The four-day Sheedi Mela, a centuries-old traditional festival, will conclude at the Manghopir shrine on Wednesday (today). It attracted not only devotees but also a large number of residents to see crocodiles being fed and rubbed with colours amid the beating of drums.
The event, also known as the Crocodile Festival, started on Sunday with great enthusiasm and zeal in Manghopir, a suburban area in the city where hundreds of people of the Sheedi community hailing from different parts of Sindh and Balochistan, gather for the celebration.
Until mid-2011, the festival was held every year in the foothills of Manghopir. It holds both religious and cultural significance for the clan that is largely involved in organising it.
However, after the emergence of Taliban militants in the neighbouring localities of Sultanabad, Pashtunabad and Kunwari Colony, the organisers stopped arranging the festival for several years due to security threats.
In 2015, the organisers moved the festival’s venue to Hyderabad at the mausoleum of Hosho Sheedi, a freedom fighter martyred by the British army in 1843.
However, after the law enforcement agencies’ crackdown on Taliban groups, the organisers resumed arranging the festival in 2017, once again attracting a large number of devotees and residents.
The most interesting part of the festival is the feeding of the crocodiles living in the pond on the premises of the shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Hassan, known as Sakhi Sultan Manghopir. The Sheedis, who claim to have dwelled along the Arabian Ocean’s coasts for centuries, have developed great respect for the crocodiles.
‘Tiko’, or dabbing colours to the forehead of the chief crocodile, which is selected as Mor Saheb, is one of the mandatory rituals. Mor Saheb is also fed meat.
According to the organisers, the Sheedi clan’s four organisations (locally called Makan) — Karachi’s Kharadar Sheedi Jamaat, Laasi Sheedi Jamaat, Hyderabad’s Sheedi Jamaat and Lasbela’s Sheedi Jamaat — have been asked to lead the procession and perform rituals for a day each during the four-day festival.
The Sheedi community mainly live in the city’s various Baloch-populated neighbourhoods, including Lyari, while in rural Sindh they are spread in Hyderabad, Badin, Tando Bago, Sujawal, Shikarpur, Mirpurkhas and Jamshoro.
The celebration features a dancing procession known as Dhamaal. Men and women carrying decorated sticks in their hands start moving together and dancing, while others clap their hands to encourage the participants.
The Sheedi community’s leaders said the festival is not only for enjoyment but also a source of reuniting the community living in two provinces. “During the festival, community members discuss their issues, even marriage proposals, and resolve family disputes,” said Wajid Sheedi, a community member who lives in Laasi Para.
Scores of stalls with bangles, ornaments and embroidered clothing as well as other businesses, besides small restaurants and tea stalls, did a roaring business, as a large number of clan members and other visitors turned up at the festival.
Jamal Nasir, who sells bangles outside the shrine, said that the number of devotees at the festival is gradually declining. “Hundreds of families used to come here two months before the start of the festival. They stayed in makeshift homes. Hardly a few families come now, and even they arrive only a week before the festival.”
Abdul Ghani, a social activist from Manghopir, said the provincial and city administrations should spend funds on the development of the area and facilitate the festival’s devotees and other visitors. “In the areas surrounding the Manghopir shrine, roads are broken and there is no water there.”
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