Tag Archives: kite-flying

Basant: Lahore’s lost spring

Raza Rumi

Cross posted from my website

Lahore, a centre for the arts and learning in the early 20th century, has been the custodian of a plural, vibrant culture for decades. Its walled city, unlike several other old settlements, has continued to survive despite the expansion of the city. So have its peculiar features: its dialects, cuisine, community linkages and, of course, rich festivals such as Basant. As the capital of Punjab, Lahore used to celebrate Basant — the arrival of spring — in a colourful manner.

Since the medieval times, Basant was acknowledged and celebrated by the Chishti saints. Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi turned it into an act of devotion, and Amir Khusrau’s songs captured the multi-layered evolution of this festival.

Punjabi poets such as Shah Hussain gave a Sufi flavour to it. Hussain, in one of his kaafis, says: “The Beloved holds the string in his hand, and I am His kite.” The festival offered a meaning to all and sundry: from playful kids to lovers and Sufis; from profit-seekers who developed livelihoods around the festival to the community as a whole.

Basant was celebrated by all communities prior to Partition: Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs treated it as a Lahori festival with an identity linked to the city. In this milieu, Allama Iqbal was known to be an avid kite flier. But the post-1947 rise of clerics meant that inclusive cultural practices were to be treated with suspicion. For many decades, the Pakistani mullahs have ranted against Basant as an “unIslamic” festival and one that endangered public morality.

Unfazed by these fatwas, Lahoris continued with the festival. It even received state patronage on various occasions. A citizen of Lahore, Mian Yousaf Salahuddin (the grandson of Iqbal), turned his old Lahore haveli into a cultural hub and, over time, Basant celebrations became an international attraction. By the 1990s, proactive civil servants turned Basant into a great regional festival. Lahore’s then deputy commissioner, Kamran Lashari, provided full backing to the holding of this event in the 1990s. That was perhaps the time when Basant also became most controversial due to its scale and the increased hazards of unregulated kite-flying in which metallic or chemical-coated string was used.

The use of this string instead of the traditional dor caused many deaths each year and the local government was unable to enforce regulations on its usage. The metallic wire would get entangled in electricity cables in the old city, leading to electrocution. The courts intervened and asked the Punjab government to ban the festival in 2007.

Ironically, the banning of Basant did not take place in the name of religion but through a public interest litigation. However, the ideological opponents of Basant have been happy with the outcome and have created an uproar each time someone raised the question of reviving Basant after putting safety measures in place. But Lahore is a poorer place now. It is devoid of this public celebration, especially for thousands of impoverished workers in the old city and neighbouring towns where Basant was celebrated with great fervour.

Read the full post here

The images are Mahboob Ali’s works (an eminent artist from Lahore also known for his woodcuts)

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Sad news: Kite-flying to stay banned

Raza Rumi

I know that Lahore Nama has been visited in the recent days by hundreds and thousands of Basant enthusiasts. This is unfortunate that an age-old fetival is being banned and denied to people only because the government cannot regulate malpractices by a few business people and the bankrupt, failed WAPDA.

Hope that this festival will come back to Lahore. We strongly protest against this policy decision. Pakistan cannot be made a afe haven for roaming terrorists and suicide bombers while the peaceful citizens are denied the opportunity to celebrate a festival that is so deeply a part of our culture.

Here is the Daily Times story on this:

* District administration warns violators of stern action
* DCO says ‘Governor’s House’ no exception to kite-flying ban
* Police crack down on kite makers

Daily Times Monitor/Staff Report

LAHORE: The district administration has decided to maintain the ban on kite-flying in the provincial capital as per the orders of the Lahore High Court (LHC), warning that those violating the law would be dealt with sternly, a private TV channel reported on Friday.

According to the channel, a meeting presided over by Lahore District Coordination Officer (DCO) Sajjad Bhutta, decided that those found violating the court orders would be dealt with strictly under the law.

The DCO said the LHC had declared that permission to celebrate Basant could be given if a Continue reading

The history of Basant

Manzoor has authored a great post on Basant. We are cross posting it here – given that many Lahore Nama visitors are talking of Basant and expressing their great enthusiasm for the festival.  Raza Rumi (ed)

Basant is a centuries old cultural tradition of Punjab. Over the years, it gained an element of controversy as the fundamentalism wiped the norms of tolerance and co-existence in our society. Disregard of law and for the lives of fellow citizens turned it into a bloody sport.

Recently I came across a book “URS AUR MELAY” by Aman Ullah Khan Arman, published by Kitab Manzil Lahore in 1959. I am reproducing the chapter on Basant (p.276-277) here: “Basant (a Sanskrit word for spring) is a seasonal festival of Indo-Pak sub-continent and it has no religious bearings. Basant is the herald of the spring and celebrated in winter (Magh) on the fourth or fifth day of lunar month. This is the reason why it is called Basant Panchami. Basant season starts on this day, therefore, Basant is regarded the herald of spring, wheat grows, and mustard blossoms in this season. (Old Aryan tradition divides a year into six seasons each having two months. Mustard blossom that is yellow in color is considered the color of spring and accordingly yellow outfits were worn).  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