In one of my earlier series of columns dedicated to Lahore and now under publication as a book, I wrote about the Lahoris’ love of merry-making and melas. This week I have delved into history and come up with some events that not only had religious significance for pre-independence Lahore, but provided an opportunity for the citizens of this great city to ‘let down their hair’. Some of these fairs fell prey to the great migration that accompanied the creation of Pakistan and are now only a dim memory.
The Bhaddarkal Mela was a one day affair held in June at Niazbeg to pay homage to a Hindu deity and attracted people from as far away as Amritsar. The spot was marked by a tank, some old buildings and a well kept garden, which was used to erect a number of sweetmeat stalls. The fair ended as dusk approached and by sunset, the spot became desolate once more.
Basant ka Mela was held regularly in January at the shrine of Madho Lal Hussain near the Shalimar Gardens. It was essentially a Hindu festival that was attended by a large number of people. It is said that Ranjit Singh levied a tax on all those who came to the event and ordered that everyone attending must wear saffron coloured clothes.
Mela Chiragan was held at the Shalimar gardens although the venue has now been changed to the shrine of Madho Lal Hussian. This event continues to attract thousands from all over the country to witness the climax when hundreds of lamps are lighted to mark the end of the festival.
The Ram Thamman Mela, celebrated in Baisakhi (April) each year, was partially named after its venue, village Thamman lying in the vicinity of Rukhanwala Railway Station on the line that connected Raiwind with Kasur. This was a Hindu festival centred on Bairagi Fakirs, who had made this village as their base. The event gradually lost its patronage as the opening of the railway network enabled people to travel to the main Baisakhi Mela at Amritsar. The Gazetteer of Lahore District for the years 1883 and 1884 reports that this was a very popular event with “the young agricultural sparks of the District, who collected here in their holiday costumes and there was considerable licence allowed to them and the morality of the majority of women attending the fair was doubtful.”
There was a time when two melas were held at an old mosque at Mochi Gate. These events marked the celebration of the two Eids and provided an opportunity for children and families to enjoy themselves for a few hours.
The mosque of Sakhi Sarwar in Anarkali Bazaar was the venue of Kadmon ka Mela. This event was held in February on the first Monday of the new moon and was characterised by dhol wallahs and their exciting performances on large drums slung around their necks.
October was witness to a weeklong Dussehre ka Mela held near the Lahore Fort and characterised by the burning effigies of villainous characters from Hindu mythology on the last day. This rite was accompanied by grand fireworks that became the highlight of the event.
As progress and modernisation gobbles up old traditions and customs so are melas gradually becoming a relic of the past. It is on this sad note that I am dedicating this week’s column to our traditional village mela, which needs to be restored and conserved, if for nothing else, then as part of our colourful history.
n The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.