LAHORE: Pakistan is set to open the largest gurdwara this month, just in time for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.
Built on the site where the first Sikh Guru settled and died, the sprawling worship place sits a stone's throw from the heavily armed India-Pakistan border.
After months of restoration, Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, the second holiest site for followers of the Guru Nanak, is finally ready to welcome thousands of pilgrims.
Notable for its location, the temple has made headlines since Islamabad proposed visa-free entry for followers of Sikhism, allowing them to visit the holy sites in Pakistan.
The monotheistic religion hails from the Punjab region, but since independence from the British rule in 1947, the followers of Sikhism and its holiest sites have been scattered on both sides of the border. Guru Nanak, the revered saint, himself spent the final 18 years of his life at Kartarpur Sahib, now situated in Pakistan, making it one of the most important places for followers of the faith.
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With the sides fenced off, the Kartarpur corridor will now lead from Indian Punjab's Gurdaspur district straight to in Narowal district where the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib is situated, enabling thousands of Sikh pilgrims to visit the holy sites, which were difficult to visit due to the tensions between India and Pakistan.
Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur is not the only holy site that draws followers of Sikhism to Pakistan. Peppered with 153 sacred sites, Punjab has a history of welcoming Guru Nanak's followers every year.
The province is home to several gurdwaras. Over the last seven decades, Pakistan has restored over 20 places of worship. Situated approximately 90 kilometers west of the city of Lahore, the Janam Asthan Nankana Sahib is another spot that draws millions of Sikh followers from all over the world. The gurudwara, also known as Nankana Sahib, was built on the birth site of Guru Nanak.
Other important gurdwaras include the Dera Sahab in Lahore and Gurdwara Punja Sahab Hasan Abdal, where Sikh devotees from across the globe visit and perform religious rituals.
According to the records, Punjab is home to a large number of gurdwaras. Kasur district alone has 17. Lahore has a total of 39 out of which only 4 serve as a place of worship for the community. Similarly, in Gujranwala there are 10 gurdwaras and 11 in Sialkot. Rawalpindi, Sheikhupura, and Okara have five gurdwaras each.
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There are four gurdwaras in Jhang, four in Hafizabad, five in Sahiwal, three in Jhelum, while Vehari, Dera Ghazi Khan, Multan, Faisalabad, Khushab, Bahawalpur, Khanewal and Bannu, all the districts have one each.
Apart from Punjab, Pakistan's Sikh community is also present in the northern areas of the country. With the Sikh population predominantly Pashtun, the community has several worship places in the northern areas. Dera Ismail Khan is home to three gurdwaras. Mansehra, Peshawar, and Hazara also have one each.
"We offer prayers in gurdwaras all over Pakistan," said Sardar Ameer Singh, Secretary-General of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee.
"Restoration of several gurdwaras was completed in time for the celebration. We are hoping to see many more in the next few years," Singh added.
With Guru Nanak's 550th birth anniversary celebrations less than a week away, Sikh devotees have already started to arrive in Pakistan. Many will attend the inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor and take part in the vibrant panoply of religious rituals before departing for India on November 13 and 14.