Ofaira Ateeq Hussain
The roots of this festival can be traced as far back as ancient times. Originally, this festival was called Vasantotsav (Vasant + Utsav (festival)) and is also known as Vasant Panchami – Hindu Spring festival. In Sanskrit, ‘Vasant’ means ‘Spring (season)’ and ‘Panchami’ means ‘the fifth day.’ As the name indicates, this festival falls on the fifth day of the Hindu month Magh (February), which is the beginning of the Spring season. It is a season, when nature regenerates and everything is fresh and new. New life is evident in the woods and fields. Mustard fields turn into a heady mix of yellow and green, as the blossoms add colour. Since the yellow colour has special importance on this day, people wear yellow dresses. Men and boys wear yellow Turbans or shirts, while women and girls – yellow Chunries or Duppattas.
They get together and erect special Dias for this day, where they hold Puja and community lunch. Kite flying is popular on this day. In some traditional homes, sweet dishes are exchanged with relatives and friends. A dash of saffron is added to the sweet dishes for getting a yellow tinge. Many people go to temple to offer Halwa or sweet rice as a Prasad to the god. Hindu people associate Basant with freshness and a new beginning in all spheres of life. This festival is widely celebrated in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and other countries, where there are Hindu communities.
This festival is dedicated to Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom. She is considered to be the feminine counterpart of lord Brahma, who according to Hindu mythology is the creator of the universe. Saraswati is usually shown as the fair skinned eternally young goddess, dressed in white and yellow garments. She has four hands. She is holding a book in one hand and a Japamala (rosary string) in another. She is playing a Veena (musical instrument) with the other two hands.
‘Book’ symbolizes the Vedas (spiritual knowledge and wisdom), and ‘Japamala’ symbolizes meditation and contemplation or concentration. She is sitting on a lotus, which symbolizes creation (life), love and kindness. The white swan that accompanies her symbolizes purity and peace. As a patron of arts, she plays a song on the instrument Veena. All her characteristics symbolize that she is a goddess of learning, wisdom and all kinds of knowledge, including science and music. She is the master of 64 arts, of which the art of love is the first and most important. It is believed that she is the energy of lord Brahma. With her knowledge, she helps lord Brahma in generation of the world.
Schools, colleges and other educational institutions organize special worship of Saraswati and other cultural activities. It is a custom to begin a child’s education on this day of Basant. Before starting, the children are expected to recite the following Shloka: “Saraswathi Namastubhyam Varade Kamarupini Vidyarambam Karishyami Sidhirbhavatu Mesada. (Oh Saraswati, sitting on the beautiful lotus flower, I am beginning my education, so always bless me.)”
Highlights of Vasant Panchami
1) The festival falls in the month of February.
2) It is dedicated to the goddess Saraswati.
3) Saraswati is the goddess of learning, knowledge and wisdom.
4) Saraswati is the energy of lord Brahma. She helps lord Brahma in the creation of new world.
5) It is said that Hindus should chant Saraswati Shloka before study.
Current trends in Pakistan
Punjab and Lahore particularly have started celebrating Basant. The most important event of the festival is kite-flying at night in the Walled City of Lahore.
The sky is filled with colorful kites, tracked by searchlights, dancing to the music of the decks on the rooftops blaring out Bhangra tunes. Banks, multinational companies and hotels have started using this event for public relations. Also the Punjab government has claimed a stake in the festivities.
Nowadays, people are of the view that such festivals have a liberating effect. They provide a brief interlude with freedom from the toils of daily existence and a bit of fun.
Accidents and deaths
According to Dawn (15th February, 2007), ten people were reportedly killed and over 100 injured in Basant-related incidents in different parts of Lahore alone. Doctors said the people brought to the hospitals were either injured by chemical coated and metal strings, electrocuted, had fallen from rooftops or had indulged in fights over kite flying.
Three died from injuries they suffered in road accidents. One person was run over by a bus, and a nine-year-old was hit and killed by a van on Multan Road, when he was trying to catch a stray kite. Yet another unidentified teenager was killed in a similar road accident near Kalma Chowk.
Three people died after falling from rooftops in Gowalmandi, Gujjarpura and New Muslim Town. They were 18, 15 and 8 years old. The hospitals had made special arrangements to deal with the injured people, most of them youngsters. Half of the injured admitted to the hospitals were discharged after first aid, and the rest were treated till late night.
According to the city police chief, most of the deaths happened due to mistakes made by the deceased themselves.
148 people were arrested for using materials that are banned for kite flying – 91 spools of metal and chemical string and 470 kites were seized from them. Special police squads and traffic policemen remained on duty and swooped down on those committing violations.
“We have been strictly instructed not to go after those buying liquor from hotels and not to smell people’s mouth,” a policeman standing outside a city hotel said.
Islamic ruling on celebration of festivals
A festival or fest is an event, usually staged by a local community, which centers on some theme, sometimes on some unique aspect of the community. Among many religions, a feast or festival is a set of celebrations in honour of God or gods. In the case of Basant, the festival is in honour of the goddess Saraswati.
It was narrated that Abd-Allah Bin Umer said: “The Prophet (sa) said: ‘Whoever imitates a people is one of them.’” (Abu Dawood)
Islam is a religion of Fitrat (nature). Islam acknowledges the need for humans to relax and have clean fun. However, Allah (swt) has set His limits.
The Prophet (sa) said: “For every people there is a feast and this is our feast.” (Bukhari)
The first of Shawal (Eid-ul-Fitr) and the tenth of Zil Hajj (Eid-ul-Adha)
The Prophet (sa) said: “They are days of eating, drinking and remembrance of Allah.” (Bukhari)
It is important to remember that every event or experience in a Muslim’s life should bring him closer to Allah (swt), and the same is true for celebrations. Nearly every celebration has roots in some religious belief, and, therefore, it is not appropriate for a Muslim to indulge in non-Islamic festivities. It is at times like these that one can easily forget the limits set by Allah (swt) and go astray. After all, it is simply impossible to remember Allah (swt) and do Bhangra or have liquor simultaneously. May Allah (swt) protect and guide us all, Ameen.