Sikh pilgrims to attend Vaisakhi and Khalsa commemorations
LAHORE: After more than a year of tough restrictions, India’s Sikh community has finally received the government’s nod to attend upcoming religious festivals in Pakistan. The permission, which is conditional, will allow pilgrims to attend the Vaisakhi and Khalsa commemorations, which are two very important dates in the Sikh calendar. According to details gathered by the Express Tribune, the Indian government has allowed pilgrims to visit Pakistan only if they are vaccinated before their departure. These pilgrims will be required to take a polymerase chain reaction (P.C.R.) test before returning to India. During their two week-long stay in Pakistan, the devotees will also visit some of Sikhism’s holiest sites, including the final resting place of Guru Nanak, the founder of the faith. While ties between India and Pakistan, the two nuclear neighbors remain frosty, this is the first time since the onset of the global pandemic that India has relaxed border restrictions from its side. According to the itinerary, the Sikh devotees will visit a number of holy sites in Pakistan after their arrival on April 12. The visit culminates with celebrations related to Khalsa and Vaisakhi festivals at Gurdwara Panja Sahib Hassanabad. Commenting from Amritsar, Bibi Jagir Kaur, who heads the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), an organization responsible for the management of gurdwaras in India confirmed: “Sikhs from India will attend both events in Pakistan.” Referring to the Kartarpur Corridor, a visa-free crossing, connecting the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan to the border with India, Kaur said: “The passage should be opened so that pilgrims can visit the final resting place of Baba Guru Nanak.” Kaur insisted that the Indian government should not use any more excuses to prevent Sikhs from attending religious rituals in Pakistan. She also commended the government in Islamabad for regularly inviting pilgrims from India. The 4.1-kilometre corridor that links the Dera Baba Nana shrine in India’s Gurdaspur with the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur was closed shortly after its inauguration in 2019. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the Indian government has completely stopped pilgrims from crossing into Pakistan. Initiated in 1699 by the Tenth Guru of Sikhism, the Khalsa tradition commemorates five volunteers who were ready to offer their lives for the Guru. Similarly, Vaisakhi, another important date in the Sikh calendar, commemorates the year Sikhism was born as a collective faith. According to the mutual agreement between the two countries, 3,000 pilgrims can visit Pakistan to attend these events. Despite the third wave of the coronavirus, organizers in Pakistan said, there were no restrictions on the number of pilgrims from India. “We have invited Indian devotees for the holy festivals. There is no restriction on the number of Sikh pilgrims,” said Sardar Amir Singh, Secretary of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee. So far, 2,000 pilgrims have submitted the application. After completing all religious rituals, the pilgrims will return to India on April 22 via Wagah border.