An Indian Muslim’s tribute to Diwali: Jashn-e-chiraghan… Diwali kindles light unto dark hearts

firoz-bakht-ahmedBy Firoz Bakht Ahmed*

Aa mita dein dilon pe jo siyahi aa gayee hai,
Meri Eid tu mana le teri Diwali mein manaun!
(Let’s erase the darkness dwelling unto our hearts,
You celebrate my Eid, I celebrate your Diwali!)

I still remember that my late mother Nazuk Jahan Begum had her own reason for her Diwali fondness. She loved it owing to the fact that the festival marked the onset of mausam-e-sarma (winter season) and emanated light. She was allergic to sweltering heat. Besides, in India, Diwali brings with it many other festivals including Ramzan, Eid and Christmas. The Indian Muslim community has always welcomed the bright festival of lights also named as Jashn-e-chiraghan (festival of lights) since the time of the Mughal emperors who participated in the festivities of all religions.

“Maulana Abdul Waheed Siddiqui, a renowned Muslim theologian of his times and the founder of Nai Duniya Urdu weekly, used to place two deeyas at both the sides of his entrance so that his Hindu neighbours don’t feel hurt for absence of light in his house,” recounts Shahid Siddiqui, the present editor also editing the Urdu daily Awam. He told his sentry to put more oil if it ran short. Such was the reverence for Diwali.

A typical firework display for Mohammad Shah ‘Rangila’

About the involvement of Bahadur Shah Zafar on the occasion of Diwali, the proof is furnished by Hakeem Mam Chand Arora of Chandni Chowk, Katra Neel’s Surbhi Trading Company) who claims that the pooja samagri (prayer material) at the Durbar was sent by his forefathers. The pooja samagri included items like roli, kapoor, mauli, dhoop, supari, kamalgatta, karjwa, safed chandan ka choora, inder jau, bal chhar, peeli Sarson, chhal Chhabila, dhania, jayephal etc. Mam Chand Arora also claims that there are letters of their links with Bahadir Shah Zafar, Begum Zeenat Mahal and their son Mirza Fakhru. Bahadur Shah Zafar used to display a variety of deeyas (lamps) designed and manufactured from all corners of India.

Aatishbaazi (foreworks) was sent from the Paiwalan area behind Jama Masjid from a shop that is now known as Majestic Fireworks. The traditional Diwali sweets like kheel, khaand, batashey, kheer, ganja and mewa were all prepared in the Red Fort both for the nobility and the commoners. Mam tells that the massive gathering outside the Red Fort used to wait for the grand fireworks display also arranged for them in the Parade Grounds under the supervision of Zafar’s army generals and some officers.

It was in fact Akbar who started the tradition of celebrating Diwali. At his palace Akbar arranged a big bjoj (lavish feast) on Diwali and the entire city of Agra and in fact the whole country used to be bedazzled. It was not merely the lighting that was important but the manner and arrangement that was in fact more significant. Lamps were decorated by the concerned experts in the form of deities namely goddess Lakshmi and lord Rama besides umpteen other Hindu gods and goddesses.

Mughal miniature: A Muslim and a Hindu woman celebrating Diwali

“While celebrating non-Muslim festivals of India like Holi, Diwali, Dussehra, Basant, Nauroz etc., Akbar got used to get so engrossed and personally involved that it was a treat to watch,” writes Abul Fazal in Aain-e-Akbari. Besides, many Muslim poets have been writing verses in praise of Diwali including Nazir Akbarabadi, Hamidullah Afsar Merathi, Basheer Badr, Ghulam Rabbani Taban, Gauhar Raza, Majid Deobandi, Wajid Sehri etc.

So far as Akbar’s son emperor Jahangir is concerned, Tuzk-e-Jahangiri mentions him and his fun-loving queen Noorjahan to be very spirited when it came to pomp and show and on Diwli and other festivals and the emperor spent millions at which some of his ministers and nobles even got piqued. Thousands were wedded away by her in that festive month that began with the Navratras. This finding has been given by Ellison Bank Findly in the book—Noorjahan : Empress of Mughal India. Sometimes, the queen accompanied by her husband Jahangir, used to go to Raja Man Singh’s palace to witness the bizzare fireworks display at Agra.

The colourful builder emperor Shahjahan had his own style of celebrating Diwali. A notable thing by Shahjahan’s Shahi (royal) Shahjahanabadi fireworks celebration was that he sent his most lovable queen Mumtaz Mahal atop the Qutub Minar in Mehrauli on the occasion of every Diwali. The fireworks used to be from Toshakhana-e-Shahi Aatishbazi besides many local foundries His Dawat-e-Chiraghan  (feast on the occasion of Diwali) was by far the most impressive and costliest amongst all the Mughal emperors.

For the occaion, Shahjahan used to order for sweets a month in advance inviting the best halwais from Agra, Mathura, Bhopal, Delhi and Lucknow. Tons of desi ghee used to be arranged from the nearby Delhi villages apart from the purest ingredients and usables required for preparing these freshest and tongue-tingling sweets with nostril-tickling aromas. It is stated that in this jashn he used to dance out of joy. Shahjahan was a great dancer as well!

The suit was followed by Bahadur Shah Zafar when he sent his wife Begum Zeenat Mahal atop the grand and graceful tower. Every year at Diwali, Zafar used to arrange a special Lakshmi Poojan (prayer to respect Lakshmi) in his Urdu-e-Mualla (Red Fort) attended by one and all.

The spirit of cheer and joy is all that prevails as in the words of Nazir Akbarabadi! Har makan mein phir jala deeya Diwali ka/ Har ek taraf koUjala  hua Diwali ka.

*English, Hindi and Urdu columnist and grandnephew of Maulana Abulkalam Azad. Contact:

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