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Karachi

March 5, 2018

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Sheedi Mela celebrated in Manghopir as militancy threat weakens

As a spot of the colour orange rose to the surface of the pond’s still green water, 15-year-old Aazar excitedly pointed to the aged crocodile rising to the surface, Mor Sahab, who had been doused with sindoor to mark the celebrations of the Sheedi Mela, which resumed again after a gap of seven years.

The Sheedi tribe residing in Manghopir, located a few kilometres from Sakhi Hasan Chowrangi, once again celebrated the festival on Sunday following a big gap, but with one small change – this year, the celebrations will only last for two days instead of four as they usually did.

Because of the precarious law and order situation and militancy in the area, the yearly event which differs from the annual Urs of the Sufi saint, Pir Mangho, held in Zilhaj, had been placed on hold for the past seven years. However, with ongoing Karachi operation, the situation has improved enough for the Sheedi community to once again don its finest and take to the streets in celebration.

On the warm Sunday afternoon, a large group of men, women and children, tapping their feet to the beat of dhols moved through the locality’s narrow lanes towards the shrine of Pir Mangho reciting the Manqabat and Hamd in a mix of languages, including Swahili, Sindhi and a few words from Urdu.

“The gist of their words can be described as a call to the respective saints to help them guide through the year,” Yaqoob Kamrani, a member of the Sheedi community, told The News.

Speaking about the traditions followed in the Sufi Tariqa, he said that the Sheedi community, which comprises of four houses, including Hyderabadi and Kharadari houses, follows the Gorya Silsila.

As the group continued to head towards the shrine with men leading the charge playing dhols, Kamrani pointed toward an instrument called the Mogharman that the revellers were playing and explained that it had been crafted by the companion of Hazrat Ali’s cousin called Qambar.

“Just like people come under a trance called Haal during Qawali, during the Dhamaal here people come under Vijayt which is more or less the same,” he added. Muhammad Yusuf, a resident of Manghopir was elated that the celebrations were finally back on track. “These past many years when the mela was not being held seemed like a drought to us, but now thankfully, people are slowly coming back and are now taking part in the celebrations,” said Muhammad Yusuf, a resident of Manghopir. He, however, added that in the past years, Sheedi people from across Pakistan used to arrive to participate, but now not so much.

Pointing towards a new enclosure on the grounds that devotees used to gather at earlier that had been built during the years that the mela had not been held, he said that the area for movement of devotees has shrunk with its addition.

“As compared to the other festivals held in the city, it would take time for ours to pick up again because we need more facilities,” Yusuf said.As the procession moved along, onlookers offered glasses full of the refreshing red fruit extract drink popular in Pakistan to the participants as a respite from the heat.

“Seven to eight years ago, the city’s condition was far worse and shrines were often targeted by militants so it was risky to hold the mela because hundreds of life would be at risk,” said Khalifa Muhammad Sajjad, the custodian of the shrine. “The conditions have improved now, hence it has been resumed.”

Explaining the community’s practices which date back some seven centuries, Sajjad explained that for the festival, the 127-year-old Mor Sahab is first bathed and doused in perfume. Sindoor is then applied to his head because it doesn’t dissolve easily in the water and therefore devotees can easily distinguish between him, the leader, and the other crocodiles in the pond. Flowers are placed on him and he is fed halwa, owing to Pir Mangho’s relationship with Baba Farid Shakar Ganj, who was the pir’s disciple.

Sajjad said the Sheedi community observes this practice because they believe it ensures them a safe year ahead.Meanwhile, as the group of marching devotees reached the main road outside the enclave of the shrine’s crocodiles and headed to the shrine, the policemen on duty ensured that the bystanders gave enough space to the group to pass through safely.

Up until 2011, the Sheedi community had celebrated the festival with zeal every year. However, after emergence of Taliban militants in neighbouring localities of Sultanabad, Pashtunabad and Kunwari Colony, the organisers stopped holding it fearing security threats. But, with the law-enforcement agencies’ crackdown on Taliban groups, the community can once again resume its spiritual ritual.

SSP West Omar Shahid Hamid said police had chalked out a proper security plan for the festival and deployed a contingent of personnel in the locality and the around shrine to avert any untoward incident. “Because the Taliban groups in nearby areas have been significantly weakened, the security threat to the festival has also decreased.”

— Additional reporting by Zia Ur Rehman

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