LAHORE - Mela Charaghan (the festival of lights), the birth anniversary of great Sufi saint Hazrat Shah Hussain also known as Madho Lal Hussain, has kicked off here on Saturday.

Different political personalities of the area inaugurated the three-day Urs celebrations by laying floral wreaths lightening ‘Charaghs’ (lamps and candles) outside the shrine.

Nearly half a million people from every corner of Pakistan and every religion come to attend this colorful festive, extravaganza. Joyful people are singing and dancing and cultural dances are performed on stage. All sorts of ethnic foods are served and thousands of candles are set in earthenware lamps and lit by disciples.

The festivities and handcrafts reflect the folklore and traditional rituals of Punjabi mystics and culture.

Whirling dervishes dance to the tunes of drums and recite Kafis written by Shah Hussain, pilgrims sit by a bonfire as they believe their prayers will be answered by doing so. While, others come and toss candles into the bonfire hoping that their wishes will be granted.

Every year this celebration turns into a festival of lamps, a big event for the people of Punjab and especially for Lahorites. A local holiday was also announced on Saturday.

On the occasion, thousands of devotees from all over the country gathered at the shrine to pay tribute to the Sufi saint.

The entire area of Baghbanpura, where the shrine of Shah Hussain is situated, has been decorated with colourful buntings and lights in the evening. The illuminated streets in surroundings of the shrine give a unique look to the whole festival.

Dhamal (dancing on the rhythm of drum beating) is also the main feature of the festivity. Devotees also distribute langar (food) and lay floral wreaths and chaadars at the graves of Shah Hussain and Madho Lal Hussain.

Special stalls of traditional foods and soft drinks have been established and the locals have also set up television screens showing dances performed at stage shows to entertain the devotees.

All sorts of traditional food items have been put on sale at different stalls in area of the Bhaghbanpura Main Bazar and other areas surrounding the shrine. A number of stalls of toys, utensils and traditional clay utensils have also been set up in this bazaar.  

Shah Hussain, the poet of love, was born in 1538. His family lived at a house located outside Taxali Gate alongside the Ravi. However, some of the researchers differ and insist that he was born in village Dhadhi in Pind Dadan Khan, District Jehlum.

As Shah Hussain had strong faith in love for humanity, he included a Hindu boy Madho among his disciples. Researchers say Madho was true follower of Shah Hussain and left his family for him. For him, Shah Hussain’s love was so intense that Madho’s name became a part of his own name, and even till now he is known as Madhu Lal Hussain. Researchers also say Madho embraced Islam when he saw Shah Hussain’s miracles. Shah Hussain is considered to be the first Punjabi sufi poet who composed poetry in Punjabi - Kafi which is still very simple to understand his message. Knowing God by knowing ourselves is the main theme of his poetry.

His work is romantic and has all the symbols of rich cultural heritage.

In 1599, Shah Hussain passed away at the age of 63. It is also believed by the researchers that at first he was buried in Shahdara. After 13 years, his body was exhumed and was re-buried at Baghbanpura, when the Ravi changed its course flooding his grave in Shahdara.

The last third day of the festival is reserved for women only who also come in large number to the shrine. Many a 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.