For hundreds of years, people have come from all corners of Cholistan and beyond to join in the festivities of the Chanan Peer festival that goes on for seven weeks every year through February and March.
It is one of the most popular festivals in southern Punjab, with Hindus and Muslims participating as one in theatre performances, magic shows, dance, rides, horse and camel shows, jewellery shopping, and, of course, feasting.
The fifth Thursday (March 14 this year) is considered especially “blessed”.
Muhammad Akmal, caretaker of the shrine, told The Express Tribune that it was believed that most wishes made on the fifth Thursday came true. He said this day had most visitors throughout the seven weeks.
Akmal said the shrine was bathed in rose water by the Auqaf Department officials and naat khawani sessions were organised.
He said oil lamps lit on the first night burned throughout the festival. He said volunteers ensured that they were put off only at the end.
Devotees spend a night in the desert under the open sky before visiting the shrine. Special bazaars are set up on this occasion and musical theatres, circus, magic shows and camel dances attract visitors.
There is a big jand tree on the shrine premises that also holds importance.
Visitors tie red bands to the branches on the fifth Thursday and make wishes. It is believed that Chanan Peer’s mother was buried here and that the tree later grew to “shade for her grave”.
People make a mannat (vow) with each red band they tie to the tree. On its fulfillment, they return to distribute charity among visitors at the next festival.
Some visitors complained about the poor condition of the building. They said that the Auqaf Department collected millions from the Chanan Peer festival annually, but had not maintained the shrine.
Umar Khan, one of the visitors, said that the government should build a wall around the nearby graveyard. He said thousands of people visited the shrine every year and stayed in tents in the desert. He said the graveyard was littered during the festival.
Chanan Peer was the son of Raja Sandharan of Jaisalmer. It is believed that he was reciting the Holy Quran at birth and for that reason he was abandoned in the desert, where he was fed by a deer.
Chanan Peer went on to preach Islam throughout the desert, inspiring poets and converts and many others, before he eventually disappeared some 600 years ago. This is where his shrine is located, some 65 kilometers of south of Bahawalpur.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 15th, 2013.