Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mela Chiraghan

It's a public holiday here in Lahore today because it's the start of the Festival of Lights. Mela Chiraghan or Mela Shalamar ("Festival of Lights") is a three day annual festival to mark the urs (death anniversary) of the Punjabi Sufi poet and saint Shah Hussain. It takes place at the shrine of Shah Hussain in Baghbanpura, on the outskirts of Lahore, adjacent to the Shalimar Gardens. The festival used to take place in the Shalimar Gardens also, until President Ayub Khan ordered against it in 1958.The festival used to be the largest festival in the Punjab, but now comes second to Basant. The festival, now not as popular as it once was, used to be called the Punjab Cultural Fair. It began with a celebration of Hussain's birth, and included the seasonal Baisakhi festival, which marks the beginning of the cutting of the wheat crop. The rest of the festival was celebrated at Shalimar Gardens. The third and final day was reserved for women only, as it still is. In 1958, President Ayub Khan ordered that the mela would no longer be celebrated at Shalimar Gardens. There used to be horses bought and sold at the mela, till the British Raj decided to separate this part of the festivities into the Horse and Cattle Show. The road leading to the tomb of Sufi poet Shah Hussain in Baghbanpura is being decorated, while the tomb itself is being cleaned and some areas are being whitewashed. Nowadays, the festival is marked with the burning of candles  in memory of Shah Hussain. There will also be drum beating and several dhamaals and qawalis and the most favourite part of the festival is the scene when the whole tomb lit up by the hundreds of thousands of lit-candles carried by people.

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