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'Nawruz': Chitral's Cultural Link with Central Asia -letter
These debates and reflections regarding the consequences, positive as well as negative, ensuing from the tunnel's opening, have got momentum after the tunnel's first phase of construction was completed on 10th January 2009. Several letters have appeared and seminars have been held to explore the opportunities for development and measures necessary to protect the local population, its cultures, values and property. One of the possibilities that the contributors to Chitral News and speakers in the seminars have highlighted is Chitral's connection with the Central Asian region.
In this regard, they have argued that Chitral had been historically, culturally and even economically part of Central Asia; it was one of the Silk Road network routes, linking south Asia with central Asia.
economic, cultural and scientific contacts of
Central and South Asia, Professor Ahmad Dani
mentions: "Several princes, men of wisdom,
missionaries and business men crossed the Hindukush
and left behind their records on the rocks along the
upper reaches of the Indus." Samarkand, Panchkent
and Tashkent were directly linked with Chitral and
While debating the potential of the Lawari tunnel, many have expressed that a road via Chitral to Central Asia would serve Chitral well economically. Such a road would not only create enormous economic opportunities for the local people all along its length, but also would be relatively the shortest trade road for merchandise transfer between Pakistan and the Central Asian countries.
It is equally important to consider, in addition to the physical connection, that the cultural linkages that once existed need to be reinvigorated and promoted because in Professor Ahmad Dani's words "wherefrom came our mediaeval rulers and which bestowed a cultural character to the people of Pakistan."
The festival of Nawruz
is a powerful and solid reminder of that cultural
link between South Asia and Central Asia.. This
spring festival with thousands of years of history
has continued through changing empires and
civilizations as a great cultural event from Iran to
the countries of Central Asia and the Indian
Nasir Khusraw, the
Fatimid Hujjat of Central Asia and one of the great
Persian poets and philosopher, refers in his lengthy
poem to the awaking of the nature on the arrival of
Nawruz and draws attention to its beauties and
manifestations as signs of Allah's creative glory
inviting human reflective faculties. These are but
a few examples of the vast poetic literature that
Nawruz has inspired and continues to inspire the
poets of Central Asia today.
Feasts, songs and music were part of the Nawruz celebration, and several Sasanian melodies were named for the Nawruz day. It was a time the regional rulers, nobles, the courtiers, merchants as well as common people would make presents to the great king who would reciprocate with bestowing them with rewards. According to the Shah-nama, the most important feature was conciliation and peace making.
When Bahram Gor was in disgrace, according to the Shah-nama, it was on Nawruz day and the Nawruz feast that he sat down once again with the nobles.
Furthermore, on this
day of peace, joy, reconciliation and renewal of
friendly linkages, the Sasanian kings would refrain
from discussing any matter that would potentially
flare up tensions among them.
The Mughals of India extended the length of the Nawruz celebrations to nineteen days.Â Rizvi and Poonampant write: "Under Akbar, assuming spectacular proportions, it (Nawruz) no longer remained confined to the upper classes but penetrated every stratum of society" . An occasion of happiness reflected in the new clothes and the decorated houses of the general public, it seemed to envelope all the cities, towns and villages of the Empire. Furthermore, games and pageants were held, Akbar's generals would receive gifts, and royal instructions would be issued inviting all citizens to enjoy the festival by singing and dancing. The public including women would be allowed to visit the palace and witness its magnificent celebratory activities. Akbar would distribute one hundred thousand rupees to each class of people present in his assembly. This Central Asian great pluralist Muslim ruler of India elevated Nawruz as primarily a cultural festival, with no religious overtones, in perfect resonance with South Asia's multicultural and plural society.
Nawruz continued as a major cultural event of the subcontinent under his successors. Some researchers have described the arrangements in the court of Jahangir as being so elaborate and rich that their like could not be found in the world. Alas! This great Mughal cultural tradition in the subcontinent came to an end during Aurangzeb's reign, which came under the influence of religious bigotry.
I see no better
occasion than Nawruz to be a harbinger of such an
initiative. How wonderful it would be to hold an
annual Nawruz Jashn with a variety of sports, modern
as well as traditional, literary gatherings,
academic seminars, music concerts, and markets of
commercial and cultural items. This shared spring
festival has the potential to generate enormous
economic and cultural activities contributing to the
elimination of the centuries old challenges of
isolation and poverty, thus bringing prosperity to
Chitral and its adjacent regions with similar needs
22 March 09.