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Celebrations for Sikhism founder's birthday begin in Pakistan

Thousands of Sikh pilgrims gather to celebrate 552nd birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak

Aamir Latif and Kiran Butt   | 17.11.2021
Celebrations for Sikhism founder's birthday begin in Pakistan

KARACHI / LAHORE, Pakistan 

Thousands of Sikh pilgrims from across the globe have gathered in Pakistan’s northeastern Punjab province to celebrate the 552nd birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, the founder of their religion.

The 10-day celebration began on Wednesday in Nankana Sahib district -- the birthplace of Baba Guru Nanak -- located around 80 kilometers (49 miles) from Lahore, the capital of Punjab province.

The celebrations began with Akhand Path -- a reading of 1,430 pages of Granth Sahib, the holy book of Sikhism.

Some 3,000 Sikh pilgrims from neighboring India entered Pakistan through the Wagha border crossing on Wednesday to take part in the celebrations.

Despite heightened tensions, longtime rivals Pakistan and India have facilitated the Sikh community on the occasion of Baba Guru Nanak's birth anniversary, one of the main festivals of Sikhism.

Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi issued 3,000 visas to Sikh pilgrims, enabling them to attend the celebrations, whereas New Delhi, for its part, reopened the visa-free Kartarpur crossing, which connects the Indian and Pakistani Punjab.

The pilgrims will also visit their holy sites in several parts of Punjab, including Kartarpur sahib, where Guru Nanak settled and died in 1539.

Notwithstanding a chill in bilateral ties over Kashmir, Islamabad and New Delhi after tough negotiations had signed a landmark agreement in November 2019 to open the corridor to allow Indian pilgrims to visit the holy Sikh shrine in Pakistan.

The distance between Kartarpur and the town of Gurdaspur in India is merely 3 km (2 mi). But the closure of this crossing meant that Sikh pilgrims from India had to travel, hundreds of kilometers to cross the border at Wagah, near Amritsar and then travel to Lahore, to reach Kartarpur.

​​​​​​​Kartarpur crossing was shut last year due to coronavirus pandemic.

Sikh special association with Pakistan

The number of Sikhs in Pakistan is estimated between 30,000-40,000, out of some 200 million population of this South Asian Muslim country.

Pakistan is home to some of the most important pilgrimage sites for Sikhs. They include the birthplace of Baba Guru Nanak, who was born in 1469, Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara and Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal town, where the handprint of Guru Nanak is believed to be imprinted on a boulder.

These sites are visited by thousands of Sikhs from neighboring India, Europe and Canada every year.

Punjabi is the common language of the province of Punjab, partitioned between Pakistan and India.

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