Sufi Basant started as Ameer Khusro wanted to pull Nizamuddin Aulia out of grief

Story by  ATV | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 14-02-2024
A yellow chaddar being taken for offering it at the Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia's shrine
A yellow chaddar being taken for offering it at the Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia's shrine


Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi 

Basant is a fascinating festival for the celebration of the onset of spring in India. Growing up in Delhi, Basant has always had a special appeal for me. While for our Hindu brethren, it is dedicated to Goddess Saraswati, a deity of wisdom, knowledge music, art, and aesthetics, and is also called Vasant Panchami, many Muslims also celebrate it as "Sufi Basant".

For Hindus, Saraswati is a feminine divinity seated on a white lotus. She is draped in dazzling white and wears white flowers and pearls as she sits holding Veena, a string Hindustani musical instrument like Sitar which is used by Sufis. Veena is said to be behind the formation of words, the invention of the Sanskrit language, and the composition of hymns to be chanted on the banks of the mythical river Saraswati as part of the Puja regimen on the day.

In Sikhism too, Basant Panchami has a spiritual dimension. "Basant Raga" constitutes an important composition (raag) in the Guru Granth Sahib which is sung with great reverence. Guru Arjan Dev urged his followers to submit to the Sache Padshah (King of the Universe) to achieve liberation and the ultimate union with the Divine. This essential message of the Basant Panchami has greatly been appreciated by the Indian Muslim Mystics especially Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia popularly known as Mahbub-e-ilahi (Beloved of the Divine)  and one of his closest disciples Hazrat Ameer Khusro called the "Parrot of India" (Tooti-e-Hind). 

Flowers being readied for the Sufi Basant festival

There is an interesting anecdote related to the celebration of Sufi Basant at Dargah Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya.

Once after the death of his nephew, Hazrat Nizamuddin was distraught with grief. As he was childless, he had taken his sister’s son as his own and adopted him. He asked his disciples to stop all activities at the Dargah. One of them Ameer Khusro could not see the sorrow of his beloved Murshid (spiritual master). He devised a plan to help Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya get out of this state of mind. 

Khusro dressed in yellow attire similar to the Hindu women carrying yellow mustard blossoms and celebrating Basant Panchami.

At this, Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia, who loved the yellow colour, began to smile and felt elated. Thus started the tradition of Sufi Basant and it has become an integral part of his Khanqah's annual calendar. To commemorate the occasion, Khusro wrote beautiful poems in Brij Bhasha. One of them as translated in English goes like this:

Devotees offering yellow flowers at the shrine

Yellow mustard blossoms have covered entire fields.

The mango tree is in bloom,

The flame of the forest is in bloom,

The Koel bird flits singing from one branch to another,

And the fair lady decks herself 

With marigold blossoms the gardner’s wife fetches for her. 

The season is full of yellow flowers 

That we carry to the door of Hazrat Nizamuddin,

Years ago, my lover had promised he will come visiting me.

Ameer Khusro’s gesture of using the metaphor of Basant to make his beloved Guru smile ended his mourning and started a celebration of the day as “Sufi Basant" to signify joyfulness and inner peace.

Today, on the occasion of Basant Panchmi, many followers of Mahbub-e-Ilahi Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya joyfully celebrate the Sufi Basant. Urdu and Persian Sufi compositions are routinely performed through Qawwalis at the Dargah with Khusro’s lovely composition "Aaj basant manalay suhagan!". On the eve of Sufi Basant, the Daragh is drenched in Yellow.

As devotees attend the celebration across the lines of gender, religion, and caste, the Dargah amidst the fragrance of its yellow flowers and enveloping sounds of Qawwalis is submerged into “sama” (Trans) symbolising ecstasy, amity, and syncretic Sufi culture.

Celebrations of Sufi Basant

India’s spiritually inclined Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and people of other faiths celebrate the Sufi Basant together at the shrine in Delhi. They offer yellow flowers and come to dargah wearing yellow clothes. The Suyfi basant has been celebrated for more than seven centuries, Basant is India's age-old representation of Hindu-Muslim harmony. Festivals and traditions like Basant bind us together as a nation across various religious, cultural, linguistic, and social backgrounds. 

Though Basant finds no mention in any religious scripture — the Quran, the Vedas, or the Bhagwat Gita, it requires a large heart to embrace the wider notion and beautiful tradition of the Sufi Basant in our collective consciousness. The essence and cultural and spiritual connotation of the Sufi Basant cannot be narrowed down to a particular religion or community. 

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As the Chishti Sufi adage goes: "Your minds have limits but not your hearts, for they are receptacles of endless capacity." This is the guiding light and mystical wisdom that flows from the Chishti tradition of Indian Sufi saints. Famous Urdu poet of Delhi, Rakim Dehlavi has rightly invoked in his couplets:

Khudaya Ba'd e Mahshar Ke Agar Aalam Ho Phir Paida,

Tamashagaah-e-aalam Mein Nizamuddin Shahi ho.

(O God! After the day of resurrection, if the world comes back to life. Give the crown to Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia in the circus of this world).

The Author is a Sufi author based in New Delhi