Spiritual celebration | Art & Culture

last week on we of Mian Mir took place in Lahore. Once a sprawling affair, it has shrunk because people’s cultural life is moving away from the quasi-rural environment of tradition mela while urban sprawl has swallowed up the open land all around. Now known as Dharampura, the place was known as Mian Mir when the British moved the cantonment in the 19th century.

The borders of Lahore have passed the imagination of many old people and seen the Lahore of previous decades. Even the largest urban centers were not on the scale of the metropolis and on the outskirts could be held cultural events combined with a makeshift market allowing people passing through to indulge in cultural activities and a little shopping. . Now the city has devoured all the adjacent areas and the sites and shrines of the festivals and melas are right in the middle of town. Shah Hussain, Data Hajveri and Mian Mir stand in the large crowded sprawl. There is hardly any room left for large congregations as there used to be.

Mian Mir was a Sufi follower of the highest tradition of syncretism and diversity. It represented what Lahore has represented for many centuries – a habitation of tolerance and a deep understanding of the differences between religions, ideologies and politics. His mazar is quite impressive but it would have been monumental if the red stone had been ordered for the mazar not been used for the Badshahi Masjid. Dara Shikoh, the prince who was to succeed Shah Jehan lost the battle for power, the throne and his head to his younger brother. Everything dear to him was anathema to Aurangzeb.

Thus, the tradition of tolerance and wholesomeness which was best represented in the person of Mian Mir himself suffered. In the spirit of sulh-i-kul, the general policy of peaceful coexistence, Mughal rule was to build bridges with all the various communities and religious denominations that were hugely populated across the landscape of the subcontinent. Akbar gave land to Amritsar which was desired by the Ramdas, the fourth Sikh guru. Guru Arjun Dev planned to build the mandir. He asked Mian Mir to lay the foundation stone and he did. Thus, the Darbar Sahib or Harmanadar in Amritsar has become a symbol of tolerance and respect for one’s opinions and ideology. Popularly known as the Golden Temple or Darbar Sahib, it is central to the Sikh religion.

The mainstream of the various Sufi orders kept away from politics. There are many legends, tales and episodes associated with Mian Mir which show him.

The cultural life of the city is measured by the involvement of its inhabitants in the various festivals. This participation ensures a certain continuity. Of Lahore’s two biggest festivals, one no longer takes place and the other is a shadow of its former glory. Basant, unique to Lahore, has been banned by the government. Mela Chiraghan, due to shrinking space and urbanization, is now a much smaller affair.

This attachment of the various seasonal festivals to the various religions seems to be an act of retrospection – a seasonal festival that people observed and participated in was given a slant and incorporated into the larger cultural scheme of things. The Sufis did exactly the same with basing for the festival was celebrated in the shrines of several Sufis in the spring.

A few years ago, there was ample space for theater companies to pitch their tents, magic shows to set up their booths, and food stalls selling rural staples for people to enjoy. The temporary market had the essentials, utensils, trinkets and garlands to buy and brag about. But now the digital age and the mobile phone have stolen the show from many melas even in areas that are not very close to major cities.

The general air of orthodoxy has tempered the more outrageous aspects of the mela. The celebrations have diminished and are probably frowned upon; the abandonment associated with it is not encouraged. A puritanical reading of culture sidestepped the more dynamic aspects of the performing arts like theater, song, and dance.


The writer is a cultural critic based in Lahore.

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