India-Pakistan border village celebrates festival of harmony

June 26th, 2008 - 11:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Chamalyal (Jammu and Kashmir), June 26 (IANS) Several thousand Hindus and Muslims Thursday took part in an annual festival in this Jammu and Kashmir village touching the India-Pakistan border in memory of a hermit who devoted his life to preach peace and love more three centuries ago. The devotees at the shrine of Baba Chamlayal here, less than 200 metres from the International Boundary and about 50 km southwest of Jammu, unmindful of the faith of the fellow devotees shared the same earth and water to rid themselves of skin diseases, following a belief in their curative powers.

Several hundreds of others gathered across the border to pay their respects to Baba Chamliyal from a distance. Their offerings were brought to the shrine by a column of Pakistani Rangers led by Col. A.M. Shah. They were received by the Indian border guards - the Border Security Force (BSF).

Across the border, thousands of Pakistanis in festive dresses waited for the BSF trolleys that finally delivered them their share of ’sharbat’ and ’shakkar’ - shakkar being the soil in the surroundings of the shrine, and sharbat the water of a well in the area. The mix of the two, the belief goes, cures skin diseases.

While Pakistanis stood near the border, Indians were dancing and singing folksongs hailing Baba Chamlayal, a symbol of the Hindu-Muslim brotherhood.

Baba, whose real name was Daleep Singh Manhas, was popular among the people of the area. According to the legend, he had magical powers.

His popularity spread far and wide, but it was unbearable for a few in the area and he was murdered. The legend has it that as his blood spread, the land there acquired miraculous properties and a well sprung up at the site where his head was placed.

This year, the devotees came to the shrine quite early in the morning because of a shutdown call given by several Hindu groups to protest what they called “Kashmir-centric parties’ plans to disrupt the annual Amarnath pilgrimage”.

“We wanted to be here at all costs, so we started our journey quite early in the morning,” said Ashok Sharma of Kathua, a town about 80 km south of Jammu. “I didn’t want to miss this fair.”

The Hindu devotees were aware of a row over land allotment to the Amarnath shrine authorities, but they said that should not affect the fair or its celebrations.

“The faith is faith and here Hindus and Muslims are equal. It is a place to unite, not divide,” commented Sheila Sambyal, a young woman from Samba, a border town about 40 km south of winter capital Jammu.

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