Basant or basanti is the colour associated with spring
he traditional welcome to the spring season in this part of the world has been kite flying. For the past many years, however, it has been damned, discouraged and outlawed. It is now a festival that can only be celebrated in defiance, aseditious act or an outright crime.
For many people, the word basant has meant the festival of kite flying, to herald the season as they are not fully cognizant that it does actually mean spring. Basant or basanti is the colour associated with spring, the yellow saffron mix that is more representative of the blooming sarson. The fields of the northern subcontinent and the valleys of Kashmir are ridden with the splash which so very refreshingly lifts the gloom of winter.
Though kite flying was common across the cultural spectrum, its centres used to be the cities of Lahore and Kasur. The serious kite flyers began and ended the day with traditional rituals. Hori and Dhammer were sung at the time of the year and bandishes that had lyrics celebrating the transformation and the immense force of regeneration were rendered. The bandishes in ragas basant and bahar were set during the season empathising the connection between the Nature and the humans.
The human effort and desire found a corresponding response in Nature. The singing of basant and bahar, with its myriad mishr variations found contentment in the blossoming of passion in the opulence of Nature. Basant as a festival was celebrated not on one particular day but held each week at various shrines that dotted the landscape across Delhi. The famous bandishes of Amir Khusro are an example of the relationship that was developed between the people who had migrated from other lands and had become residents and were gradually being naturalised.
Nazir Akbarabadi wrote about the various types of kites as well as the various festivals or rituals that tended the preceding or following weeks.
The Walled City of Lahore used to be the epicentre of festivities. It was impossible to fly a kite from the rooftop because the sky above was heavily crisscrossed by the string of thousands of kites in the air. The expert kite fliers chose Manto Park (now Greater Iqbal Park) and treated it as a serious sport rather than an excuse for revelry.
The power or the force of regeneration is seen as a blessing that takes away the worn out and the decaying. The festival is the initiation of a new season, a new beginning. As one can recall other than the two cities mentioned above, the incidence of kite flying was not that rampant in other cities of Pakistan. The other towns that later became cities especially in the Punjab ticked on the festive spirit and joined the revelry.
The Walled City of Lahore used to be the epicentre of festivities.It was hard to fly a kite from the rooftop because the sky above was heavily crisscrossed by the string of thousands of kites in the air. The expert kite fliers chose Manto Park (now Greater Iqbal Park) and treated it as a serious sport rather than an excuse for revelry. Mochi Darwza was the wholesale market for kites with entire bazaars full of colourful kites. The shops were filled with kites, spilling all over to meet the demand by a struggling supply chain. In the 1980s, the focus shifted to the night as night basant was celebrated with lights on. Actually, it became a more sought after phase than the day where it appeared to be a leftover from the previous night.
Basant was at its most extravagant during the reign of Ranjit Singh. Shalimar Bagh was the venue as dance, music and kite flying stretched from across the months of phagan and chet, leading to the urs of Shah Hussain. Called Mela Chiraghan, it used tobe the biggest festival of the Punjab. Now, it is only a shadow of its former self.It is being replaced by the more urban expression of jashn-i-baharan in the parks of the city, the Horse and Cattle Show and the lightening up of certain points including the canal. Some concerts are also held at the Arts Councils.
The process of assimilation is being challenged by the boorish in the name of exclusion. This has become an archetypal battle or contest that exists between excess and restraint. It appears that in this sanctimonious order, restraint is always a winner and excess is demonised. The need for excess then seeps underground,erupting in fiercely perverted forms than can ever be imagined. The innocence of excess is tainted by the cover of propriety.
The writer is a culture critic based in Lahore.