Thursday, April 19, 2012

Peace-seekers at a Peaceful Place: Gurdwara Panja Sahib

“Show your ID card” the security personnel asked.

I took out my ID card and showed it to him.
“No, you can’t go inside”  

“But why?” I asked

“Muslims are not allowed to enter the Gurdwara, now move on” He said while gently pushing me aside.

“But why?” I kept on asking…

I was at the gate of Gurdwara Siri Panja Sahib, Hassan Abdal.

“Muslims are not allowed to enter” - it felt like a hard slap on my face.

I think this was the first time I realized how it feels like to be a minority in a country. When you are under different sanctions and restrictions or when you are stopped from doing things or visiting any religious or other places.

What also crossed my mind was that this place was associated with one of the greatest personalities of South Asia and Punjab in particular, Baba Guru Nanak Dev Ji, who spread the message of peace, love and humanity among all human beings, without any discrimination. Baba Guru Nanak Dev Ji is equally respected among Muslims too. Peace does not have any religion; Love does not have any borders. Where there is peace and love, we all bow our heads.

But I couldn’t also forget the fact that the current security issues of Pakistan are a major concern and needless to say that there is always a threat to security. We have to admit that terrorism has affected us in ways more than we can fathom. Even we cannot visit those holy places which are respected and highly regarded among peace-lovers. I hope things will change for the better and the gates of these havens of peace will be soon opened to all.

However, my friend Shahzad Ahmed finally made it possible to enter the Gurdwara Panja Sahib, thanks to his strong willed efforts. During our visit we also met another nice and humble young man Inderjit Singh. Shahzad’s friend Umar introduced him to us. I, along with my friend Shafqat stepped inside the Gurdwara in the company of Inderjit.

Gurdwara Panja Sahib is one of the holiest places of the Sikh religion. I am not going into the details here but it is important to mention the religious and historical significance of this place. According to the Sikhiwiki

Guru Nanak along with Bhai Mardana reached Hasan Abdal in Baisakh Samwat 1578 B.K. corresponding to 1521 A.D. in the summer season. Under a shady cool tree, Guru Nanak and Bhai Mardana started reciting kirtan (sacred hymns) and their devotees gathered around. This annoyed Wali Qandhari but he was helpless.
According to legend, Bhai Mardana was sent three times to Wali Qandhari so that he would provide him with some water to quench his thirst. Wali Qandhari refused his request and was rude to him. In spite of this, Mardana still very politely stuck to his demand.

The Wali ironically remarked: "Why don't you ask your Master whom you serve?" Mardana went back to the Guru in a miserable state and said "Oh lord! I prefer death to thirst but will not approach Wali the egoist again." The Guru replied "Oh Bhai Mardana ! Repeat the Name of God, the Almighty; and drink the water to your heart's content."

The Guru put aside a big stone lying nearby and a pure fountain of water sprang up and began to flow endlessly. Bhai Mardana quenched his thirst and felt grateful to the Guru. On the other hand, at about the same time, the fountain of Wali Qandhari dried up.
On witnessing this, Wali in his rage threw part of a mountain, a huge rock towards the Guru from the top of the hill. The Guru stopped the hurled rock with his hand leaving his hand print in the rock. Observing that miracle, Wali became the Guru's devotee. This holy and revered place is now known as Panja Sahib.”

The word "Panja" in Punjabi means an "outstretched palm" from the word "panj" which means "five".

Passing through the gate, I raised my head and saw the magnificent architecture of the Gurdwara, the gold and white colored domes shining brightly under the sun. Families were sitting along in corridors and near the holy water pool. Children and men were taking the holy bath or dip in the pool (Ashnaan).
The Vaisakhi Mela had ended just a day before our visit and though most of the pilgrims from India and other countries had left for Lahore and Nankana Sahib, there were still many local and foreign pilgrims around.

I have visited many Shrines and Darbaars before and I should say that I felt the same calm and peace in this place as well.

While showing us around, Inderjit Singh narrated to us the historical and religious significance of this place. He told us about the architecture, rituals, Siri Granth Sahib and Panja Sahib. He guided us through the different parts of Gurdwara and in the end we dipped our feet in the holy water of Panja Sahib and touched the Holy Stone.

The experience of this visit shall forever remain a memorable one for me as throughout day I could literally feel the peace and calmness of its air in my heart. Just before leaving Inderjit Singh asked us about experience and feelings after visiting Gurdwara. Before I could collect my thoughts and express in words (which was quite impossible at that high time) Shafqat said “We are peace seekers and where there we will find it, we’ll bow our heads”
I, Inderjit Singh and Shafqat Aziz

All I can wish for is that the walls of hatred to be brought down and message of love, peace and harmony be spread around. If something had gone wrong somewhere in the past, we have to work hard and correct it ourselves now. I hope peace prevails and people from different religious faiths live together in harmony.

And to remember Baba Guru Nanak Dev Ji through his own words
Love the saints of every faith:
Put away thy pride.
Remember the essence of religion
Is meekness and sympathy,
Not fine clothes,
Not the Yogi’s garb and ashes,
Not the blowing of the horns,
Not the shaven head,
Not long prayers,
Not recitations and torturings,
Not the ascetic way,
But a life of goodness and purity,
Amid the world’s temptations


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Pakistan: Art is in the artist’s hands

Art is in the artist’s hands, turning color in to art of the promise land, we all wish we had these hands, but it’s a gift that can't be taken in by any hands. They need to be artists hands, all different colors even have a flow or tone but look at the beautiful promises they have for me and you...
Amanda Shelton

These are some photographs of Pakistani artisans taken at Lok Mela, held in Islamabad recently.

Photo Credits: Shiraz Hassan

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Asfand and his Rubab!

Asfand Yaar Mohmand is performing 

The man sang passionately, his eyes shining like stars—fingers moving fast over the strings of the Rubab—the melodious singing and the sound of the Rubab touched my soul. He was singing a Pushto song and though I couldn’t understand a single word of the lyrics I stood frozen. I asked the Pathan standing beside me about the meaning. He explained -“Your eyes are intoxicated and it has made me drunk”. The shimmering face of the singer was soaked deep in the intoxicating melody—he wasn’t just singing.

Asfand Yaar Mohmand was performing at the ‘Lok Mela’ at Lok Virsa, Islamabad.

Meet Asfand Yaar Mohmand, 19 year old folk singer and Rubab player. He hails from the region which is currently one of the most volatile regions of Pakistan. Asfand Yaar Mohmand belongs to a far-flung area of Pandiala village, Bargay, Mohmmand Agency of federal administrative tribal areas (FATA) close to the Pak-Afghan border.

“I haven’t visited my hometown for more than ten years now, I am afraid of the Taliban. They don’t like these things” said Asfand, adding that he is passionate about music “I love singing and playing the Rubab”.

Asfand belongs to a family of laborers. One of his brothers is a furniture maker and the other sibling, who plays the Jhankaar, helps him in his music. In the beginning, his family wasn’t in favor of his decision of choosingsinging and music as a career, but they couldn’t continue to resist as they saw his passion and craze. “My father was very angry with me, but not now, as he says he [Asfand] will not step back so let him carry on”

“I love playing the Rubab, this is such a beautiful instrument. Its strings touch your soul, literally”

Beginning his journey singing Pushto and Urdu songs, Asfand has composed his own songs too and plans to release his album soon. He is also a fan of the renowned Pushto folk singer, Haroon Bacha.

He said that he has no idea when will he go back to his hometown. “Things are not good over there; they [Taliban] don’t allow music”.Back home, they could just about manage to arrange musical gatherings inside homes, without any sound system, commented Asfand. He told that many artists have shifted to Charsadda and other areas of Khyber-Pakhtoonkha and pursuing their musical careers from there for the same reason.

Asfand happens to have a musical band and is looking forward to a bright musical career. I hope his dreams come true!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Pakistani Artisans and Handicrafts

All Pakistan 'Lok Mela' held in Islamabad, Lok Virsa. Culture and handicrafts of all provinces including Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir was represented there. The most fascinating thing about this event was a chance to meet out real heroes, real artist and to see them working! I pay my regard to all workers and artisans. Enjoy some of the pics of event. 

Photography Credits: Shiraz Hassan

Khussa maker

some cute stuff

Artisan's hands - miniature work 

Handicrafts from rural Punjab

All handmade stuff

Cute dolls. Handmade

Zoye Zuroof

My grandmother also makes this stuff, baskets made from date tree leaves

Truck Art, now on lantern 

Truck, Pakistani

WaNgaaN charhaa lo Kudiyo!

Woodwork artist, look at that cute tonga

from Sindh, Charkha

Matti de paanday! Clay work 

How easily he makes these, Artist!

Peshawari Chappal maker



Khaddi - handmade cloth maker!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Story of Pakistan

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

April 4: Another Dark Chapter of Pakistan's History

Originally published in Daily Waqt,Lahore, April 4, 2011