Channan Peer: In Cholistan desert, an oasis of religious harmony

Published: March 22, 2012

Thousands gather over seven weeks in Cholistan for partying and prayer. PHOTO: KASHIF ZAFAR

BAHALWALPUR: Every year thousands of people arrive in the Cholistan desert, this barren land of saints and mystery, to celebrate the life of Channan Peer – and to have a seriously good time.

There are as many stories about the life of Channan Peer as there are festival-goers, but the following tale is generally accepted.

Just after the birth of Islam, in the 7th century, the Sufi saint Jalaludin Surkh Bukhari of Uch Shareef travelled to the area, which in those days was governed by a Hindu Raja called Sadharan.

Sadharan had a perfect life, with one problem: he had no children. His wife, Rani Nainoo, found out about Jalaludin’s visit, tracked him down and asked him to pray for her to have a son.

The Sufi did this and even foresaw that the son would be born a Muslim. A child was indeed born – and tumbled into this world reciting the kalima.

The Raja was, shall we say, a little peeved and gave the order to have his son killed. The boy’s mother pleaded for the baby’s life. Ultimately, the ruler agreed that Channan Peer would be left alone in the desert in a wooden cot.

After a few days, Hindu pilgrims found the baby being fed by a mother deer. The Raja was informed – and again demanded the death of his son. The Rani then came to the desert and looked after him, until she was forced to abandon her child again. Eventually, the myth says, Channan Peer went on to preach Islam throughout the desert, inspiring poets and converts and many others, before he eventually merged into the sand and was never seen again.

The mela which bears his name is celebrated in the Cholistan desert over seven consecutive Thursdays. This year the mela started on February 11. The fifth Thursday is the most popular day and also observed as a local holiday.

For hundreds of years, people have come from all corners of Cholistan and beyond to join in the festivities. It is now the most popular festival in southern Punjab, with Hindus and Muslims participating as one in the theatre performances, magic shows, dancing, rides, horse and camel shows, jewelry shopping, and, of course, feasting.

Most of those who come stay overnight and leave on Friday morning, after a magical night on the sand dunes under the wide open sky. The area is about 65km from Bahawalpur.

One such devotee, Peera Mal, told The Express Tribune that his family had stayed at the festival all five weeks, cooking their meals and enjoying the festivities. Many still come to the festival to pray for a child.

There is a large tree in the middle of the festival which Cholistanis say marks the grave of Channan Peer’s mother. They believe that if a piece of red cloth is tied on a branch, their ‘manats’ (trades with God) will materialise.

Raman Lal, who attends the mela every year, said that he tied a cloth on the tree last year and prayed for a son. Sure enough, his wife gave birth to a beautiful boy this year. He had come to open his cloth from the tree – and then make a donation to charity in the name of God and, of course, the vibrant, enduring myth of Channan Peer.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2012.

Reader Comments (8)

  • Super Star
    Mar 22, 2012 - 11:39AM

    The Wahabbis and salafis true muslims wont enjoy hearing this stuff and beliefs for sure. Take care before some emissary is sent with a vest

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  • Mumbai Dude
    Mar 22, 2012 - 5:33PM

    Nice fairy tail… fit for a new Harry Potter series.

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  • Falcon
    Mar 22, 2012 - 8:32PM

    Great article. A message of peace. Would love to visit Channan Peer one day.

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  • kamran
    Mar 22, 2012 - 10:07PM

    The descendents of Syed Jalalulddin Surkh Bukhari are found all over Pakistan. They have the surnames Bukhari and Naqvi.

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  • ammad
    Mar 22, 2012 - 11:14PM

    i live in Bahawalpur . Channan Peer is no more a spiritual or riligous place to visit anymore. And trust me, never come with ur lady famly members.. it has become more vulgar place now a days.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Mar 23, 2012 - 3:20AM

    @Super star
    Read before giving any fatwa one time syedna Umar (R.A) was in place called Hudaibia and peoples were praying under the tree where this historic Agreement happend called Sulla hudaibia u know what this great man did he cut it down forever for not to become BIDDAH.

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  • Concern1
    Mar 23, 2012 - 2:08PM

    The Wahabis, Salafis & Deobandis are a curse to Islam. Islam is a religion of peace, brotherhood, not killing & terrorism, these socalled fanatics have bought bad name to Islam.

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  • Umair
    Mar 23, 2012 - 4:17PM

    lovely article, would love to visit one day, Sufiism for life

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