Mohammad Ali Ilahi
For centuries, Basant has defined Lahore’s cultural identity. It is time for Pakistan’s heart to regain its soul
Recently, the final match of Pakistan Super League (PSL) tournament was successfully held in Lahore. There was excitement all around and thousands attended the match despite security threats. The enthusiasm for PSL showed how starved Lahoris were for recreation and with effective support by the state they were able to dispel the atmosphere of fear that has afflicted the city for long.
For centuries, Lahore has celebrated the Basant festival. Basant marked the arrival of spring, and filled up Lahore’s skies with countless kites of varying colors and sizes. Yet, Basant has always been more than just kite flying. It served as a social gathering where all classes participated in the celebration. It involved music, food that Lahoris are known for and frequent cries of “Bo Kata”.
I cannot recall anything that thrilled me more than kite flying in my boyhood days. Whenever I observed my kite soaring towards the clouds, I experienced a sense of power and mastery over the elements. Perhaps, in a way, I identified myself with the kite itself flying so free and so high above me, far from the madding crowd, enveloping me in a spirit of freedom and adventure, I felt that kites also signified a hope, a desire for escape, fancy dreams entrusted to a breath of wind and connected to a string and the hand that clasped it.
Those were the days when kite fighting instead of kite flying was in vogue. Pecha larana, or to entrap another kite by pouncing upon it from above or below or sideways, depending on its position, was the most exciting part of the sport. The skill lay in crossing dore with an opponent until the vanquished kite, cut loose, floated helplessly over the rooftops. The victor and the teammate would announce the defeat of the rival with loud cries of Bo-Kata, and throw a challenge for a return pecha. The defeated rival would accept the challenge and stir up a fresh kite into the sky. The rules of the game did not permit entrapping the kite till it was high above in the sky. It required great manoeuvring to entangle or disentangle one’s kite from the clutches of the opponent. Sometimes, we heard a shrill commotion on the rooftops and saw boys running with bamboo poles to catch a drifting kite. A falling kite in a street or bazar also created a stir and passer-by of all ages would run to catch the booty as a prized possession. Some boys who could not afford to buy kites often amused themselves by watching pechas and catching the falling kites.
Every mohalla in Lahore had its own acknowledged khilaris (expert kite-flyers). As soon as they launched their kites, it was a signal for the small-timers to pull back their kites and leave the field open for them. They dared not venture to disturbed the khilaris, each of whom had established his sphere of influence. I was also a small khilari who after accepting a challenge from a rival would enter the battle only at an agreed time.
There was a style of kite flying called kaincha that entailed cutting the twine of the rival kite by dragging and pulling it with a sudden jerk. This was a practice followed by some boys who had very little twine and were looked upon with contempt by the khilaris who would sometimes even give them a beating for attacking their kites in this fashion.
We always looked forward to Basant, the king of all festivals in Lahore. About two weeks before its arrival, the kite shops were specially decorated and a large variety of kites of different colours, shapes and sizes were displayed along with small and large pin nabs and artistically wound dore in numerous attractive colour combinations, large stocks of kites were also brought from Lucknow for the occasion. The kite makers and dore producers worked round the clock. The khilaris used to pile up their stocks of kites and dore well in advance to avoid the last minute rush. Second in importance to basant was the Lodhi festival held on Makar Sankranti, which usually falls on 13th January. On that day we had kite flying on a large scale, a full-dress rehearsal for Basant, which falls usually in the first week of February. Basant signaled the end of the winter season in Lahore and the onset of spring.
The celebrations on Basant day would commerce well before daybreak, when specially constructed box kites carrying lighted candles like lanterns were set afloat in the sky. These moving lights in the sky made an enchanting sight and signified the inauguration of the great kite-flying festival of Lahore, unmatched anywhere else in the world. Rooftops and terraces were crowded with men, women and children of all ages. It was also a custom to wear yellow turbans on Basant day. The women, young and old, also sported yellow chunnis which lent a new charm to the festival atmosphere. By daybreak the sky would be ablaze with thousands of kites of different colours, shapes, sizes and designs. The whole atmosphere of the city also reverberated with the triumphant shouts of Bo-Kata and the blowing of the trumpets to proclaim victories in kite-fighting battles. There were famous khilaris in said Mitha, Wachhowali, Machhi hata, Sutar Mandi, Rang Mahal and other areas of Lahore. They challenged one another for paichas. The Basant festival was also held outside near Haqikat Rai’s Samadh, where crowds from neighbouring villages joined the city crowds and enjoyed kite flying. There were also renowned Khilaris who played for heavy staked in Minto Park. The winners were admired for their dexterity and skills in gauging the winds as well as for the perfection in the tactics of manoeuvring, surging, shielding and stretching during the kite flying.
Posted in Basant, Bazaars, culture, Events, festivals, Memories, Walled City
Tagged Basant, Lahore, Lahore: A Sentimental Journey, Pakistan, Pran Nevile
Spring in Lahore arrives with colorful flowers, joyful traditions, dance, music and what not. And once upon a time there were kites, or better yet the kites used to rule all of the above. They were the main identity of spring.
Just a decade back all of the above said things were prevalent in Lahore. Dance, concerts, and the famous Basant were trademarks of Lahore but as we grew more religious we came to the conclusion that all of these are very harmful. Signboards of “Smoking kills” was replaced by “kites kill” and the much loved music, concerts and dance were always “unethical”. These were spared earlier because of “killer Basant” but eventually we have advanced our celebrations. We have made our festivities more kosher. Apparently, they now only exist in Models floating in Lahore canal.
The intention of this blog was to cheerfully introduce the colorful models and flowers that lighten up the Lahore canal and Mall road celebrating spring. But as I think about it, I cannot digest the irony that our government has taken these smiles, dance and festivities from the living and carved them on the hard board Models!
We willfully lost our heritage and here we are celebrating it on Lahore canal with meaningless floats!
Colorful Models lighten up in the Lahore canal as Part of Jashan-e-Baharan festival
Models of various monuments in Pakistan afloat in the Lahore canal for the Jashan-e-Baharan celebrations
Models of various animals afloat in the Lahore canal for the Jashan-e-Baharan celebrations
A model depicting a man and his monkey float in the Lahore canal for the Jashan-e-Baharan celebrations
People observe models erected as part of the Jashan-e-Baharan celebrations
Models dot Lahore’s canal as part of the Jashan-e-baharan celebrations
Motorist ride past colorful light and models set up for the Jashan-e-Baharan celebrations
Giant coloful models of peacock dot the canal road as part the Jashan-e-Baharan celebrations
Models of various monuments in Pakistan afloat in the Lahore canal for the Jashan-e-Baharan celebrations
Illuminated lamps dot the Lahore canal for the Jashan-e-Baharan celebrations
Models of women look over a sea of illuminated lillies in the Lahore canal for the Jashan-e-Baharan celebrations
Trees along Lahore canal are illuminated as part of the Jashan-e-Baharan celebrations
Photos and captions are taken from the Etribune.
By Nauman Tasleem
LAHORE: Pleasant weather and the government’s lenient attitude towards kite flyers have given citizens an opportunity to celebrate Basant again.
Kite enthusiasts started flying kites on Saturday afternoon and indulged themselves in the sport until late at night. Neither the police nor the City District Government Lahore (CDGL) took any action against the kite flyers. However, an official from the Punjab Police Department was of the view that people had been warned and were being nabbed for kite flying, while a CDGL official said the district government was helpless in taking action as no citizen lodged complaints against the people flying kites. Continue reading
KFA president hopes Basant will be celebrated as Governor Taseer in favour
By Ali Usman
LAHORE: There are bright chances of celebrating Basant and preparations for the festival have commenced with the change in the provincial administrative setup, Kite-Flying Association (KFA) officials told Daily Times on Thursday.
The KFA has been campaigning for Basant since months, and held several meetings with senior government officers, including the home secretary and the law minister, but could not convince them to allow the celebrations for the spring festival. On Tuesday, the association protested at the Lahore Arts Council against the Punjab government’s decision to continue the ban imposed on kite-flying. Continue reading
Two reports that say a lot on the current controversy on basant.
Taseer says he’ll celebrate Basant
Monday, February 16, 2009
PUNJAB Governor Salman Taseer has said that we still have not come to the conclusion that what kind of Pakistan we want, adding that we can materialise the dreams of our forefathers only if we follow thoughts and teachings of teachers like MD Taseer.
He was talking to journalists after the launching ceremony of two books of by his father Dr MD Taseer, the renowned educationist and the frontline figure of the progressive writers’ movement at the Governor’s House on Sunday. Continue reading
By Nauman Tasleem (Daily Times)
LAHORE: Around 500,000 families, directly related to the kite flying business, have lost their sources of livelihood because of the ban on Basant, the stakeholders of the kite flying industry told Daily Times on Friday.
The ban is costing them Rs 200 million annually, and at the same time damaging other businesses that are indirectly related to the festival. They said that the people related to the industry, including kite makers, twine (dor) makers, wholesalers and retailers, had lost their means of earning a living.
The cost of the paper used in kite making is estimated at around Rs 90 million and the cost of the twine used for flying kites is estimated at around Rs 40 million. Continue reading
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
Posted in culture, festivals, History, Lifestyle, Walled City
Tagged Basant, festival, Islamist, kites, Lahore, Lahori, spring