DEVOTEES pray outside the sealed shrine of Sarfaraz Kalhoro Shaheed in Hyderabad on Thursday.—Dawn
DEVOTEES pray outside the sealed shrine of Sarfaraz Kalhoro Shaheed in Hyderabad on Thursday.—Dawn

HYDERABAD: Middle-aged Ms Nasira looked dejected as she had to return without performing once-in-a-year ritual commonly referred to as pallay or pallu bharaee at the shrine of Sarfaraz Kalhoro Shaheed.

She was among thousands of women coming from different parts of the province who were forced to turn back on Thursday after finding the shrine sealed on government’s orders under standard operating procedures (SOPs) for containing spread of coronavirus.

The devotees reached Hyder­abad early in the morning to be able to perform the pallu bharaee. The ritual is exclusively performed by women. Legend has it that a woman travelled from a remote area to this shrine located in the downtown area and had her prayer answered. Since then women visit the shrine on 20th of Safar in large numbers.

“The pallay bharaee takes place once a year. And only women perform it for women,” says Nasira, 50. She had arrived at Qasim Chowk along with other family members from Karachi. “Political gatherings and jalsas are allowed and nobody is talking about coronavirus in these events. But it looks as if this virus is present only in shrines,” she says.

It is among the many shrines sealed to avoid further spread of Covid-19 pandemic

Police had stopped all vehicles coming from Karachi or other areas at Qasim Chowk, forcing the devotees to take rickshaws and taxis to the shrine only to find it entirely sealed with barbed wires.

Mehnaz Jahan, another devotee, agrees with Nasira. “We, all 36 members of our family, have come from Korangi, Karachi. If the government had disseminated the information about closure of the shrine through television channels a few days in advance many like us would have been saved from the agony we have gone through today,” she says. “Law-enforcers are not allowing our vehicles to get close to the shrine. We are being snubbed. We have minors and young girls with us. Are we here for fun?” she says angrily.

Nearly 100,000 devotees converge on the shrine during the two days reserved for the ritual. Several families were even seen walking on foot towards the shrine after disembarking from vehicles.

In this ritual, women distribute different things like tomatoes, threads, sweets, coins and bangles. These things are distributed by women and collected again only by women and which thing they pick depends on nature of her wish or prayer which she wants answered.

If a woman wants a child she will pick a tomato and if she desires marriage of her choice she will take bangle. A coin is picked for job or success in business for a male family member. The coin will, however, not be spent by the woman who picks it. They will then distribute sweets among all who make vows or mannat.

The event of pallay bharaee or mannat coincides with chehlum of Hazrat Imam Hussain and his companions. As women kept coming to the shrine, police dispersed them.

“I myself was upset after coming to know about the government order to seal the shrine. We received Auqaf’s letter late as the department doesn’t have a chief administrator these days. Since urs celebrations of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai were suspended over Covid-19 fears this shrine was also closed for the same reason,” says Hyderabad Deputy Commissioner Fuad Ghaffar Soomro.

The historic city of Hyderabad has many cultural and historical sites. The shrine of Shaheed Sarfaraz Kalhoro, located in the middle of the city, is one of them. The shrine is exclusively visited by women this day without fail every year.

Sarfaraz Kalhoro was son of Ghulam Shah Kalhoro, who founded Hyderabad, built Pucca Qila and the shrine of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai. Kalhoro dynasty ruled Sindh between 1701-1783.

Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2020

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