Over 20,000 Sikh pilgrims attend Baisakhi Mela in Pakistan

By Muhammad Najeeb, IANS,

Hasanabdal (Pakistan) : More than 20,000 pilgrims from all over the world, including 3,000 from India, participated in the annual Baisakhi Mela (spring festival) in Panja Sahib Sikh shrine here, some 60 km from Islamabad.

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The pilgrims prayed for world peace after they recited verses from Sikh holy book Guru Granth Sahib.

Ahsan Iqbal, minister in-charge for minority affairs, who was the chief guest on the occasion, promised “more facilities” to Sikh community in Pakistan.

He said the new government would make every effort to protect Sikh shrines in Pakistan.

The participants after the concluding ceremony, also called ‘bhog’, distributed traditional sweets to mark the end of the three-day religious festival.

“We are happy that all those who applied for visas were allowed to attend the mela,” chief of the Sikh delegation from India Balbir Singh told IANS.

He said the government here had made excellent arrangements for the annual festival.

However, some of the pilgrims complained about poor arrangements at the gurudwara saying most of them had to sleep in the open or in verandas.

The Panja Sahib Gurudwara has about 350 rooms of different sizes while the government had also arranged for the pilgrims’ stay in nearby schools after declaring a holiday.

Some of the pilgrims from Western countries were also staying at hotels and as paying guests in houses near the shrine.

“There are more people than this place can hold. The administration of this gurudwara should make proper arrangements for the pilgrims,” said Amirjit Singh from Chandigarh.

Though impressed by the hospitality of the people here, he said: “I think the government needs to do more for the comfort of pilgrims”.

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.

While the elderly were busy praying in and around the room where the Granth Sahib is placed, young boys were taking dips in a stream flowing from beneath the huge boulder, which carries the handprint of Guru Nanak.

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 gurudwara built in the Mughal style by Maharaja Ranjeet Singh towards the end of the 18th century.

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