By Sumit Paul
In these religiously divisive times, it’s soul-gladdening to remember that Sufis, Muslim mystics, celebrated Holi and Diwali and never thought that the festivals of Hindus were confined only to Jashn-E-Butparastaan, ‘idol-worshippers’. To them, Holi symbolised the colours of life and Diwali was the celebration of Jashn-E-Rakhshanda-E-Saf’aaz, Inner Light.
All Persian mystics were knowledgeable about subcontinental religious trends and were au fait with Hindu traditions and festivals. At the same time, there were subcontinental mystics like Amir Khusro and Syed Banda Nawaz Gesu Daraaz of the Chishti Order. They extolled the festivals of Hindus and participated in them along with their Mureed and Shaagird, disciples. In one of his Persian couplets Khusro eulogises Holi: ‘Meen An Shaad Munbilam, Zeest Iz’ Har Soo Rang-O-Ilam’ – I’m ecstatic because there’s a riot of colours everywhere.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Anwari of Iran when he said in Pahalavi, ‘Shaad Au’vistaaz Jashn-E-Rang-O-Bilnaaz/ Ya Fid Deen Munzamin Beniyaaz’ – Who can remain insouciant to the colours everywhere? For, these colours manifest all shades of life.
Contrary to the general tenor, mystics were not dry bones. They didn’t exactly live an austere or Spartan existence and this is a universal misconception about them. Au contraire, all mystics approved of colourful external manifestations: Tehzir-E-Shafiram, in archaic Iranian dialect. In other words, mystics encouraged their disciples to wear colourful clothes. In his book, ‘Muslim Perceptions of Other Religions: A Historical Survey,’ Jacques Waardenburg wrote, “This was ‘an interesting aberration’ and a ‘thoughtful anomaly’ influenced by the colourful vibrancy of early Hinduism.” That’s why, at the shrine of Jalaluddin Rumi in Konya, Turkey, the dancing darvesh (whirling disciples) will be dressed in different colours on each day of the week. Rumi himself said about Holi, ‘Roshan Uz-Zamaan Mukhtalif Rang-O-Faam’ – The Light can be accessed only through colours galore. The Light he referred to was the Light of the Universe and also the Inner Light.
To a mystic, yellow is the colour of exuberance and effulgence and pink is of enthusiasm. Fariduddin Attar, Rumi’s predecessor, called it ‘Zahanat-E-Mashriq Unzif Zareen-E-Faam Munshif’ – Holi is the Eastern manifestation of mundane and mystic ecstasies through colours. Even Rabia Basri, who lived an ostensibly stern life, would decorate the doors of her humble abode with flowers of different colours and wrote to her disciple Al-Ghayyoom, about the significance and greatness of Holi: ‘Sha’ Fid Hayaat Mustameer Raang A’zeer’ – So long as colours remain in the air, life doesn’t go in vain.
This colourfulness is the symbol of life’s continuity as well as sustainability. Sufis understood this and imbibed the spirit of Holi without any discrimination. It’s time to realise that we all have the same spirit and we all crave a colourful existence. The universality of Holi is accepted and celebrated by all because every individual has the same Universal spirit residing in him: ‘Haqeeqat Ek Hai Har Shai Ki, Khaaki Ho Ya Noori/ Lahoo Khursheed Ka Tapke Agar Zarre Ka Dil Cheerein’ – The embedded Truth of every being is the same, whether earthly or otherworldly/ The blood of the sun will ooze out if the heart of a mere particle is cut open. On the occasion of the festival of colours, let’s pledge to make this world colourful and peaceful for all.