Holi and the Muslims

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Mughal Emperor Jehangir playing Holi in his palace
Mughal miniature researched by Dr Ilmana Fasih

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Holi, the Mughals and the Sufis

Dr Ilmana Fasih |You can play Holi too, even if you are Muslim |March 24, 2016| The Express Tribune, Pakistan


Dr Ilmana Fasih is an Indian gynaecologist, married to a Pakistani, Ilmana is a health activist, and m-Health entrepreneur, who writes on social and health issues as a passion. She dreams of a world without borders and wars.


Phagwa, more commonly known as Holi, celebrated on the full moon day of Phalgun (the 12th month of the Hindu calendar), is a festival that heralds the arrival of spring. Celebrated with colours, it is a symbolic expression of the changing of temperatures and the blossoming fields of green.

The Radha-Krishn origin and evolution of Holi

(Indpaedia writes: This theory explains how Holi spread and became popular. However, Holi's origins are older.)

Krishna and Radha enjoying the colours of Holi with the Gopis
Miniature painting from the Mughal era, researched by Dr Ilmana Fasih
Dr Fasih writes, ‘This has a touch of Mughal art.’
More than a touch, actually. Note the dome in the background and top left, and the mehrabs on the wall. The parapet on the left, too, is evidence of India’s composite culture.

If taken in its true spirits, Holi was never meant to be a religious festival, singled out by a certain faith. Though, like other religious festivals, it is symbolic of a legend – the story of Holika Dahan and her triumph over evil.

However, the context of its celebration is said to have evolved to the legend of Krishna and Radha.

Krishna, as a young boy, used to complain to his mother, Yashoda, about having a dark complexion, while his beloved Radha was fair.

And one day, to console Krishna, she teasingly said,

“What’s in a colour? Go and smear Radha’s face with any colour you like.”

And Krishna, out of love for Radha, smeared her with red gulaal (powdered colour).

And there commenced the playing of colours and gopis between Krishna and Radha along with their friends. Their romance with playing Holi has been immortalised in many miniature paintings.

The Mughal Emperors’ Eid-e-Gulabi

Mughal Emperors admired Holi as well, for its association with colour and romance. They were so fond of it, that they brought the practice of playing Holi to their courts and palaces.

Akbar is no exception, considering his secular and tolerant stance towards other religions and his marriage to a Hindu queen, Jodha Bai.

Jahangir, the romantic art connoisseur is documented to have played Holi with his queen, Nur Jahan, in his palace and called it Eid-e-Gulabi. One can imagine the ecstatic aura that must have taken place in the palace by red gulaal, rose petals and rose water sprinkled all over during the royal play.

Auranzeb’s stance on the colours of Holi came as a surprise to me.

Lane Poole, in his book, Aurangzíb and the Decay of the Mughal Empire wrote,

“During his time there used to be several groups of Holi singers who besides reciting libertine lyrics also indulged in salaciousness, accompanied by various musical instruments.”

Bahadur Shah Zafar’s verses on Holi are now sung as a part of the Phaag (folk songs of Holi). One of the most sung verses are:

Kyo Mo Pe Rang Ki Maari Pichkaari

Dekho Kunwar Ji Doongi Mein Gaari

(Why drench me with color spray,)

Now my prince, I will swear at you)

Bahut Dinan Mein Haath Lage Ho Kaise Jane Doon

Aaj Phagwa To Son Ka Tha Peeth Pakad Kar Loon.

(After long have I’ve got my hands on you, how will I let you go?

Today is Holi, and perfect time to catch hold of you)


Sufi poets

Sufi poets too eulogised Radha and Krishna’s romance in Holi, while expressing their love for their revered Sufi saints or even God.

It is Shah Niyaz’s Hori Ho Rahi hai that is immortalised by [the noted Pakistani singer] Abida Parveen.

Hori hoye rahi hai Ahmad Jiya ke dwaar

Hazrat Ali ka rang bano hai Hassan Hussain khilaar

Aiso holi ki dhoom machi hai chahoon or pari hai pukaar

Aiso anokho chatur khiladi rang deeyon sansaar

“Niyaz” pyaara bhar bhar chidke ek hi raang sahas pichkaar.

(Holi is happening at beloved, Ahmed’s (PBUH) doorsteps.

Colour has become of Hazrat Ali (AS) and Hasan (AS), Hussain (AS) are playing.

It has become such a bustling scene of Holi that it has become talk of the town,

People are calling others from all over,

What unique and clever players (Hasan and Hussain) that they coloured the entire world.

Niyaz (the poet) sprinkles bowlfuls of colour all around,

The same colour that comes out of thousands of pichkaaris ( spray guns)).


Hori khailoongi keh kar Bismillah

Bulleh Shah also played Holi with his master.

Hori khailoongi keh kar Bismillah

Naam nabi ki rattan charhi, bond pari Illalah

Rang rangeli ohi khilawe, jo sakhi howe fana fi Allah

(I shall play Holi, beginning with the name of Allah.

The name of Prophet is enveloped with light,

He only makes us play with colours, who annihilates with Allah)

Amir Khusrow relates to Holi in fascinating ways. Khusrow refers, not just to the colour or the play, but to the birth place of Krishna (Mathura) in the famous Aaj Rung Hai:

Gokal dekha, Mathra dekha,

Par tosa na koi rang dekha

Ey main dhoond phiri hoon

Des bides mein dhoond phiri hoon,

Purab dekha pacham dekha

uttar dekha dakkan dekha

Re main dhoond phiri hoon

Des bides mein dhoond phiri hoon,

Tora rang man bhaayo Moinuddin

Mohe apne hi rang mein rang le Khwaja ji

Mohe rang basanti rang de Khwaja Ji

Mohe apne hi rang mein rang de

(In summary: I saw Gokul, Mathura (birth place of Krishna) and even East to West I roamed, but I did not find anyone with a colour like yours. My heart is enamoured by your colour, hence colour me in your shade, my master.)

Another lesser known verse I came across is,

Khelooongi Holi, Khaaja ghar aaye,

Dhan dhan bhaag hamarey sajni,

Khaaja aaye aangan merey.

(I shall play Holi as Khaaja has come to my home,

Blessed is my fortune, O’ friend,

As Khaaja has come to my courtyard.)


There are various other examples. What one concludes from all this information is that, no matter what, it is impossible to separate the two cultures, meshed into one another, owing to their peaceful coexistence for centuries in the subcontinent. These celebrations of culture are all about love and have no place for hate and discrimination.

So let’s celebrate this Holi with an open mind, and more importantly, an open heart!


This is Mughal Emperor Jehangir playing Holi in his palace.

Sufi poets too eulogised Radha and Krishna’s romance in Holi, while expressing their love for their revered Sufi saints or even God.

It is Shah Niyaz’s Hori Ho Rahi hai that is immortalised by Abida Parveen.

Hori hoye rahi hai Ahmad Jiya ke dwaar

Hazrat Ali ka rang bano hai Hassan Hussain khilaar

Aiso holi ki dhoom machi hai chahoon or pari hai pukaar

Aiso anokho chatur khiladi rang deeyon sansaar

“Niyaz” pyaara bhar bhar chidke ek hi raang sahas pichkaar.

(Holi is happening at beloved, Ahmed’s (PBUH) doorsteps.

Colour has become of Hazrat Ali (AS) and Hasan (AS), Hussain (AS) are playing.

It has become such a bustling scene of Holi that it has become talk of the town,

People are calling others from all over,

What unique and clever players (Hasan and Hussain) that they coloured the entire world.

Niyaz (the poet) sprinkles bowlfuls of colour all around,

The same colour that comes out of thousands of pichkaaris ( spray guns)).

Bulleh Shah also played Holi with his master.

Hori khailoongi keh kar Bismillah

Naam nabi ki rattan charhi, bond pari Illalah

Rang rangeli ohi khilawe, jo sakhi howe fana fi Allah

(I shall play Holi, beginning with the name of Allah.

The name of Prophet is enveloped with light,

He only makes us play with colours, who annihilates with Allah)

Amir Khusrow relates to Holi in fascinating ways. Khusrow refers, not just to the colour or the play, but to the birth place of Krishna (Mathura) in the famous Aaj Rung Hai:

Gokal dekha, Mathra dekha,

Par tosa na koi rang dekha

Ey main dhoond phiri hoon

Des bides mein dhoond phiri hoon,

Purab dekha pacham dekha

uttar dekha dakkan dekha

Re main dhoond phiri hoon

Des bides mein dhoond phiri hoon,

Tora rang man bhaayo Moinuddin

Mohe apne hi rang mein rang le Khwaja ji

Mohe rang basanti rang de Khwaja Ji

Mohe apne hi rang mein rang de

(In summary: I saw Gokul, Mathura (birth place of Krishna) and even East to West I roamed, but I did not find anyone with a colour like yours. My heart is enamoured by your colour, hence colour me in your shade, my master.)

Another lesser known verse I came across is,

Khelooongi Holi, Khaaja ghar aaye,

Dhan dhan bhaag hamarey sajni,

Khaaja aaye aangan merey..

(I shall play Holi as Khaaja has come to my home,

Blessed is my fortune, O’ friend,

As Khaaja has come to my courtyard.)

There are various other examples. What one concludes from all this information is that, no matter what, it is impossible to separate the two cultures, meshed into one another, owing to their peaceful coexistence for centuries in the subcontinent. These celebrations of culture are all about love and have no place for hate and discrimination.

So let’s celebrate this Holi with an open mind, and more importantly, an open heart!

Holi and the Persian Mystics

Anwari, Rumi, Fariduddin Attar, Rabia Basri

Sumit Paul |Holi Through The Eyes Of Persian Mystics | The Times of India


In these religiously divisive times, it’s soul-gladdening to remember that Sufis, Muslim mystics, celebrated Holi and Diwali and never thought that the festivals of Hindus were confined only to jashn-e-butparastaan, ‘idol-worshippers’. To them, Holi symbolised the colours of life and Diwali was the celebration of jashn-e-rakhshanda-e-saf ’aaz, Inner Light.

All Persian mystics were knowledgeable about subcontinental religious trends and were au faitwith Hindu traditions and festivals. At the same time, there were subcontinental mystics like Amir Khusro and Syed Banda Nawaz Gesu Daraaz of the Chishti Order. They extolled the festivals of Hindus and participated in them along with their mureed and shaagird, disciples. In one of his Persian couplets Khusro eulogises Holi: ‘Meen an shaad munbilam, zeest iz’ har soo rang-o-ilam’ – I’m ecstatic because there’s a riot of colours everywhere.


Similar sentiments were expressed by Anwari of Iran when he said in Pahalavi, ‘Shaad au’vistaaz jashn-e-rang-o-bilnaaz/ Ya fid deen munzamin beniyaaz’ – Who can remain insouciant to the colours everywhere? For, these colours manifest all shades of life.

Contrary to the general tenor, mystics were not dry bones. They didn’t exactly live an austere or Spartan existence and this is a universal misconception about them. Au contraire, all mystics approved of colourful external manifestations: Tehzir-e-shafiram, in archaic Iranian dialect. In other words, mystics encouraged their disciples to wear colourful clothes. In his book, ‘Muslim Perceptions of Other Religions: A Historical Survey,’ Jacques Waardenburg wrote, “This was ‘an interesting aberration’ and a ‘thoughtful anomaly’ influenced by the colourful vibrancy of early Hinduism.” That’s why, at the shrine of Jalaluddin Rumi in Konya, Turkey, the dancing darvesh (whirling disciples) will be dressed in different colours on each day of the week. Rumi himself said about Holi, ‘Roshan uz-zamaan mukhtalif rang-ofaam’ – The Light can be accessed only through colours galore. The Light he referred to was the Light of the Universe and also the Inner Light.

To a mystic, yellow is the colour of exuberance and effulgence and pink is of enthusiasm. Fariduddin Attar, Rumi’s predecessor, called it ‘Zahanat-e mashriq unzif zareen-e-faam munshif ’ – Holi is the Eastern manifestation of mundane and mystic ecstasies through colours.

Even Rabia Basri, who lived an ostensibly stern life, would decorate the doors of her humble abode with flowers of different colours and wrote to her disciple Al-Ghayyoom, about the significance and greatness of Holi: ‘Sha’ fid hayaat mustameer raang a’zeer’ – So long as colours remain in the air, life doesn’t go in vain.

This colourfulness is the symbol of life’s continuity as well as sustainability. Sufis understood this and imbibed the spirit of Holi without any discrimination. It’s time to realise that we all have the same spirit and we all crave a colourful existence. The universality of Holi is accepted and celebrated by all because every individual has the same Universal spirit residing in him: ‘Haqeeqat ek hai har shai ki, khaaki ho ya noori/ Lahoo khursheed ka tapke agar zarre ka dil cheerein’ – The embedded Truth of every being is the same, whether earthly or otherworldly/ The blood of the sun will ooze out if the heart of a mere particle is cut open. On the occasion of the festival of colours, let’s pledge to make this world colourful and peaceful for all.

Why some Muslims object to playing Holi

The objection is broadly as follows:

‘The saheeh [correct, sound] texts indicate that it is haraam to participate in these religious festivals of the disbelievers. This emphatic prohibition is because of their disbelief in Allah, and because these festivals are symbols of that disbelief.’ [1]

(A hadees/ hadith is a collection of the sayings and daily practices of the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. A saheeh hadees or text is one that has been narrated by men of good character, who are known for their good memories and precision, with a continuous isnaad, and is not odd or faulty) [2]

Thus the objection is to the religious festivals of the disbelievers, and not to Holi in particular or to colours. The objection extends to Christmas as well. ([3])

Are the Hindus disbelievers?

‘The first Arab Muslim general to deal with Indian Hindus was Mohammad bin Qasim [d. A.D. 715], who is something of a revered figure for many Muslims. When he conquered Sindh the question of Muslim-Hindu relationship arose for the first time. A committee of ulema [who, in that era, would have all been Arabs] then decided that Hindus should be treated as Ahl -e-Kitab [people of the book], as they largely believe in the oneness of God, treat their idols as a way to reaching God rather than gods by themselves and their scriptures have unmistakable passages which are almost identical to the teachings of the Quran.’ (Sultan Shahin)

In the 20th century, leading ulema (religious scholars) reiterated that the Hindus were Ahl -e-Kitab [people of the book].

Thus, from A.D. 715 to the present, many leading Muslim ulema have counted the Hindu among the people of the book.

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