By Rana Safvi
Mar 23, 2016.
kheluungii, kah Bismillah.
Naam Nabi ki
I start playing
Holi with a Bismillah.
Covered with the
light of Prophet’s name,
blessings of Allah.
When I celebrate Holi, Muslims often tell
me that the practice is Haram (forbidden), because colour is prohibited in
Islam. But the 18th-century Punjabi mystic Bulleh Shah’s words above provide
the perfect frame for the subcontinent’s centuries-old syncretic culture, our Ganga-Jamuni
Tehzeeb that is under threat from fundamentalists of both religions.
As it turns out, Islam does not prohibit
colour: it’s just that when we perform our ablutions for Namaz, water should
touch the skin, so there should be no colour at that point. Wash the Holi
colours away before praying, I tell the critics. It’s simple. I do it.
Tale Of Harmony
This fundamentalism is a recent phenomenon.
In the past, the influence of the Sufi and Bhakti movements encouraged harmony
between the communities.
In Alam Mein Intikhaab Dilli, Maheshwar
“Holi is an
ancient Hindustani festival which is played by every man and woman irrespective
of religion and caste. After coming to India, the Muslims also played Holi with
gusto, be it the Badshah or the Faqueer."
Basant Panchami would signal the onset of
the festivities and people would be carrying squirt guns with colours and smear
Gulaal (red powder) on each other’s faces. Mustard flowers would be offered in
temples and abiir/gulaal would be flying in the air.
Flowers from the Tesu/Palash/Dhaak
plants (flame of the forest) would be immersed in earthen water pots. It is
believed that Lord Krishna played Holi with Radha using colours made from the
red Tesu flower, which blooms during the spring season.
All colours used were natural and plant
extracts. There were neither chemicals nor hooliganism.
Holi is one of the most delightful and
colourful festivals of India. It is aimed at uniting people by forgetting their
complaints and embracing one another.
In the 13th century, Amir Khusrau
(1253–1325) is said to have written many verses in celebration of Holi.
Holi, Khaaja Ghar Aaye,
Dhan Dhan Bhaag
I shall play Holi
as Khaaja has come home,
blessed is my
fortune, o friend,
as Khaaja has come
to my courtyard
The Mughal Emperor Akbar encouraged
syncretism and tolerance. During his reign, all festivals were celebrated with
equal gusto and it was a practice that was followed by all his successors
In the 16th century, Ibrahim Raskhan
Aaj Hori Re
Aangan Gaari Dai Aayo, So Kori
Ab Ke Duur
Baithe Maiyya Dhing, Nikaso Kunj Bihari
It's Holi, Mohan,
its Holi today
Who was it who
came yesterday to our courtyard and swore at us
Now you hide
behind your mother, far away , Oh come out Kunj Bihari
In Tuzuk e Jahangir, Jahangir (1569 –1627)
Their day is Holi, which in their belief is
the last day of the year. This day falls in the month of Isfandarmudh, when the
sun is in Pisces. On the eve of this day they light fires in all the lanes and
streets. When it is daylight, they spray powder on each other’s heads and faces
for one watch and create an amazing uproar. After that, they wash themselves,
put their clothes on, and go to gardens and fields. Since it is an established
custom of among the Hindus to burn their dead, the lighting of fires on the
last night of the year is a metaphor for burning the old year as though it were
Holi would be celebrated on the same scale
as Eid in the Red Fort or Qila e Moalla (Exalted Palace). It was called Eid e
gulaabi or Aab-e-Pashi (Shower of Colourful Flowers), with everyone joining in.
There would be Melas or fairs behind the
Red Fort on the banks of the Yamuna. A huge crowd would gather from the fort
till Raj Ghat. The Dhaf, Jhanjaen, Nafiri (tambourine, cymbal and
trumpet) would be played and nautch girls would dance. Groups of travelling
musicians and artists would gather under the Red Fort and display their tricks
and talents. The mimics would imitate the Emperor, prince and princesses too
and nobody would take offence.
The queens, princesses and noble women
would be sitting in their Jharokas (overhanging enclosed balcony) and enjoying
the entertainment. The Emperor would reward these artistes handsomely.
At night, there would be a grand
celebration of Holi in the Red Fort with singing and dancing throughout the
night. Famous courtesans from throughout the country would come here. The most
popular song would be Bahadur Shah Zafar’s Horiyan. Bands of entertainers would
go around Shahjahanabad entertaining the aristocrats and the rich in their
Havelis. There would be much good-natured leg-pulling with the slogan “Bura
Naa Mano, Holi Hai!” Don’t take it the wrong way, it's Holi.
Children would also go around entertaining
elders with their acts. At night there would be Mahfils (soirees) in the walled
city with the aristocrats, traders and shopkeepers all enjoying themselves.
Emperor Joins In
Bahadur Shah Zafar (1775–1862) would join
the celebration with great gusto and enthusiasm and mingle with his subjects.
He wrote a song for the occasion:
Kyun Mope Maari
Rang Ki Pichkaari
(Why have you
squirted me with colour?
O Kunwarji I will
swear at you)
Bhaaj Saku’n Main
Kaise Moso Bhaajo Nahin Jaat
Dekhu’n Main Baako Kaun Jo Sun Mukh Aat
(I can’t run, I am
unable to run
I am now standing
here and want to see who can drench me)
Mein Haath Lage Ho Kaise Jaane Deoon
Aaj Main Phagwa
Ta Sau Kanha Faita Pakad Kar Leoon.
(After many days
have I caught you, how can I let you go
I will catch you
by your cummerbund and play Holi with you)
Shokh Rang Aisi
Dheet Langar Sau Khelay Kaun Ab Hori
Mukh Meedai Aur
Haath Marore Karke Woh Barjori
Who can play Holi
with such a mischievous Kanha
My face you have
coloured and my wrist you have twisted in your playfulness.
Jam-e-Jahanuma, an Urdu newspaper, wrote in
1844 that during the days of the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, special
arrangements were made for Holi festivities, and goes on to describe the
frolicking and exchange of colour made from the tesu flowers.
Nazeer Akbarabadi (1735–1830) was the
"people’s poet" who wrote:
Rang Jhamakte Ho,
Bahaare’n Holi Ki
Jab Daf Ke Shor
Baharein Holi Ki
Rang Damkte Hon
Baharein Holi Ki.
When the month of
Phagun shines with colour
Then see the
celebration of Holi.
Mehjoor Lakhnavi (1798-1818) in his book
Nawab Syadat Ali Ki Majlis-e-Holi talks of the sensuous aspect of Holi, with
which many can associate today.
Hon Pariyon Ke
Aur Majlis Ki
Kapdon Par Rang
Ke Cheeton Se
Roses are blooming
Preparation is on
for a soiree
smeared with colour
As bright as
Shah Niaz’s (1742-1834) Holi song has been
made immortal by Sufi singer Abida Parveen.
Holi Hoye Rahi
Hai Ahmad Jiya Ke Dwaar
Hazrat Ali Ka
Rang Bano Hai Hassan Hussain Khilaar
Holi is being
played at beloved Ahmad’s doorsteps
Hazrat Ali has
become the colour and Hasan and Husain are playing.
Royal patrons who were mostly secular in
those days like Ibrahim Adil Shah and Wajid Ali Shah used to distribute Mithai
(sweets) and Thandai (a drink) to everyone in their kingdom. It was a common
and beloved festival of all.
This is the Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb
that prevailed all over India right till the 19th century. It still does in
most of India despite attempts to divide and rule.
The famous poet Mir Taqi Mir (1723-1810)
wrote on Nawab Asifud Daula playing Holi:
Asifud daula Vazir
Rang sohbat se
Ajab hain Khurd-o-Pir
Asidud daula plays
kings are happy after being drenched with colour.
Munshi Zakaullah (a mid-19th century Delhi
intellectual) in his book Tarikh-e-Hindustani, even questions the fact that
Holi is a Hindu festival and describes the Holi festivities lasting for days
during the Mughal rule. There were no restraints of caste, class or religion and
even the poorest of the poor could throw colour on the Emperor.
I don’t think there can be a better ending
than Gauhar Jaan singing:
Mere Hazrat Ne Madeene Mein Manaayi Holi.