Saying it with flowers


Phool-Walon-Ki-Sair is a happy tradition with unlikely origins.

Much has been written about Phool-Walon-Ki-Sair, the recently concluded festival of flowers, and communal harmony, but a description of the first Sair is hard to come by, except for some sketchy material. In 1812 Mirza Jahangir fired at the British Resident, Archibald Seton, after his claim as heir apparent to Akbar Shah II was rejected and was subsequently exiled to Allahabad. On his return to Delhi (for good conduct), his mother, Queen Mumtaz Mahal II, in perpetuation of a vow, decided to offer a floral chadar and pankhas at the shrine of Hazrat Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki and the Yog Maya mandir in Mehrauli. One remembers Muslim Khan, who had been a karanda of the Nawab of Jhajjar, describing the first Sair, as witnessed by his grandfather, Maqbool Khan (1798-1882).

The whole of Delhi was decorated like a bride, he said. There was feasting and dancing throughout the night preceding the festival. The chadars and pankhas were made both in Chandni Chowk and in Matia Mahal, with many of the flower-sellers and their families continuing to work on them from evening to morning. In the middle of the night, Malini, a girl helping her parents in making garlands, eloped with her Muslim lover, causing an uproar. When day dawned some of the revellers were fast asleep after the merrymaking, but children in large numbers were out in the streets dancing in glee. The shehnais were being played in front of Begum Bagh, whose ruins formed the backdrop, as there was no Town Hall there (it was built 53 years later).

Akbar Shah and his harem had already proceeded to Mehrauli, but the begums, led by Mumtaz Mahal, left only late in the forenoon. Following them was Mirza Jahangir, still in his teens, a handsome young man who was the cynosure of not only the women of the harem but of the whole city. Some of his brothers accompanied him, but not the eldest, Abu Zafar, who later came to the throne as Bahadur Shah Zafar. Following the princes were the common people, headed by the shehnai players and flower-sellers carrying the pankhas. It took a long time for the procession to reach Mehrauli, past the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia, where obeisance was also paid. At the dargah of Qutub Sahib the chadars brought by the king and his party and those by the flowers sellers were offered (pankhas having already been sent to the temple) with due reverence after the royal party withdrew to an old mahal where Mumtaz Mahal and other royal ladies joined them. They passed the night there and the next day returned to Delhi. But the merrymaking continued for two more days.

Mirza’s end

Incidentally, Mirza Jahangir was sent back to Allahabad for continued misbehaviour, and he drank himself to death there at the age of 21. His body was brought to Delhi and he was buried in a mausoleum in Nizamuddin, much to the grief of Mumtaz Mahal and his grandmother Qudsia Begum II. Muslim Khan, who was born in 1880 and died in 1960, ironically did not live to see the revival of the festival that was discontinued after communal riots by Jawaharlal Nehru. He had moved to Bulandshahr after his second marriage. Memories of Muslim Khan and his friend, Sahil Brelvi, were revived when one browsed through the old Delhi Gazetteer which referred to the pankha mela in which pankhas are carried to the Hindu temple of Jog Maya on Wednesday and on Thursday to the shrine of Qutubuddin.

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 10:27:14 AM |

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