Phool Walon ki Sair celebrates harmony and diversity in the country’s capital
Usually held in November every year, Phoolwalon ki Sair still follows the traditional format starting with a mela or fair for the local people at the mango orchards at Mehrauli.
After Independence, the festival was revived under the patronage of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru by Yogeshwar Dayal, a businessman, landlord and art connoisseur from Chandni Chowk. He set up the Anjuman-Sair-e-Gul Faroshan, a registered society, in 1961 and over the years the states of India were directed to participate in Phool Walon ki Sair. After the demise of Dayal in 2006, the members of the society elected his daughter Usha Kumar as general secretary and now the Sair continues under her leadership.
Spirit of Harmony
"This tradition celebrates the spirit of harmony among the people of Delhi. My father was a patron of arts and a liberal spirited philanthropist. He revived this tradition to rekindle that spirit among Delhi residents,” says Usha Kumar, a lawyer, who is now 70. Her son Tarun Kumar and daughter Malvika Kumar, too, actively participate in organising the annual event every autumn. "From Chandni Chowk, which was the hub of the Mughals, to Mehrauli, which is one of the oldest localities in Delhi, various musicians, dancers, poets, singers and artists participate in this festival every year," adds Usha Kumar.
(Usha Kumar (left), the daughter of Yogeshwar Dayal, who revived the festival in the ’60s with Kulsoom Noor Saifullah of India Harmony Foundation)
Usually held in November every year, Phoolwalon ki Sair still follows the traditional format starting with a mela or fair for the local people at the mango orchards at Mehrauli. This is followed by the presentation of floral pankhas by citizens of all faiths at the dargah of Sufi saint Khwaja Bakhtiyar Kaki. Side events include a procession of shehnai players and locals to the residence of the lieutenant governor of Delhi and to Delhi Secretariat for presentation of pankhas to the chief minister and chief secretary of Delhi, followed by presentation of pankhas to the divisional commissioner and commissioner of police. There is a procession of shehnai players, dholak players and pankhas from India Gate to the Gauri Shankar temple in Chandni Chowk, before proceeding to the Town Hall. Events covering traditional sports such as kabaddi, wrestling and kite-flying are held during the week-long event at Jahaz Mahal, a Mughal monument in Mehrauli. Traditional qawaali music programmes also feature top singers from around the country.
(Delhi Lt Governor Najeeb Jung along with office bearers of Anjuman Sair-e-Gul Faroshan, ahead of Phool Walon ki Sair, 2015)
The climax of the event is the lieutenant governor leading the procession to the Dargah of Bakhtiyar Kaki at Mehrauli to present a floral chadar, followed by a programme of qawaalis and finally floral pankhas and chattra offered at the Yogmaya temple. The finale is a dance programme presented by cultural troupes from different states.
“We look forward to this programme every year because of its diversity. It gives us an opportunity to meet other musicians from different parts of the country,” says Bhagwat Kishore Morewal, a shehnai and bansuri player. He is from a family of musicians who perform at traditional events in the capital through the year.
“After its revival in 1961, over the years the event has become broad-based with different states of India participating and sending in tributes to be offered by members of various communities including Hindus and Muslims at both the dargah and temple. In view of the growing narrative around intolerance in the country, it is important for the political leaders and people of Delhi to support a festival such as this which promotes communal harmony,” says Kulsoom Noor Saifullah, founder trustee of India Harmony Foundation (IHF), an organisation that works towards building bridges between different communities and promoting national harmony.
For Kanika Singh of Delhi Heritage Walks, who organises events around Phool Walon ki Sair every year, the secular character of the event comes from the fact that it celebrates the city of Delhi and its heritage rather than a religious event. “The festival is associated with heritage sites in the city of Mehrauli all of which are still present for people to see and get a glimpse of history. More than any particular religion, it is a celebration of Delhi and traditional activities such as kite-flying and qawaali music. And that’s what draws a contemporary crowd of young professionals and expats to it,” explains Singh. She adds that the fact that it brings communities together also attracts attention, especially since the Indian Nationalist movement of the 1940s, when it became a tool to promote communal harmony among the people in Delhi.