Phoolwalon ki Sair, also known as Sair-e-Gul Faroshan, is an annual festival with a history of more than two hundred years. It is celebrated by the flower-sellers of Delhi in October-November.

A secular procession of florists and performers

Devi Yogmaya Temple, an ancient Hindu shrine in Mehrauli

Devi Yogmaya Temple, an ancient Hindu shrine in Mehrauli

The festival is an epitome of Hindu-Muslim unity and communal harmony in a country torn apart by religious conflicts. It is a week-long festival organised by the Anjuman Sair-e-Gul Faroshan and sees participation by everyone irrespective of religion or community. The Sair-e-Gul Faroshan, or procession of the florists, starts from Nizamuddin’s dargah and makes its way with great pomp and show to Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki’s dargah in Mehrauli. The procession is led by musicians, fire-dancers and florists. In Mehrauli, chadars and pankhas adorned with fresh flowers are ceremonially offered at the dargah. The procession also pays a visit to Devi Yogmaya temple, an ancient Hindu shrine also in Mehrauli, and the ceremony is repeated with offerings of floral pankha and chhatra (or canopy). The festivities are followed by cultural programmes with enthralling Kathak performances, Qawwalis and devotional songs.

Historical origins and significance

Folk musicians from various Indian states performing at Jahaz Mahal

Folk musicians from various Indian states performing at Jahaz Mahal

The genesis of Phool Waalon Ki Sair goes back to 1812. The reigning Mughal emperor Akbar Shah II wanted to nominate his younger son Mirza Jahangir as his heir, for he wasn’t happy with his eldest son Siraj Uddin “Zafar” (later known as Bahadur Shah Zafar). This decision was opposed by the then British Resident, Sir Archibald Seton. Mirza Jahangir, evidently upset, insulted Seton publicly and fired at him, managing to kill his orderly instead. The Resident instantly issued orders for Mirza to be exiled to Allahabad. The distressed Queen vowed to offer a chadar of flowers at the dargah of Khwaja Bakhtiar ‘Kaki’ at Mehrauli if her son was released. Two years later, when Mirza Jahangir was released, the Begum went to Mehrauli to fulfil her vow, accompanied by the imperial court and the entire population of Delhi. A 7-day mela ensued, with swings hung in the mango groves, cock and bull fights, wrestling, kite-flying and swimming contests. The secular-minded Mughal emperor also ordered for a floral pankha to be offered at the nearby Yogmaya Temple. Thereafter it was decided that the festival will be held after the rainy season every year, and the people of all communities will make floral offerings at Kaki’s Dargah and at Yogmaya temple. The last time Phoolwaalon ki Sair was celebrated under the Mughals was in 1857, after which Bahadur Shah Zafar was exiled to Rangoon.

Revival of traditions and modern patronage

Floral pankha being presented to the Indian President in 2011

Floral pankha being presented to the Indian President in 2011

In its original form, the festival was patronised by the Mughal king. After many years of being forgotten, the festival was finally revived in 1962 by the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Since then Phoolwalon ki Sair has received patronage from successive Indian Prime Ministers. Another tradition that has evolved over the years is the presentation of a floral pankha to the President of India, the Chief Minister of Delhi, and the Lt. Governor of Delhi. Moving forward from being a symbol of communal harmony, the festival now also represents national integration. Cultural troupes from various states of India come to Delhi during this time and present music, dance and drama performances at the main function held at the Jahaz Mahal in Mehrauli, believed to be built by the Lodhi dynasty.

Shehnais playing soothing music, dancers twirling in mystical devotion, and exuberant flower-sellers leading a procession to pay their respects at both Muslim and Hindu shrines – if this goes with your idea of a cultural festival, don’t miss out on the Phoolwalon ki Sair from 13th to 21st November 2015.