Phool Waalon Ki Sair: An offering of communal unity
This year, Delhis LieutenantGovernor Anil Baijal offered the floral blanket at the dargah on Thursday, and Delhi governments transport minister Kailash Gahlot offered a floral chhatra on Friday, along with members of both communities
When Syed Fariddudin Qutbi, the ‘khadim’ (attendant) of the shrine of 13th century sufi saint Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki in Meharauli, stepped out after offering a floral ‘chhatra’ (a flower-embellished umberella) at the ancient Yogmaya temple located at a stone's throw from the dargah, all he had to say was that in the small temple sanctum sanctorum suffused with a strong incense and jasmine fragrance, he felt the same tranquillity and a ‘magnificent, invisible power’ he feels at the dargah.
Part of the annual cultural festival ‘Phool Walon Ki Sair’ (festival of flower sellers), an initiative that promotes communal harmony and positive cultural exchanges since early the 1800s, many like Qutbi go beyond the bounds of religious identity and encourage members of other communities to offer flowers and ‘pankhas’ (fans) at places of worship that are considered not ‘their own’.
The roots of the festival go back to the reign of one of the last Mughal emperors and Bahadur Shah Zafar's father, Akbar Shah II, who was buried next to the dargah. Legend has it that when his son Mirza Jahangir was imprisoned on the orders of the British, Akbar Shah's wife vowed that she would offer a blanket at the sufi saint's dargah upon his release. As fate had it, Shah's son was released and the blanket was offered.
Upon imperial orders, floral offerings were also made at goddess Yogmaya's temple, which sparked public enthusiasm, causing it to become an annual tradition. The festival was stopped in the 1940s when the British started their polarising efforts in line with their ‘divide-and-rule policy’ that led to deep rifts between India's two major religious communities, Mirza Mohtaram Bakht, secretary of the Anjuman Sair-e-Gul Faroshan, the organisers of the fair, told IANS. He said the festival was revived in 1961-62 by India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
It has, since then, been a regular occurrence and brings together hundreds of Delhi residents each year, Bakht said. In today's deeply polarised milieu where hate crimes against specific communities are just as rampant as the venom spewed against them on social media, the assimilating significance of the week-long festival takes a new turn.
This year, Delhi's Lieutenant-Governor Anil Baijal offered the floral blanket at the dargah on Thursday, and Delhi government's transport minister Kailash Gahlot offered a floral "chhatra" on Friday, along with members of both communities.
By Siddhi Jain