Gurdwara Punja Sahib in Hassanabdal has been illuminated to welcome the Nagar Kirtan from India on Sunday. — Dawn
Gurdwara Punja Sahib in Hassanabdal has been illuminated to welcome the Nagar Kirtan from India on Sunday. — Dawn

TAXILA: More than a thousand Indian Sikhs arrived in Gurdwara Punja Sahib in Hassanabdal around midnight on Sunday as part of the Nagar Kirtan, a religious procession held to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism.

The gurdwara was decorated with colourful lights and pilgrims performed various rituals including Matha Taki, Ashnan and exchanging gifts.

Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) Deputy Secretary Shrines Imran Gondal said that more than 1,100 Sikhs crossed the border through Wagah on Oct 31 via Ludhiana and Amritsar. He said they visited Gurdwara Janamasthan, Nankana Sahib, Gurdwara Sacha Sodda Farooqabad and other temples, and the pilgrimage will conclude at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, where a gold palanquin ‘Palki Sahib’ will be installed.

“Around 1,300 visas issued for the Nagar Kirtan are over and above the contingent covered under the Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines 1974 between Pakistan and India,” he said.

“Sikh pilgrims from India visit Pakistan for religious festivals at least four times a year under the framework of the 1974 India-Pakistan protocol on visits to religious shrines but denial to visit Pakistan to participate in religious rituals despite having valid visas is not understood,” he added.

Mr Gondal said the board, in collaboration with the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbhand Committee and the district administration, has made security and accommodation arrangements for Indian and local Sikh yatrees.

Speaking to the press, a number of pilgrims hailed the government’s initiative to open the Kartarpur Corridor to facilitate the Sikh community, and lauded Prime Minister Imran Khan for laying the foundation stone for the Baba Guru Nanak University in Nankana Sahib and issuing a commemorative coin on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.

Mr Sarna, former president of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee, praised the opening of the corridor, saying that it was a longstanding desire of the Sikh community to be able to visit one of their holiest sites in Pakistan visa-free. He also thanked the government for constructing a new building at Gurdwara Dera Sahib in Lahore.

He said Indian Sikhs were grateful to the government for issuing them the maximum number of visas, adding: “Pakistan is sacred to us and we love it, and we come here with a message of peace and brotherhood.”

Pakistan Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee President Satwant Singh said the teachings of Baba Guru Nanak revolve around peace and humanity.

He said the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor was a great gift to the Sikh community, and that Pakistan is a pure land for Sikhs and a second home for the Sikh community around the world.

Attock District Police Officer Shahzad Nadeem Bukhari reviewed security arrangements for the protection of the Sikh pilgrims. He told the media that multilayered security plans have been made to ensure that visiting pilgrims are safe.

“The district police will provide foolproof security to Sikh yatrees,” he said, adding: “Around 700 policemen will perform security duties, including four district superintendents, six inspectors, 11 sub-inspectors, 23 assistant sub-inspectors, 33 head constables, 506 constables, 40 women constables and plainclothes officers.”

Published in Dawn, November 4th, 2019