Indian Sikhs celebrate Baisakhi at shrine in Pakistan

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More than 1,890 pilgrims participate in religious festival at Panja Sahib shrine in northern Pakistan city.

 

Hundreds of Indian Sikhs have celebrated the religious festival of Baisakhi at one of their religion’s holiest shrines in the northern Pakistani city of Hasanabdal, even as tensions between the South Asian neighbours remain at fever pitch.

 

More than 1,890 Indian Sikh pilgrims, mainly from the states of Punjab and Haryana, were among thousands who participated in the festival at the Panja Sahib shrine in Hasanabdal, about 35km west of the capital Islamabad, on Sunday.

 

Hundreds of men and women dressed in colourful clothes lined up at the gurdwara, or shrine, to witness the reading of the final passages of the Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhism’s holy book, which is considered by Sikhs to be a living saint.

 

Over the past 48 hours, the book had been recited from start to finish by devotees, and at its end all of the thousands of pilgrims present offered a collective prayer.

 

Baisakhi celebrates the anniversary of a decision by the tenth Sikh saint, Guru Gobind Singh, to formalise the identity of the Sikh community.

 

The Indian pilgrims arrived in the country by foot at the Wagah-Attari border between India and Pakistan on April 12, senior civil official Imran Gondal told Al Jazeera, and will stay in the country until April 21, completing pilgrimages to a number of other holy sites.

 

Sikhism, founded in the 16th century by Guru Nanak, has roughly 25 million followers globally, most of them living in India’s western Punjab and Haryana states.

 

Pakistan, the site of the religion’s founding and home to some of its holiest sites, also has a small population of tens of thousands of Sikhs.

 

In February, tensions between nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan spiked after a suicide attack in the disputed region of Kashmir killed at least 40 Indian security force personnel.

 

India blamed the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammad armed group and the Pakistani government for carrying out the attack, conducting retaliatory airstrikes on Pakistani soil on February 26. A day later, Pakistan conducted strikes of its own, with both country’s fighter jets engaging in an aerial dogfight.

 

At the height of hostilities, some of the pilgrims thought they would have to forego their trip this year.

 

“I had initially thought that whatever happens, even if there is war, it will happen both here and there so I’ll go regardless,” said Ravinder Singh, 48, who runs a footwear store in the Indian city of Simla and was visiting Pakistan for the first time.

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