Book Review: Diwali in Persian poetry

‘The festive spirit is universal. It doesn't belong to a particular community, ethnic group, race or a group of people. Its universality makes it relevant to all...’

-Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan,The Hindu Way of Life One such universal festival is Deepawali, the festival of lights and lamps, or Jashn-e-Charaaghan or Shab-e-Charaaghan (Night of lamps) in Persian and Dari (Afghan variant of Persian, spoken in Eastern Persia).

Having travelled across the globe and participated in all festivals of all faiths, even an apatheist like me can dare say that festivals bind us together and this process of cementing is best manifest through the effulgence of Diwali that inspired all Persian mystics and poets.

Even Arabic poetry of yore eulogised Deepawali and Turkish poet like Nazim Hikmat called it Estavanarooz (A festival of festivals in classical Turkish). Needless to add, Urdu poetry is full of references to Deepawali as Urdu poets called it a jashn-e-masarrat (a festival of de-light).

Fariduddin Attar, the putative master of Jalaluddin Rumi, wrote in Pahalavi a millennium ago:

Firzaat-e-roshan rizaqat unni’tafaaz

Yaan ablai jannat jas kohen-e-aaz

(This brightness produced by thousands of lamps/ Seems to have descended right from the heaven)

Elsewhere, Attar writes:

‘Bina’az dast-e-kuhelish kaafir-o-Momin

Nee zast-e-taish charaagh munbilam shahmin’

(This is one festival that deletes the differences and distinctions between a faithful or infidel because this (Diwali) festival is universal)

Hafiz Shirazi (born a century after Rumi) writes in his inimitable style:

Da’ul shab-e-Charaaghaan munzir nafiq

Mee kaza’at sheen arazid ul-sahiq

(Don’t stop me from celebrating Deepawali/ My heart is brightened with lamps)

Persian poet Jami says:

Shab na ul taareek iztiza

Roshan behisaab irtiza

(This is the night that brightens the benighted souls)

Hakim Sanai writes in his voluminous Deewan (compilation of verses):

Qadoom dil'aazaar bidayun shudam dazir

Mee na'af ul-khitab shab-e-roshan benazir

(The darkness that you see all around/Will be dispelled by the lamps on the night of light)

Even Arabic poet Barazid (not Bayazid Bastami) of 10th century extolled the significance of Deepawali in archaic Arabic:

Kaad’d’az righal shakhin faizad-un-subqai

Tafadur dil nez ya shigaaf manzif kazebai

(Lights are everywhere; it's dancing of pulchritude/ Seeing it before me, I myself have become a lamp)

Urdu poets have always been very effusive about Deepawali.

Jameel Mazhari writes:

Ye raat isi tarah roshan rahe

Shab-e-Charaaghan ki lau har dil mein jalti rahe

(May this night remain forever bright/The flame of Diwali should keep burning in every heart)

Sahir Ludhianavi writes:

Main iss raat ke jalwon ki kya kahoon

Har shakhs seene mein ek charaagh-e-roshan liye chalta hai

(What more can I say in praise of this night?/Every heart seems to carry a lamp


Urdu poet Ravish Siddiqui beautifully sums it up:

Dekhi hain kai raatein maine

Magar raat shab-e-Charaghaan-si nahin

(Though I’ve seen many a night/ I’ve not seen a night like that of Diwali)

Look at this lovely couplet penned by Yaas Yagana Changhezi, the poet who throughout his life criticised Mirza Ghalib:

Har soo roshan-o-jameel hai ye jahaan

Shab-e-Charaaghaan ne baandha hai samaan

(Everywhere, there's a streak of light and beauty/The night of lights has cast a magical spell)

Roshan Khay’yoon wrote in Pashto (language spoken in Afghanistan)

Raghdaaz dil-teghaz nu-ifraat koi’az

Firaun el-qab vadayast-e-doai’z

(Let’s bask in the light of Diwali/You don’t often get such nights)

In this age of utter religious discrimination, differences and prejudices, it’s imperative to remember these poets and mystics who tried to create an atmosphere of sanity by dispelling the night of darkness that has engulfed the mankind in recent times. Let the spirit of Diwali remain perennially alive and bright. Happy Diwali to all.