Category Archives: festivals

Great music lives on in Lahore

by Raza Rumi

This is the magic of Lahore and its deep-rooted cultural mores. No other city can boast of such individuals, movements and trends. Hopefully, the music will live on. The interest of younger generations and their experiments with various forms of music hold great promise

Last week the breezy environs of the majestic Lawrence Gardens once again swayed to the tunes of Hindustani classical music. A week long music festival organised by the All Pakistan Music Conference attracted musicians, vocalists and enthusiasts from all parts the country, as well as from the imagined “enemy” India. How could it not be the case when musical traditions emerged out of a cultural synthesis of 700 years or more?

The leading light of APMC was Hayat Ahmad Khan, whose sad demise in 2005 was interpreted as an end to the glorious tradition of subcontinental streams of music in Pakistan. However, 83 years of hard work and philanthropic contributions was not in vain. He left behind a powerful institution and a network of committed individuals and aesthetes who have kept the torch ablaze. Not a small feat in the troubled waters of a Pakistani cultural landscape constantly under attack by nation-state ideology and extremism that consider music to be too “Indian” or, even worse, un-Islamic.

This is the greatest irony of our existence: the Muslims in India contributed to what is known today as Indian classical music and innovations such as the sitar and the tabla. The Qawwal bache trained at the shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi under the tutelage of Amir Khusrau became the founders of what was to later evolve as the sophisticated Khayal style of music. In dire times of the Sultanate and Mughal periods, these musicians had to take refuge in the princely states, and this is how the various gharanas, or schools of music, originated. This loose network of musicians organised along the lines of kinship or teacher-pupil bonds, sustained by court patronage and eclectic and secular in appeal, led to some fine moments. Tansen at Akbar’s court, Mohammad Shah Rangeela’s patronage and later the Kingdom of Oudh defined the high-points of this fused and seamless culture beyond religion, communal and sectarian divides.

To keep this tradition alive in post-independence Pakistan was a Herculean task. Pakistan was a moth-eaten and truncated country in the words of its founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The psychological trauma and barbarity of the Partition had jolted everyone and the traditional patronage of the state was missing. It was under these circumstances that on September 15 1959, music-inspired citizens met at the famous Coffee House of Lahore and launched a voluntary organization called The All Pakistan Music Conference. Eminent personas such as Roshan Ara Begum were among the illustrious list of its founders.

It should be noted that this was also the age when the maestro Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan migrated to India and Roshan Ara Begum was almost about to give up the passion of her life. Thus Continue reading

International Mystical Music in Lahore

Artists from Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and Egypt performed on the final night of International Mystical Music Sufi Festival at Peeru’s Café on Sunday. The performances were not scheduled but were still conducted. The Dalahoo Sufi Ensemble, the Iranian group, stole the show with Jalaluddin Rumi’s poetry. It was the second from last group to perform at the event. Continue reading

Sufi music festival to hit the city on 25th

From the Daily Times

LAHORE: The 5th International Mystic Music Sufi Festival (IMMSF) will be held in the city from April 25 to 27.

Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop (RPTW) in collaboration with Telenor Pakistan launched the annual music festival at Peeru’s Café.

This time, the event is being taken to small cities. The festival began on April 21 at the National Institute of Folk and Traditional Heritage, Islamabad, and would move on to Multan on April 24. From April 25 to 27, the performances will be presented in Lahore. The festival will conclude on April 30 at the Beach View Garden, Karachi. Continue reading

Pakistan’s cultural capital loses kite festival to violence, political turmoil

LAHORE, Pakistan: Pakistan’s political turmoil and violence have claimed a high-profile cultural victim -a centuries-old kite-flying festival that draws thousands of visitors.

The Basant festival brings a springtime buzz to eastern Pakistan and its regional capital, Lahore. Officials usually relax a ban on the pastime — imposed to prevent abandoned strings that are often covered with crushed glass from slitting people’s throats.

But the festival has been canceled this year amid tensions spawned by terrorist attacks and the country’s rocky return to democracy after years of military rule.

Sohail Janjua, a city government spokesman, said the festival was first postponed due to national mourning for assassinated ex-leader Benazir Bhutto, then because of Feb. 18 parliamentary elections.

Lahore has suffered three suicide attacks since, including two that killed 27 people on March 11, resulting in increased concerns about security.

“How can we ignore the deaths of innocent people to celebrate anything?” Janjua said.

In the past, the city’s youth have sent thousands of brightly colored kites into the sky during the festival, held on a weekend in February or March. Basant means yellow in Hindi, a reference to the mustard flowers that blossom in the region in early spring.

Crowds of Lahoris typically clamber onto rooftops to watch. Well-heeled guests from around the country and beyond pack city hotels for a few days of late-night festivities. Continue reading

4,000 Sikhs arrive for Besakhi celebrations

By Atif Nadeem in the NEWS

SOME 4,000 Indian Sikhs Friday, wearing colourful turbans, arrived at the Wagah station to participate in a three-day Besakhi festival which starts from April 12.

The Pakistan Sikh Gurdawara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC) and the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) received them at the Wagah station. They were showered with rose petals amidst drumbeat and dancing horses. They were also offered lunch and drinks by PSGPC President Sardar Bishan Singh and ETPB officials. The Indian pilgrims will visit various sacred places during their stay in the Punjab, including Nankana Sahib, Sacha Sauda, Kartarpur Sahib, Rohri Sahib and Gurdawara Punja Sahib. The Besakhi festival is celebrated to renew the pledge for promoting harmony and brotherhood as enshrined in Sikhism in the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib, the last guru of the Sikh faith. Pilgrims come to Pakistan from across the world to celebrate the festival while Sikhs visit Gurdawara Panja Sahib at Hassanabdal, where the 10th guru, Guru Govind Singh, settled around 300 years ago to preach Sikhism.

The pilgrims arrived at Wagah by three trains and there was a great hustle and bustle at the station. Immigration, rangers, customs, railway and ETPB officials were trying their level best to facilitate the pilgrims. Continue reading

More news on Mela Chiraghan

Daily Times reporting: Three-day annual Urs celebrations of one of the greatest Punjabi Sufi poets and dancing fakir of Lahore Hazrat Shah Hussain began at his shrine in Baghbanpura near the Shalimar Gardens on Saturday.

The celebrations are popularly known as Mela Chiraghan or the Festival of Lights.

Saturday was a local holiday. Thousands of devotees from the nook and corner of the country and abroad thronged the shrine of Shah Hussain on the first day of the celebrations.

The illustrious son of Lahore, Shah Hussain, was born in 1538 to a convert weavers’ family. He is known for his love for a Brahmin boy, Madho or Madho Lal, and they are often referred to as a single person with a composite name of Madho Lal Hussain. Madho’s grave lies next to the Shah Hussain’s in the shrine. Shah Hussain is the pioneer of Kafi form of Punjabi poetry.

During the three-day Urs celebrations, the whole of Baghbanpura and localities close to it buzz with different colourful activities and an atmosphere of ecstacy and joy prevails. Dhammal to beats of Dhol becomes a common sight. Devotees light candles for fulfillment of their prayers and wishes. They also distribute charity food and set up milk and sharbat sabeel. They also lay floral wreaths and chaddar at the graves of Shah Hussain and Madho Lal Hussain.

Women also perform dhammal as a ritual. One of the three-days is made exclusive for women who come in large numbers to the shrine.

A large number of foreigners also visit the shrine. Folk singers hailing from different parts of the country spend days and nights at the shrine and sing Kafis of Shah Hussain. In one of his Kafis Shah Hussain he says “I dance because the doubt has vanished; I’m full of faults and without any quality.”

Prominent among those who visited the shrine on Saturday included US Consulate Principal Officer Bryan D Hunt who visited the shrine to pay homage to Shah Hussain and laid floral wreath and chaddar at his grave. On the occasion, he said that the saints and sufis always taught and promoted peace, love,religious tolerance and brotherhood in the world. He said that teachings of Hazrat Madhu Lah should be promoted and practiced to bring peace and tolerance to society. Punjab Auqaf Secretary Raees Abbas Zaidi and Religious Affair Director-General Dr Tahir Raza formally inaugurated the three-day Urs by laying floral wreaths at the graves od Shah Hussian and Madho Lal Hussain shrine. The Aauqaf Deparment also organised a Mehfil-e-Samma and musical gatherings.

Mela Chiraghan starts today

From the NEWS

MELA Chiraghan (the festival of lamps) will start Saturday (today) at the shrine of Hazrat Shah Hussain (RA), adjacent to the Shalamar Bagh.

It is one of grand events in the provincial capital and hundreds of thousands of devotees from all over the country take part in the festivity. Traditionally, devotees light Chiraghs (lamps) at the shrine.

Shah Hussain, commonly known as the poet of love, was born in 1538 AD. He was a radical thinker and his poetry and writing spellbind the audience at the shrine illuminated by thousands of lamps and candles.

“Mai ne Main Kinon Aakhan,” “Mahi Mahi Kookdi”, “Rabba Meray Hal Da Mehram Toon”, “Mandi Han Kay Changi Han Sahab Teri Bandi Han” and “Mein Vi Jhok Ranjhan Di Jana Nal Meray Koi Challay” are among some of his famous kafees.

He was the first Punjabi Sufi poet whose writings were a mixture of five languages i.e. Punjabi, Pothohari, Hindi, Persian and Arabic. His kafees are so simple that one understands his message without any difficulty. “Knowing God by knowing ourselves” is the main theme of his poetry. His work is romantic and has all symbols of rich romantic traditions.

Dr Mohan Singh Diwana collected 163 of his kafees and according to his findings, Shah Hussain was a true scholar and intellectual. Some researchers wrote that Guru Nanak was the first poet who wrote kafees in Punjabi language but, the kafees of Shah Hussain, Bullhey Shah, Sachal Sarmast, Khawaja Ghulam Farid and Pir Qutab Ali Shah are gems of Punjabi literature. The present marble-domed memorial of the Sufi, situated at Baghbanpura, near the Shalamar Gardens, does not appear to be old. It is said that after his death in 1599 AD, Shah Hussain was buried at Shahdara, situated on the western bank of the Ravi. But a few years later, the tomb was swept away by a flood. Then, it was shifted to the present site.

About 50 years ago, the festival was held on the lawns of the Shalamar Gardens, but the government of Ayub Khan banned it and it was shifted to the shrine of Madhu, a disciple of Lal Hussain. His kafees have been sung by lovers of Sufi poetry for centuries. His poetry will continue to mesmerise the next generations with its message of peace and love.

Drummers perform at the shrine and youths and women dance to a deafening beat. Besides the grave of Shah Hussain under the same dome, there is a grave of Madhu Lal, a son of a Hindu Brahmin, with whom the saint was deeply attached. Therefore, a large number of Hindus also come to attend his Urs.

Devotees, sitting in and around the shrine, attribute a number of karamat (miracles) to Shah Hussain. One may or may not believe them, but none can deny the literary genius of the saint. Even today, his poetry attracts a great audience.

The festival attracts a large number of artistes who sing his kafees and dance to the drums. Locals said the shrine was a focal point for celebrating Basant before partition. Maharaja Ranjit Singh used to celebrate the festival of Basant at the tomb. Once, Maharaja gave robes of honour to all his cabinet members and ordered them to reach the tomb in Basanti dresses. The infantry was ordered to dress in the same colour and stand on both sides of the road from the Fort to the tomb.

One of the attractions of the festival is its bazaar. In the past, it was a major point of buying and selling, but presently it has been reduced to the sale of general goods, toys, edibles, garments and bangles.

“On the first day of the Mela, processions which come to pay homage to the great saint are worth seeing, especially after dusk. One is possessed by the drumbeat and feels like dancing dhamaal with dervishes,” Muhammad Naeem, a resident of Gujranwala, said. He said he come to Lahore to attend the festival every year.

“I came from Nawabshah with my family to participate in the festival,” a half-naked young man, sitting beside a small fire, said. He was wearing chains of big and small stones and putting ash on his body. He said he and his group worshipped fire and they attended the festival every year.

Hundreds of people were sitting in the graveyard around the shrine, while a large number of people were also seen sleeping on the graves. Tents were erected in the open place around the shrine where hundreds of people, mostly youths, were openly smoking Charas and drinking Bhang. Some were filling cigarettes with Charas, some were puffing at them and others were preparing Bhang. The festival will continue till Monday.

Where are the kites?

VIEW:  Syed Mansoor Hussain (Daily Times)

Every culture has some form of a Spring Festival. To suppress such activities is to suppress the cultural aspirations of those that enjoy them. No, I am not in favour of bacchanalian excess, but some fun, please

The incarcerated CJ of Pakistan might be a great man but for me he will always be the person who put the kibosh on Basant. I have said it before and I will say it again, in my book he is a conservative jurist more in line with Islamist thinking. I do not, for instance, remember his court ever taking any suo moto action to help women incarcerated under the infamous Hudood laws or non-Muslims jailed under the blasphemy laws.

But such quibbles aside, my immediate concern is Basant. The reason ostensibly given to ban kite flying is the use of metal strings that can be hazardous to ordinary people. I entirely accept this premise but I cannot help but wonder why the famous Punjab Police that can, in a matter of minutes, arrest every known opposition member or recalcitrant lawyer in the entire province is unable to find and arrest those that manufacture the illegal metal strings.

Illegality can only flourish if law enforcement is involved in it at some level. The lower-level police force in Pakistan is known to be extremely corrupt. I am convinced that metal string use could be prevented if there was determination to do so. But more than the metal string, the real problem is that Basant has become an issue that pits the killjoy Islamist types against the fun-loving people of Lahore.

I don’t know what stand the expected government in the Punjab is going to take on this issue. I do know that based on his past reputation, if Mr Shahbaz Sharif does come back as CM, and if he decides to take this matter in hand, metal strings for kite flying will not be sold in Lahore or anywhere in Punjab. Sadly, Basant season will have passed by the time that happens.

The reason why Basant and kite flying is such a big deal for me is that it represents one of those ‘soft’ issues that are used by Islamists to beat up on all those they hate for daring to have fun. After all, many more people die in a single day from vehicular accidents than many a Basant and yet there is no hue and cry to ban vehicular traffic or even to improve it! Continue reading