Holi — Eid-e-Gulabi — a shared colourful heritage of Hindus, Muslims

By Firoz Bakht Ahmed*

Though I never see people as Hindus and Muslims as the famous poet saint Kabir had said that he doesn’t see a Hindu and and Muslim in the eyes of a person but a human! Interestingly yet I would like to share that Tilak Raj Rustagi, a Hindu friend and colleague of mine, has since 1983 been coming to my place on Holi to smear the red gulal on my forehead as a mark of the festival’s inter-faith harmonious spirit.

Once a relative of mine, on seeing the colour smeared on my forehead, remarked, “It is irreligious and un-Islamic to play Holi.” I told him that such things only reiterate my faith in my religion, as friendly acts like putting gulal or lighting a candle on Diwali cannot take away my religion.

In the same tone and tenure, Atyab Siddiqui, a senior Delhi High Court lawyer, while celebrating the hues of Holi with his wife Umema, son Mizan and Sumaiyya, states this lovely couplet about Urdu, “”Munh par naqab-e-zard har ik zulf par gulal/ Holi ki shaam hi to sahar hai basant k!” Residing in Noida, he celebrated Holi’s festivity by sharing different colours, sweets and Holi poetry, he said, “India’s is a mixed tradition of secular credentials where Muslims welcome and celebrate Holi the same way as Hindus love savouring Eid’s sheer and sevaiyyan sweet dishes!

Since I have Lala Liloo Bansal, a Hindu neighbour, perhaps the only one in the entire Zakir Nagar, opposite my house, I have made it my principal to lit two candles throughout the Diwali night in my balcony so that he is not hurt to see darkness at my end.

This milk of concord is very necessary since Hindus and Muslims have for centuries been living together in India. Besides, Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) has said that the biggest sin according to him is hurting the people’s hearts and lacerating their feelings; therefore I too don’t want to hurt my Hindu friend by letting darkness in my balcony on Diwali night.

Holi has a Muslim history as well. Revered Sufi saints like Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia and Ameer Khusro in their chaste Persian and Hindvi poetry have adored the ‘pink’ festival generously.

Emperor Bahadurshah Zafar, whose Holi phags (songs) are even relished today and who allowed his Hindu ministers to tinge his forehead with gulal on the day of the festival each year, writes: “Kyon mo pe mari rang ki pichkari, Dekho kunwarji doon gi gari…” (Why am I with colour sprinkled – By me now you will be abused).
Even Jahangir is shown holding Mehfil-e-Holi in Tuzk-e-Jahangiri with great enthusiasm. Many artists, especially Govardhan and Rasik have shown Jahangir playing Holi with Noorjahan, his wife.

Mohammed Shah Rangila, in a remarkable painting, is shown running around the palace with his wife running after him with a pichkari (syringe). Such examples are umpteen for India’s cultural heritage has been enriched by the harmonious amalgamation and assimilation of various faiths and ethnicities besides the blend of harmonious socio-religious fabric.

During the Shahjahani tenure of Delhi, Holi was known as Eid-e-Gulabi (pink Eid) or Aab-e-Pashi (shower of colourful flowers) and truly so owing to its carnival spirit and hysterical rejoicing for both the major Indian communities.
The umaras (nobles), the rajahs and the nawabs all exchanged rose-water bottles and sprinkled scented water on each other along with the frenzied beating of nagaras (big drums).

This enlightened spirit percolated in the Mughals right from the time of Akbar. Even Jahangir is shown holding Holi festivities in his autobiography “Tuzk-e-Jahangiri”. Many artists, especially Govardhan and Rasik have shown Jahangir playing Holi with Noorjahan, his wife. Mohammed Shah Rangila, in a remarkable painting, is shown running around the palace with his wife following him with a pichkari.

Such examples are umpteen for India’s cultural heritage has been enriched by the harmonious amalgamation and assimilation of various faiths and ethnicities.
Mirza Sangi Baig in “Sair-ul-Manazil” narrates that the rollicking and frolicking Holi groups were alternately powdered and drenched till the floor had been covered with a swamp of crimson, yellow and orange colours with the faces being multi-coloured, a spectacle so very enthralling and exclusive that words fail the speaker or the writer to describe the thrill.

“Who says Holi is a Hindu festival?” asks Munshi Zakaullah in his book “Tarikh-e-Hindustani”. Zakaullah writes that the carnival of Holi lasted for many days during which people, irrespective of their caste, creed or any other religious or social distinction, forgot their restraints and joined in the festivity.

The poorest of the poor used to throw colour on the emperor with a spirit so great. Children’s Urdu monthly Khilona (March, 1960) mentions that during the days of Mughal emperor Bahadurshah Zafar special arrangements were made for Holi festivities.

In Jam-e-Jahanuma – an Urdu daily (March 10, 1844) – eminent writer Abdul Haq states that on such occasions of universal cosmic fabric, both Hindus and Muslims came out of their apprehensions and inhibitions to appear as unaffected and normal equals by sharing and mixing.

He described it as a spirited carnival of the Indian at a time of frenzied rejoicing, alacrity and licence of all kinds.

*The author is a commentator on social, religious and educational matters

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