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Sikhs throng Pakistan shrine for Baisakhi

By Muhammad Najeeb, IANS

Hasanabdal (Pakistan) : More than 20,000 Sikh pilgrims from all over the world, including India, have started arriving at Panja Sahib in Hasanabdal, some 60 km from Islamabad, to celebrate the annual Baisakhi Mela (spring festival).

Panja Sahib attracts thousands of Sikh devotees from all over the world every year on April 13. On this day in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh gave new guidelines and a new identity to the Sikh religion at Anandpur during the Baisakhi Mela.

The huge complex in Hasanabdal houses the imprint of the hand believed to be that of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion. This makes Panja Sahib one of the three holiest shrines of Sikh religion – the other two being the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India and Nankana Sahib in Sheikhupura, near Lahore in Pakistan.

The Punjabi word panja is derived from panj meaning five and refers to the five fingers of the hand or the hand itself. Sikhs use the word Sahib for the names of sacred persons, places or books.

According to Kabeer Singh, a member of the caretaker committee at the Panja Sahib, more than 20,000 Sikhs are expected to gather to take part in the annual rituals, which includes bathing in the small stream flowing from behind the huge mould that carries an imprint believed to be of Guru Nanak’s hand.

A deep imprint of a right hand is clearly visible on the rock underneath the thin sheet of water flowing over it. Next to the pool, on an elevated platform, stands a beautiful small gurdwara built in the Mughal style by Maharaja Ranjeet Singh towards end of the 18th century.

The gurdwara houses the Granth Sahib – the holy book of Sikhs. A large double-storeyed hostel for the pilgrims surrounds the courtyard, the pool and the gurdwara.

“More than 2,000 Sikhs have already arrived from India and more are expected by Sunday morning,” Kabeer Singh told IANS.

Most of the Sikh pilgrims will go from here to Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak to pay homage.

Kabeer Singh said that besides Indian, a large number of Sikhs have come to Pakistan from Canada, the US, Britain, several European countries and from elsewhere in the world.

The Panja Sahib complex can house about 4,000 pilgrims while others stay at nearby hotels in this small town that is known for the gurdwara and a military cadet college built in the middle of the 20th century.