Thousands of devotees and festival goers arrived in Dera Ghazi Khan on Wednesday to attend the month-and-a-half long mela beginning on Thursday (today) before the celebration of the 943rd urs of Hazrat Sultan Sakhi Sarwar. The three-day urs will be held in April (Rajab 3) after this mela.
Twin-suicide attacks on the shrine on April 3, 2011 had left at least 41 people dead and many injured. Threats of terrorist attacks have persisted but pilgrims continue to flock to the Sakhi Sarwar Town to celebrate the ‘first’ Thursday of the mela. On Wednesday charity meals were distributed among the visitors throughout the day. Some 13 maunds of food is cooked daily for the pilgrims every year during these festivities. Many families have set up camps near the shrine. Due to a ban on dhamal on the shrine, by the Auqaf Department since 2010, the enthusiastic visitors performed the dhamal at the chowk outside. Naat and qawwali sessions and lectures by prominent scholars continue throughout the mela.
Also known as Lakh Data, Sakhi Sarwar is revered by many orders of Muslim, Sikh and Hindus pilgrims, who pay homage to the saint at his shrine. The Baisakhi mela around the water channel near the shrine that continues until the wheat harvest had also been integrated with it.
Mian Amjad, the Auqaf Department district manager, said that the arrangements were better this year than previous years. He said drinking water tanks had been provided for the visitors.
Moreover, he said, a standby power generator had been installed at the shrine so that the festivity is not disrupted by power outages.
In view of the terrorist threats, he said, foolproof security arrangements had been made at the shrine.
Amjad said the Border Military Police (BMP) Security Commandant Tariq Ali had deployed Baloch Levies and a special BMP contingent at sensitive points in the city.
However, to many visitors, neither the water tanks, nor the security arrangements seemed sufficient.
Mukhtiar Hussain, a visitor from Jhang, told The Express Tribune that he was a regular visitor to the Sakhi Sarwar urs. He said he found the security arrangements poor.
He said most of the visitors stayed at or near the shrine. Yet, he said, water supply was inadequate for the numbers.
He said while some of the visitors arranged for a secure water supply from the residents of the area, most of them faced problems and had to travel long distances to get water for their daily requirements.
Some visitors also complained about encroachments on the chowk. They said the shopkeepers had grabbed the space on the roadsides, due to which they faced problems finding space to set up their tents or move easily.
Sakhi Sarwar is said to have migrated from Baghdad, Iraq, and settled in Shahkot near Multan in 1120 AD. Historians state that he had been preaching in the area, now Dera Ghazi Khan, where he martyred on 1181 AD and buried by some of his followers.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2012.