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PHOOLWALON KI SAIR

SAIR-I-GULFAROSHA.N

When Mughal conquered India, they adopted the Indian lifestyle and respected religion of locals. From Akbar offering Chhatar to Hindu temples and donating land for Golden Temple of Sikhs, each Mughal emperor was involved in some or other interfaith activity. The communal unity was at its peak with many Jain, Hindu and Sikh nobles serving in the Mughal court. British realized this strength of Indian people and decided to implement their Divide and Rule policy. They identified Aurangzeb as the pivot, during whose rule, maximum forceful conversions and temple destruction took place. The fact that these incidents happened only in the areas where Hindu/Sikh groups started mutiny against Mughal crown was deliberately removed from History books. It was projected that Mughals, especially Aurangzeb were always bad. Following their Divide and Rule policy, all events that exhibit Hindu Muslim Unity were banned, including the one I am going to talk about today:

It was year 1812. East India Company had penetrated to Mughal court completely and a Resident Officer was living inside the Red Fort, controlling the administration of India. Coins were struck by British Mints and name of Mughal Emperor was removed from currency. Emperor Shah Alam II had died, for whom people started saying

‘Badshah Shah Alam, Az Delhi, Ta Palam’

clip_image002It meant, Emperor Shah Alam’s rule is from Delhi (Red Fort) to Palam (present day Delhi Airport) only. Shah Alam II’s son, Akbar Shah II was the puppet king and Archibald Seton, a Scottish East India Company Administrator was the appointed Officer in Red Fort. Next in line to throne, Crown Prince Mirza Jahangir was against British way of working. One day, this reckless young prince of 19 insulted Seton by calling him Lullu. Seton did not react then. Perhaps he did not understood the meaning of the word. Few days later, when Seton was returning from court, Mirza Jahangir, sitting on the roof of Naubat Khana, fired a shot at him, missing Seton completely. While Seton escaped unhurt, his orderly lost his life. Angry with this, British arrested Mirza Jahangir and sent him to Allahabad fort. Back then, it was famous that a political prisoner, who is sent to Allahabad Fort, never returns alive.

clip_image004The Mughal court tried its best to save him, but the administration was in British hands completely. Having failed at every door, Empress Mumtaz Mahal, mother of Mirza Jahangir came to the shrine of Sufi Saint Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki (ra) in Mehrauli, Delhi. She took a vow that if Mirza Jahangir returns safely, she would offer a sheet (chadar) of flowers at the Dargah.

After few years of praying, Mirza Jahangir one day miraculously returned to the Red Fort. The Empress approached Emperor Akbar Shah II and told him about her vow. Emperor was more than happy to be a part of pledge. They both decided to start from the Red Fort with sheet of flowers for the Shrine. News spread like jungle fire and everyone in and around the Palace got ready to walk with the royal family, to pay homage to Sufi Saint resting in Mehrauli.

It was the month of September. Convoy started with all the praise singing and merry making. When they reached the outskirts of Mehrauli, Mughal Emperor stood by the Temple of Ma Yogmaya and said, Mehrauli is known for this deity and it will be a sin to pay respect to Sufi Shrine and not visit the Hindu Temple.

Yogmaya Temple in Mehrauli is considered to be one of the Temples Pandavas built. It is attributed to Maa Yogmaya, sister of Lord Krishna, who was replaced with Krishna upon birth to save him from his evil uncle Kans. This temple gave this area its name ‘Yoginipura’. She is also known as Maha Maya or Mehraa.N waali maayi (mother of graces) and some say, the name ‘Mehrauli’ is a distorted version of ‘Mehra.N Waali’ (NOTE: Mehra-waali = Mehravali = Mehrauli).

Emperor Akbar Shah II entered the Hindu Temple and offered a Pankha (fan) to the deity. He then went to the Muslim Shrine to fulfil rituals of offering Chadar. For seven days, entire court was shifted to Mehrauli and with all the merry making and celebrations, people were very happy. Emperor ordered to repeat this event every year. A palace, called Rang Mahal was constructed as every year, entire Mughal court used to get shifted to Mehrauli for 7 days. Every year, Mughal Emperor would come with everyone from Red Fort and around, with a sheet of Flowers and a decorated Fan for Temple. This festival became popular with name ‘Phoolwalo.N ki Sair’ or ‘Sair-i-Gul-Farosha.N’.

clip_image006

Rang Mahal was later termed as Lal Mahal. Mirza Jahangir could never become king. Instead, his brother, who was a poet and had no interest in ruling the country, Mirza Sirajuddin aka Badshah Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’ was made emperor. Zafar added portion to this palace and it is today popular with name Zafar Mahal.

Emperor Akbar Shah II and his family got buried in this Zafar Mahal, next to the shrine. Emperor Zafar also designated a place for his grave next to his father, but since he was exiled to Rangoon, he could never return and fulfil his last wish.

In early 1940s, British imposed ban on all activities that exhibited communal harmony. So was the fate of Phoolwalon ki Sair. It was stopped for almost 2 decades, until in 1961, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru asked the mayor of Delhi, Mr. Nooruddin Ahmed and a scion of prominent family Shri Yogeshwar Dayal to revive the festival. On September 6, 1962, Pt. Nehru played the part of the Mughal Emperor and the festival was celebrated like old days. He continued to do so until his death, after which, his daughter Indira Gandhi took special interest in the festival. She invited other states of India to participate, so that the festival of Communal Harmony becomes the festival of National Communal Harmony.

Phoolwalon ki Sair is celebrated till date, for 7 days, every September. It is managed by Anjuman-i-Sair-e-Gulfaroshan, a society governed by notable Hindus and Muslims of Mehrauli. Pankha and Chadar are offered by President, Prime Minister, Chief Minister of Delhi, Lt. Governor of Delhi and different state governments. Pity, that we are too busy in propagating religious biasness, that we pay no attention to such celebrations.

Diwali, beyond Lord Rama

The famous south Asian festival of Diwali (Deepavali) is said to be celebrated because on this auspicious day, Lord Rama of Hindu Mythology returned from a 14 year long exile, during which he also won the battle against King Ravana of Lanka. Lord Rama’s subjects celebrated his return by lighting up earthen lamps. With time, as the religion spread across borders, culture and festival also reached remote pockets of South Asia.

Hanuman_before_Rama

Diwali is not a single day festival. It is a series of celebrations, which begins with Dhanteras and ends 4 days later with Bhai Dooj. In different parts of Indian subcontinent, Diwali is associated with different stories.

  • As per Ramayana, Diwali is the day of return of Lord Rama from exile
  • As per Mahabharta, Diwali is the day of return of Pandavas from exile
  • Many believe that Goddess Lakshmi was born on the day of Dhanteras and on the night of Diwali, she married Lord Vishnu
  • Some believe that on this day, Lord Vishnu came back to Lakshmi in Vaikuntha, hence the prosperity, happiness and good health is returned
  • Nepal & East Indian region celebrates this festival as Kali Pooja or Mahanisha Pooja
  • In Braj, this day is attributed to Lord Krishna’s lifting of Mount Govardhan
  • In southern and western part of India, offerings are made to Lord Ganesha (along with Lakshmi) as he is worshipped before starting anything new. Diwali marks the beginning of New year as per Indian Calendar
  • In Some parts, it is the day when Lord Krishna defeated Narakasur and hence started the festival of Nark Chaturdashi
  • Legendary King Vikramaditya was coroneted on this day.

Besides Hinduism, other religions also celebrate Diwali in their own form. Here’s an account:

Jainism – Lord Mahavir’s Attainment anniversary

Lord-MahaviraBhagwan Vardhman (aka Mahavira), last of the 24 Tirthankars of Jainism attained Nirvana (or Moksha) on the Kartika Chaturdashi in Pavapuri (Bihar). Lord Mahavira is regarded as an important reformer of Jainism and his teachings comprise most of the modern Jain philosophy. According to Kalpsutra by Acharya Bhadrabahu, Lord Mahavira attained moksha on dawn of amavasya (new moon). He further states that many gods were present there, illuminating the pitch dark night. To symbolize the incident, where master’s light is kept alive even in darkness, 16 Gana kings, 9 Malla and 9 lichchhavi of kasi and kosai illuminated their doors.

गये से भवुज्जोये, दव्वुज्जोयं करिस्समो

means: Since the light of knowledge is gone, we will make light of ordinary matter

Another reference is found in Harivamsha Puran, written by Acharya Jinasena. This reference is also the oldest reference to the word “Diwali”. It mentions the word Deepalikaya, from which, the word ‘Deepawavali’ and later ‘Diwali’ is believed to be born. This puraan states:

ततस्तुः लोकः प्रतिवर्षमादरत् प्रसिद्धदीपलिकयात्र भारते |
समुद्यतः पूजयितुं जिनेश्वरं जिनेन्द्र-निर्वाण विभूति-भक्तिभाक् |२० |

means: The gods illuminated Pavanagari by lamps to mark the occasion. Since that time, the people of Bharat celebrate the famous festival of “Dipalika” to worship the Jinendra (i.e. Lord Mahavira) on the occasion of his nirvana.

It is also believed that Gautam Swami, the chief disciple of Lord Mahavira attained complete knowledge (Brahmgyaan/Kevalgyaan) on this day. This incident makes the occasion even more important.

 

Buddhism – Ashok Vijayadashmi

ashokaIt is said, that on this day, Ashoka the great, the legendary Mauryan emperor from 1st century BCE converted to Buddhism. After numerous battles and bloodshed, he decided to give up everything and adopt the path of peace. He started following the teachings of Lord Buddha and thus became one of first rulers to widespread Buddhism across the subcontinent. He places edicts across the length and breadth of his kingdom, with inscriptions about Buddhism. His edicts are important as one such pillar gives India its national emblem and also the famous ‘Chakra’ in the national flag of India.

Ambedkar_BarristerAnother interesting event is associated with Bharat Ratna Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, 1st Minister of Law & Justice in Independent India and a major contributor to the constitution of India. He is known for his exemplary work in the reformation of Dalits (Scheduled Casts) in India.He, at one point decided to convert to Sikhism. The idea was dropped after a long meeting with Sikh scholars and religious leaders as he found out that he will be getting a second grade status within Sikhism. He then started looking for a religion, which treats everyone as equally as the religious law teaches them to. On 14th October 1956, he finally converted to Buddhism in Nagpur along with 500,000 followers. This is exactly 30 days before Diwali, but many Ambedkarites associate the event with Diwali and remember Ambedkar on this day.

 

Sikhism – Data Bandi Chhor Divas

Sixth-Guru

After the martyrdom of 5th Sikh master, Sri Guru Arjan Dev jee, time was tough for his followers. Most respected figure in Sikh community after the Guru himself was Baba Budhha Jee. Baba Buddha jee gave two swords to next Guru, Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib jee during the coronation and requested him to stand up against the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and his atrocities. Guru Hargobind Sahib jee, the 6th guru of Sikhs built the fort of Lohgarh in Amritsar and maintained a strong force of 700 horses, 500 Infantry, 300 horsemen and 60 gunners. While he preached peace and humility, he also encouraged his followers to be trained in martial arts and self defence. They even fought 4 defensive battles against local Mughal generals and won them all.

Jail-GwaliorFortMughal Emperor Jahangir was told that the Guru is strengthening his army and establishing a state within a state. He is preparing for the revenge of his father (which was not true). Jahangir sent his trusted nobles Wazir Khan and Guncha Beg to arrest the Guru. Wazir Khan was an admirer of Guru and so instead of arresting him, he requested Guru to come to Mughal court, as the emperor wants to have a dialogue with him. Guru agreed and accompanied him to royal court, only to be arrested and confined to the fort of Gwalior. Guru Hargobind was kept in the Baoli of Gwalior fort, along with other 52 kings from neighbouring kingdoms. As the legend goes, Jahangir fell ill soon after the arrest. Witch-Doctors suggested that Jahangir’s illness is because of the curse of Guru and the Mughal court should immediately release him. Noorjahan convinced Jahangir to release Guru and the official orders were sent to Gwalior Fort. 52 other imprisoned kings stood in front of Guru and said that they will allow Guru to leave the prison only if he takes everyone with him. If not, then Guru should kill all 52 kings and free them from this mortal life. The matter reached Jahangir and he said, ‘those who can hold on to Guru’s robe can walk away’. Everyone spent the night stitching pieces of their robes to Guru’s robe, making it long enough that all 52 Kings could comfortably hold it. Next day, which was also the Day of Diwali, Guru Hargobind Sahib jee stepped out of Fort with 52 kings holding his robes and celebrating their freedom. Since that day, Sikhs celebrate Diwali as Bandi Chhor Diwas.

Gurudwara-Data-Bandi-Chhor-Gwalior-800

Islam – The communal harmony

While the modern day Islamic preachers recommend that Muslims should not participate, or even congratulate non-Muslims during their pagan festivals, things were different a few centuries back, at least in Hindustan. Especially during the Mughal rule, the Hindu-Muslim harmony was at its peak. Akbar had Indian religious stories translated to Persian and made pictorial books of the narration. Dara Shikoh had major contribution to the unity and later Jahangir, Shahjahan, and even Aurangzeb kept distributing gifts and sweets on Diwali to their Hindu nobles. The later Mughals were even more generous. The first Ramlila committee of Delhi, named Shri Ram Lila Committee was established by last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. They still perform in same traditional way, like they did 180 years ago for Emperor’s soldiers.

Not just Diwali, other Indian festivals were also celebrated by Muslims in the subcontinent. Baba Bulleh Shah, the famous 17th century sufi mystic wrote “Holi khelungi, keh bismillah. Nam Nabi ki ratn chadi, boond padi allah allah”.

Indian Subcontinent is a land of diversities, but they still bind with each other via common festivals and celebrations. It is amazing to see, how beautifully the culture has mixed over time. After the British invasion of India and their divide and rule policies, the cultural and religious conflict started. I and many like me always pray for the communal harmony and happiness to return.

 

[UPDATE - 01 November 2016]

The Diwali Bonus

This year, I got a forwarded message talking about the annual Diwali bonus. When I searched about it, I found multiple blogs mentioning the same thing. In most cases, even the language was same. I tried to find truth of that article but couldn’t find any authentic proof online. I will check it from the government archives whenever I get chance, but till then, I decided to put it here for public discussion.

NOTE: The below statement is unverified and is all over internet. I will appreciate if my readers can shed some light on this and help me find the authenticity of this claim:

Earlier, there was a concept of weekly salary payments. (I think this is where the Hafta Wasooli concept came from). This way, one would get 52 salaries a year. But British factories started the concept of monthly salaries (Probably because all the material was sent to England and finances were processed from there, which would take multiple weeks to get cleared). In monthly salary system, only 48 weeks were paid to employees and remaining 4 weeks (1 month) was deducted. During 1930-1940, multiple protests were staged against this. Therefore, from 30th June, 1940, the British factories in India agreed to give that additional 1 month salary and it was to be paid as Diwali Bonus. Later, people forgot the reason to start Diwali Bonus and it was reduced to distribution of a small percentage of salary or even just chocolates/gifts in some cases.

(If any of my readers find any additional information related to this claim, please share it in comments below)

 

Vikramjit Singh Rooprai

Festival of Colours, Water, Sticks & Swords–Holi

From Akitu to Sham el-Nessim and from May Day to Easter, entire world celebrates spring. Scientifically, this season is one of the most important seasons because the axis of Earth is increased relative to Sun, which causes the length of daylight to increase and the days become warmer. The snow begins to melt and water streams start flowing throughout the lands. The light warmth provides perfect weather for plants to nourish and this period gains its own agricultural importance. With this, primarily agricultural countries mark this season’s beginning as the most important event of their calendar. Most cultures celebrate it as their New Year and with time, many folklores, legends and mythical stories got associated with it.

People living in Indian Subcontinent have their own versions of Spring Festival. Some call it Phagwah, some say Dolajatra, some Basantotsav, some Shigmo, and majority of population celebrate it as “Holi”. For the followers of Hindu religion, the auspicious festival of Holi is celebrated on the day, when “Holika”, sister of “Hiranyakashyap” died. According to Hindu mythology, king Hiranyakashyap was Lord Vishnu’s gatekeeper but due to a curse, he was reborn as an Asura (demon) in Moolsthan (present day Multan). He declared himself as god and ordered his subjects to worship only him. However, his own son “Prahlad” becomes devoted to Lord Vishnu and disobeys his father’s commandments. Angry from this act, Hiranyakashyap orders his sister “Holika” to take Prahlad in her lap and sit on a bonfire. Holika had a cloak, which would prevent her from fire. However, as the bonfire started, the air blew off the cloak and covered Prahlad. As a result, Holika was burnt alive and Prahlad was saved. Since then, the night when Holika died is celebrated as Holika Dehan (Burning of Holika) and the next day is celebrated as “Holi”, the festival of colours. Another symbolic myth connects this festival with the death of demon Pootna, who came to poison infant Lord Krishna.

But in Barsana (near Mathura), the tales goes like this: Lord Krishna visited his beloved Radha’s village and playfully teased her friends. At this, the women of Barsana chased him away with sticks. Since then, groups from Krishna’s village (Nandgaon) visit Barsana during Holi and get chased away, and sometimes beaten with sticks by the people of Barsana. It is popular by name“Lath-Maar Holi” (Literally: Stick hitting holi).

Another interesting form of Holi is celebrated in hill areas of Kumaun in India. Here, instead of colours and water, people sit across and sing the songs of Holi. It therefore got its name “Baithaki Holi” (Sitting Holi). Soon, another form of Kumaoni Holi was developed, called “Khadhi Holi” (Standing Holi), where these songs were sung standing. Some parts also celebrate “Mahila Holi” (Women’s Holi), where only ladies participate and sing songs. Even Goan version called “Shigmo” concentrates more on Singing and Dancing.

In Punjab, a totally different form of celebrating Holi is observed. During the times of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth spiritual master of Sikhs, the people of Punjab was struggling with the Mughal Armies for their survival. While they were celebrating all festivals, the important festival, which also marks the New Year was to be given some special importance. Hence, the war cry (Halla) gave the name ‘Holla Mohalla’, where mohalla means ‘to gather/assemble’. Guru Gobind Singh jee used this occasion of Holi to do mock war drills at the fort of Holgarh. This became a gazetted festival during the British Raj and is celebrated till date at the city of Anandpur, where Sikhs, who practice the Sikh form of Martial Arts, called ‘Gatka’ gather every year and exhibit their talent and skills with weapons and horses.

While majority of Indians celebrate Holi with colours and water many others have their own way of celebrating. Some simply sing, some dance, and some take out their weapons to demonstrate war drills and martial talent. All this happens to mark the beginning of the Spring season. This diversity in Indian culture makes it so special and unique. The celebration of this spring festival is not limited to Hindu or Sikh community in India. The followers of Islam also got drenched in the colours of Holi at one time in the subcontinent. Famous sufi mystic Hazrat Baba Bulleh Shah looked at this festival as a connecting factor between him and his holy god. He wrote:

“Hori khelungi keh bismillah!
Naam nabi ki ratn chadhi
Boond padi allah allah
Rang rangeeli ohi khilave
Jis seekhi ho fana fi allah
Alastu bi rabbikum Pritam bole
Sab sakhiyon ne ghoonghat khole
Qalu Bala yun hi kar bole
La ilaha illallah
Hori khelungi keh bismillah!”

– Bulleh Shah

 

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