ATTOCK: For centuries, Sikhs have observed their annual festival of Baisakhi, the spring harvest festival and the beginning of the Sikh new year. But with the shadow of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic hanging over the world, Baisakhi, like other religious and cultural festivals which take place at this time of the year such as Passover and Easter, was celebrated in a muted manner.
Gurdwara Punja Sahib in Hassanabdal area of Attock is one the five biggest holy sites in the Sikh faith and hence sees thousands of pilgrims pour in from all over the world to celebrate Baisakhi.
With the government attempting to control the spread of the virus, particularly from visitors coming from abroad, Baisakhi celebrations at Punja Sahib had been cancelled by the government.
The usually decorated and bustling gurdwara appeared to be a drab ghost town.
Granthi, or chief pastor, Kulbeer Singh said that every year, the festival would begin with a visit to the gurdwara, followed by parades, singing and chanting hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib.
There was no Nagar Kirtan procession – where participants don special costumes with bright colours and sing hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib. All that could be heard from Gurdwara Punja Sahib this year was silence.
Only a few participants, mostly staff of the gurdwara attended the annual prayers. Granthi Kulbeer Singh offered the main ‘Bhog’ ceremony while Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC) Pardhan (President) Sardar Satwant Singh offered the Ardas.
Special prayers were offered by Sikh elders for the safety and prosperity of Pakistan in these testing times.
Kulbeer said that to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Sikh community has closed all of its gurdwaras in the country while religious rites were performed in a low key manner with just a few participants.
Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) Shrines Deputy Secretary Imran Gondal said that in a joint meeting of the board and the gurdwara committee, it had been unanimously decided that this year, there will be no celebrations for Baisakhi and that foreign pilgrims will not be allowed to visit.
Sundeep Kaur, a member of the local Sikh community, said that due to lack of celebrations at Gurdwara Punja Sahib this year, she was missing her friends from Buner and Afghanistan. She added that some of her friends used to visit from abroad for the Baisakhi celebrations, including from Dubai but the pandemic had forced them to cancel plans.
Tara Singh, a Sikh shopkeeper in Hassanabdal, said that with all places of worship closed, the local Sikh community has stayed away from public celebrations. He further said that it had also impacted his business for what is usually his busiest time of the year.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2020.