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It is also short for Vasanta Panchami (Sanskrit: वसन्त पञ्चमी), an Indian festival celebrated every year on the fifth day (Panchami) of the Hindu month Magh (January–February), the first day of spring.
Some of the Indian festivals have cultural significance, in addition to a religious significance (which can vary depend on the specific tradition), and are thus often celebrated by non-Hindus also in some form. These include Holi, Diwali and Raksha Bandhan in addition to Basant. Amir Khusro (1253-1325 CE) has composed songs using the word Basant (festival), and Nizamuddin Auliya used to join him in celebrating Basants of Sufis.
In the Vedas the day of Vasanta Panchami is dedicated to Goddess Sarasvati. It is not a national holiday in India but the schools are closed and the students participate in decoration and arrangement of the worship place. A few weeks before the celebration, schools become active in organizing various annual competitions of music, debate, sports and other activities. Prizes are distributed on the day of Vasanta Panchami. Many schools organize cultural activities in the evening of the Saraswati Puja day when parents and other community members attend the functions to encourage the children. Sarasvati is the goddess of learning. Sarasvati bestows the greatest wealth to humanity, the wealth of knowledge.
In the Vedas the prayer for Sarasvati depicts her as a white lady in white dress bedecked with white flowers and white pearls, sitting on a white lotus, which is blooming in a wide stretch of water. She holds Veena, a string-instrument, like Sitar, for playing music. The prayer finally concludes, "Oh Mother Sarasvati remove the darkness (ignorance) of my mind and bless me with the eternal knowledge." The Vedas describe Sarasvati as a water deity, goddess of a river of the same name. According to popular belief Sarasvati, originating from the Himalayas, flowed southeast, ultimately meeting the Ganges at Prayag, near the confluence of Yamuna. Hence the place is called Triveni. In due time this course of water petered away.
The mythological history of Sarasvati associates her with the holy rituals performed on the banks of the river Sarasvati. She is worshipped as a goddess of speech, attributed to the formation of Vach (words), invention of Sanskrit language and composition of hymns.
Vasanta in India
Vasant is known as Basant Panchami in Punjab and Haryana.It is being celebrated in border city of Ferozepur as Kite Festival.It heralds the advent of spring. The festival is celebrated with full vivacity and festivity to mark the end of the winters. It is one of the first festivals of the Year and is celebrated all over India. On Vasant Pachami day all get up early in the morning, take bath and worship the sun, Mother Ganga, the Deity of the sacred river Ganges, and the earth. Men, women and girls wear yellow clothes. The yellow colour is a sign of auspiciousness and spirituality. It represents the ripening of the spring crops. Even the food is coloured yellow by using saffron. All the folk get together and sing songs connected with spring. Indeed, yellow colour is given special importance on this day. The goddess Saraswati is dressed in yellow garments and worshipped by men and women attired in yellow. In some traditional homes sweetmeats of yellowish hues are exchanged with relatives and friends, people wear yellow clothes, offer yellow flowers in worship and put a yellow, turmeric tilak on their forehead. They visit temples and offer prayers to various gods. At home, kesar halva, also yellow in color, is prepared. The yellow flowers of mustard crop covers the entire field in such a way that it seems as if gold is spread over the land glittering with the rays of the sun. Fields of mustard present a colourful sight all over rural Punjab. The Basant fair is held in many villages of the India. People put on yellow costumes appropriate to the season and eat boiled rice dyed in saffron. Symbolizing greenery and reproduction, the event signifies sprouting of tender leaves and also filled-up granary with the recently harvested crops. It is traditional to fly kites on Basant. The phrase "Ayi Basant Pala Udant" (with the onset of spring season, winter bids adieu) holds true at this time of the year. In Punjab the festival is called Basant Panchami. Kite flying is popular on this day in North India. The days leading to the festival represent busy times for Kite makers for the usually clear blue skies tend to be filled with kites of all colors.
The Goddess of Knowledge, Saraswati, is especially worshipped in Orissa, Bengal and Bihar. In Orissa with the onset of spring Capital city Bhubaneswar gear itself for celebration of the Vasant Panchami. The festival is celebrated with great fervor in the Cuttack, Bhubaneswar, Rourkela, Berhampur, and other major cities of the state.
Similarly in West Bengal Saraswati Puja is celebrated on a large scale. Throughout the state, Saraswati Puja is performed in schools, colleges as well as in homes. In all educational institutions, especially in music, arts and crafts institutions, Saraswati Puja is observed with devotion and reverence.
The day of Basant Panchami is dedicated to Goddess Sarasvati. Sarasvati is the goddess of learning who bequeaths the greatest wealth to humanity, the wealth of knowledge. Hindu mythology depicts Sarasvati as a pristine lady bedecked with white attire, white flowers and white pearls, sitting on a white [[Neluhini, Hindi, mbo nucifera|lotus]], which blooms in a wide stretch of water. The Goddess also holds Veena, a string-instrument, like Sitar, for playing music. The prayer of Sarasvati finally concludes as, "Oh Mother Sarasvati remove the darkness (ignorance) of my mind and bless me with the eternal knowledge." The mythological history of Sarasvati associates her with the holy rituals performed on the banks of the river Sarasvati. She is worshipped as a goddess of speech, attributed to the formation of (words), invention of Sanskrit language and composition of hymns. t is customary to begin a child's education on this day. Schools, colleges and other places of learning organize special worship of Saraswati. Many schools and colleges also organize cultural activities. The most significant aspect of this day is that Hindu children are taught reading and writing their first word - as it is considered an auspicious day to begin a child's education. Goddess Saraswati being pure and white and representing learning, no animal sacrifice is made to her. Everyone will have vegetarian meal on this day.
Floral offerings are made in a big scale. Books, articles, instruments of music and arts, earthen inkpots and bamboo quills are placed before her. The ink is made from unboiled milk water, red colour powder and silver glitter called avro. On this day nobody writes or read any books. This signifies that the goddess bless the learners through the books placed in front of her.
Many communities get together and erect special Saraswati Puja sthans for Vasant Panchami. They hold puja and arrange community lunch. Books, musical instruments, and other objects related to the arts and scholarship were placed in front of the goddess to receive her blessings.
Vasanta and Sufi Culture
Sufis are credited for bringing the festival into the Muslim pantheon in the Indian subcontinent. By the Mughal period, Basant was a popular festival at the major Sufi shrines. We have, for example, mentions of Nizam Auliya ki Basant, Khwaja Bakhtiar Kaki ki Basant, Khusrau ki Basant; festivals arranged around the shrines of these various Sufi saints. Khusrau, the famous Sufi-poet of the thirteenth century, even composed verses on Basant:
Aaj basant manaalay, suhaagan,
Aaj basant manaalay
Anjan manjan kar piya mori, lambay neher lagaalay
Tu kya sovay neend ki maasi,
So jaagay teray bhaag, suhaagun,
Aaj basant manaalay.
Oonchi naar kay oonchay chitvan,
Ayso diyo hai banaaye
Shah Amir tuhay dekhan ko,
nainon say naina milaaye,
Suhaagun, aaj basant manaalay.
Celebrate basant today,
O bride, Celebrate Basant today
Apply kajal to your eyes, and decorate your long hair
Oh why are you the servant of sleep?
Even your fate is wide awake,
Celebrate Basant today,
O high lady with high looks,
That is how you were made,
When the king looks at you, your eyes meet his eyes,
O Bride, Celebrate Basant today.
Another historic account is given in the book Punjab Under the Later Mughals. According to this book, when Zakariya Khan (1707–1759) was the governor of Punjab, a Hindu of Sialkot, by the name of Haqeeqat Rai Bakhmal Puri spoke words of disrespect for the Prophet Muhammad and his daughter Fatima due to teasing by Muslim boys. He was arrested and sent to Lahore to await trial. The court, gave him capital punishment. The Hindu population was stirred to request Zakariya Khan to lift the death sentence given to Haqeeqat Rai but he did not accede to their request. Eventually the death penalty was carried out and the entire Hindu population went into mourning.
As a tribute to the memory of this child, a prosperous Hindu, Kalu Ram initiated the Basant 'mela' in (Marrhi) Kot Khwaja Saeed (Khoje Shahi) in Lahore. (This place is now known as Baway di marrhi.) It is the last stop on the route of Wagon no. 60 from Bhati Gate. Dr. B.S. Nijjar states on Page no. 279 of his book that the Basant 'mela' is celebrated in memory of Hakeekat Rai.
Basant (Jashn-e-Baharaan) in (Pakistan)
The festival is limited in its celebrations in Pakistan. Instead, the celebrations of spring known as 'Jashn-e-baharaan' in Urdu, are carried on in the entire country for almost a month. Basant, in particular, is celebrated in eastern Punjab especially Lahore. Lahore being the historic capital of Punjab celebrates Basant with a lot of vigour and enthusiasm. Although traditionally it was a festival confined to the old-walled city it has spread throughout the city. Other cities in which Basant is mainly celebrated are Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Multan, Karachi, Jhelum, Kasur, Sialkot and Rawalpindi/Islamabad.
"There a lot of rush at kite shops, especially in old Lahore as children and middle-aged men gathered to purchase their favourite coloured kites and string. Shahzaib Qureshi, an intermediate student said ...the festival was part of the city’s culture, adding that a number of special dishes were also prepared for the occasion. He said this year, however, people would only be flying kites. Arsalan, a resident of the Walled City, said Basant was the event of colours and lights, adding that a number of people in his area had installed lights at their residences. He said “the dance of kites in lights” would be visible to everyone who would look up at the sky".
It was for many years officially banned by the government and sponsored by multinational corporations. Although Basant is celebrated throughout Pakistani Punjab, it is Lahore which made it popular not only in Pakistan but all over the world as the largest kite festival. Over the years, the Basant festival has drawn thousands of revellers to Lahore from all over the world. Even Indian movie stars had started participating in the festival which peaks with an all-night flood-lit kite flying marathon on the eve of the festival. However, there are accidents and even deaths during the festival each year because of the public's ignorance towards the use of banned strings and also gunfire.
2005 Restrictions in Pakistan
The ban follows a number of deaths in recent days, mostly in the provincial capital Lahore, caused by glass-coated or metal kite-strings. Families of the victims protested, demanding that a Supreme Court ban on the sport be re-enforced. The spring festival known as Basant is hugely popular across Punjab. "We cannot allow people to play with the lives of ordinary citizens in the name of sport," a statement issued from the Punjab chief minister's office said.
A new twist was added to their protest this year when some members of the Jamaat-e-Islami party declared that the festival was initiated in the memory of a Haqiqat Rai who was hanged for blaspheming against the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Moderate Pakistani Muslims, however, are unconcerned about such petty issues and would rather enjoy the sport as nothing more than a seasonal festival. In 2005, an advocate, MD Tahir of Lahore High Court, Pakistan, contended that many dangers, including the kite strings and power breakdowns, resulted from kite flying. As a result, in 2005, kite flying was banned in Pakistan. Violent protests occurred outside the Pakistani Supreme Court house.
Despite the ban on kite flying one can see hundreds of kites every afternoon and evening on Lahore's sky and the number of kites is even higher on Sundays and public holidays. Kite flyers compete to cut each other's kites loose. In the past strings were coated with a slurry of fine glass shards which allowed one flyer to cut another's kite loose. In small villages the custom of 'kite running' allows poorer children to chase down and claim the free flying kites. Today wire coated with glass has become very popular with such strands of wire, though they have killed more than nine people in 2009. The Lahore High Court hoped the government would not lift the ban.
- URS AUR MELAY” by Aman Ullah Khan Arman, published by Kitab Manzil Lahore, 1959
- Ethnomusicology and Modern Music History By Stephen Blum, Daniel M. Neuman, Published by University of Illinois Press, 1993
- Hindu Festivals
-  The Times of India 20 January 2010
- Nijjar, B.S. (Dr.), "Punjab Under the Later Mughals.", Patyala
- Youth excited http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2009\03\15\story_15-3-2009_pg13_3
- Pakistan province kite-flying ban http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4792776.stm
- The News, Friday, March 13th, 2009