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India’s Season Of Basant Is About Shared Joy of Plenty — Urdu Poets Knew It Well

Basant is not so much a season or a moment in time as a state of mind, evocative of a mood of hope and happiness.

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My mother recalls wearing something yellow on Basant as an undergraduate student at Aligarh Muslim University. So would all the girls and teachers at the Women’s College. Some of the girls would cook something yellow, usually sweet yellow rice, to bring along and share with friends. The entire college would wear a festive look with yellow mustard and marigold flowers and the college garden ablaze with spring colours. Basant was as much a cultural event as it was a religious occasion but more importantly, it was shared, common, sanjha

Basant, also spelt as Vasant or Vasant Panchami or Saraswati Puja in honour of the goddess of knowledge and wisdom, marks the arrival of spring. Across much of India, this day—falling on the fifth day of the month of Maagh according to the Hindu lunar calendar—corresponds with roughly 40 days of pleasant weather immediately thereafter: the bitter cold of winter lessens and the harsh days of summer seem yet afar, the skies are clear, flowers bloom aplenty and the harvest is standing ready and tall in fields and farms.

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Basant: Different Things To Different Poets

The Urdu poet, with one finger to the pulse of the common people and the other busy writing paeans of togetherness and shared joy, has naturally therefore written copiously on Basant. In many instances conflating Basant with spring, there are references aplenty to Basant-Bahaar. In many instances, Basant is not so much a season or a moment in time as a state of mind, evocative of a mood of hope and happiness. But, equally, there are references to its moorings in an agrarian society and culture. 

Fayyazuddin Ahmad Khan Fayyaz paints a vivid picture of the imperceptible change in the weather with the coming of Basant with noticeably balmy air, and the gentleness of the sun: 

Bahut khamosh aur pur-kaif tabdeeli hai Nature mein 

Koi jis tarah kashti khhe raha hai prem sagar mein 

There is a silent and intoxicating change in Nature 

As though someone is rowing a boat in the Ocean of Love 

Ufuq Lakhnavi invokes the traditional tropes of the wine and tavern to portray a picture of optimism and hope that poets down the ages have associated with the season of Basant: 

Saaqi kuchh aaj tujh ko ḳhabar hai Basant ki 

har su bahar pesh-e-nazar hai Basant ki 

O cup-bearer, do you know that Basant is nigh 

The spring of Basant is all around in full view 

Insha Allah Khan Insha links the blaze of colours that herald the coming of spring with the fire (of hope/passion/desire) raging in one’s breast thus: 

Tu ne lagayi ab ki ye kya aag ai Basant 

Jis se ki dil ki aag uthe jaag ai Basant 

What a fire you have lit this time, O Basant 

It has awakened the fire in my breast, O Basant

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Basant or Vasant, It’s All About the Garden of Life

In a similar vein, Muneer Shikohabadi, the martyr of the Revolt of 1857 who was sentenced to imprisonment in the Cellular Jail in the Andamans, calls Basant, the diligent gardener who brings myriad colours to the garden that is life: 

Karta hai baġh-e-dahr mein nairangiyan Basant 

Aaya hai laakh rang se ai baġhban Basant 

Basant does many strange magic in the Garden of Life 

Basant, the gardener, has come in thousands of colours 

With winter retreating and the coming of pleasant weather, Basant also marked fairs and festivals in many parts of rural India which were an eagerly awaited event in the cultural calendar of ordinary folk. Nazeer Akbarabadi, the pre-eminent “people’s poet” from Agra, paints a joyful picture of Basant replete with song and dance, as also food and drink amidst much revelry by men and women: 

Dilbar galey lipat te hon sarson ka khet ho 

Jab dekhiye Basant to kaisi Basant ho… 

Lovers embracing in fields of mustard 

Wherever you look, what a Basant it is…

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First Published Woman Urdu Poet Established Basant As Pan-India Festival

Mahlaqa Chanda, the powerful courtesan from the Deccan often regarded as the first published woman poet in Urdu, has this to say about Basant thus indicating its pan-Indian reach and giving the lie to the notion that it is a largely North Indian festival: 

Basant aai hai mauj-e-rang-e-gul hai josh-e-sahba hai 

Khuda ke fazl se aish-o-tarab ki ab kami kya hai 

With the coming of Basant there is a wave of colourful flowers and effervescence 

By the Grace of God there is no shortage of pleasure and joy 

With the coming of Basant, the koel that has been silent in the long dark winters once again calls out from the mango trees which will shortly begin to bear fruit as Abru Shah Mubarak writes here with a play on the words khaas-o-aam meaning special and ordinary but also referring to aam (mangoes): 

Koyal niin aa ke kuuk sunai Basant rut 

Baurae ḳhas-o-aam ki aai Basant rut 

The cry of the Koel heralds the coming of the season of Basant 

The special and the ordinary bear fruit in the season of Basant

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Beauty, Basant, And Beast of Loneliness

Listing the flowers that bloom during Basant – tesu, geinda, sarson, kesar kusum – Munshi Dwarka Prasad Ufaq Lakhnawi describes the temples and homes that are similarly bedecked with yellow flowers: 

Hain isht devtaon ke mandir sajey huwey 

Hain zard zard phoolon se kul dar sajey huwey 

The temples of the favourite deities are decorated 

As are the doorways festooned with yellow flowers 

Linking the external with the internal, Bimal Krishan Ashk makes a statement that could be political or personal or both when he says: 

Ab ke Basant aayi to aankhein ujad gaiin 

Sarson ke khet mein koi patta hara na tha 

This year when Basant came my eyes were laid barren 

There wasn’t a single green leaf in the field of mustard 

In a similar vein M K Mahtab wrote a short story entitled ‘Sarson ke Khet’ invoking the terror and darkness of the dark days of insurgency in the Punjab when, as in the sher above, the golden fields of mustard fail to evoke joy in a plentiful harvest. 

However, the last word on Basant comes from the pen of Hafeez Jalandhari in the form of the ballad-like ‘Basanti Tarana’ immortalised by the mother-daughter duo of Mallika Pukhraj and Tahira Syed: 

Lo phir Basant aayi 

Phoolon be rang laayi… 

Aafat gai ḳhizan ki 

Qismat phiri jahan ki.. 

Lo, Basant has come again 

Bringing colour to the flowers… 

The awful autumn has gone 

The fate of the world changes…. 

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(Rakhshanda Jalil is a writer, translator and literary historian. She writes on literature, culture and society. She runs Hindustani Awaaz, an organisation devoted to the popularisation of Urdu literature. She tweets at @RakhshandaJalil. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  Urdu Poet   Urdu poetry 

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