A floral prayer for Delhi's communal amity
Hail the flower-bearers and harbingers of communal harmony! Delhi is set to host the 200-year-old Phool Waalon Ki Sair (procession of the florists) and bring alive a beautiful tradition of the Mughal time yet again.
The 10-day festival has already begun with the customary presentation of floral pankhas (handheld fans) to the Lieutenant Governor, CM and other dignitaries, and processions of pankhas at India Gate and Chandni Chowk.
The main event, whereby a Hindu contingent will present a floral chaadar and pankha at the Khwaja Bakhtiar Kaaki Dargah in Mehrauli, a Muslim contingent will offer a floral chhatra (canopy) and pankha at the nearby Yogmaya temple, and finally cultural performances at Jahaz Mahal closeby are scheduled from November 1 to 3.
Popular sports activities – including wrestling, kabaddi and kite-flying – which are a part of this festival, and a mela at Mehrauli are on already.
History says that this festival originated during the reign of Mughal King Akbar Shah II in 1812. Akbar Shah wanted his younger son Mirza Jahangir to succeed him, instead of the elder Bahadur Shah Zafar, which was not liked by the British Resident in Red Fort, Sir Archibald Seton. An angered Mirza Jahangir - 19 years old then - shot at Seton who escaped the attack but his orderly was killed.
Seton exiled Jahangir to Allahabad and his distraught mother queen Mumtaz Mahal vowed that if her son was released, she would offer a chaadar of flowers at the Khwaja Bakhtiar Kaaki dargah in Mehrauli.
After a couple of years, when Mirza Jahangir was finally released, Mumtaz went to Mehrauli to redeem her vow. With her, the imperial court, and the entire population of Delhi, shifted to Mehrauli for seven days. All sorts of merry-making, jhoolas in mango groves, cock fighting, bull baiting, kite-flying, wrestling and swimming bouts, continued here for these days.
As the king was secular, along with the chaadar offering at the Dargah, a floral pankha was also presented at the Yogmaya temple, and the festival became famous as ‘Phool Waalon Ki Sair.’
The festival reached its pinnacle during the reign of Bahadur Shah Zafar who participated in it even during the Mutiny of 1857. The British government stopped it in 1942 in pursuance of its divide and rule policy and it was finally revived in ’61 when Nehru asked Yogeshwar Dayal, the scion of a prominent family in Delhi, to organise it again. Later, Indira Gandhi requested all Indian states to participate and the celebration, known for its message of communal harmony, became a symbol of national integration as well.
Even today, each state sends its dance troupe, which performs at Jahaz Mahal, and offers its pankhas at the dargah and mandir.
Daughter of late Yogeshwar Dayal, Usha Kumar, who now serves as the General Secretary of Anjuman Sair-e-Gul Faroshan - the organisation managing the fest now, informs us, “We have tried to stick to the Mughal tradition as much as possible, while trying to bring in new programmes to enrich it. For example, earlier the procession of pankhas used to pass through the Mehrauli bazaar only, presenting the pankha, chhatra and chaadar at the temple and then the dargah.
“Then a procession was started from Gauri Shankar temple to Town Hall in Chandni Chowk, and this year onwards we have a jaloos at India Gate too.
“Besides, since the past few years now, we have started to weave in a picture of kaaba and a temple or else Yogmayaji and Quran’s aayats into the floral pankha. This highlights the message of communal amity represented by this festival.”
This year, awards for communal harmony will also be given away for the first time. It will be presented to Eku Lal of Lucknow who raised a lost Muslim boy as per Muslim traditions.
Mirza Mohataram Bakht, Secretary of this organisation, adds, “The essence of this festival – the people – have upheld it beautifully over years. We record the participation of at least One lakh people every year primarily from the South Delhi belt which includes Chhatarpur, Lado Sarai, Neb Sarai, Mahipalpur, Masoodpur, Kishangarh, Rajokri, Said-ul-ajab etc. besides Mehrauli itself. We must say the rural masses of South Delhi have maintained their traditions.”
“We would like the awareness to spread to the urban pockets as well and would like the youth to also come forward to celebrate it with as much enthusiasm.”
Usha says, “This festival is unique to Delhi. Nowhere would you hear of a festival of flowers to promote communal amity. With the encouragement of the government, the enthusiasm of people and blessings of God, we hope to continue this festival for many years. In today’s age of communal strife in every region of the world, such programmes are a boon from our past. We should carry it to the future.”