The idea of celebrating Basant Panchami at the tomb of the Sufi, Nizamuddin Auliya, may seem out of place. It is, nonetheless, an annual event that marks the beginning of spring, upliftment, health and rejuvenation, as well as the essence of the syncretic culture that India has long stood for.
Basant Panchami, the festival that marks the onset of spring, and Nizamuddin, the historic neighbourhood in Delhi, intertwine in a captivating narrative that spans centuries. The tradition of celebrating Basant Panchami at the shrine has been going on since the 12th century. This year, the historic celebration of Basant Panchami at Nizamuddin Dargah falls on February 14.
Check out all you need to know about this tradition, ranging from its history and evolution to its current state.
Basant Panchami, also known as Vasant Panchami, has its roots in ancient Hindu mythology and is associated with the worship of Goddess Saraswati. She is considered the deity of knowledge, wisdom, and the arts. This festival is celebrated on the fifth day of the Hindu calendar month of Magha, which usually falls in late January or early February. Basant Panchami marks spring's arrival, symbolised by the blooming of mustard flowers and the vibrant yellow attire worn by devotees.
The celebration of Basant Panchami at the dargah is drenched in the yellow of mustard flowers. Songs in the Purabi dialect and qawwalis can be traced to a certain event in the lives of Nizamuddin Auliya, and his equally famous disciple, Amir Khusrau. When the sone of Auliya's sister, Taqiuddin Nuh, died an early death, the Sufi was gripped with pain and remorse that had no end. For days on end, he would remain sorrowful, quiet and morbid. Seeing the condition of his revered spiritual master, Khusrau was troubled and wanted to placate his pains. Khusrau found his opportunity that came in the form of Basant Panchami, the first day of a forty-day spring that culminates in Holi.
On his way to his court Khusrau spotted a group of Hindus with dhols and manjiras celebrating the occasion of Basant Panchami; he was struck by their music and striking yellow clothes and baskets of mustard flowers. It was revealed to Khusrau that the group was bound to the temple of Kalka where they would offer the flowers to the god. Instantly, Khusrau devised a plan to bring back the light in Auliya's life and took the celebrating group along with him to Auliya's abode. At the site, he started the tawaf, or the circumambulation of the Kaaba in Mecca, around the saint.
In his act, Khusrau also started singing in the Purabi dialect and showering mustard flowers at Auliya's feet. It is important to note that Khusrau was a renowned poet with a masterful grasp of Persian and Hindavi. He is credited with the invention of khayal and tarana along with several popular ragas in the canon of Hindustani classical music. In addition, he also happens to be the father founder of the musical form qawwali as well as the classical instrument sitar. Such a cheerful spectacle brought tears to Auliya's eyes. Amid singing, dancing and twirling, the saint went up to the grave of his nephew and sang: "Ashq rayz ameedan abro bahar" (Shed tears, the time of spring and life and clouds is here). Ever since then, Basant Panchami is celebrated at the grave of Nizamuddin Auliya in the same fashion as once devised by the poetic genius of Amir Khusrau.
The celebrations of Basant Panchami in Nizamuddin are truly mesmerising. The dargah is adorned with yellow flowers and vibrant decorations, creating a beautiful sight. Devotees come to offer prayers and pay floral tributes at the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, seeking his blessings for prosperity and well-being. The festival also marks the start of the kite-flying season, with colourful kites filling the sky, symbolising the victory of good over evil and the triumph of light over darkness.
During Basant Panchami in Nizamuddin, one of the most exciting events is the captivating Sufi music performances at the dargah. Renowned qawwals perform soul-stirring renditions that mesmerise audiences. Visitors can also explore the narrow lanes of Nizamuddin Basti and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere filled with the aroma of kebabs, biryanis, and traditional sweets. Moreover, the bustling bazaars offer a treasure trove of handicrafts, textiles, and souvenirs, providing a glimpse into the region's rich cultural heritage.