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800-strong Sikh jatha reaches Pakistan for Baisakhi

It is the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak that the Jatha will move around and visit several shrines in Pakistan.

Written by Kamaldeep Singh Brar | Amritsar |
Updated: April 13, 2021 12:44:00 am
800-strong Sikh jatha reaches Pakistan for BaisakhiSikh devotees chant religious slogans as they leave for Pakistan to take part in Baisakhi festival, in Amritsar, April 12, 2021. (PTI Photo)

A jatha of 818 Sikh pilgrims reached Pakistan’s Lahore on Monday to celebrate Khalsa Sjna Diwas and Baisakhi at a 16th Century gurdwara in Punjab province, among other historically important shrines in that country.

The harvest festival of Baisakhi marks the Sikh new year and commemorates the formation of Khalsa panth under Guru Gobind Singh in 1699.

It is the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak that the Jatha will move around and visit several shrines in Pakistan. The movement of an earlier jatha, that sent to Pakistan on the occasion of birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, had remained confined to Nankana Sahib due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Officials of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) — a statutory board that manages religious properties and shrines of Hindus and Sikhs who had migrated to India following the partition — and the Sikh Gurdwara Parbhandhk Committee greeted the pilgrims at the Wagah border.

ETPB spokesperson Amir Hashmi confirmed that Sikh jatha will attend Baisakhi rituals at Gurdwara Panja Sahib, Hassan Abdal. He said the ‘yatrees’ were served with langar (food) as per Sikh tradition at the Wagah border.

Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hassan Abdal, about 350 km from Lahore, is believed to have the handprint of founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak. “After necessary immigration clearance, they were taken to Gurdwara Panja Sahib, Hassan Abdal by bus. Main function will be held at Panja Sahib. They will be taken to all important and historical Gurdwaras in Pakistan during their 10-day stay and will return to India on April 22,” Hashmi said.

The Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi had earlier said that it has issued visas to over 1,100 Sikh pilgrims in connection with the Baisaki festival.

Under the framework of the Pakistan-India Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines of 1974, a large number of pilgrims from India visit Pakistan to observe various religious festivals and occasions each year.

No Sikh jatha could visit Pakistan on the occasion of Baisakhi, the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and martyrdom day of Guru Arjun Dev due to Covid-19 outbreak last year.

The movement of current jatha assumes significance as the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) had cried foul after Union Ministry of Home Affairs denied permission to a special group to visit Pakistan on the occasion of 100th anniversary of Nankana Sahib masscare in February this year. Akal Takht jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh had alleged that hatha was denied persmission due due to the SGPC’s active support to ongoing farmers’ protest over farm laws.

SGPC secretary Mahinder Singh Ahli said, “SGPC had sent 793 passports to the central government and Pakistan embassy, out of which 437 got visas while 356 were rejected. The government should issue visas to as many Sikh pilgrims as possible.”

The itinerary

April 13 Gurdwara Sri Panja Sahib

April 14 Sri Nankana Sahib

April 15 Local gurdwaras at Sri Nankana Sahib

April 16 Gurdwara Sacha Sauda, Sheikhupura

April 17-18 Gurdwara Dehra Sahib, Lahore

April 19 Gurdwara Sri Kartarpur Sahib

April 20 Gurdwara Rori Sahib

April 21 Gurdwara Dehra Sahib

April 22 Return to India

With PTI, Lahore

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