Holi and Nowruz mubarak

Holi, known as the “Festival of Colors” was celebrated this year on March 20 and 21 around the world by people of Indian origin.  It marks the end of winter and the start of spring.  Old and young, men and women come together in a spirit of uninhibited fervor to meet and greet friends, family and even strangers.  People use powder (“gulaal”) in red, yellow, green, aubergine and many other colors to lovingly dab on others’ faces, stepping forward to hug them.  Pails of colored water are also used to drench the revellers.

The Iranian/Persian New Year, Nowruz was celebrated on March 21 as well.  Literally meaning “new day”, it is a holy occasion for Zoroastrians, Baha’is and people in other Muslim communities.

In greeting my friends who celebrated these two different festivals, I was reminded that Holi had been an abiding symbol of syncretic traditions that prevailed in the Indian sub-continent for thousands of years.  Two famous compositions on Holi by Hazrat Amir Khusro (Khusrau), the prominent Sufi poet, musician and mystic scholar of the Chishti order come to mind:

Aaj rang hai hey maa, rang hai ri There’s color today O’ mother, there’s a glow today,
Moray mehboob kay ghar rang hai ri In my beloved’s home, there’s a new hue today
Des bades mein dhoondh phiree hoon I have searched everywhere, here and abroad,
Toraa rung man bhayo Moinuddin It’s your person, your glow that’s tinged my heart
Mohe apne hi rung mein rung de Khwaja ji Douse me in your color O’ Master
Mohe rung basanti rung de Khwaja ji Color me in the hues of spring O’ Master
Kheloongi Holi, Khaaja ghar aaye I shall play Holi as my Khaaja (Khwaaja/Master) has come to my home
Dhan dhan bhaag hamaare sajni Blessed is my fortune, O’ friend
Khaajaa aaye aangan hamaare (as) Khaajaa (Master) has stepped in to my courtyard

 The following couplet is one of many composed by the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar on Holi:

Kyuun mo pe rang ki maari pichkaari Why did you drench me with the colored water
Dekho kunwarji doongi mein gaari Now my prince, I will swear at you

There is a “kaafi” (classical form of Sufi poetry) attributed to Bulle Shah, the Sufi saint from the Punjab, ““Hori kheloongi, keh Bismillah” (I will play Holi beginning with the name of the Lord,
saying Bismillah)”.  However, I am appending Bulle Shah’s following “kaafi” on a pupil’s entreaty to the Master to color her/his being completely in His own hues; the composition is soulfully sung by legendary Pakistani singer Abida Parveen:

Jo rung rungeyaa, goohdaa rungeyaa The color used to dye, runs deep
Murshad waali laali, ho yaar … (that) hue of my Guide, O’ friend
Kuuk dilaa mataan rab suney,

cha dard wandaan diyan aanhi Hu

Call, my heart so the Lord might listen,

seek the ache (so as) to not miss the “Hu” (symbolic name for God in Sufism)

Seena ta mera dardeen bharyaa,

andar bharkan baanhi Hu

Misery fills this bosom of mine,

rages within the fire of (longing for) “Hu”

Telaan baaj naa balan mashaaalan,

dardaan baaj na aanhi Hu

Lamps cannot be lit without oil,

without pain, there can be no sighs for “Hu”

Aatish nal yaaraaney laa kay,

bhumbhat saran kay nahi Hu

Having entangled (ourselves) with the fiery (arduous) path of “Hu”,

shouldn’t we expect to get singed by the embers?

Auwkhaa jheraa ishq-e-waalaa,

sambhal kay paer nikaleen O’ yaar

The path of love for the Supreme is arduous, be careful when spreading your wings (setting foot), O’ (moth) friend
Mein shaahbaaz karaan parvazaan,

wich aflaak karam dey Hu

Like a falcon I soar high,

through destined skies of the bountiful “Hu”

Zabaan taan meri kun baraabar,

moran kam kalam dey Hu

My tongue equals the one that utters ‘Kun’ (God said this word and the earth came into existence),

others use the pen to talk of “Hu”

Aflatoon Arastu wargey,

mein aggey kis kam dey Hu

The likes of Plato and Aristotle

have no merit before me

Haatim wargey lakh karodaan,

dar Bahu dey mangdey Hu

Countless are dregs like (the wealthy) Hatim,

(lying at) the threshold of (Sultan) Bahu, begging for “Hu”

Zulf siaah wich ho yad-e-baiza,

O chamkar dekhaween Hu, O’ yaar

Black locks and the brilliantly glowing hand (reference to Moses),

show us a true miracle like that, O’ friend

Allah! Ishq muhabbat dariya dey wich,

theen mardaanaa tareeyay Hu

Allah! Through the river of ardor and rapture,

(guide me) to swim like a man, “Hu”

Jitthe paun ghazab deeaan laiharaan,

qadam uthaaeen dhareeyay Hu

Where strike the most vigorous waves,

step forward and wade towards them

Aujharh jhang balaaeen bele,

wekh wekh naa dareeyay Hu

Dense forests, troubling creepers, wild beasts

let not their sightings daunt you

Naam faqir tadaa hi theendaa,

jad wich talab de mareeyay Hu

One deserves the title ‘Faqir’ (Sufi ascetic)

only when you (are prepared) to die seeking “Hu”

Maulaa! Buleya Shah ghar meray aayaa,

kar kar naach wekharee Hu, O’ Yaar

Lord! Bulla says “My Master came to my house

and I caper around, dancing (with pleasure), O’ Lord”

In a world intent on self-flagellating itself with lashes made up of religion, color, race or any number of perceived inequalities it would be worth reflecting on things that bring us together.  More than anything else today we need to find a soothing salve to comfort our troubled minds.

“If music be the food of love, play on”.

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