Holi hues in Urdu poetry

The whole world is in a flux and the sub-continent is witnessing the most volatile upheavals in the name of religion. At this juncture of rabid discrimination, it’s time to remember the poets who, regardless of their respective faith, tried to bridge the gulf. A poet always tries to dispel misgivings and strives for peace through eulogising the festivals of the ‘other’ faith. Hindu poets extolled Eid and Imaam Hussain’s martyrdom in the battle of Karbala while Muslim poets wrote reams on Holi and Diwali as social messengers. Who can forget Allama Iqbal’s nazm ‘Holi’ in which he wrote: Gulaal-o-abeer se qaayaz hai har ek rukh/ Rang se sarabor har chehra dikhta hai shahrukh (Every face is coloured with gulaal and abeer/ Colourful faces look so royal in appearance). All festivals belong to mankind and are never limited to a specific faith.

Shaad Azimabadi put it so succinctly: Payaam yeh hai jashn-e-Holi ka/ Rang tafawat karte nahin Hindu-o-Musalmaan mein (The cardinal message of Holi is that colours don’t distinguish between a Hindu or a Muslim). So sublime a thought! Colours indeed never differentiate between two (forever embattled) faiths: Har soo rang hi rang hai, rang jaaoAbhi Hindu-Musalmaan ka bhed mitao (Yaas Yagana Changezi)- There are colours everywhere, enjoy/ For heaven’s sake, don’t talk of Hindu-Muslims).

Holi hues in Urdu poetry

What the poets could envisage, why the masses haven’t yet understood is the question Sahir Ludhianvi asked through his couplet on Holi:

Gulfaam, syahfaam, chehre rangon se azqaan/ Kyon nahin samjha iss daur ka insaan? (Colours like flowers or plain black; all faces are colourful on Holi/Why is this simple thing unintelligible to today’s humans?).

Pakistani Urdu poet Qateel Shifai had the answer: Holi ke rangon ko jazb kar lo/ Rangeen dikhne lagegi duniya sab ko (Imbibe and assimilate the colours of Holi/ The world will also appear colourful to all).

Yet another Urdu poetess of Pakistan, Parveen Shakir said: Aapke tyohaar, mere tyohaar, aapki Holi, meri Holi/ Aao Eid saath manayein, Khelein Holi humjoli (Your festivals are my festivals and vice versa/ Let’s celebrate Eid together and play Holi like friends).

Holi hues in Urdu poetry

We seem to be blind to the shared heritage of the sub-continent. How beautifully Ravish Siddiqui put it: Rangon ka charcha karo, Holi saath manao/ Mazhab yahi kahta hai, khuloos ko na bhulao (Talk about colours, celebrate Holi together/ Religion emphasises that we must never forget the breadth of vision).

On these lines, Majrooh Sultanpuri’s rubai (quatrain) on Holi finds its way into this anthology: Rang bikharte hain jab fiza mein/ Lipat jaate hain har kisi se/ Rang nahin poochhte ke kaun ho tum/ Unhein sarokaar nahin hota deen ki behisi se (When colours are scattered in the air/ They hug each and everyone/ They don’t ask your faith/ For, colours have no religion).

Colours indeed have no religion: Rangon ka nahin hota mazhab/ unki duniya hi hai ajab (Colours have no faith/ They have a different world). Raashid Jaunpuri’s couplet makes us think hard and dispassionately.

Just think over this couplet penned by Arsh Malsiyani: Holi ka maza toh tab hai/ Manayein ise Musalmaan Eid ki tarah (The joy of Holi assumes greater significance when Muslims celebrate it like Eid).

Ahsan Marharvi says further: Faqat ek hi jashn ho aur woh ho Holi/ Iss berang jahaan ko zaroorat hai rangon ki (There should be just one festival and that is Holi/ The colourless world needs it more than ever).

Yes, more than ever does this ashen-faced and gloomy world need torrents of colours; an incessant rain of all hues and shades.

Let me round it off with Raahil Ashraf’s beautiful couplet on Holi: Sirf ek din Holi ka muqarrar na ho/ Har din Holi hai, yaad rakho (Don’t just set aside one day for Holi/ Remember, every day is Holi).

Holi is a metaphor for bonhomie and joy unalloyed. This festival belongs to all. Remember, Mughal emperor Jahangir’s exhortation to his people: Get Coloured.

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