LAHORE: The Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC) and Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) will welcome about 4,000 Indian Sikh pilgrims arriving today (Friday) for the Besakhi Festival, ETPB officials told Daily Times on Thursday.
ETPB Deputy Administrator (Shrines) Faraz Abbas told Daily Times that the Indian Sikh pilgrims were expected to celebrate the festival in the country. He said the three-day festival would start on April 12 (tomorrow). He said the pilgrims would arrive at the Indo-Pak border at Wagha, have lunch, and then leave on the same trains for Gurdwara Panja Sahib at Hassan Abdal where they would stay at the gurdwara and various schools. He said the ETPB had made all arrangements for this purpose.
PSGPC President Sardar Bishan Singh said he would give the pilgrims gifts and the Guru ka langar (guru’s charity meal). He said that about 12,000 pilgrims from across the world were expected to attend the festival. These include about 100 pilgrims from Afghanistan, 100 from the UAE, 80 from Iran, 2,000 from Europe, and 6,000 from across the country.
Singh said the Indian pilgrims would visit various sacred places during their stay in the country, including Gurdwara Nankana Sahib Gurdwara Sacha Sauda, Kartarpur Sahib, Rohri Sahib and Gurdwara Punja Sahib. He said they would stay at Hassan Abdal until the conclusion of the festival on April 14. The pilgrims will leave in special caravans organised by the ETPB and the PSGPC, Singh said, adding that they would stay for two days at Nankana Sahib after which they would visit Gurdwara Sucha Sauda. He said that the pilgrims would visit Lahore from April 17 to April 20, staying at Gurdwara Dera Sahib and visiting several gurdwaras of the city. They will return to India on April 20 through the Wagha border.
The caretaker of Gurdwara Dera Sahib said only Indian Sikh pilgrims would stay at the gurdwara and that pilgrims from other countries would stay at hotels. He said Dera Sahib can accommodate 2,500 pilgrims only. The other pilgrims would stay at the Trust Model School, Lakshmi Singh Fort, Agarwal Ashram, Ayesha Degree College and Nawaz Sharif High School.
The Besakhi festival is celebrated to renew the pledge to exercise harmony and brotherhood, as is enshrined in Sikhism through the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib, the last guru of the Sikh faith. To celebrate the festival, the Sikhs visit Gurdwara Panja Sahib at Hassan Abdal, where the 10th guru, Guru Govind Singh, settled around 300 years ago to preach Sikhism.
Guru Govind Singh was the last human guru of a series starting from Baba Guru Nanak Sahib, the founder of Sikhism. Guru Govind Singh (1666-1708) instituted certain practices that became fundamental to the Sikhs. These include wearing a turban, carrying a dagger, and never cutting the hair or beard. He created the armed fraternity called the khalsa (pure). Besakhi marks the constitution of the Khalsa Panth, the armed fraternity, in 1699.
The Khalsa Panth was meant to protect the sanctity of Sikhism and to fight social evils. In their trust, the guru undertook days-long meditation and prepared an amrat (elixir). Those who were going to be part of the revered Khalsa Panth were given the amrat to drink. The drink represented an oath to struggle against atrocities and social evils. Guru Govind Singh was succeeded by the eleventh and the last guru, Guru Granth Sahib, a guru in the form of a scripture that carries the crux of the teachings of his religion.
Guru Govind Singh was born in Patna, India, and later migrated to Hassan Abdal where he continued advocating Sikhism. Sikhs believe that during his stay at Hassan Abdal, Guru Govind saved his followers from a large stone that was hurled from atop a hill. Legend has it that the guru stopped the stone with one hand and as soon as it touched his hand, it miraculously turned into a loaf of wax. It still bears the imprint of the guru’s hand. The wax loaf is kept at Gurdwara Panja Sahib. Sikhs from all over the world visit the gurdwara to put a hand on the guru’s hand imprint in the belief that its touch would mitigate their miseries, sufferings and hardships. Water oozing out continuously from under the stone is also seen as a miracle of Guru Govind Singh.