Delhi has been host to one of the most beautiful festivals of India which truly symbolises its syncretic culture and Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb. This is the annual Sair e Gul Faroshan or Phool Waalon ki Sair which is traditionally held in the month of Bhadon. It is a 3 day festival which sees the participation of people from all walks of life and faith.
Mughal Emperor, Akbar Shah II (1808 -1837) had wanted to nominate his younger and favourite son Mirza Jahangir as his heir, in lieu of the eldest ( who later succeeded him as Bahadur Shah Zafar) a move not liked by the British Resident, Sir Archibald Seton. Mirza Jahangir, a hot headed youth mocked the resident and later took a shot at him from the Naubat Khana in the Red Fort. Though Sir Archibald was unharmed, Mirza Jahangir was exiled to the Allahabad Fort. This led to great consternation and grief to his parents particularly his mother, Mumtaz Mahal Begum.
She made a vow that if he came back safely she would offer a chadar at the Dargah of Hazrat Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki. In a few years the Prince returned and the devout and grateful Queen undertook a journey from the Red Fort to the Dargah in Mehrauli. As per her vow she walked barefoot and flower sellers spread flowers in her path to act as a cushion. Photograph by Syed Mohammed Qasim from 2013.
The Queen spent a week in Mehrauli and there was great merry making. The secular Emperor also sent a floral chadar to the ancient and nearby temple of Yogmaya Devi, the sister of Lord Krishna. Every year the Emperor ensured he and his courtiers went to both the Dargah and Mandir. If he could not go to the Mandir for some reason he would not go to the Dargah either.
I don’t think there is any other festival which showcases our syncretic culture better.
When Akber Shah II started Sair e Gul Faroshan , Bahadur Shah Zafar was heir apparent, though not in the good books of the King.In order to please the Emperor, Zafar had composed a poem in praise of the pankha.
The first verse is:
“Noor e altaf o karam ki hai sub uski jhalak
Ke voh zahir hai malek our hai batin main malak”…….
“Ye bana is Shahe Akber ki ba doulat pankha”
Since then every year this festival is celebrated for 3 days.
Photograph Syed Mohammed QasimThe President and Lt. Governor of Delhi send a pankha which is carried in a procession from the Town hall in Chandni Chowk to Mehrauli.On the first day , which is Thursday a joyous procession goes to Qutub Sahab’s dargah and offers floral chadars.Here it is the Hindu brethren who take the lead.
On Friday the procession goes to Yogmaya Temple and offers the floral chadar there. Here the Muslim brethren take the lead.
On Saturday there is a cultural function at Jahaz Mahal, a building from the Lodi period which may have been built for use of pilgrims to Qutub Sahab’s dargah. There is a general air of festivity and gay abandon and buildings such as the jharna are decorated and spruced up.
Photograph Syed Mohammed QasimPhotograph Syed Mohammed Qasim
A fair is held and people come from far and wide to sell and buy the wares. Cultural troupes come from different states and performThe Mughal Family would come and stay in Zafar Mahal for the duration of the festival. Now the Mughal summer palace is in ruins
This fair was continued by the British Comissioner of Delhi after 1857. In 1942 during the Quit India movement the British government put a stop to the sair to prevent popular participation and mass gatherings. It was restarted in 1961 by Yogeshwar Dayal & Jawaharlal Nehru as a symbol of secular, modern India.