OKARA: Due to the rapidly rising number of Covid-19 cases, the district administration has for the first time withdrawn the permission granted to hold the 448th annual Urs of Sufi saint Syed Muhammad Ibrahim Kirmani, popularly known as Dawood Bandagi.

The shrine caretaker, Makhdoom Syed Hussain Abbas Kirmani, was informed of the government’s decision to ban public gatherings in the wake of the third wave of coronavirus, and the festival arrangements were wrapped up.

This seven-day event comprised various activities and celebrations that were a significant annual festivity in the area.

On the first three days of the Urs, devotees pack the vast area in and round the shrine and on the first day, especially, an estimated 100,000 devotees visit the site. The last two days are reserved for women.

This nearly five-century-old Urs features regional and traditional cultural events such as kabaddi, circus and horse dance. For one of the main rituals, the caretaker appearson the shrine balcony to greet all the devotees.

Another special event is a trained devotee holding an earthen water-filled pitcher over his head, completing a round of the shrine area. Both these rituals stirred up the devotees.

Besides these activities, the Urs sees a lot of economic activity in the shape of stalls of sweets, traditional fancy khussas, beautiful leather and

cotton leashes for cattle and jewellery set up by dozens of shopkeepers who only earned a livelihood on such occasions round the year.

Hundreds of thousands of devotees from all four provinces, especially a large contingent from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that included the influential Bilour family, travelled to the shrine each year.

The devotees from Sialkot and Jhang districts reached the shrine on the first day of the Urs on March 13 after walking barefoot, in the form of what they call a ‘Jamaat’, for weeks carrying black flags.

These processions are joined in by other smaller groups of devotees on the way, eventually swelling up the size of the rally.

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2021

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