The words Mela Chiraghan literally translate into ‘Festival of Lights’. This festival is an extravaganza of culture as well as religious fervor in its own right. Held on the shrine of the Sufi saint Madhu Lal Hussain, this festival attracts people from all religions, sects and social classes. The three day festival involves many pilgrims making their way to the shrine in Lahore near the Shalimar Garden, each carrying a lamp with them which is then chucked into a bonfire. The devotees believe that all their prayers are accepted when they attend the festival, and that attendance gains them favor of God.
Visually, the Mela Chiraghan is an absolute treat. Apart from the sea of traditional colors that are a prerequisite for any religious convention of this kind, there is also a certain degree of dark novelty to the festival. This may largely be credited to the lamps that seem to be just as mesmerizing as sky full of stars. Perhaps the centre of all attention is the Alao, or the Big Fire. The bonfire is where all the lamps culminate, and which must burn throughout the three days of the urs. Many believe that the fire kills demonic spirits and drives away evil.
To say that fires and lamps are the only thing worth mentioning about the Mela Chiraghan would not only be a great injustice but very untrue as well. As I already said, the festival attracts people from all walks of life. There are middle class office workers, highly educated doctors, wealthy rural businessmen and then there are also those malangs, who in their hashish-induced ecstasy, continue to be indifferent to the world and its petty affairs. Often, a conversation with the malangs is ecstasy in itself. What is truly great about these malangs is not the wisdom that they seem to possess, but the simplicity with which they explain the most complex philosophical questions.
The road to the mazar (shrine) is decorated like a bride. The shops marking the sides of the Grand Trunk road are beautifully decorated and fully stocked to reap maximum economic and spiritual benefits by serving the devotees thronging the shrine. As you walk, you notice groups of men and women walking together with little to fear, as if terrorism and religious bigotry has become a thing of the past. Many men beat drums, while malangs recite kafis and other forms of poetry. Religious slogans are raised and a powerful euphoria can be sensed in the aura. The euphoria catches a hold inside you, and you feel like you are separated from yourself, as if you are part of something bigger than your own, petty self. As the night passes and euphoria peeks, you see the devotees uncontrollably engaging in Dhamal, or dance of the religious kind. You are overcome with a sense of belonging, and had it not been for your self-proclaimed logical sensibilities which regard such activities as illogical, you may as well have ripped your shirt off.
The night turns into day, but the fervor sees no end. How could a few sleepless nights kill the passion that suicide blasts and public beheadings couldn’t. It is thus true that the festival of lights is indeed the festival of passion.