Sikh pilgrims visit Pakistan to celebrate Baisakhi festival

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Sikh pilgrims take part in Baisakhi festival along with their families at Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal, a city located near Islamabad. (AN photo by Aamir Shah)
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Sikh pilgrims take part in Baisakhi festival along with their families at Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal, a city located near Islamabad. (AN photo by Aamir Shah)
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Sikh pilgrims take part in Baisakhi festival along with their families at Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal, a city located near Islamabad. (AN photo by Aamir Shah)
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Sikh pilgrims take part in Baisakhi festival along with their families at Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal, a city located near Islamabad. (AN photo by Aamir Shah)
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Sikh pilgrims take part in Baisakhi festival along with their families at Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal, a city located near Islamabad. (AN photo by Aamir Shah)
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Sikh pilgrims take part in Baisakhi festival along with their families at Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal, a city located near Islamabad. (AN photo by Aamir Shah)
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Sikh pilgrims take part in Baisakhi festival along with their families at Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal, a city located near Islamabad. (AN photo by Aamir Shah)
Updated 16 April 2018
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Sikh pilgrims visit Pakistan to celebrate Baisakhi festival

  • Thousands of Sikh pilgrims from India and other parts of the world visit Pakistan to celebrate the festival
  • Pilgrims say they pray for peace and hope to see Pakistan and India as good neighbors

ISLAMABAD: Sikh pilgrims from India and other parts of the world have been visiting Pakistan to participate in the annual Baisakhi festival at Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal, a city located some 45 kilometers northwest of Islamabad.

Some 3,000 Sikhs have come from India through Wagah border on special trains, while 1,000 pilgrims arrived from other parts of the world — including Canada — to visit the famous shrine where their founder, Guru Nanak, is believed to have imprinted his handprint on a boulder there.

“We are very happy to come here and see a peaceful Pakistan,” Ajit Singh, one of the pilgrims, told Arab News.

Ajit Singh is in Hasan Abdal for the first time, to celebrate the Baisakhi festival here. He is planning to visit other sacred places as well as other parts of Pakistan during his visit.

“We pray for peace in our region,” he said. “We hope both Pakistan and India will forget their enmity and work together for betterment and prosperity of their people.”

But the arrival of Sikh pilgrims to Pakistan has triggered a controversy between the two South Asian countries. 

India’s External Affairs Ministry claimed that the administration in Islamabad had “prevented” its High Commissioner from meeting the visiting Sikh pilgrims.

In response, Pakistan’s Foreign Office released a statement saying that India’s High Commissioner was invited to the main function of Baisakhi and Khalsa Janamdin at the Gurdwara Panja Sahib, but there was “strong resentment among segments of Sikh Yatrees, gathered there from different parts of the world, protesting the release in India of some film on Baba Guru Nanak Devji” which they objected to.

Given the “emotionally charged environment and the possibility of any untoward situation”, said the statement by the foreign office, the relevant Pakistani authorities contacted the Indian High Commission officials and suggested the cancelation of the diplomat’s visit.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Inter-faith Harmony, along with other relevant government departments, has made facilities available to pilgrims at the site including accommodation, food, medical doctors and currency exchange.

Tanuj Singh, another pilgrim, has visited Pakistan several times with his family members to celebrate the Baisakhi festival.

“We come here every year and are thankful to the government and people of Pakistan for well maintaining all our religious sites and gurdwaras (Sikhs places of worship),” he told Arab News.

Tanuj Singh urged the governments of Pakistan and India to normalize their relations through dialogue and join hands together for peace in the region. “Every religion of the world teaches peace and harmony, so we should all act upon those teachings to make this world a peaceful place to live in,” he said.

During their ten-day stay in Pakistan, the Sikh pilgrims will also visit a number of other sacred places as well in other parts of the country, including Nankana Sahib and Kartarpur cities.

The arrival of Sikh pilgrims from India and other parts of the world marked a significant development in religious tourism in Pakistan, said Sajjad Qamar, spokesperson for the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Inter-faith Harmony.

“The participation of Sikh pilgrims in the festival in large numbers shows their confidence and faith in renewed peace in Pakistan,” he said, adding that the government had been trying its best to provide maximum facilities to the pilgrims during their stay.

Qamar told Arab News that his ministry, along with provincial governments, had been reaching out to countries like China, Vietnam and South Korea among others to increase religious tourism in Pakistan.

“Pakistan is home to holy places of almost all religions, including Sikhism and Buddhism,” he said. “We hope to see a manifold increase in religious tourism in the coming months and years.”

Tight security measures were implemented in and around Gurdwara Panja Sahib where the Sikh pilgrims gathered to celebrate the festival.

“We are thankful to the people for the great hospitality and we will go back with the message of peace and love from Pakistan,” Param, a pilgrim from India, told Arab News.


Book Review: ‘Baghdad Noir’ tells haunting tales from a diverse city

‘Baghdad Noir’ tells haunting tales from a diverse city. (Shutterstock)
Updated 7 min 14 sec ago
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Book Review: ‘Baghdad Noir’ tells haunting tales from a diverse city

  • Akashic Books takes its award-winning noir anthology to Iraq in “Baghdad Noir"

CHICAGO:To close out 2018, Akashic Books takes its award-winning noir anthology to Iraq in “Baghdad Noir.” Written by Iraq’s most celebrated authors, and some non-Iraqis, and edited by the cofounder of the contemporary Arab literature magazine “Banipal,” Samuel Shimon, the book features 14 short stories that are as diverse as Iraq’s capital city.

While most of the stories were written following the 2003 US invasion, some were written prior to the war. Most tales touch upon the dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein and the violent reign of the Baath Party, the politics that plunged the country into the Iran-Iraq war and the Gulf War, economic sanctions and the aftermath of it all. The authors take their readers on a journey through the streets of Baghdad, introducing them to affected families and their devastating circumstances.

In Shimon’s insightful introduction, he conveys the diverse history of Iraq, its varied landscape and people. Shimon writes that there is no “single national identity” — it is its ethnic diversity that makes Iraq unique and its capital city a hub for diverse story-telling.

Broken down into four sections, the book begins with Muhsin Al-Ramli and his tale of murder in an old Baghdad house, with a courtyard and eight rooms divided among its two stories. Qamar, the most beautiful girl in the neighborhood, has been killed and the residents are left to uncover the details of her death themselves.

Each author moves between the dark corners and shadowy thoughts of Baghdad and its residents. A sense of distrust, pessimism and gloom hangs over each tale. The stories move between families and strangers, between cafes and marketplaces, policemen and magicians, young soldiers and thugs and between sick patients and healthy minds driven mad by the never-ending devastation. With each author comes a twist in the tale that take place on either side of the Tigris River, from the Al-Qadisiya district to Al-Waziriya to the area of Bataween.

Including literary heavyweights such as Ahmed Saadawi, whose novel “Frankenstein in Baghdad” was shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize, “Baghdad Noir” offers a unique opportunity to explore the inventive genius of various authors and to read haunting stories set in a rich and diverse city.