552nd birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikh religion, celebration has started in Pakistan and thousands of Sikh pilgrims from across the globe have gathered in northeastern Punjab province of Pakistan.
The 10-day celebration began on Wednesday in Nankana Sahib district — the birthplace of Baba Guru Nanak — located around 80 kilometres (49 miles) from Lahore, the capital of Punjab province.
The celebrations began with Akhand Path — a reading of 1,430 pages of Granth Sahib, the holy book of Sikhism.
The main birthday celebration will be held on Friday.
Some 3,000 Sikh pilgrims from neighbouring India entered Pakistan through the Wagha border crossing on Wednesday to take part in the celebrations.
Despite heightened tensions, longtime rivals Pakistan and India have facilitated the Sikh community on the occasion of Baba Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary, one of the main festivals of Sikhism.
Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi issued 3,000 visas to Sikh pilgrims, enabling them to attend the celebrations, whereas New Delhi, for its part, reopened the visa-free Kartarpur crossing, which connects the Indian and Pakistani Punjab.
The pilgrims will also visit their holy sites in several parts of Punjab, including Kartarpur Sahib, where Guru Nanak settled and died in 1539.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in a statement that Pakistan looks forward to welcoming Sikh pilgrims visiting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib through the Kartarpur Corridor.
He said while Pakistan had reopened the Kartarpur Corridor on June 29 last year after the temporary suspension of about three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, India had kept the Corridor closed from its side for nearly 20 months, and has only now allowed it to be re-opened.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the Sikh community from India and around the world had been urging the opening of the Corridor. He said Pakistan had also proposed formally to India to reopen the corridor in respect of the wishes and sentiments of the pilgrims.
The Minister said Pakistan will also be hosting thousands of Sikh pilgrims from India and around the world for the 552nd birth anniversary celebrations of Baba Guru Nanak ten days from today.
Notwithstanding a chill in bilateral ties over Kashmir, Islamabad and New Delhi after tough negotiations had signed a landmark agreement in November 2019 to open the corridor to allow Indian pilgrims to visit the holy Sikh shrine in Pakistan.
The distance between Kartarpur and the town of Gurdaspur in India is merely 3 km (2 mi). But the closure of this crossing meant that Sikh pilgrims from India had to travel, hundreds of kilometres to cross the border at Wagah, near Amritsar and then travel to Lahore, to reach Kartarpur.
Kartarpur crossing was shut last year due to a coronavirus pandemic.
The number of Sikhs in Pakistan is estimated between 30,000-40,000, out of some 200 million population of this South Asian Muslim country.
Pakistan is home to some of the most important pilgrimage sites for Sikhs. They include the birthplace of Baba Guru Nanak, who was born in 1469, Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara and Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal town, where the handprint of Guru Nanak is believed to be imprinted on a boulder.
These sites are visited by thousands of Sikhs from neighbouring India, Europe and Canada every year.