Sheedi Mela celebrated after gap of seven years -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Sheedi Mela celebrated after gap of seven years

Pakistan Press Foundation

KARACHI: Their faces covered with chadors and feet moving rhythmically to the beat of drums, the women and men of Manghopir celebrated the Sheedi Mela after a gap of seven years on Monday. In a ceremony that lasted five hours, residents danced and sang their way to the crocodile pond and the shrine of the saint Sakhi Sultan after Zuhr prayers, despite an obvious uncertainty about the number of attendees.

District West of the city, where the shrine is located, has gone through a number of changes in the past seven years. These included the rise and branching out of gangs from Lyari to Manghopir. The Sheedi youth, earlier concerned with organising the festival, had to side with the Uzair Baloch-led Peoples Amn Committee (PAC) in order to survive in the area. The organiser of the mela, Ghulam Akbar Sheedi, a respected elder, moved to Lyari’s Baghdadi area from Sheedi Goth in Manghopir, and soon after his son, Ghulam Qadir Sheedi, was gunned down near a bus stop in Surjani Town in June 2012, who, it is said, had sided with the PAC in 2010.

His joining the group brought guns to the Sheedi youth who were tasked with stopping the use of crystal meth in the area. It also led to the killing of a few people from the Brohi biradri. Those who lived in Sheedi Goth were asked to pay ‘rent’ by the gangsters in exchange for shelter.

Manghopir witnessed another change in 2012, when the presence of suspected Taliban hideouts in the surrounding areas of Sultanabad, Pakhtunabad and Kunwari Colony were reported by residents.

The Sheedi Mela, which attracted thousands of people from Sindh and Balochistan every year, had to be toned down after Qadir’s death and the looming presence of Taliban militants.

It was celebrated along with the annual urs of Sakhi Sultan, widely known as Baba Mangho, last year in September.

This is the first time in seven years that the festival has been organised independently, added Abdul Ghani, a resident and activist, belonging to Manghopir.

“Consider this as a curtain raiser,” he said. “We are celebrating for a few hours today. We want to see how the public responds to a fully-fledged festival after a gap of so many years.”

The thought of holding the festival along with the annual urs of Sakhi Sultan was to shift focus towards the shrine and to engage with the residents. The annual urs at the shrine and the Sheedi Mela are two separate festivals, said residents.

Before the gangs, and later the Taliban, disrupted the entire festival, the Sheedi Mela used to be organised every year during the Islamic month of Jamadi-us-Sani. The celebrations used to begin 15 days before as devotees from Sindh and Balochistan used to gather at Sheedi Goth. The actual mela at times continued for three or four days.

Four tribes — Hyderabadi, Kharadari, Laasi and Belara — took part in organising the Mela on Monday. Without naming the Pakistani Taliban, Haji Saleem Nangarchi, from Hyderabadi Makan, said that “they are still present but not as forceful as they were before thanks to the Rangers-led operation. What we have done to counter them is to slowly continue our festivities for our children.”

To be cautious, the usual songs in Swahili and Makrani had an additional use of ‘Allah Hu’ in order to be on the ‘safe side’, another elder revealed. Also, this is the first time, the mela was organised in the Islamic month of Rabi-us-Sani rather than Jamadi-us-Sani.

By mid-afternoon, the dancing and singing group of devotees reached the crocodile pond to feed the animals the sacrificial meat of four goats. The four sacrificial goats symbolise the four tribes. The group, which had gathered considerably in a short time, then reached the shrine to pay their respects to Baba Mangho. Seven girls carried silver thaalis on their heads which had choori made of wheat and sugar covered with colourful glittery cloth.

On reaching the shrine, Haji Habib, from the Kharadari Makan, said that, “we are beginning our most cherished mela with the hope that it sustains. We leave the rest to God.”