KARACHI: The beige carpet with red design led one to the special Sikh Yatri Train headed to Nankana Sahib for Nagar Kirtan, a three-day pilgrimage on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, from the City Railway Station here on Thursday morning.
Among the blue turbaned members of the Sikh community loading their luggage on the train one could also spot several people with their heads covered with handkerchiefs or bandanas, who didn’t seem to look like they belonged to the Sikh community. “That’s because we belong to the Hindu community,” one of them said with a smile. “Most Hindus from Sindh also follow Guru Nanak,” Vinesh Kumar, who said that he hailed from Thana Bula Khan, added.
The train carrying some 800 pilgrims, including several Hindus, was really worth seeing from inside with its new green velvet covered seats and berths. The fresh smell inside reminded one of the smell of a brand new car. And the happy faces of the passengers preparing for the journey added to the ambiance.
‘We have opened our borders for the Sikh pilgrims coming here from all over the world’
Patron in chief of the Pakistan Sikh Council Sardar Ramesh Singh Khalsa said that Baba Guru Nanak’s birthday was a happy and joyful occasion for their community, one which they look forward to all year.
“I am grateful to Prime Minister Imran Khan, Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Noorul Haq Qadri, the Pakistan Railways and, of course, Federal Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and Railways Karachi Divisional Superintendent Syed Mazhar Ali Shah for their help in making the pilgrimage possible and for providing them security,” he said.
When asked about the blue turbans which all the Sikh men had donned, Mr Singh explained that although they liked to wear different colour turbans throughout the year, dark or peacock blue turbans and orange colour carried a religious significance.
Soon a small procession of granthis, or ceremonial readers of the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, walked in wearing their blue turbans and carrying decorated golden swords as they held the book high over their heads. Behind them were men carrying red triangular flags as everyone made way for them to pass through and go inside the special air-conditioned carriage covered with panaflex which had pictures of the Sikh places of worship. “There will be scripture readings and singing of hymns throughout the three days of travel in the carriage and any of the passengers can come and join there,” the head of the Pakistan Sikh Council said.
Meanwhile, many people had come to the station to see off the religious procession.
Jeep rally driver Tushna Patel, who hails from the Parsi community, said she was glad to see so much government support for a minority group. “It feels nice to know that the government has started realising our importance because at the end of the day we are all Pakistanis,” she said, who also thanked PPP senator Anwar Lal Dean for his support.
While congratulating the Sikh community on the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, founder of the Interfaith Commission for Peace and Harmony Allama Ahsan Siddiqui said that it was great to see religious freedom in Pakistan. “You don’t get to see the same kind of religious freedom in neighbouring India where Muslims and Christians lead a fearful and subdued existence,” he said.
Sindh Governor Imran Ismail also arrived a few minutes before the train’s departure to see off the pilgrims. “We have opened our borders for the Sikh pilgrims coming here from all over the world. We welcome them and are glad to facilitate them in performing their religious obligations. Our government has opened its heart for them as we Muslims believe in equal treatment for people of all faiths,” he said.
“Our neighbour India that has a predominant Hindu and Sikh population should learn how to treat people of different faiths from Pakistan. It is now 60 days of lockdown in India-occupied Kashmir as the misery of the people there is ongoing,” he said.
Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2019