LAHORE    -   The three-day celebrations of 976th Urs of Hazrat Ali bin Usman Hajveri (RA) popularly known as Data Ganj Bakhsh (RA) began on Friday.

Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar formally inaugurated the festival by laying wreath and opening milk Sabeel at the shrine. Provincial ministers, members of the parliament, senior bureaucrats, Auqaf Department high ups and notables attended the inaugural ceremony.

After the formal inauguration, special prayers were offered for the prosperity and solidarity of Pakistan and freedom of Kashmir.

The district administration has announced local holiday on Saturday (today) to facilitate employees to participate in the annual festival. Thousands of devotees from across the country and abroad reached the shrine on the first day of Urs and offered Nawafils and special prayers.

Groups of devotees, many of them led by their respective spiritual leaders and Gaddi Nasheens, kept arriving at the extensively illuminated shrine of 10th century saint who devoted life for preaching Islam in the sub continent.

Talking to the media after the inauguration, Usman Buzdar said that real objective of creation of Pakistan could only be achieved by following the teachings of sufis and saints who devoted their life for preaching Islam in the sub continent. He stressed the need for stepping up efforts to materialise the dream of Allama Iqbal and Quaid-i-Azam into reality.

He expressed hopes that the day was not far when Pakistan would achieve the goals for which it was created and would shine prominently among the comity of the nations.

Minister of Auqaf Pir Saeedul Hasan Shah said that the teachings of Hazrat Ali Hajveri (RA) are a beacon light for the Muslims. He said the best arrangements have been made for the devotees. He said that foolproof security arrangements have been made for the protection of life and properties of devotees. He said that special care has been taken for providing food to the devotees. He said that Rs10 million would be spent on Langar and other arrangements. He said that necessary measures have been taken to check the incidents of pick-pocketing. He said bomb disposal squads would also be present all the time for coping with any emergency situation.

He said special traffic plan has also been made for smooth flow of traffic on this occasion.

The Lahore Parking Company has announced providing free round the clock parking for the devotees and visitors at four places-Central Model School, TB Hospital, Minar-e-Pakistan and Mohni Road.

Spiritual gatherings, Qirat and Naat competitions, debate contests, seminars on Tasawaf, lectures of religious scholars are part of the festival.