The Dawn: Apr 18, 2014

punjab notes: Chet and Vesakh: spring and harvest

Mushtaq Soofi 

Seasons have deep impact on all things. Of all the living beings, humans are most prone to be affected by seasons, especially by the changes in season which usually occur at regular intervals in the unending natural cycle. Punjab, which is still an agrarian society, keenly watches the seasonal changes as its economic life is inseparably linked with what these changes may offer; prospects for crops that sustain individual and collective life. Punjab, being fertile land fed by its five or six major rivers, grows various crops round the year. So change matters and each month that brings a slight change in the weather makes a difference. Such changes have inspired a literary genre called ‘Baran Mah’. This genre, as the name itself suggests, is poetry about the twelve months of the year as to how they impact life, nature and above all the human psyche and moods. ‘Baran Mah’ is in fact an emotional and psychic chronicle of a year that completes its cycle with all its changes in twelve months. The genre deals with and expresses the day-to-day experiences of the people. The greats like Baba Guru Nanak, Guru Arjun and Baba Bulleh Shah, apart from many others, composed ‘Baran Mahs’ that have deep philosophic, existential and romantic resonance.

Three months of Punjab’s calendar, Chet (14 March-13 April) and Vesakh (14 April-14 May) are significantly exiting because they are harbingers of welcome changes that create new hope for better days. Chet is the first month of the year, heralding the coming of spring that marks the end of winter which compels people to hibernate or to indulge in indoor activities.

Chet is time of regeneration and thus symbol of re-birth. The icy grip of winter loosens and cheerful anarchy of natural growth turns into a stunning landscape created by colours with their innumerable shades. Remember how T.S. Eliot described the ‘English Chet’? ‘April is the cruelest month/breeding lilacs out of dead land/ mixing desire with memory’.

Baba Farid, the pioneer of our literary tradition in his couplet, has painted with great brevity what ‘Chet’ stands for. ‘Katak kunjan, Chet daunh, sawan bijlian.’ Chet for the poet-saint is fire. It is an unusual but extremely enchanting metaphor born of highly creative poetic logic. ‘Chet’s fire’ stands for the riot of colours that we see in the regeneration of nature all around. Colours of vegetation and blossoms are the fire that fires the imagination.

Guru Nanak, the native of famous Sandal Bar which was a huge jungle in his time, is more elaborate and adds human dimension to it when he talks of Chet: ‘in the pleasant month of chet spring blooms/the hovering black bees look so beautiful/the woods are abloom in the Bar region/when would my beloved come back to me.’ Iconoclastic Bulleh Shah cannot be happy with Chet if his beloved is not with him to share it. ‘Koels warble in the garden in Chet/I long in anguish when will my beloved come to me?/What to me if Chet is upon us? The fields are all blossoms but my beloved does not remove her veil’.

As the nature with its mushroom growth brings bush and bramble together, so takes a surge the human longing for togetherness. Chet is all about joy of sharing with the hope that better days will come. When? Nobody in the euphoria stirred by regeneration pauses to ask except those who are left to themselves abandoned by their loved ones.

Chet may be hard on the lovers in a traditional society where segregation is the norm while change of season creates physical and emotional ecstasy which urges union. So Chet is the ‘fire’ that can burn you.

It is ‘the cruelest month’ that can make you mad with its mixing of desire with memory.

Chet is almost inseparable from Vesakh, the second month of our calendar. The spring lingers on till the second week of Vesakh after which the air starts losing its coolness with the days getting longer and hotter. ‘The month of Vesakh is lovely/the trees stand dressed afresh’ says Guru Nanak. As the riot of colours begins receding, the landscape gradually undergoes transformation. Now instead of many a shade of green what you see all around you is an all-encompassing shade of gold in the fields. The blossoms ripen into a rich harvest. The dust gold wheat crop, ready to be harvested, has the murmurs of soft wind moving through it. Vesakh with its promise of a better tomorrow has to be joyfully celebrated.

So Vesakhi is a harvest festival. The harvest ensures the supply of food grain for a year. Wheat crop along with cattle has always been the mainstay of peasant household. The famous adage is ‘the duds of the household that has a pile of wheat look smart’. It has been a festival of secular nature though it assumed a certain religious significance when in 1699 Guru Gobind Singh summoned Sikhs from all over India and founded his Sikh community called ‘Khalsa’ on the occasion of Vesakhi in order to consolidate the rise of Sikh forces.

Chet and Vesakh have everything to do with regeneration and nature’s bounty that enrich people’s emotional and material world. But we in the cities think that earth is a paved path and wheat grows on trees. Chet for us is a single rose in a pot that we think, is a garden and Vesakh is nothing but dry hot weather. —

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