Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Festivals of Pakistan

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I was never a great mela-goer. Growing up in Durand Road, we were ten minutes from the shrine of Bibi Pak Daman and the annual festival. But we were not permitted to go by our parents. The first real festival I actually saw was after I left the army and went to live in Karachi. This was Abdullah Shah Ghazi's death anniversary and I quickly realised that there was nothing religious about the festival; that it was almost totally secular with a very thin veneer of quasi-religious belief. It was nothing about pleasing a deity or a departed spirit; it was everything about letting one's hair down. This was no mourning of a hundred of years-old death, but a celebration of life.

I just loved it. Thereafter, I attended other festivals and found them to be the same. Shah Bilawal Noorani in the interior of Lasbela district in Balochistan was another great festival, a regular picnic in a lovely forested spot. The devotees dopes themselves blind with hashish and bhung. Shahbaz Qalandar at Sehwan with its entrancing dhammal is yet another beautiful festival that goes a long way back to the roots of Sindhi culture.

Shah Hussain of Lahore and Bulleh Shah in Kasur are similarly deeply entrenched in Punjabi tradition. As with Shahbaz Qalandar's tomb which is believed to be the Samadhi of Raja Bhartari (the 1st century BCE Rajput prince of Ujjain who gave up the throne to his brother Vikramaditya to become a sufi), I think Bulleh Shah too is buried at a site that was earlier sacred to other religions.

However, it is Chanan Pir in Cholistan that is the most vivid throwback on pre-Islamic traditions. Four thousand years ago, they worshipped Dharti Ma here and every ritual at the shrine recalls that pagan worship. Over time the shrine has undergone great changes.

In 1992 when a true hypocrite of a DMG officer was Secretary Auqaf, the sand dune worshipped as the burial of Chanan Pir was cemented over to make it look like a Muslim grave. Recently some idiot brigadier as head of Cholistan Development Authority raised a tomb over the so-called grave. For the full story read Prisoner on a Bus.

The one mela that was simply a totally secular celebration without religious overtones was the Paar vala Mela - Carnival across the River. The river being the Ravi, attended in vast numbers from the walled city of Lahore. I saw it for the first time in 1974 or the year after with a friend who was better rooted to the land than me at that time. But when I returned to ask about it in 1989, it was no longer being held - surely a casualty of our eleven year-long night of hypocritical dictatorship.

Perhaps I should now go back to ask. They might be holding it again.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:19,


At 1 June 2013 at 12:25, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...

All festivities are slowly dying; some due to security and other due to unaffordability. sad.

At 1 June 2013 at 13:49, Anonymous Sultana said...

Yes, I know that 'mela wekhan aayan kuryan Lahore diyan' are things of the past.

At 19 June 2013 at 18:39, Anonymous Ali Raza Zaidi on Facebook said...

I read the article, point about Sween and Lal Shabaz so called Qalander. What I think it is derived from Shiva. All legends and stories associated to saints are belongs to Lord shiva. the Samadhi of Raja Bhartari is quit different place in india nor the Ujjain is old name of Sween. Even hindu of local area consider him reincarnation of Shiva, and burn candle one side of wall shrine, possible is on the place of shiva temple which as once glorious build by Rai Dynasty of sindh before the Talpur's


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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

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