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‘We Want Our Spaces Back’: No Entry For Women In Shah Hussain’s Shrine At Mela Chiraghan

‘Women are not allowed to go inside the grave hall of Madhu Lal Hussain’, a written instruction displayed outside the shrine by the administration says. One can find such instructions on almost every shrine except a few.

This wasn’t the case 20 years ago.

Everyone in Punjab knows about Shah Hussain – famously known as Madhu Lal Hussain – a Punjabi Sufi poet. Almost all have cried at some point while listening to his heart gripping poetry and especially at his famous Kaafi: “Maye Ni Mein Kinnu Akhan, Dard Wachorey Da Haal Ni”.

Though his poetry tributes mothers, and women; the rules and regulations managing his shrine are contrary to his teachings.

Qawali session outside Shrine of Shah Hussain.

Mela Chiragan is an annual feature of Lahore.

People from all walks of life attend this festival. It falls in the last week of March every year and is famous for Devotional dances to the beat of Dhols, Qawallis and weed-taking Malangs.

Candles and Chirags (lamps) are also one of the most popular sights that are placed on the boundary walls of the shrine.

Devotees come dancing in groups, holding green and fancy Chaddars (sheets) and whirling to the beats of Dhol to pay homage to the poet placing the Chaddars on Shah Hussain’s grave.

The Chiraghan.

There is a big pit of light, candles and traditional Chiragas in the shrine’s premises. It is said that if you light a candle and throw it in the well and then make a wish, it ought to come true. That’s why it is called Mela Chiragan (Festival of Lights).

It is refreshing to see that the Walled City Authority of Lahore is playing a vital role to revive such festivities in the town.

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The authority has organized a series of Qawallis this year on different shrines, like Madhu Lal, Shah Jamal and Mian Meer, to commemorate the colourful Mela Chiragan. This is a wonderful step towards peace building in the society and celebrating the beauty of our culture.

Sufi shrines have always been safe spaces for the common people in our society. They convey a message of peace, love and harmony. It was, however, painful to see scanners, security personnel, police men and weapons around the shrine of Madhu Lal Hussain.

Man sells Fancy Chaddars (sheets) to devotees.

One can see that the name of the Sufi of Mela Chiragan, Madhu Lal Hussain is incomplete without its Hindu part the Madhu Lal. This is the beauty of our local culture and festive rituals and is an example of harmony of this land called Punjab.

Also, festivals like Mela Chiragan are true faces of our land. They welcome all irrespective of class, gender and appearance and have been great hosts to the marginalized sections of our society.

Traditionally, women were welcomed at Sufi shrines. Women even used to dance along with men during these local festivals, but something has gone wrong in the recent decades.

But women want their spaces back; let there be lights around again.

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