By Aamir Latif
Thousands of Sikhs have gathered in Pakistan’s northeastern Nankana Sahib district to celebrate the 449th birth anniversary of the founder of Sikh religion, Baba Guru Nanak Devji.
The celebrations, which will commence on Wednesday, and last for next three days, will be attended by over 6,000 Sikhs from neighboring India, Europe, Far East and North America apart from thousands others from Pakistan.
“All preparations are made to commemorate the celebrations from Nov. 21 to 23 with religious fervor and due reverence,” Sardar Ramesh Singh, the head of Pakistan Sikh Council told Anadolu Agency.
Over 2,500 visitors from Far East, Europe and America have already arrived at Nankana Sahib, while some 3,500 from India will reach on Wednesday morning via trains, he added.
“This time New Delhi has not stopped Sikhs from visiting Pakistan. Similarly, Islamabad has issued maximum number of visas to the pilgrims, which is a good sign,” he maintained.
Late year, New Delhi had reportedly stopped over 150 Sikh pilgrims from crossing over to Pakistan to attend the ceremonies relating to death anniversary of 18th century’s Sikh King of Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
Pakistan’s northeastern Punjab province is home to five most important pilgrimage sites for Sikhs, which include the birthplace of Baba Guru Nanak, who was born in 1469 in Nankana Sahib district, and Gurdwara (monastery) Punja sahib in Hasan Abdal town, where the handprint of Guru Nanak is believed to be imprinted on a boulder at the monastery.
Also, Pakistan is home to several other holy Sikh sites, which attract a large number of community members from all around the world.
The number of Sikhs in Pakistan is estimated between 30,000 and 40,000 out of some 210 million population of this South Asian Muslim country.
Singh, however, claims that the actual population of Sikhs in Pakistan is between 60,000 and 80,000.
With the culmination of the three-day celebrations, Singh said preparations for a way bigger event -- the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak -- to be held next year would be started.
Pakistan, earlier this year, had announced to celebrate the next year’s event at the government level.
Following Islamabad’s move, New Delhi on Monday also announced to celebrate the event inviting Pakistani Sikh community to attend the festivities set to begin in November next year in the neighboring country.
The two countries have also announced to issue commemorative coins and postage stamps to mark the event besides holding seminars, and symposiums.
Pakistan expects 100,000 pilgrims from within country and abroad to participate in the events scheduled to be held in Nankana Sahib.
“Not only we, but in all over the world, Sikhs want the 550th birth anniversary celebrations to be held in Pakistan because Baba Guru Nanak was born here,” Singh said.
“We have not been officially invited by the Indian government to take part in the events scheduled to be held there. But even if we are invited, it is the prerogative of the Golden Temple to take a decision about that,” he added.
Also known as Sri Harmandir Sahib (abode of God) or Darbar Sahib, the Golden Temple is the central religious place for Sikhs across the world situated in Amritsar city of Indian Punjab.
“We are very excited about the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak. We are in constant touch with the (Pakistani) government, and all available resources will be utilized to facilitate the pilgrims from all over the world”, Tara Singh, the head of state-run Pakistani Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, told Anadolu Agency.
However, Sardar Ramesh Singh appeared to be skeptical about the government’s capacity to entertain such huge numbers of pilgrims next year.
“Tens of thousands of Sikhs from all over the world want to come to attend the event. But I am not sure if the government would issue visas and provide other facilities to such high number of pilgrims at one place,” he opined.
“If the government wants to avoid any mismanagement during the event, it should start its homework straight away and take the representatives of Sikh community into confidence to hold a memorable event,” he maintained.