Basant as a Cultural Heritage of Lahore

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  • Published : January 17, 2011
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Basant as a cultural heritage of Lahore by Yasir Raza Naqvi Lahore is an exceptionally festive city. The people of Lahore commemorate many festivals and events throughout the year, amalgamating Mughal, Western and current trends. This blending is extended to include the grand and historically significant festival of Basant. Though religiously not a Muslim cultural event, it is widely celebrated by the Muslim majority population Lahore. It is precisely due to the same reason coupled with other ‘non-Islamic’ practices that it has come under severe criticism by the mullahs. The celebration of Basant grew at an increasing rate in the late 90’s till 2005 where it suddenly came under ban due to an increasing number of deaths caused by highly tensile glass coated threads. Due to the official recognition during Musharraf’s early regime, kite making had become an industry, employing hundreds of thousands of people. The implementation of ban of kite flying followed by the ban on kite making left almost 500,000 families employed. Political turmoil followed by the ban on Basant added misery to the already crawling economy of Pakistan as the number of tourists who came to Lahore just to see the magnificent event of Basant fell tremendously. Therefore, In this essay, I tend to analyze the tri fold significance that Basant holds for Lahore. I would briefly shed light on the history of Basant and its transformation over the years till today coupled with the criticism it faced by religious elements of Pakistan. I would later explain how Basant becomes the center of tourist attraction, and generates a lot of revenue for the local industry thus securing an important position in translating the cultural heritage of Lahore. I would also seek to mention the reasons for the implementation of ban on Basant and propose solutions to uplift it. In the pre-partitioned Punjab, Hindus, especially of Lahore- celebrated Basant by flying kites. It was precisely during that time that the Muslims of Lahore, almost equal in number-comprising of the 48% of the population of Lahore, were instructed by the mullahs of that time to refrain from celebrating the event as it was typically a Hindu festival. However, the youth of that time did take part in the event by flying kites. After partition, almost all the Hindus had left Lahore for India but their tradition of Basant remained; and even today Lahoris take pride in Basant and fly kites from their rooftops with the same enthusiasm. Being the historic capital of Punjab there is no other place where Basant is celebrated with as much vigour and enthusiasm as the ancient city of Lahore. Traditionally, a festival confined to the old-walled city, it has now spread throughout the city. The celebration of Basant is incomplete without the kites and it is for the same reason that Michael Palin in his book Himalaya says: “Everyone in Lahore flies their kites for a day.” (Palin) Marshall Cavendish in his book People of Western Asia briefly states about the history of Basant and its celebration in the following words: “Lahore's spring festival, Basant (buh-SAHNT): also known as Jashen-e- Baharan), is celebrated in February or March each year. It is an ancient festival that has become increasingly popular in recent years, attracting visitors from other parts of the country. Basant is celebrated with feasting, music, dance and crafts, and the wearing of yellow costumes or scarves, a symbol of the new spring. The most striking feature of the festival is the kite flying. Thousands of kites of all shapes, sizes and colors fill the skies and soar from parks and city roofs. At night, music rings and while white kites are flown, which reflect lights and fireworks. Throughout Pakistan there are local spring fairs with folk dancing; feasting; fairground attractions, such as swings and ferries wheels (sometimes made of wood in rural areas); music; and sporting contests.” (Cavendish)

The celebration of this event which...
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