Basant Panchami : A Socio Religious Festival

Dr Amrit Kaur | January 24, 2018 05:33 PM
Celebration on Basant Panchami Festival
Dr Amrit Kaur

            Basant Panchmi a common festival of all religious groups related with spring season is celebrated all over India, every year, on Panchmi i.e. the fifth day of the bright half of the lunar month of Magha, the eleventh month of the Bikrimi year.The Panchmi which falls in this month is called Basant Panchmi because the word 'basant' means 'spring season'. The word 'basanti' means 'yellow colour'. At this time mustard crop, which is yellow in colour is in full swing. Spring instills a new life in plants, animals and human beings. The yellow mustard plants all around are eye catching. People of different religions have different reasons for celebrating this festival. The Hindus trace its origin to the Rig Veda in which three seasons are specified-summer, winter and spring. The Muslims consider this festival as a part of Sufi tradition. The association of Sufis with the celebration of spring is usually attributed to Amir Khusrau who dressed himself up in the colours of the season and made the saint Hazrat Nizammudin laugh. Since this anecdote of Amir Khursrau the Sufis started celebrating this festival.

            The martyrdom of Haqiquat Rai Ji, a Sikh sacrificing his life for maintaining respect for Hindu gods and goddesses, being executed by a Muslim ruler, is an incident of its own kind, which has no parallel in history.

            After several centuries, recently in Delhi the Muslims celebrated this festival for four days. A procession started from Humayun's Tomb and reached the dargah of Hazrat Nizammudin. The celebration also included poetry competitions and kite flying.

            In Punjab, in every village and town, people celebrate Basant Panchmi with great pomp and show. Against the yellow background of mustard fields, people wear yellow clothes to express their festive mood. It is said that Maharaja Ranjit Singh used to hold a special darbar on this particular day in which the soldiers participated in the parade wearing yellow uniforms. In some cities people give vent to their gaiety by flying kites. The kites of different colours, shapes, designs and sizes flying up in the sky in large numbers provide an amelioration of beautiful colour schemes and are very fascinating. At some places kite flying competitions are also arranged.

            There is a common saying "Aaee Basant Pala Udant" i.e. Basant connotes the end of winter season.

            In Punjab Basant Panchmi, though is being celebrated since times immemorial got a religious connotation in 1742 with the martyrdom of Haqiquat Rai Ji, a young Sikh school student in Lahore which took place on the Basant Panchmi day of that year.

            Haqiquat Rai Ji (1724-1742) though himself a Sikh sacrificed his life not only for sticking to his faith but also for taking a stand in favour of Hindu gods and goddesses. His parents Bagh Mall Puri Ji and Gauran Ji of Sialkot, now in Pakistan, were devoted Sikhs. As per historical evidence, in 1660 when Sri Guru Har Rai Sahib the Seventh Guru of the Sikhs was on his way to Kashmir, he celebrated Baisakhi in Sialkot. At this time Nand Lal Puri Ji, the grand father of Haqiquat Rai Ji took his three sons Mangal Sen, Bagh Mal and Bhag Mal to pay obeisance to Guru Sahib. Thus, from his early childhood Haqiquat Rai Ji became a devout Sikh. His marriage with a Sikh girl Bibi Durga Devi Ji, daughter of Kishan Singh Uppal Ji of Batala, District Gurdaspur of Punjab further instilled religious fervour in him. He also got influenced by Bhai Budh Singh Ji of Batala from whom he learned the philosophy of Sikhism.

            As a young boy, Haqiquat Rai Ji joined a makatab (a Muslim school) to study Persian and Arabic. An incident which took place during this time became a turning point in his life. Some of his Muslim classmates made contemptuous remarks about Hindu gods and goddesses. He retaliated by saying that if such derogatory remarks were made about some honourable person in Islam, how would they feel? For making this statement the local qazi charged him with disrespectful behavior against Islam. The local qazi sent the case to the chief qazi at Lahore. Escorted by police Haqiquat Rai Ji was taken to Lahore where he was put under trial. At the end of the trial, he was labeled as guilty and was given a choice to get converted to Islam or court death. Haqiquat Rai Ji bravely faced the situation and decided to court death rather than change his religion. In addition to his parents, several renowned citizens of Lahore pleaded for mercy on the young boy aged 18 years but the Governor Zakariya Khan and his minister Lakhpat Rai remained firm in their decision. Haqiquat Rai Ji remained equally firm in his resolution not to change his religion. As per the orders of the Governor, he was tied to a pillar and beaten up with a cane severally and then on January 29, 1742 which was the Basant Panchmi day, he was executed. The execution of Haqiquat Rai Ji on Basant Panchmi added a religious meaning to the celebration of Basant Panchmi for the Sikhs. His body was cremated near the mausoleum of Shah Bilaval a place 3 km. east of Lahore. Thousands of pilgrims started paying their homage to this young martyr at the place of his cremation every year on the Basant Panchmi day. In 1947, after the partition of the country Lahore became a part of Pakistan and thus the access of the pilgrims to this place became difficult.

            The martyrdom of Haqiquat Rai Ji, a Sikh sacrificing his life for maintaining respect for Hindu gods and goddesses, being executed by a Muslim ruler, is an incident of its own kind, which has no parallel in history.

            After the martyrdom of Haqiquat Rai Ji the Basanti colour i.e. yellow colour came to be associated with martyrdom and sacrifice for a cause.

            The ear catching song of Ram Parshad Bismal in the tradition of Rajput soldiers who left their homes to court death 'mera rang de basanti chola, nee maein mera rang de basanti chola' (dye my dress of yellow colour, O! mine mother dye my dress of yellow colour) became very popular. It is believed that Shaheed Bhagat Singh who sacrificed his life for the freedom of the country adopted this song to get inspiration.

            In Punjab Basant Panchmi is especially celebrated at two places :

(i)        Gurdwara Dukh Niwaran Sahib, Patiala, Punjab. This Gurdwara has been constructed to commemorate the visit of the Ninth Guru of the Sikhs, Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib. At this Gurdwara on every Panchmi pilgrims take a dip in the holy water of the sarovar but a dip in the holy water of the sarovar on Basant Panchmi is considered very auspicious.

(ii)       Gurdwara Chheharta Sahib, Chheharta, Distt. Amritsar, Punjab. This Gurdwara is named after a well got sunk by Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji (1563-1606) the fifth Guru of the Sikhs. This well is so wide that six persian wheels installed around it operate simultaneously. The name Chheharta is indicative of the fact that 'Chhe' means six and 'hart' means persian wheel. Thus Chheharta means having six persian wheels.

            In the case of both of these Gurdwaras during every month the pilgrims visit the Gurdwara on the fifth day of the bright half of the lunar month but special importance is given to Basant Panchmi which falls in the month of Magha and thousands of pilgrims visit these Gurdwaras on this day to pay their obeisance.

            This year i.e. in 2018 Basant Panchmi fell on January 22.

*  Retd. Professor, Punjabi University, Patiala, Punjab.

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