The Platform


Thousands of Sikh pilgrims from India crossed into Pakistan to celebrate Baisakhi.

On the cusp of mid-April, as spring unfurls, Baisakhi arrives with its historical and cultural gravitas. This Punjabi festival, observed annually on either the 13th or 14th, heralds the start of the harvest season and coincides with the Punjabi New Year. This year, the event beckoned approximately three thousand Sikh pilgrims from India to cross into Pakistan through the Wagah border, eager to immerse themselves in the Baisakhi Mela. The pilgrims’ itinerary includes venerated Sikh shrines in Kartarpur, Nankana Sahib, and Lahore. Their journey is met with comprehensive arrangements by the Nankana Sahib District’s administration, which has spared no detail in ensuring their needs—from transportation to lodging and security to medical aid—are preemptively addressed, along with provisions for sustenance.

The Sikh community’s provenance lies in South Asia’s Punjab region, yet its influence extends globally. Its foundational ethos of human equality and monotheism burgeoned from the 15th century into a religion with worldwide followers. The primacy of Punjabi and the Gurumukhi script in religious scripture remains unchanged, and the faith is replete with a rich tapestry of art, music, literature, and poetry. Pakistan’s Punjab region, a historical bedrock of Sikhism, today houses a majority of the country’s Sikh populace. The opening of Pakistan’s borders to Sikh pilgrims from India symbolizes a strengthening of the bonds within the Sikh communities of both nations.

This year, a record-setting 30,000 pilgrims crossed over at Wagah. The welcoming committee, comprising members of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and the Interfaith Harmony Organization, received them with traditional floral garlands and bouquets. As the celebrations unfold over three days, security is omnipresent along the 17-kilometer pilgrimage route, with the authorities ensuring that the Kartarpur corridor is well-equipped for the pilgrims’ religious rites, providing essentials like lodging, food, and transport.

The Baisakhi Mela culminates at the historic Gurdwara Sri Panja Sahib in Hassan Abdal, where Pakistan’s Federal Defense Minister, Khawaja Asif, served as the principal guest. The congregation, a tapestry of Sikh pilgrims from various corners of the globe, including India, Canada, and the United Kingdom, witnessed the reverential Palki procession, which symbolizes the return of the sacred scriptures to their sanctified abode. The festival encompasses myriad religious practices, including the rites at Panja Sahib and the ceremonial holy bath (Ashnan).

The Pakistani government’s acknowledgment of the warm welcome extended by its people and the seamless conduct throughout the events is noteworthy. Minister Asif articulated the significance of cultural solidarity and the anticipated Marriage Act’s potential to address community concerns. The district’s administrative machinery orchestrated stringent security protocols, involving a deployment of over a thousand officers to ensure a smooth and secure festival.

Beyond the festivities, Baisakhi also commemorates the birth of Sikhism. The day is replete with religious services in Gurudwaras and vibrant public processions known as Nagar Kirtans. Farmers celebrate the Punjabi New Year with prayers for a bounteous harvest and well-being. It was on this day that Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the tenth Sikh Guru, founded the Khalsa Panth, invoking the teachings of Baba Guru Nanak and emphasizing the pursuit of virtuous thoughts and actions. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif of Pakistan commended the Sikh community’s contributions, celebrating the country’s diverse religious and cultural ceremonies. Both the federal and provincial governments have endeavored to provide facilities for the performance of Baisakhi rituals. The Sikh pilgrims will conclude their spiritual journey and depart Pakistan on April 22.

The gesture of Pakistan’s government to foster cultural and religious inclusivity is indeed commendable. Moreover, this initiative underscores the country’s potential to elevate religious tourism, which could bolster the economy and reinforce Pakistan’s stature in cultural diplomacy.

Abdul Mussawer Safi is an author at various platforms such as Modern Diplomacy, Kashmir Watch, and Eurasia Review. He is pursuing a Bachelor's degree in International Relations from National Defense University. He has a profound interest in world politics, especially in the regional dynamics of South Asia. His academic strengths are critical and SWOT analysis.