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Sufiana Rang: Holi in the words of Urdu bards

Holi, a festival of colour and abandon, has been celebrated with great gusto across northern India for centuries, including in the verse of famous Urdu poets.

art and culture Updated: Mar 11, 2017 10:58 IST
Rakhshanda Jalil
holi

Indian villagers smear themselves with colour during the Lathmar Holi festival in Nandgaon, around 120 kms from New Delhi. The women of Nandgaon chase the men from Barsana, the legendary hometown of Radha, consort of Hindu God Krishna, with wooden sticks in response to the latter’s efforts to put colour on them. (Ajay Aggarwal/HT Photo)

There has always been a tradition of diverse communities celebrating Holi across large parts of Upper India. Called Gulabi Eid by the Mughals, there are accounts of the emperor and his courtiers throwing abeer and gulal on each other as well as sprinkling coloured water made from the tesu flowers that bloom in abundance at this time of the year. The coming of spring, traditionally marked by Basant Panchami, was celebrated with gay abandon by the Sufis whose dargahs became great melting pots where cultures and civilisations met and flowered. Descendants of the qawwal bacchas trained by Amir Khusro, the poet-disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, still sing these verses composed over 700 years ago:

Aaj rang hai hey maa rung hai ri

Moray mehboob kay ghar rang hai ri

There’s colour today, O mother, there’s such colour today

There is such colour in my beloved’s home today

Sufi singers still sing this kaafi by the 18th-century Sufi Saint Bulleh Shah, though few pause to take in its assertion of a faith that is moored in Islam yet willing to celebrate Holi:

Hori khelungi keh Bismillah.

Nam nabi ki ratan chadi, boond padi Illalah

I will take the name of Allah and play Holi

Like a gem bearing the Prophet’s name, every drop cries out Allah Allah

Then there are the numerous Urdu poets who have written with passion and verve on this most fun-filled of all Indian festivals. Here is Nazir Akbarabadi, the people’s poet from Agra, waxing eloquent in a long nazm:

Aa dhamke aish-o tarab kya kya jab husn dikhaya Holi ne

Har aan ḳhushi ki dhuum hui yuun lutf jataya Holi ne

What delights and cheer can compare with the beauty of Holi

Every moment has joy and celebration when Holi displays her delights

And Nazeer Banarsi is asking:

Yeh kis ne rang bhara har kali ki pyali mein

Gulal rakh diya kis ne gulon ki thali mein

Who has filled the cup of the bud with colour

Who has placed gulal in the thali of the flowers

Gauhar jaan, the courtesan singer, went so far as to sing ‘Mere hazrat ne madine mein manayi Holi’ (My Lord celebrated Holi in Medina) and Abida Parveen has immortalised Shah Niyaz’s kalaam:

Holi hoye rahi hai Ahmad Jiyo ke dwaar

Hazrat Ali ka rang bano hai Hassan Hussain khilaar

Holi is being played at the doorstep of our beloved Ahmed

Hazrat Ali has become the colour and Hasan and Husain the players

Is it not sad, then, that these joyous, inclusive and liberal voices are stifled by the strident illiberal ones?

Rakhshanda Jalil is a writer, translator and literary historian. She is the founder of Hindustani Awaaz.

What: Sufiana Rang — A celebration of Holi, Sufi style

When: 6 pm, March11

Where: Kamani Auditorium,1, Copernicus Marg

Nearest metro station: Mandi House

Buy tickets here

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