The October occasion.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
This festival with late-Mughal origins carries a flavour of the fast-fading Nehruvian legacy. Phool Waalon Ki Sair, or the procession of the flower bearers, is one of those annual rituals that many Delhiwallas have heard of but barely a few attend. The week-long carnival is essentially a celebration of the intimacy of Hindus and Muslims and is seen in certain quarters as a testament to the steadfastness of Indian-style secularism. Held annually in South Delhi’s Mehrauli, it entails offering of flowers at the Islamic shrine of Sufi saint Hazrat Khwaja Bakhtiyar Kaki and the Hindu temple of Lord Krishna’s sister Jog Maya.
The festival began on Thursday (13 October) and will conclude during the early morning hours of next Sunday (23 October). The most eagerly-awaited aspect is always the long night of qawwali (22 October, 8 pm onwards, Jahaz Mahal monument). A wrestling match (19 October, 3 pm Aam Bagh DDA Park) might rival for attention with walks to the aforementioned shrines.
The tradition of Phool Waalon Ki Sair was begun by a little-known Mughal queen, Akbar Shah II’s wife Mumtaz Mahal Begum. It was halted by the British in the 1940s and was revived by Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru in 1962. Historical accounts suggest that the festivities were staged on a grander scale in the early years. A 19th century Delhiwalla would have seen cockfighting tournaments, kite flying competitions and endless number of VIPs of the Red Fort coming south to Mehrauli on luxuriously-decorated elephants and palanquins.
That old royalty is gone and these days it is the festival itself that condescends to personally offer floral homage to the city’s modern-day royals. Over the week, the Phool Waalon ki Sair procession will visit the offices of Delhi’s lieutenant general, chief minister, divisional commissioner, and the commissioner of police. This sounds deadly boring and you do not have to be a part of this.
Then, why attend?
Phool Waalon Ki Sair, which coincides with the cooling down of high temperature, should be an excuse to make that long-postponed excursion to the less frequented but beautiful corners of Mehrauli. After all, there is more to this historic village than just Qutub Minar. For instance, try to attend the night-long qawwali in Jahaz Mahal. This monument gets its evocative name because its reflection in the waters of the adjacent lake used to make it look like a jahaz (ship). Today, the lake is dry but Jahaz Mahal continues to look like an object of poetic beauty. To stay there the entire night for the sake of music could be the stuff dreams are made of.
(Details can be obtained from the festival’s organizers Anjuman Sair-e-Gul Faroshan, Contact Usha Kumar: 9810122604)