Among various unique festivals in India, Phoolwaalon Ki Sair, an annual procession after the rainy season, is a perfect example of Hindu Muslim communal harmony and national integration.
It is 3 day festival celebrated in Mehrauli and is currently being managed by Anjuman Sair-e-Gul Faroshan Trust. It is also known as Sair-e-Gul Faroshan.
The procession is led by shehnai players and dancers and the festivities begins by offering a floral pankha at the ancient Yogmaya temple on the 1st day followed by a similar offering at Khwaja Bakhtiar Kaaki’s dargah, a 13th century Sufi saint on the 2nd day.
Yogmaya temple is an ancient temple dedicated to Krishna’s sister, daughter of Nand who was switched at birth with Krishna, in the prison, to avoid him being killed by his Mama, Kans.
Later when Kans tried to kill her by smashing her head against the prison walls, she escaped from his hands and turned into lightening.
During their exile, the Pandavas found the exact spot where the lightning struck and built a temple to commemorate the event. It is believed to be one of the five surviving temples from the Mahabharata period in Delhi.
The present temple was however built in early 19th century and is now the starting point of Phoolwaalon Ki Sair.
The origin of this festival is also very interesting.
Mughal Emperor Akbar Shah II, in 1812 nominated his younger son Mirza Jahangir as his heir apparent as he was not happy with his eldest son Siraj Uddin “Zafar” (Bahadur Shah Zafar II).
The British resident, Sir Archibald Seton however, did not like Mirza Jahangir as once he had insulted Seton during an open court. Mirza had also fired upon Seton during his visit to the Red Fort, in which he escaped but his orderly was killed.
The British Resident exiled Mirza Jahangir to Allahabad. Mirza’s mother, Mumtaz Mahal Begum, then took a vow that if her son was released from Allahabad she would offer a pankha at the dargah of Khwaja Bakhtiar ‘Kaki’ at Mehrauli.
So finally when Mirza Jahangir was released Mumtaz Mahal Begum went to redeem her vow and offer a pankha at the shrine. A similar pankha was also offered at the Yogmaya’s temple.
This gesture by the royalty was greatly appreciated by the people and generated a lot of enthusiasm. Seeing people’s enthusiasm, this it was decided that the festival would be an annual event.
This event continued annually till the Quit India movement when the British stopped it under their “Divide and Rule” policy. After the independence Jawaharlal Nehru revived it in 1961 with the assistance of Yogeshwar Dayal a scion of one of the prominent families of Delhi but the festival grew in stature later during Indira Gandhi’s tenure.
Route of the walk
1st stop – Yogmaya’s temple.
2nd stop – Adam Khan’s tomb. Adam Khan was the milk-brother of Akbar, who was thrown twice from the Agra Fort by Akbar. Later he had a change of heart and built his tomb in the Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki’s dargah.
3rd stop – Gandak ki baoli, a step well which smells of sulphur.
4th stop – Dargah of Khwaja Bakhtiar ‘Kaki’. It is well known that Qutb ul Aqtab Hazrat Khwaja Sayyid Muhammad Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki (1173-1235) was a renowned Muslim Sufi mystic and scholar of the Chishti Order from Delhi. He was a disciple Moinuddin Chishti, the head of the Chishti order. His dargah lies next to Zafar Mahal and is the oldest Dargah in Delhi, famous for the annual Urs festivities which follow the sair.
(The dargah and the Qawaals singing devotional songs)
Next stop was Jafar Mahal. It is the last structure built by the Mughals and is named after the last emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar . It was built by his son, Akbar Shah II.
It was built as a summer place and was manned by female security guards, bought from different countries. It also contains the graves of Bahadur Shah I, Shah Alam II and Akbar Shah II.
Tragically Bahadur Shah Zafar had kept a place for his own grave but alas that was not destined. During his exile he wrote : “Kitna badnaseeb hai Zafar dafn ke liye, do gaz zameen bhi mil na saki kuye yaar mein” (how unlucky is Zafar! for burial, that he could not get two yards of land in his beloved country).
(Grave of Bahadur Shah still awaits his remains)
Next was Jahaz Mahal. It was named Jahaz mahal due to it’s reflection in the adjoining Shamsi talab. Most probably this place was constructed before Mughals and was used as a serai for travellers and also as a cultural centre where citizens and royalty would have cracker contests (atasbazi).
(The Hauz-i-Shamsi is behind the grill. Sorry it was too dirty to go and take a close-up shot)
Last stop was the Jharna, which was an artificial water fall created out of the overflow from Hauz-i-Shamsi.
Hauz-i-Shamsi was built in 1230 AD by Sultan Shamshudin Iltumish. According to a legend, Iltumish had a dream in which Prophet Muhammad told him to build a reservoir at a place marked by the hoof print of the Buraq (the legendary winged horse which Muhammad rode to the heavens).
Iltumish soon found the hoof prints he saw in his dream and got a water tank built arround it. Over the years the pond has shrunk in size and now the site of the hoof prints is in one corner of the pond.