by: Shafqat Tanwir Mirza

The News 29-03-05

LAHORE has two festivals, Basant and Mela Chiraghan, which are cultural and secular in nature.

Mela Chiraghan or the Urs of Madho Lal Husain has long been thrown out of the Shalamar Gardens and the streets which lead to the mazar of the sufi poet have been encroached upon, courtesy the Qabza group.

Mela Chiraghan is closely associated with peasants, and the Mughals, the Sikhs and the British administrations used to observe their festival officially. During the Sikh period, Maharaja Ranjeet Singh used to lead the procession from the Lahore Fort to the mazar.

After the annexation of the province by the British, the festival was announced open to the peasantry from all over Punjab. It was then that the festival was given the name of Mela Shalamar or Mela Chiraghan. Before that it was simply known as the Urs of Madho Lal Husain - a name representing both Muslims and non-Muslims. Ranjeet Singh paid much respect to the sufi poet and saint.

After independence the festival continued as it was designed during the Raj. It used to be the biggest festival of Punjab on which doors of the Shalamar were flung open to the public. But the centre of the festival, Shah Husain, was lost as a poet. There was a time when Shah Husain's poetry was used to train young classical singers. Among the last generation of such singers was Inayat Bai Derowali.

This tradition was also lost till much later when it was revived by singers like Hamid Ali Bela. 
He made Husain's verses popular under the banner of the Majlis Shah Husain, formed in 1964. 
Husain thereafter has been remembered as a poet. 
The Majlis conducted research on the text of Shah Husain's works, got it translated into English and published Haqeeqatul. Fuqara, biography of Shah Husain in Persian. It arranged national seminars, mushairas, book exhibitions and concerts at the Urs. The three-day celebrations were attended by Bengali, Sindhi, Pushto and Urdu writers besides Punjabi writers and poets.

The Majlis also prepared a project for building a Shah Husain cultural centre, but the One-Unit provincial government was not in a mood to honour this 16th century Punjabi poet. 
Shah Husain was the pioneer of the kafi. His poetry had influenced the great Sindhi poet, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, on whose Urs the Sindh government declares a holiday. The original manuscript of Bhitai's work also included kafis of Shah Husain. It was this genre which was further developed by Bulleh Shah and Khwaja Farid. Shah Husain's language, images and symbols were frequently used by later kafi writers.

The most striking feature of the language used by Shah Husain was its representation of all dialects spoken in Punjab and adjoining areas. The standard dialect thus united all subdialects.

Kartar Singh Duggal, a prominent writer, says: "Shah Husain wrote in impeccable central Punjab idiom and can claim to be one of those writers who have brought mediaeval Punjabi closest to modern usage." In the light of the comment offered by Duggal, Shah Husain's language can serve as a role model for all books to be written and taught in Punjab. A resolution to this effect is scheduled to be tabled in the Punjab Assembly on April 7.

Another Sikh scholar, Dr Mohan Singh Diwana, who had compiled the verses of Shah Husain in the Persian scrip in the early 1940s, writes in his History of Punjabi Literature, (1932): 'The religious love song found its sweetest singer in Shah Husain whose 60 or so scattered kafis in various manuscripts ... are perfect little gems in their simplicity, music, eternal and changeless love vocabulary, and their elemental passion and saintly spontaneity. Written about 350 years ago, they are as easily intelligible today as then and their lyrical charm has the same glister and perfume as it ever had.' Though Mohan Singh calls these kafis "religious love songs", the Punjab government under bureaucratic influence of the culture ministry has refused to acknowledge the anniversary of the non-conformist poet. Not a single function. has been arranged by any state-run educational or cultural institution. Even the newly-established Punjab Institute of Language, Arts and Culture, headed by a bureaucrat-cum-kafi writer has shown no interest. It is worth noting that the institute in the recent past arranged a function in Multan to pay homage to Khwaja Farid.

The unfortunate aspect of this affair is that the government has not so far considered it proper to arrange visits of foreign cultural delegates to the mazar of this 16th century poet and saint.

Shah Husain continues to be a victim of apathy on the part of the World Punjabi Congress, the Pakistan Punjabi Adabi Board and the Academy of Letters. In the sufi poet's own words: Maaen ni mein kinnun aakhan.