They come from all over the country t o Maryamabad near Sheikhupura every October to pray for salvation and celebrate Mother Mary
By Haroon Khalid
After walking, barefoot, for several
kilometers blisters develop under their feet. Even though they put on
socks to avoid the condition; that still doesn’t protect them. Others,
who decide to make their way on cycles, are seen resting on the road,
under the trees, throughout the road — to Marya Yatra.
The annual pilgrimage to the shrine of
Mary, called the Marya Yatra, at a small village a few kilometers away
from the city of Sheikhupura has now become the largest Catholic
pilgrimage in the country. Several thousands of devotees continue pouring
in for this three-day event. Whereas families, women and children usually
get here by public transport, the younger men make a much more difficult
journey. According to the Catholic belief if they take up this journey in
a difficult condition, e.g. by walking barefoot or on a cycle then Mother
Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus Christ, would forgive them their sins.
This act is called Penance in the Catholic theology.
Throughout our journey from Lahore to
Maryamabad, we ran into several groups of people, wearing colourful
shirts, travelling in small and large groups towards their destination.
Some people were trying to get there on bicycles.
These groups come
from all over the country, sometimes travelling for more than a couple of
days to get to their shrine. Shahbaz Masih, an 18-years-old student from
Okara tells me that he cycled up till Maryamabad with a group of 24
people. “I have come here before, but by bus. This is the first time
I’ve come here by bicycle. I am praying to get good marks in Matric
exams. My mother also remains sick, so I am praying for her health too,”
Like hundreds of other devotees, who
undertake this difficult journey, Masih feels that doing this would help
his wishes come true. The 15-years-old Akash from Lahore agrees. It took
him three days to get here.
As one approaches the village, two
tall minarets greet the pilgrims from far away. According to the belief,
wishes come true if one climbs to the top and ties a cloth around a wooden
structure that is erected on the top. Several young men stood at the
bottom to go on this vertical journey. A few boys stood at the top to
assist the devotees.
Both the minarets stand in an open
field facing the shrine. This entire ground had been taken up by stalls,
selling Christian paraphernalia, like the cross, pictures of Jesus Christ
and Mother Mary, audio CDs, and DVDs. There were various stalls of
One of the differences between
Catholics and Protestants is that the Catholics adorn their houses and
Churches with statues and pictures of Jesus Christ and Mother Mary whereas
the Protestants don’t, usually just limiting themselves to the cross.
The Catholics also can be identified by the cross necklace they wear,
which the Protestants hardly do. Catholics consider Mother Mary as the
Mother of the entire humanity whereas the Protestants revere her but
don’t give her such a special status.
There is a huge line to get into the
main Church. Inside, there is a small Church in the centre. Next to it is
a stage where singers and performers are coming and
performing, singing Christian songs, in local folk tunes. These songs are
quite popular. At one time Madam Noor Jahan and Arif Lohar also recorded
them. Next to it is a small artificial mound. On its summit there is a
life-size statue of Mother Mary, holding baby Christ in her arms. Devotees
stand in long queues to pay their tribute to the Mary. In the 1980s, when
this was a small shrine, a few young children from the neighbouring
village claimed to see the figure of Mother Mary on this mound. The story
gained popularity and within years the shrine became famous all over the
country. On its base, devotees lit candles. Father Mushtaq, representative
of the Diocese of Lahore which is responsible for the management of the
shrine and the pilgrimage says, “Candles signify the presence of Jesus
Christ. Wherever there is light, he exists.”
“This is the 62nd
festival of Mary at the shrine,” says Father Mushtaq. “The
priests at that time felt a need to make a mound and a shrine of Mary for
the Christian parish (community) living here. It is important for all
parishes to have a mound, which signifies proximity to God,” he adds. He
tells us that there is a spring next to the mound, water from which is
consumed and used for salvation. On the 2nd day of the festival the Bishop
comes and blesses the water, after which people drink it, whereas some
choose to take some water home. Little children are given a bath in the
spring for salvation. “This started off as a small festival, at the
level of the parish in the early days, but over the years, especially
after the testimonies of people seeing Mother Mary here, its popularity
soared and now this is the largest Catholic festival of the country,”
says Father Mushtaq. A lot of people give testimonies of witnessing
Saints, Mother Mary and experiencing miracles here, which they then share
with the rest of the community on stage here, according to the father.
October and May are reserved for the
worship of Mary. The month of October became associated with the worship
of Mary after the victory of the Papal States over the Ottoman forces in
1571, in the battle of Lepanto. Had the Ottomans won, they would have
gained access to the Western Europe. A rosary procession was offered on
the day of the battle at Saint Peter’s Square in Rome for the success of
the Christian forces, in the name of Virgin Mary. The rosary worship
offered all over the Catholic communities, including at this festival, is
in the memory of that victory.
There is no place to sleep for the
devotees here, who also come for overnight stays. They usually find a
place underneath a tree. Several lay inside the Church and around it.
Behind the Church there is an open ground, where tents are set up to
accommodate the devotees. Here I meet Sabar Elahi, who has come from
Shahdara. He serves the devotees free nihari, bong and halwa puri.
“Every year, we give about 30-40 cauldrons of food for free,” he adds.
He has been coming here for 10 years, every year. He gives free food to
the pilgrims as part of his service to the religion.
Within the same tent, we also meet Nasreen from Shahdara. She isn’t planning to come this year. Her children left the house with a caravan to take the journey on foot. One of her sons got lost. When Nasreen was told about it, she immediately left for Maryamabad. “Throughout the journey, I recited the rosary of Mary,” she says. “As soon as we got here, we found him. Thanks to God and Mother Mary,” she adds
I can almost see the
split second shock on your face. It is followed by relief and then
For the women out there,
the shock at the thought of all those guests to be served and, for the
kids, the thought of the boredom in meeting the countless near-strangers
from your extended families. The indescribable relief when you remind
yourself that Eid just went by – it is over and done with, for the next
few months at least. And then there is the surprise: seeing an article
about Eid in the newspaper, days after the festival itself, is rather
What compelled me to
type it out was an SMS I just received. The official Eid holidays were a
measly three, but most people did convert it into a full week, if the
empty streets were anything to go by. That explains the timing of this
The SMS caught me by as
much surprise as the theme of this article might have surprised you. At
first glance, it seemed that my friend had woken from hibernation, for the
screen displayed ‘Eid Mu’. I scrolled down, and read ‘Eid Muk Gai.’
Those three words
suddenly changed the direction of my thoughts. While the sender’s
intention was probably a light hearted reminder to everyone of the offices
and schools they had to start going to again, I could not help feeling
that most people I know would be relieved about Eid being over (albeit
quite upset about the end of the holidays).
There’s this monotony
associated with Eid now; it has unfortunately become more of a hassle than
a festival. In my case, the blame certainly lies on emigration. Most of my
extended family is settled abroad and the rest are in other cities. I have
a feeling that my cousins in the US have a more Eidish Eid than I here in
Lahore do, for Eid is a family occasion.
The day I heard that the
moon had been sighted, I’m sure I drove my friends crazy by my incessant
grumblings about the boredom I would experience in those 24 hours. After
all, the chotti Eid was fresh in my mind. My friends were very
sympathising, but I wasn’t fooled: they all very conveniently don’t
reply to my messages on the day in question. In their defense, mobile
phones shouldn’t take preference over family on this traditional
festival, but still…
Anyways, imagine my
relief when I found out that my uncle, due to some change in travel plans,
would be coming over. Finally, my friends’ messages or their lack would
not matter, for I would be busy myself.
That high lasted six
hours, for that afternoon, my mother came home from her job and announced
that she had no day off. She would have to go to work on Sunday, Monday,
impossible. It’s Eid.’
Apparently, the whole
health department was open, due to the dengue epidemic. Government’s
orders. The whole health department, owing to dengue! The notice said that
it would be a ‘routine work day.’
It was hard to believe
though. Somehow, I never expected her to go on Eid, till it actually
happened. So now it was not the extended family missing from action, it
was my mother.
No matter how bored I
am, Eid isn’t and shouldn’t be a routine day. Hourly duties divided
amongst the doctor would have kept the system running effectively for
patients which is what happens in hospitals on every Eid.
Somehow, I can’t help
drawing parallels between the previous 10 days school closure due to
dengue, and the whole health department being open on this religious
festival. Both were drastic measures, and I’m not really sure whether
they were really needed, or were just to create the impression that
something is being done.
Festival at Children’s Library Complex on Friday-Saturday, Nov 25-26
from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
*Lahore Photo Walk 11
today at 1:00pm. The
*Fashion Show today at
The Knowledge Factory (TKF) at 4:00 pm.
*Reading of works by
Heinrich von Kleist on Monday, Nov 21 at 6:00pm at Annemarie-Schimmel-Haus.
He was a crisis expert at the turn of
the 19th century who regarded Germany to be a waiting room lacking
movement. He attempted to shake his contemporaries back to life with
futuristic experiments, not only in literature, but in all areas of
society. He was a character, playwright and storyteller with extreme
Forums Mushaira Tinush Firdaus at Faiz Ghar today at 5:00 pm.
Talk at Punjab Institute of Language, Art and Culture on Monday, Nov 21at
*Lecture on Food,
nutrition and diet at Faiz Ghar on Monday, Nov 21 at 6:00 pm.
Collectors Galleria on Tuesday, Nov 22 at 4:30 pm.
Regardless of the
concerns whether he has money, a house or a safe bank deposit, man by
nature is a collector. We like to possess physical objects as well as non
tangible entities — reason why our residences and work places are filled
with items acquired over years in the way our minds are cluttered with
memories of the past. Both kinds of collections accumulate in such large
amounts that often we are not aware of what we have stored. Then there are
gifts received from others in terms of tangible things and collective
knowledge, including language in the non-physical form.
Probably gathering that
vast amount of real and idea-based entities is not as much a problem, as
the question of preserving them, since both the memories and precious
things erode with the passage of time. Man has devised a way to prolong
the memory and ideas by putting these into poetry and stories. A means
that has managed to conserve concepts (expressed through words) so today
we can enjoy poetry of Homer, Virgil, Dante and Shakespeare and texts
written centuries ago.
There are many methods
applied to preserve physical objects, right from the process of
mummification to architectural conservation. Photography, when it was
invented more than a hundred years ago, also served that purpose. We
capture the images of our family, houses, belongings, schools, sites of
our travels, through the lens of camera and turn them immortal. So once
leafing through an old picture album, one can revive the experience of
bygone people, places and products. But along with this function of
recording the passing items, photography offers a new version and view of
familiar world. Thus when we come across the photograph of a known person
and place, we are normally shocked by the unusualness of the visual. The
most common example of this phenomenon is receiving one’s passport size
pictures at a photography shop, and as soon as you take out the photograph
from the folder, you are reluctant to recognise – and admit it being
This quality of
presenting new versions of familiar visions is an aspect seen in the work
of Maryam Arif, recently displayed at Nairang Galleries from Nov 12-16. A
self taught artist, Maryam displayed her photographs with views of
different kinds. Interior spaces and outside constructions were captured
in a sensitive manner. In a number of works, the light played a major part
in determining the format of picture; hence shaft of light coming through
an opening became a main motif in her works. Light was dealt with another
way in a few pictures, where it guided the gaze of the viewers, and
conveyed an experience not dissimilar to watching a moving image.
Maryam Arif was trained
as a medical doctor but discovered the passion for photography during her
stay in Arizona. Photography, she says, had always held fascination for
her but she realised it as her actual profession while she was doing her
medical research in the USA. Since then Maryam has been experimenting with
this medium and explored it to express her inner feelings. Interestingly,
the true feelings of the artist, reflected in her works, were transmitted
to the audience as well to some extent. More so, with the intelligent
handling of light, colour and texture – tools that carry and communicate
unnamable entities and ideas.
But more than just the
visually engaging views, Arif’s work unfolded a range of meanings too. A
difficult task for an artist who uses ‘mute’ medium of images, but
Maryam managed to communicate ideas about spirituality and human
conditions in her work. Continuous stairs leading to nowhere somehow
reminded of Kafka’s stories, in which the man is caught in an oppressive
fate. Clustered poles and empty walls of the gallery accentuated this
sensation, which engaged the viewer and compelled him/her to discover
beyond the mere visual material.
As a young person myself
I can say with some surety that reading is no longer a choice activity
among kids these days. We would rather spend time on the internet, play
video games or watch TV. This of course is the case for privileged kids
who have access to all these things. For those from less privileged
classes, there is a different problem. For them books could have been a
good past time, but they are not really affordable to many and there are
few libraries in our country.
As a result, we have
grown further and further away from books. Combined with a poor security
situation and overly paranoid parents who don’t let us go out or indulge
in sports, cultural activities or just any fun activity, our options for
entertaining ourselves become severely limited.
In this scenario, the
news of a Children’s Literary Festival in the city is like a breath of
fresh air. This festival jointly organised by Idara-e-Taleem-o-Agahi,
Oxford University Press and Open Society Foundation is going to be held at
the Children Library Complex coming Friday and Saturday, the 25th and 26th
of this month.
This is the first
literature festival for the children of Pakistan to be held at national
level. It aims to create an interest in children for books, reading,
writing, authors and literature by developing a taste for reading among
them, and attract them to savouring the pleasures offered by books.
Studies show that love for reading leads to children’s success in
schools and assists in the development of the whole child.
An exciting and
fun-filled programme has been designed for the CLF. It will feature talks
and readings by famous children’s writers, provide children
opportunities to listen to their favourite books being read and discussed,
attend classes on creative writing, learn about bookmaking, write book
reviews, making comics, attend puppet shows and theatre performances, walk
with giant-sized characters and participate in many other reading-related
activities. There will be sessions on local languages to popularise
mother-tongue learning in Pakistan.
On the guest list are
local and international celebrities, authors, publishers and well-known
personalities who love books.
The organisers hope that
CLF will be an annual happening for years to come rotating to all
provinces of Pakistan as the most talked-about and well-attended national
event for our children, our schools, parents, authors and educators.
The best thing about the
festival is that it is free and open to all. So all children can come and
enjoy the activities. We need places and events where we can break the
class, religion, caste and language barriers and relate as equals and