Lahore: Mela Chiraghan, or the Festival of Lights, which marks the birth of Sufi saint Hazrat Shah Hussain – also known as Madho Lal Hussain – began on Friday night. Thousands of devotees gathered from across the country to attend the inaugural ceremony of the three-day urs that will start today (Saturday).
Madhu Lal’s syncretic shrine – situated in Baghban Pura near the Shalimar Gardens – represents the long-gone era of spirituality rising above religious identities and rituals. The urs of Shah Hussain will continue until March 29 and hundreds of thousands of devotees are expected to throng the tomb.
During the three-day urs celebrations, the whole of Baghbanpura and surround areas come alive with different colourful activities and an atmosphere of ecstacy and joy prevails. Devotees distribute langar and lay floral wreaths and chaadars at the graves of Shah Hussain and Madho Lal Hussain.
Unbridled joy: The roads leading to the shrine are dotted with stalls, while locals have also set up television sets showing dances performed at stage shows or to entertain the devotees. All sort of food items are on sale: gol gappas, fruit chaats, qatlamas, sweetmeats and even bhang-laced pappars. Dhamaals [Trance dances] become a common sight as numerous groups of unbridled devotees dance to the beat of dhols.
Sufi metaphor: During the festival, devotees light thousands of earthen lamps and candles. The lighting of lamps is a Sufi metaphor for killing the ‘inner darkness’ that humans live with.
According to Sufi teachings, by invoking ‘spiritual light’ through love and self-knowledge, people can overcome their ‘inner demons’ and attain the mystical state of union with the Beloved [God].
Devotees also toss candles into a large mach (bonfire) 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.
A large segment of the festival crowd comprises young people and malangs, most of whom seem to be smoking hash-laced cigarettes.
A great number of malangs and malangnees [qalandars] were witnessed setting up tents around the shrine to celebrate the urs in their traditional style while chaylays were busy decorating the tents and preparing langar to host the increasing flux of devotees.
Females only: Women also perform dhamaals as a ritual. The last of the three days is made exclusive for women who come in large numbers to the shrine. A large number of foreigners also visit the shrine. Folk singers hailing from different parts of the country spend days and nights at the shrine and sing Hussain’s poetry.