Colour abounds at Basant festival

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 August, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 August, 2004, 12:00am

THE BLOSSOMING of a popular yellow flower in Pakistan heralds the start of a week-long spring festival across the country.

Jashan-e-Baharan (the spring festival), commonly known as the Basant festival, celebrates the end of winter and the arrival of spring. The event is held every February or March, as soon as the weather is warm enough.

About a month before the festival, provincial governments announce the dates it will be held in their respective locales.

The festival is held in different cities on a staggered basis, depending on their climate and geographical location. Spring temperatures usually hover around 18 to 20 degrees Celsius.

The origin of the festival dates back centuries, with kite-flying the highlight. The biggest celebrations take place in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province and Pakistan's second-largest

city, with a population of 6.2 million.

Celebrities, diplomats, artists and tourists flock to Lahore to take part in the annual event. Lahore is famous for its beautiful gardens, exquisite fountains, spicy cuisine and rich heritage of art and music.

In recent years, the festival has spread to other major cities, including the capital Islamabad and the port city of Karachi.

Tourists come to see the spectacular sight of the sky filled with colourful dancing kites flown from the streets and rooftops by children and adults intent on competing with their friends and neighbours.

Some kites are small enough to be carried on a bicycle, while others are so large they have to be transported by car.

The sight of hundreds of kites aloft in the sky has been likened to that of a lake strewn with flower petals.

Much of the kite-flying takes place in the evening and lasts into the small hours, and is often accompanied by blaring music and fireworks. The festival atmosphere is frenzied, with car horns honking and people shouting themselves hoarse.

'There are lights on the terraces and people get quite excited,' said Nighat Shah, consul (information) at the Pakistan consulate in Hong Kong.

Powerful spotlights illuminate the night sky so viewers can appreciate the spectacle overhead.

The kite-flying competition can sometimes become intense as rivals try to sever their opponents' kite lines. 'When you cut the string of your opponent, it means you've won the match,' Ms Shah said.

Each time a kite is successfully dispatched, the victors cheer. Winners of competitions also beat drums to proclaim their victory.

It is traditional for men and women to dress in yellow during the festival, in homage to the springtime flowers that blossom in the fields of Punjab.

Men usually wear yellow scarves while women dress in yellow with decorative flower bangles.

Ms Shah said for many years the festival was a brief one but it expanded as its popularity grew.

'The scale is definitely growing. It started in Lahore as one day but now it has spread to the entire country and can last more than a week,' she said.

The egalitarian festival attracts rich and poor, a diverse representation of the country's population.

Each has the opportunity to compete on an equal footing because all that is required to take part is a kite and a ball of string.

Besides kite-flying, Basant is also a cultural festival.

Traditional food, costumes, arts and crafts, dance and music combine to create a fun-filled atmosphere.

Ms Shah said it was customary for many families and friends to gather to fly kites and indulge in a lavish meal.

Corporate parties are a common sight, as companies often rent rooftops and use the occasion to entertain employees and business guests.