Spring in India: The Joyous Celebration of ‘Bahaar’ in Urdu Poetry

The Urdu poet infuses the word ‘bahaar’ with a special agency to mean many things such as exuberance & prosperity.

4 min read
Image used for representational purposes.

Given that the Indian climate is marked by a difference of temperature and rainfall more than anything else and falls under the category of “tropical monsoon” with no clearly defined spring or autumn, the “idea” of spring has an important place in our collective consciousness, and by extension our poetry. Just as there is copious amounts of poetry in Sanskrit on the six seasons as identified by the ancient Hindu calendar, namely, vasant, grishma, varsha, sharad, hemant and shishir and on vasant or spring in particular, so too there is a joyous celebration of bahaar in Urdu poetry.

What ‘Bahaar’ Means to an Urdu Poet

Meaning beauty, glory, splendour, elegance, prime of life, bloom of youth, ‘bahaar’ is used for spring, spring-time and verdure. But the Urdu poet, as is the poet’s wont, infuses the word with a special agency to mean many things: exuberance, prosperity, a time of plenty, a promise of new beginnings as also beauty, fragility, impermanence.

And, by extension, bahaar has also come to indicate the ecstasy of union and fruition as also the lament of the lover who is separated from his beloved and wants nothing more than to be united with her/him to enjoy the beauty and ephemeral splendour of this short-lived season.

At its simplest, here is Ahmad Faraz comparing spring at the peak of its glory with the beloved’s face:

Bharii bahaar mein ik shaakh pe khilaa hai gulaab
Ki jaise tu ne hatheli pe gaal rakha hai

A rose has bloomed on a branch in the fullness of spring
Looking as though you have placed your face on your palm

And the classicist Jigar Moradabadi declaring the beloved’s beauty that surpasses that of spring;

Sehn-e-chaman ko apni baharon pe naaz tha
Woh aa gaye to saari baharon pe chha gaye

The garden’s courtyard prided itself on its springs
When she came, she held sway over all the springs

Fani Badayuni rues the frittering of the possibilities that spring offered:

Tinkon se khelte hi rahe ashiyan mein hum
Aaya bhi aur gaya bhi zamana bahaar ka

We kept playing with twigs in our nests
The time of spring came and went away


What Spring Means to Those in Captivity

The coming of spring is always most evocative for those who are in captivity – literal or metaphorical – for the bars of the cage – real or imaginary – enhance the sense of being deprived of all the abundance in nature’s garden. This sense of deprivation is best captured by Sauda:

Kahiyo saba salaam hamara bahaar se
Hum to chaman ko chhod ke sū-e-qafas chale

Convey my greetings to the spring, O breeze
I have left the garden and gone towards the cage

And Yagana Changezi:

Qafas-nasibon ko tadpa gai hawa-e-bahar
Chhuri si dil pe chali jab chali hava-e-bahaar

Spring breezes trouble those destined for prison
Like a knife on the heart these breezes of spring

And in the same ghazal, the poet goes on to say:

Hawa mein aaj-kal ik dhimi dhimi wahshat hai
Isi zamaane se shayad hai ibtida-e-bahaar

There’s a slight frenzy in the air these days
Perhaps the beginning of spring is in the world

With the rays of the sun becoming stronger and the coming of hot westerly winds, the colours begin to fade and the garden begins to look like a bride taking off her jewels. The image is beautifully captured in this sher by Ameer Minai:

Shaḳhon se barg-e-gul nahin jhadte hain baaġh mein
Zewar utar raha hai urūs-e-bahaar ka

It isn’t the flower petals coming off the branches in the garden
It is the jewellery being taken off by the bride of spring


The Fickleness of Spring & Autumn

Used in conjunction with khizaan (autumn), bahaar reinforces the life principle as in this sher by Shakeel Badayuni:

Miri zindagi pe na muskura mujhe zindagi ka alam nahin
Jise tere ġham se ho waasta woh ḳhizan bahaar se kam nahin

Don’t smile at my life, I have no affliction in life
He who has your grief autumn is no less than spring

Here’s another version of the popular bahaar-khizaan trope with Arsh Malsiyani stressing the fickleness of both:

Nairangi-e-bahaar-o-khizaan dekhte rahey
Hairat se hum tilism-e-jahaan dekhte rahey

I watched the fickleness of spring and autumn
In amazement I beheld the illusion of the world

Faiz Ahmad Faiz has the last word on the possibilities bahaar offers and the terrible sadness that comes in the wake of a spring that is unlike any other:

Na gul khile hain na unse miley hain na mai pii hai
Ajeeb rang mein abke bahaar guzri hai

The flowers have not bloomed nor have we met her or drunk wine
This spring has passed by in the odd sort of way

And this, my personal favourite also by Faiz, that I like to quote often when the world seems a dark place:

Hum ne dil mein saja liye gulshan
Jab bahaaron ne be-rukhi kii hai

I created a garden in my heart
When spring showed indifference

(Dr 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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