A Muslim pilgrim snaps pictures of pigeons as she walks in the streets of the Saudi holy city of Mecca on 6 August 2019, a few days ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Photo: AFPMore than 2.5 million Muslims will on Friday begin the annual hajj pilgrimage in the Islamic holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, against a backdrop of tensions in the Gulf. Crowds of worshippers have already begun to gather in Mecca in the days ahead of the hajj, the focal point of the Islamic calendar.“It’s the first time I’ve felt something so strongly—it’s striking,” said 40-year-old Indonesian pilgrim Sobar in rudimentary Arabic.More than 1.8 million visitors had arrived by midday local time on Tuesday, authorities said.Crowds of faithful from across the world wore flowing white robes as they descended on the holy city located in the west of the ultra-conservative kingdom.The pilgrims will undertake religious rites that have remained unchanged since the founding of Islam 14 centuries ago.“Islam united us. We are all together… so that’s why I’m very happy,” said Leku Abibu, 46, a Ugandan mechanic who wore a beige salwar kameez.“I’m enjoying it here.”This year’s hajj takes place amid tensions in the Gulf region exacerbated by a series of attacks on oil tankers, drone strikes and interceptions of maritime traffic on the high seas.Saudi, the Gulf’s leading power, and its ally Washington accuse Iran—Riyadh’s regional rival—of being behind the attacks and sabotage operations against commercial shipping.Tehran has denied responsibility.Despite the absence of diplomatic ties between Saudi and Iran, some 88,550 Iranian pilgrims are due to take part in the hajj this year, according to the Tasnim news agency.‘No differences between us’Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and Muslims must perform it at least once in their lives if they can afford to.“There are all nations of the world, all languages. There are no differences between us,” said Nurul Jamal, a 61-year-old pilgrim from India.Mecca, closed to non-Muslims, is home to the Kaaba—a cube structure draped in black cloth embroidered in gold located at the heart of the mosque.The Great Mosque of Mecca with its Ottoman minarets sits amid skyscrapers that host upmarket malls and luxury hotels.Muslims face toward the Kaaba when praying the prescribed five-times daily.Pilgrims circle the Kaaba seven times and perform a number of sacred rites.While waiting for the beginning of the hajj, worshippers roam the esplanade or pray in the mosque in stifling heat.Temperatures can surpass 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) and some pilgrims carry sun shades.Large misting machines installed at the holy sites help to make the heat more bearable.“The mosques are air conditioned, water is readily available, you just have to protect yourself from the sun,” said Algerian Kamal Bouslimani, 57.Men wear two pieces of unstitched cloth called “ihram” that leaves one shoulder exposed.Pilgrims move together in large groups, led by guides holding their national flags.Billions of dollarsGuards in khaki fastidiously lead worshippers to their five daily prayers.Traffic in the city is extremely heavy and the air quality is poor.The odour of exhaust fumes mixes with the smell of bitumen emitted by the heated road surface and many pilgrims wear face masks.Away from prayers, many of the faithful visit the innumerable shops that speckle the Holy City.Religious tourism brings in revenues worth billions of dollars.But the vast gathering also presents major logistical and safety challenges.In 2015, some 2,300 worshippers were killed in the worst stampede in the history of the hajj.Since then Saudi Arabia has sought to reassure pilgrims, deploying tens of thousands of security officers and installing cameras to oversee every corner of the holy sites.Even though the hajj lasts only five days, many pilgrims arrive weeks before and linger in the city.The total number of arrivals is limited however as each Muslim country receives a pilgrim quota.Some worshippers have spent years on waiting lists—sometimes as long as a decade—just to perform their religious duty.Outside of the hajj, Muslims can also undertake a lesser, year-round pilgrimage known as umrah.
Dancer Geeta Chandran is marking four decades since her arangetram in 1974. To mark these 40 glorious year of dancing, Natya Vriksha, with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Pyramid Group is presenting the exhibition, In the Click of a Movment, of iconic photographs by photographer Rakesh Sahai.Sahai has been following the dancer on her creative journey since past five years, and from the dialogue between dancer and photographer has emerged this oeuvre of brilliant images. Also Read – ‘Playing Jojo was emotionally exhausting’A universally celebrated artiste, a celebrity and a star-performer, Chandran is synonymous with the Indian classical dance – Bharatanatyam. She began learning Bharatanatyam from the tender age of five years under the tutelage of Swarna Saraswathy.In her dance presentations Chandran skillfully weaves abstract notions of joy, beauty, values, aspirations, myth and spirituality. She is celebrated not only for her deep and composite understanding of the art of Bharatanatyam, but also for her Carnatic music, her work in television, video and film, theatre, choreography, dance education,dance activism and dance-issue journalism. Also Read – Leslie doing new comedy special with NetflixChandran is a recipient of several prestigious awards including the Lady Shri Ram College Illustrious Alumna Award, the Dandayudhapani Pillai Award, the Bharat Nirman Award, the NatyaIlavarasi, the Indira Priyadarshini Award, the Media India Award, the National Critics Award, the Guru Deba Prasad Das Award, the Sringar Mani and the NatyaRatna.When: 25 – 30 September Where: India Habitat Centre Lobby, Lodi Road Timing: 10 am to 8 pm
Taliban militants launched an attack on a foreign compound in Kabul on Saturday, officials said, the latest in a series of strikes in the Afghan capital during the final weeks of NATO’s 13-year war against the insurgents.Gunfire and explosions erupted as elite commando police fought with the attackers in west Kabul, not far from the parliament.The attack came two days after the Taliban attacked a foreign guesthouse in the diplomatic district of the city and a suicide bomber targeted a British embassy vehicle in a blast that killed six people.Kabul has been hit by at least nine attacks in the last two weeks, with targets including US military convoys, foreign security contractor compounds and a female Afghan member of parliament.On December 31, the US-led NATO combat mission in Afghanistan will end and be replaced by a follow-on mission tasked with supporting the Afghan army and police who have taken over responsibility for thwarting the Taliban.