance of pilgrimage visas is in line with the government’s efforts to promote visits to religious sites and people-to-people contact, he said, adding that it also reflects the government’s commitment to implementing the bilateral Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines.

After offering their rituals, the pilgrims will proceed to Gurdwara Janum Asthan in Nankana Sahib on July 3 and will return to India on July 6.

Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2019