Thousands of Sikhs from India and across the world today joined the celebration of the Baisakhi festival at Gurdwara Panja Sahib at Hassanabdal in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
Over 1,300 Sikhs from India have arrived in Pakistan to participate in the three-day festival. An estimated 10,000 people are expected to visit Gurdwara Panja Sahib before the festivities end on April 14, officials said.
The Evacuee Property Trust Board, which is responsible for the upkeep of shrines of minority communities, has made special arrangements for the security and accommodation of Sikh pilgrims at the Gurdwara.
The government has also renovated Gurdwara ahead of the Baisakhi festival, which marks the beginning of the Sikh new year.
EPTB official Chaudhry Tanveer said the pilgrims are being provided foolproof security. The Board has made all arrangements to facilitate the Sikhs, including facilities for boarding and lodging and medical treatment.
The festivities kicked off with the recital of passages from the Guru Granth Sahib at the Gurdwara.
People lined up to receive the delicious 'kada prasad' and perform 'kar sewa' while volunteers served them at the shrine's 'langar' or community kitchen.
Local Muslims and Hindus also participated in the celebrations.
Balmindar Singh, who is visiting Panja Sahib for the second time, said the Pakistan government is taking good care of Sikh shrines and Sikhs living abroad appreciated steps like the renovation and decoration of the Gurdwara to commemorate the festival.
Some Sikh pilgrims expressed concern at the visa policies of India and Pakistan, saying fewer 'yatris' were granted visas this year due to security reasons.
They said more visas should be granted for such festivals as they are a source of interfaith harmony.
Arjun Singh of Pakistan and Darshan Singh from India said many Indian pilgrims were unable to visit the Kartarpur Gurdwara due to the existing visa regime even though the shrine is located only three kilometres from the Indian border.
The pilgrims will perform their final rituals at Panja Sahib on April 14 and then visit Nankana Sahab, the birthplace of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion.