India Insight

Delhi’s ‘Procession of the Florists’ marches toward obscurity

Every fall, people gather in Delhi’s Mehrauli area for the “Procession of the Florists,” a festival to commemorate the return from exile of a 19th-century prince who crossed India’s British colonial rulers.

The “Phool Walon ki Sair,” as it is called in Hindi and Urdu, features the offering of a “chaadar” or a “sheet” of flowers at a Muslim shrine and floral “pankhas” or fans at a nearby Hindu temple but after nearly 200 years, its popularity is fading.

The annual procession began in the early 19th century when Queen Mumtaz Mahal and her subjects walked to the shrine of Khwaja Qutub-ud-Din Bakhtyar Kaaki to fulfil a vow that she made. During the reign of her husband, Mughal ruler Akbar Shah II, their son Mirza Jahangir taunted the British Resident Archibald Seton. The young prince also took a shot at Seton at the Red Fort, but missed his target and killed his orderly instead.

The British exiled Mirza Jahangir to Allahabad, and the queen vowed to offer a chaadar at the shrine if her son returned. When the prince came back a couple of years later, she kept her word.

Things didn’t turn out well for the Mughal Empire though, and two decades after the death of Akbar Shah II, the last Mughal emperor was exiled to Burma. But the 32-kilometre procession from Chandni Chowk to Mehrauli continued. The British stopped the procession in 1942, the year of the “Quit India” movement, but Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, revived it in the 1960′s.

Photo gallery: A walk through Mehrauli Archaeological Park

Next time you plan a visit to the Qutub Minar, venture beyond its crowded complex. Walk past the parking lot, which is on your left, and take the first right turn. Next to the Qutub Restaurant is an obscured path. Take the path, walk down a few steps and this is what you see:

 

You are inside the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, located in what was once the first of the seven historic cities of Delhi, dating back about a thousand years. The first structure (see below) is the Metcalfe House, which was once a tomb. Thomas Metcalfe was an agent of the Governor General of India to the court of Bahadur Shah Zafar, India’s last Mughal emperor.

 

As you move on, you’d find columns to your left and right, guiding you to several structures in this area. This also is a Delhi Development Authority park. Next stop is the Jamali Kamali mosque.

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