DADU, Aug 31: The three-day official Urs of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, the most revered Sufi saint of Pakistan whose devotees are also found in India, Iran and Afghanistan, begins on the 18th day of Shaban, the eighth month of Islamic lunar calendar, but thousands of people start arriving in Sehwan days rather weeks before the colourful event.

Before and during the celebrations, about two-third of Sehwan’s poor people move to their relatives, renting out houses to families and groups from Punjab at exorbitant rates.

When the drum beat invites the pilgrims to watch the first dhamal and participate in it, hundreds of thousands of people throng the small town, its narrow streets and spacious surroundings. Singing and dancing in ecstasy and raising slogans of Sakhi Lal Qalandar Must, they swarm around the shrine day and night.

In the colourful crowd, Sunnis rub shoulders with Shias and Muslims eat and drink with Hindus, using same plates and glasses. The Sufi culture of the Subcontinent, which breaks the barriers of cast, colour and creed, is witnessed in its most magnificent and harmonious way during the celebrations.

On the eve of the Urs on Friday when this correspondent arrived at Lal Bagh, a garden where the ecstatic holy man is believed to have stayed and which is located at the distance of one and half kilometre from the shrine, hundreds of tents were found housing mystics, devotees and others immersed in merry making.

After the third dhamal which marks the conclusion of the annual event, caravans of pilgrims will launch a difficult and hazardous week-long journey on foot to the shrine of Shah Bilawal Noorani through the Kheerthar mountains.

Amid a massive traffic jam at Jahaz Chowk and witnessing police taking bribe from the occupants of banned big vehicles, hordes of pilgrims were seen moving to the shrine through garishly decorated makeshift shops and stalls offering beads, necklaces, gemstone-embedded rings, tea, sweets and what not. As the shrine approached, the movement took snail pace as the people had to follow processions of people taking long velvet Chadors inscribed with Quranic verses to the tomb.

It was too difficult yet amusing to move around the shrine. At its golden gate, men, women and children were dancing while at a close distance, a group was performing mourning. While the faces of most of the people were glowing with joy, some had tears in their eyes and prayers on their trembling lips and shaking hands.

Pathan’s Kafi was teeming with people seeking langar (food). At the shrine of Bodla Sikandar, a group of Malangs clad in red flowing robes, was performing dhamal, a frenzied dance made in a trance-like condition.

From the hill overlooking the shrine, the entire town could be seen with its dazzling lights and baffling noise. Piercing through different voices, comes the soul stirring sound of a horn. Qalandar is calling.

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