The history of Basant

Basant is a centuries old cultural tradition of Punjab. Over the years it gained element of controversy as the fundamentalism wiped the norms of tolerance and co-existence from our society. Disregard for law and lives of fellow citizens had turned it into a bloody sport. It has become a bone of contention between the so-called liberal elements who term those opposing the festivals as killjoys, while the right-wingers trace its origins to the killing of Hindu who blasphemed Holy Prophet.

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 heralds spring and celebrated in winter (Magh) on the fourth or fifth day of lunar month. That is why it is called Basant Panchami. Basant season starts on this day, therefore, it is regarded as 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 are worn).

Sanskrit poet Kalidasa says that rivulets and streams suddenly started gushing, mango bear flowers, honeybees hum and god of love enamors the hearts during Basant.

In pre-partition India Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs celebrated Basant in unison. Basant festivals held in all major cities of Punjab and men wore yellow turbans and women yellow dupattas and saris. Hindu, Muslim and Sikh women together play and traditional seasonal songs were sung that reflected the liveliness and romance of Punjabi life. Kite flying was also common but on a small scale with decency.

After partition the festival too lost its original colors. After departure of non-Muslims Basant was reduced to kite flying and other traditions were gradually forgotten. Now a days neither yellow clothes nor swings could be seen or any other civilized activity. Here and there, crowds of kite flyers show their ill manners. Children, grownups and old alike fly kites on rooftops from dawn to dusk. Kite battles and brawls are common scenes.

Most of the kite flyers are less educated or illiterate laborers. Some educated also do the same and the kite flying orgy is spreading among the school children”.

This is a narration of Basant celebration nearly 50 years ago but much has changed. Sadly, the festival has lost its true color and instead became a game of death.

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