Festivals in Mughal Times: Eid-e-Gulabi

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Festivals in Mughal Times: Eid-e-Gulabi

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Kheluungii holi, Khaaja ghar aaye,
(I shall play Holi as Khaaja has come home,)
dhan dhan bhaag hamare sajni,
(blessed is my fortune, o friend,)
Khaaja aaye aangan mere.
(as Khaaja has come to my courtyard)

                                                      -Amir Khusrau


Who says Holi is an exclusive festival of Hindus? It has a Muslim history as well. From Mughals to Sufi poets, Holi has been part of Muslim culture and literature too. Syncretism in India was actually inspired and introduced by the holiest Sufi saint of Delhi, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and his disciple, Amir Khusrau. They revered colours, especially “pink” and “yellow” and used them as divine expressions in their beautiful Persian and Hindavi poetry.

Holi would be celebrated on the same scale as Eid in the Red Fort, during Mughal times. It was called Eid-e-Gulabi or Aab-e-Pashi (Shower of Colourful Flowers), with everyone joining in. In Mughal times, the fiesta of Holi lasted for days during which people, irrespective of religious or social boundaries, took part in it. The poorest of the poor could apply colour to the emperor.  This enlightened spirit brewed in the Mughals right from the time of Babur. It is said that Babur would often celebrate Holi by dousing in a pool full of wine. 

Abul Fazal writes in Ain-e-Akbari that Akbar used to collect beautiful water guns (pichkaaris) of different sizes throughout the year which clearly shows his excitement. This used to be one of the rare occasions when Akbar would come out from his fort in Agra and play Holi with even the common people. 

In Tuzuk-e-Jahangiri, Jahangir mentions that he played Holi actively and organized Mehfil-e-Holi. Paintings of Jahangir playing Holi with Noor Jahan, have been painted by many artists including Govardhan and Rasik. In Tuzuk-e-Jahangiri, Jahangir (1569 –1627) writes: “Their day is Holi, which in their belief is the last day of the year. This day falls in the month of Isfandarmudh, when the sun is in Pisces. On the eve of this day, they light fires in all the lanes and streets. When it is daylight, they spray powder on each other’s heads and faces for one watch and create an amazing uproar. After that, they wash themselves, put their clothes on, and go to gardens and fields. Since it is an established custom among the Hindus to burn their dead, the lighting of fires on the last night of the year is a metaphor for burning the old year as though it were a corpse.”

Shah Jahan would watch the Holi celebrations from the jharokas of his Red Fort in Delhi. During Shah Jahan’s rule, a Holi carnival was organised near what is today called Rajghat which included performances in which jesters would imitate the king and princes and nobody took offence in this. The Emperor would reward these artists handsomely. 

Bahadur Shah Zafar went as far as making Holi the official festival of the Red Fort and a new genre of Urdu poetry called Hori was also patronized by him, which was sung on the day of Holi. He allowed his Hindu ministers to fill his forehead with gulal on the day of the festival. He believed that his belief for his religion cannot be affected by this social ritual. 

The queens, princesses and other women of the harem would be sitting in their jharokas and enjoying the celebrations. At night, there would be a celebration of Holi on a grand scale in the Red Fort with singing and dancing throughout the night. Groups of musicians and other artists would gather under the Red Fort and display their art and talents, while nautch girls would dance.

The umaras (nobles), the rajas and the nawabs all exchanged rose-water bottles and sprinkled scented water on each other along with the frenzied beating of nagadas (big drums).

This is often called the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb which prevailed all over India right till the 19th century. It still exists in most part of the Indian sub-continent despite many attempts to divide and rule. With Mughal art, music and literature celebrating the many colours of Holi, it is evident that no single religion could stake a claim on any festival of joy. As many artists point out, the colours are smeared to smudge off any trace of identity and erase all differences among humans, so that all of us can be one.


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