Vasant Panchami In Lahore!
It is still very hard to reconcile that I can never return to live in Lahore, the beloved city of my birth. On August 15, 1947, Lahore had become part of Pakistan, the newly created country out of the partition of India, and I along with millions of non-Muslims had to migrate to India. Even though the unfortunate Partition tragedy is history now, and ushering in of the new millennium since then makes it more so, my mind, whether in India or the States, never stops landing back in Lahore, reliving the sweet memories of the first 15 years of my life that I spent in that great city. The sweetest and the most exciting of them is, indeed, of the keenly awaited kite-flying festival of Basant that our entire family celebrated with extraordinary energy and enthusiasm on the fourth floor terrace of our house. The best part of our pleasure was that our father, who never allowed us to distract him from his books on any holiday, would willingly join us to enjoy the festival. It was always a full house on the roof top with our family members, my best friend Bazal and friends of all my brothers gathering in full strength to cheer every time we won the kite-fight in the air by cutting the kite-cord of our adversary, with the bursts of drums and trumpets. My mother and sisters joined in the festivity by making us feast on the most delicious meal for lunch and nonstop supply of snacks throughout the day, all served on the terrace.
Basant Panchami festival brings the news of advent of spring, where the whole environ baptize in romance. The pleasant cool breeze supersedes the cold winters, the flowers swing in the air in their full youth-- there is air of merriment everywhere. Vasant is the season when nature is at its beautiful and bountiful best. Flowers are in full bloom and trees sprout new shoots. It is a season when nature regenerates and every thing is fresh and new. New life is evident in the woods and fields. Wheat and other crops enliven with new life and vitality. Mustard fields turn into a heady mix of yellow and green as the blossoms add color, poetry and romance to life. Basant Panchami has a specific meaning, Basant means Spring, whereas Panchami means the fifth day of the spring. It falls on Panchami - on the Waxing Moon. The festival lies in the month of January-February. This year it falls on Wednesday January 20.
In Lahore the season of spring started with the Basant carnival, an orgy of kite-flying, rooftop soirees, garden parties and cultural events in which all communities participated with unprecedented unity. Actually the Muslim, more than Hindus, had a special role to play during Basant because it was they who specialized in making the kite-cord and kites. Karbla, a sacred Muslim place in Lahore, was famous for making of the most sturdy cords for which orders had to be placed well in advance. Lahorites and out-of-town enthusiasts would wear glamorous clothes, in the yellow and green of spring flowers blooming citywide, to bid farewell to the frosts and fogs of winter and usher in spring - “Aya Basant Pala Udant”(come spring winter vanishes) - as they would say. Nighttime kite-flying in the walled old quarter around the 16th century Badshahi mosque and Lahore fort opened the festival. Ancient mughal palaces throw open their doors for all-night parties to view the kites, illuminated by spotlights slashing the sky. Stars from the Lahore ( now known as 'Lollywood') film industry performed with classical Qawali musicians at parties in traditional haveli homes. White paper kites shimmered in the night sky, diving and soaring as rival fliers joust in duels marked by battle cries of Pecha! and victory shouts of bo kata!
In post Partition Lahore, when there are no Hindus left there, Basant festival is still celebrated with the same enthsiasm as in the past, before independence. Pakistanis from across the country flock to Lahore for the festival, crowding the Islamabad to Lahore motorway to catch a glimpse of the flying paper fighting kites. Top hotels report full bookings - "It is an event not to be missed," they say. Basant continues to occupy an important part of the culture of the city. Flying kites is a major part of the festival of Basant. This interesting inaugural act of the festival is performed in the walled, old part of the Lahore city. Important historical buildings like the Lahore Fort and the Badshahi Mosque lie at close proximity to this quarter of the city. During this time, most of the palatial buildings of Lahore open their large doors to allow nightlong parties. People of Lahore, who stay abroad, visit their home city at this point of the year to partake in the festivities. Lahore is dressed in an appropriate spring attire, and the festival events include musical performances, art and flower displays, books and handicrafts stalls as well as the Canal Mela (festival) during which decorated and illuminated boats and floats are displayed on Lahore Canal. The most internationally popular event of Pakistan, the Basant festival transforms Lahore skies with a plethora of colorful kites, and has a long tradition of kite tournaments and battles. Tourists from far and near also make it a point to be present in Lahore during the Basant Festival. More than one million people are expected every year to attend the Basant festival, which marks the start of spring. Rooftops are in high demand - rentals for the night have been reported to sky rocket. Organisers work all week to light up an estimated 12,000 rooftops. Residents and revellers crowd into public parks, shopping centers and hotels and on to the rooftops of all big buildings. The festival draws people from as far away as the US and Australia. The festival is also marked with concerts and parties, attracting hundreds of Indians arriving in Lahore, including some of our top film stars. "We love our guests and Lahore is a very safe city," ensures the city's mayor.
In Pakistan, Basant has been seen by some of the hardline Muslim parties as a custom of the Hindus. Islamic clerics have issued edicts each year branding the festival as Hindu in origin. They have often sought to impose ban on Basant. In fact, under their pressure Kite flying had been banned in Pakistan many times since 2005, but the ban has been lifted again and again, especially for the Basant festival. Others see Basat simply as a spring festival, and enjoy the same. Festival enthusiasts call it a rare chance to step out and celebrate in a country riven by Islamic militancy. "Let clerics do their business while we rejoice. It is the only colorful event in the country that Pakistan is proud of, The extremists are a tiny minority in this country, That's what Basant proves," they say. And the festivities go on, as always, during the Basant festival. The only concession some have made to the clerics' anti-Basant cries is to call the festival Jashn-e-Baharan (the festival of spring). The truth is that Lahore boasts of Basant being the biggest festival of the city, and will remain so whether they call it Basant or Jashn-e-Baharan.