TAXILA: Around 800 Indian Sikh pilgrims arrived at Gurdwara Punja Sahib on Wednesday to observe Baisakhi.

The pilgrims remained stranded in Gurdwara Dehra Sahib Lahore for two days after arrival through Wagha border, as violent protests erupted across the country. After getting security clearance, the pilgrims were escorted to Gurdwara Punja Sahib.

Baisakhi - celebrated to mark the beginning of a new harvest season - was celebrated under strict observance of Covid-19 standing operating procedures (SOPs); wearing a mask was mandatory for every pilgrim to enter the temple. The concluding ceremony Bhog was performed, attended by Sikh leaders and Pakistani officials. Later, the pilgrims performed Keerthan followed by Ardaas (dua) where the followers seek divine forgiveness for their sins. At the end, Prasad, a sweet dish, was distributed among participants.

Strict security measures were adopted by police and other law enforcement agencies to provide security to the visiting pilgrims. Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) President Sardar Satwant Singh, speaking on the occasion, said the tradition of celebrating the festival in the subcontinent was centuries old.

He said special prayers were performed by the Sikh community for the safety and prosperity of the country in the wake of the pandemic.

Harpal Singh Jalla - leader of the Indian contingent of pilgrims said Prime Minister Imran Khan once again won the hearts of the Sikh community by allowing them to participate in Baisakhi at Gurdwara Punja Sahib.

“This festival symbolises societal love, affection and happiness,” Darshan Singh – a pilgrim from Canada said. He said that Baisakhi was seen as a time for Sikhs to come together to commemorate and reflect on the significant historical event.

Shrines Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) Deputy Secretary Imran Gondal said that ETPB and SGPC made all the arrangements for travel, accommodation, food, security and medical assistance to Sikh yatrees to make their stay comfortable. He said he would visit different gurdwaras during their stay from April 12- 22, including a one-night stay at Kartarpur. On April 22, the pilgrims will depart for India via JCP Wagha.

Mr Gondal said that National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) specially relaxed Covid-19 restrictions for Sikh yatrees to send a message of Pakistan’s love and affection for their Sikh brethren across the world.

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2021

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