On the 455th urs of Baba Mauj Darya, celebrations continue without a glitch. The stage is set with artificial flowers for the qawwals to arrive and begin their performance, the fakirs are already whirling and dancing to the beat of the dhol, and the shrine itself has been adorned with lights and colourful flags.
Just a few hundred feet off the shrine, cranes, pit diggers, and rollers are clearing their way to it.
The Mauj Darya shrine is located on Edward Road, and can be approached through a narrow street. Parts of the place are to be demolished in order to make way for the Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT)’s track. These include the mosque adjoining the shrine, the area where food is served (langar khana), and a part of the courtyard. The train is supposed to cross just 1.5 feet away from the main grave and shrine, violating the 200-foot limit put in place to protect heritage sites.
The construction requires digging an underground tunnel for the train track which will only be 5 metres deep, and hence keep the shrine on shallow ground.
Maryam Hussain, an activist who has been working to prevent the destruction of heritage sites and displacement of people along the OLMT doesn’t believe the shrine will be able to survive the construction and the vibrations from the passing train.
She points to a crack at the back of the shrine’s complex: “They haven’t even started work and there are cracks already. Imagine what will happen to the shrine once they start the digging process.”
“The people coming to pray don’t care about the machines or the approaching train track; they are here to seek Babaji’s blessings,” says Idrees Hussain who is accompanied by his wife. The couple have recently moved to Lahore and heard that no one returns from the shrine empty-handed. “We’re newly married, and have come here to pray for a child.”
A lot of the people living around the shrine have moved away now, as their property was seized to make way for the train track. They had come to the shrine to pray to protect them when they first found out that they would have to move. Ali Rashid is one such local. He lived in Kapoorthala and can’t stop mourning the loss of home. He is now fighting to raise public awareness on what is going to happen to the shrine. He shows the visitors around the shrine and explains what might become of the place once the construction begins.
“The people of the area firmly believed that Babaji will protect them but now we don’t know ourselves what will happen to the shrine,” he says.
Rashid does not trust the government representatives when they say the shrine will be restored once the train starts running. “We grew up here, played around this place when we were children. Every year, at the urs, my mother would distribute food,” he says.
Rashid believes it is because of the selfish motives of a few people that they might lose the shrine. “Every Thursday, we would get together at the darbar. It protected us all.”
Syed Hazrat Meeran Mauj Darya Bukhari was a pir, a religious person during Mughal Emperor Akbar’s time. The legend goes that it was Mauj Darya who told the emperor about the windstorm that would help him seize the Chittorgarh Forts from the Rajputs. Another story also says that Mauj Darya turned back the waters of Ravi, thus preventing the river from flooding. That’s how he earned the reputation of being a protector.
“They say they’ll rebuild the darbar, and that we’re okay with that,” says Rashid. “They have no respect for culture, heritage, or even religion.” He is obviously disappointed at the SC’s orders that allowed the construction related to OLMT to go on.
Meanwhile, the devotees keep coming in to pray and be a part of the festivities. Children, little girls roam freely around, unafraid, pleading with their father that they want to miss school and come again in the morning. Mauj Darya is different from the bigger shrines in Lahore like Data Darbar and Shah Jamal but it embodies what a shrine truly is — a place where all are welcome and safe: women, children and the homeless.
In one corner of the shrine, a bunch of devotees sit smoking weed. As the night goes dark and weary, and the drum beat grows louder, the smell of weed in the air also becomes heavier. The faces in the group change but their presence is a constant at the shrine. Everyone talks to each other, and everyone here is called by their first names or nick-names.
The area where they now sit shall be turned into a mosque, says Asad Zia, the protection committee’s chairman. “They will have to move, while the construction work is taking place, but they will always be given space at the shrine,” he adds.
Zia reveals that they will be making bathrooms and a room for the caretaker of the shrine also. He says that the committee has been very strong in its negotiations with the government and will ensure that the main shrine is protected. “We will make sure the dome of the shrine is properly shielded before construction begins. It’s a 500-year-old dome that you see; it’s quite delicate.”
However, the area under which the train crosses shall not be built over. “The government has told us that we cannot build over it because of the issue of vibration and also for security reasons,” says Zia.
After the three-day urs, a red line that cuts through the courtyard in the shrine shows exactly how much of the area shall be dug up. Those in the protection committee are confident that the shrine will survive the construction and the new additions will make it better.
Meanwhile, people coming to the shrine look at the red line, ask about it and then step forward. Shaukat Sheikh, a construction worker, grew up near the shrine and has returned to it after eight years because he is working close to it now. “I was eight years old when we moved away from old Anarkali,” he says. “I love the place, and Mauj Darya is my sarkar!”
Like many others, Sheikh doesn’t know what will become of the place once construction work begins, but he would like to believe that he shall be able to visit it again.