Table of contents for Mystic Alleys of Delhi
- In the mystic alleys of Delhi – the Dargah of Amir Khusrau
- In the mystic alleys of Delhi (II) – Phool Wallon Ki Sair
- In the mystic alleys of Delhi (III) – Humayun’s Tomb
- In the mystic alleys of Delhi – The Sunday Book Bazaar
On September 27, 2008 during an act of terrorism at Sarai Bazaar, Mehrauli less than two Kms away from the famous Qutub Minaar, a small boy Santosh, in an endeavour to help the passer by motor cyclist, lost his life and some others were seriously injured. As a homage to Santosh and to pray for the speedy recovery of the badly injured persons, I decided to write this post, as the Sarai Bazaar is very closely located to the focal point of the annual festivities called “Phoolwalon Ki Sair” which are held every year, after the monsoon has washed away the heat and dust of the summer.
Qutub Minaar, Mehrauli
Before starting to write about the two centuries old tradition of taking out the procession, it would be appropriate to add a few words about the background of this legendary tradition.
The origin of Phool Waalon Ki Sair goes to the age of history during the reign of the Mughal King Akbar Shah II (1808-1837). The king not being very happy with his eldest son Siraj Uddin “Zafar”, wished to nominate his younger son Mirza Jahangir as the heir apparent (Wali-Ahad). This move didn’t meet the approval of the then British Resident in the Red Fort, Sir Archibald Seton, owing to the fact that Mirza Jahangir who was a reckless youth of nineteen had insulted Seton in the open court and called him “loolu” (dumbo). The British Resident somehow did not react to this insult as probably he did not understand the meaning of loolu. On another occasion when, Archibald Seton was coming from the Darbar after an audience with the emperor, Mirza Jahangir fired a shot at him from the roof of Naubat Khana of Red Fort. Seton escaped but his orderly was killed. For this act of his, Mirza Jahangir was exiled to Allahabad under orders of the British Resident.
The grieving queen of Akbar Shah II took a vow that if her exiled son was allowed to return to Delhi, she would make an offering of a four-poster flower bed at the holy shrine of Khwaja Qutubddin Bakhtiyar Kaki at Mehrauli. When the British finally relented after a while, the devout queen went to the Dargah at Mehrauli and kept her promise by offering an exquisite flower canopy. To this the local flower sellers added an intricate flower pankha, which was then carried in a huge procession to the saint’s mausoleum. It is believed that the royal court along with the entire population of Delhi also moved to Mehrauli. For seven days all sorts of merrymaking continued at Mehrauli with Jhoolas (swings) in the mango groves, cock fighting and bull bailing, kite flying, wrestling and swimming bouts. Amidst all the merrymaking with great pomp and show, the “chadar” was offered at the Dargah. The Mughal king was secular minded and under his orders floral offering in the shape of a floral pankha was offered at the famous temple of Devi Yogmaya which is also located in Mehrauli, less than half a Km away from the famous Qutub Minaar.
Considering the response of the citizens and sensing the enthusiasm generated, it was decided by the Royal Court of Akbar Shah that the festival be held annually after the rains and people of all the communities would offer pankha and chadar at the Dargah of Khwaja Bakhtyar Kaki and pankha and floral offerings at the Devi Yog Maya temple. The Royal Court was also shifted to Mehrauli for the seven days of the festivities.
In the sultanate days, the emperors used to visit both the mausoleum of Khwaza Qutabuddin Bakhtiyar and the Yog Maya Mandir. This was a great act of secularism at that time. The tradition was continued by the common Hindus and Muslims. Poets like Mirza Ghalib also promoted this trend through his epistles to close friends.
Phool Walon-ki-Sair became an annual celebration and something that the people looked forward to every year in the months following the monsoon. It is believed that the tradition reached its pinnacle during the reign of Siraj-U-din “Zafar”, the last Mughal emperor commonly known as Bahadur Shah “Zafar”. The emperor was so much obsessed with the “Phool Waalon Ki Sair” that even in 1857 when Delhi was under the siege of the British, he went ahead with the festivities.
The last Sair of the Mughals
In the year 1857 when the rains came, so came the date of holding of the Phool Waalon Ki Saair. Bahadur Shah Zafar along with Zeenat Mahal and Mirza Jawan Bakht left in a procession for Mehrauli via Lahori Gate and Chandni Chowk. They had a brief halt at Ballimaran and proceeded via Begum Fatehpuri Mosque to Lal Kuan, the residence of the father of Zeenat Mahal, Asad Quli Khan. The entourage then passed through Hauz Qazi, where the residents of that area, mostly the dancing girls showered flowers and silver coins over the Emperor and proceeded to Mehrauli via Ajmeri Gate, Jantar Mantar, Talkatora Garden and reached Safdarjung. The next break was at Yusuf Sarai and the procession reached Mehrauli at dusk. The emperor stayed at Jahaaj Mahal for three days free from all the worries and listening to the soul stirring sufiyaana kalaam (sufi music) at the Dargah. This was the last “Phool Waalon Ki Sair” under the Mughals.
He came back via Delhi Gate and Faiz bazaar, not knowing that very shortly he would be brought back through the same route like a prisoner.
The annual celebrations continued even after 1857 under the auspices of the British Deputy commissioner, who was the highest government functionary in Delhi, with the help of some of the prominent citizens. Sensing the mood of the public during the “Quit India” movement led by Mahatma Gandhi in 1942 and in pursuance to their policy of “Divide and Rule”, the Governor ordered discontinuance of such festivities.
The tradition was revived in 1962 by the then Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, who took great interest in this tradition and came to Mehrauli on every “Phool Waalon Ki Sair” as long as he lived. The job of revival was entrusted to one of the prominent personalities of Delhi, Shri Yogeshwar Dayal, who carried on this noble tradition until his demise in 2006. For his great contribution towards this national cause, he was awarded the coveted title of “Padmashri” in January, 1969. After his death, the charge of conducting these festivities was taken over by Ms. Usha Kumar. I had the honour of meeting her and she was indeed very kind to give me a detailed account of the festivities and also provided me the photographs of presentation of pankhas to the dignitaries.
The festival is organized under the auspices of Anjuman Sair-e-Gul Faroshan, a registered society. Considering the time consuming efforts required, the society starts making preparations for the event from May onwards.
Thus, what began as a muslim woman’s obeisance in gratitude at the shrine of a muslim saint, has over the centuries, become an occasion of pilgrimage and celebration for the whole of the city, transcending the barriers of community and class.
Phool Waalon Ki Sair -2008
This year, the three days festival started on October 23, 2008. In the morning some of the members of the Anjuman Sair-e-Gul Faroshan called on the President of India, who was escorted to the meeting hall with shehnai and dhol-tashe in the true Delhi Tradition and was presented a “pankha”. Madame President wished success to this noble endeavour.
The festival started with the notes of shehnai announcing the beginning of the “Phool Waalon Ki Sair” at 6, Raj Niwas Marg, the residence of the Lt. Governor of Delhi. A floral pankha was presented to him. From there the members proceeded for the Office of the Divisional Commissioner, which was followed by visit to the Delhi Secretariat to meet the Chief Minister of Delhi. The last destination of the entourage was the Town Hall in Chandni Chowk. The Mayor of Delhi, Ms. Arti Mehra being out of the country, they were received by the Dy. Mayor. Shehnai was played at the Town Hall to herald the festival dastaarbandhi of the Dy. Mayor.
This was followed by offering of prayers at the Dargah of Hazrat Qutubuddin by the citizens of Delhi led by the Lt. Governor of Delhi. The event opened with the recital of the shehnai (an Indian musical instrument). The entire compound of the Dargah was decorated with flowers. The Lt. Governor went inside the Dargah with the chadar which was offered at the shrine with utmost devotion. After this the Lt. Governor addressed the gathering and spoke about the teachings of the Sufi Saint, Hazrat Qutubuddin Bakhtyar Kaki. Qawwalis were sung in praise of the almighty.
On the second day i.e. October 24th the citizens of Delhi gathered at the Yog Maya Temple and a “Chattra” made of flowers and the floral pankha was offered at the temple by Shri Farhad Suri. A beautiful programme of dances and devotional music was presented by the artists of the Song and Drama Division. Odissi dances were performed by the students of one of the schools in Delhi.
At these shrines, the flower sellers also pray for a good harvest of flowers during the next year. In the procession, flower pankhas (hand fans) were also taken through the streets. Phul Walon ki Sair of Delhi is one of the few festivals that are celebrated by both the hindus as well as the muslims in perfect harmony. You would have probably noticed that the Chadar and the floral pankhas were offered by the hindus at the Dargah, while at the Yog Maya Temple the Pankhas and Chhatra were offered by a muslim. What could be a better example of the Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb, which means the two sacred rivers, the Ganga and the Jamuna which stand for Hindus and Muslims, flowing side by side i.e. coexisting together peacefully.
Thanks to my association with the Banking Sector, I met Jaspal Singh Taneja, the landlord of the premises of one of the ATMs of ICICI Bank in Mehrauli. Jaspal, who was born and brought up at Mehrauli, close to the vicinity of the Dargah, very kindly agreed to show me around the area.
Jaspal told me that the Hindus and the Muslims both celebrate this festival with equal reverence.
I was told that muslims come from distant places on pilgrimage to Khwaja Qutubuddin’s tomb. He succeeded Hazrat Muenuddin of Ajmer as the head of the Chishtiya order of the Sufis. People still tie colored threads on the trellis-work of the dargah to beg favors of the saint. On his death anniversary, qawwalis are sung and the poors are fed. The village boys entertain visitors by jumping into an adjoining bauli (well) from seemingly dizzy heights.
Passing through the crowded alleys, we reached Jahaj Mahal, which is the focal point of the celebrations. Jahaz Mahal (ship palace) was built by the Lodhis on the banks of the Shamsi Talab (once a large pool) at the end of the Mehrauli Bazaar. I was told that the Talab was built by Shamsuddin Altamash and originally covered an area of around 100 acres of land and was lined all around with red sandstone. Unfortunately, none of the stones now remain and the pool has considerably silted up, as a result of which except during the rains, there is hardly any water in the Talab. Not far from there, behind the tomb of Adham Khan (Emperor Akbar’s foster brother), stands the temple of Yog Maya, after which the area was once known as Yoginipura.
As mentioned above, on the first day floral tributes were paid at the Dargah and on the second day at the Temple. The second day was also a “Mela Day”, with lots of fun and frolic at the large park on the southern side of the monument. Though a couple of giant wheels were the main attraction for the children and youngsters clad in the festive dresses, the Chaat shops, put in by some of the known names from the walled city area also had a field day. The bangle sellers, the salwar kameej shops, the decorative mehndi shops were all doing brisk work. On the roads leading to the fair park, we could see the Shenaiwallahs playing the shehnai and welcoming the visitors. Lots of fireworks were also seen. The whole atmosphere was that of fun and gaiety, with qawwalis and kathak dances being performed on the streets.
The evening of October 25th was the day of cultural activities at the flower decked Jahaaj Mahal, where a huge stage was set up. The function started with the presentation of flower bouquets to the dignitaries followed by a shehnai recital. The cultural troupes from the various states performed some exciting dances, after which the Song and Drama Division also presented a programme of dance and music. The popular Dandiya Raas was also performed. The highlight of the evening was the singing of qawwalis by Aftab-Hashmi Brothers and another famous artist, Sangeeta Bhonsle. For want of space some of the spectators were seen on the tree tops and the adjoining buildings. The programme went on till the early hours of the morning. The arrangements made by the police were excellent and the credit also goes to the volunteers, who controlled the gathering patiently.
Jaspal believes that over the years the communal bonding has strengthened immensely and the festivities remain unaffected by the separatist activities. Undoubtedly, the recent blast in the Saraai Bazaar area may have left deep scars in the lives of locals, but what remains intact is the inter-religion bonding.
Jaspal also showed me the historical Gurudwara Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, the famous martyr of the eighteenth century, who laid down not only his life but also sacrificed his two sons for the sake of the “Panth”. I will endeavour to write about this valiant soldier shortly.
Thank you for being with me on this journey to Mehrauli.