LAHORE: Mela Chiraghan, the festival of lights that marks the birth of Sufi saint Hazrat Shah Hussain, began on Friday night. Nearly half a million people from around the country are expected to attend the three-day event.
Syed Saeedul Hassan Shah, the Punjab minister for religious affairs, inaugurated the three-day urs by laying a floral wreath at the shrine of Hazrat Shah Hussain (also known as Madhu Lal Hussain). The Punjab Auqaf Department organised a Mehfil-e-Samaa to discuss the legacy of the saint.
The roads approaching the tomb are dotted with stalls, some which have set up television sets showing dances performed at stage shows to entertain pilgrims. All sort of food items are on sale: gol gappas, fruit chaats, qatlamas, sweetmeats and even bhang-laced pappars.
During the festival, devotees light thousands of earthen lamps to honour the saint at his shrine, which is situated near the Shalimar Gardens. Each year, the saint’s followers, especially transvestites and eunuchs, spurred on by hashish and qawwalis, dance the night away.
A large segment of the festival crowd comprises young people. Most of them seem to be smoking hash-laced cigarettes. Pilgrims toss candles into a large bonfire (mach) as legend has it that anyone doing this would be granted their wish by God. Some believe that their prayers would be granted if they sit close to the fire.
Shah Hussain (1538-1599) lived during the era of Mughal emperors Akbar and Jahangir. It is said he adopted the name of his Hindu disciple Madhu Lal to immortalise their friendship.
Traditionally, Shah Hussain’s urs was held in Shalimar Bagh and marked the start of a four-day festival. On the second day, Baisakhi was held to celebrate the star of wheat crop harvest. The third and final day was reserved for women. Horse raisers used to bring their horses for sale to the festival.
During the British rule, the Raj turned the selling of horses into a separate event that became the Horse and Cattle Show. In 1958, President Ayub Khan banned the celebration of the mela in Shalimar Bagh. Over time, the festival shortened to three-days and began to comprise only the urs.