This syncretic culture in India was actually inspired by the holiest Sufi saint of Delhi, Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia and his disciple, Amir Khusrow.
Holi was celebrated as Id-e-Gulabi or pink Id during the times of the spiritually-inclined Mughal emperors like Shahjahan and Akbar. In Mughal India, it was also called “Aab-e-Pashi” (shower of colourful flowers). It is mentioned in Tuzk-e-Jahangiri, the autobiography of Mughal Emperor Nuruddin Muhammad Jahangir, that Jahangir used to hold Mehfil-e-Holi.
This syncretic culture in India was actually inspired by the holiest Sufi saint of Delhi, Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia and his disciple, Amir Khusrow. They revered colours, especially “pink” and “yellow”, as divine expressions in their beautiful Persian and Hindavi poetry. Therefore, Holi and Basant became an integral part of the Dargah celebrations. Hazrat Amir Khusrow wrote beautiful poems on the divine connotations of colours in his Hindavi poetry:
Kheluungii Holi, Khaaja ghar aaye,
Dhan dhan bhaag hamare sajni,
Khaaja aaye aangan mere
(I shall play Holi as Khaaja has come home, blessed is my fortune, o friend, as Khaaja has come to my courtyard).
The famous Punjabi Sufi mystic — Bulleh Shah — rendered beautiful poetic exhortations of divine love and union in the celebration of Holi. His words are more relevant today in the conflict-ridden and communally-vitiated atmosphere:
Hori Khelungi, Keh Bismillah.
Nam Nabi ki ratn chadi, boond padi Allah Allah.
Rang rangeeli ohi khilave, Jis seekhi ho Fanaa fi Allah.
“Alastu bi rabbikum” Pritam bole, Sab sakhiyan ne ghunghat khole.
Qaloo Bala, yun hi kar bole, “la ilaha illallah”
I will play Holi beginning in the name of the Lord, saying Bismillah.
Cast like a gem in the name of the Prophet,
Each drop falls with the beat of Allah, Allah,
Only He may play with these colourful dyes,
Who has learnt to lose himself in Allah.
“Am I not your lord?” asked the lover,
And all maids lifted their veils,
Everyone said, “Yes!” and repeated:
Munshi Zakaullah in his book “Tareekh-e-Hindustani” has rightly asked: “Who says Holi is a Hindu festival?”
The last Mughal Emperor who was also a Sufi follower, Bahudar Shah Zafar, would rejoice in the celebration of Holi. He believed that his religion would not be affected by this cultural celebration and even encouraged his Hindu ministers to smear his forehead with gulal on Holi. He also adored the festival in his poetry:
Kyun mope maari rang ki pichkaari
dekh kunwarji du’ngi gaari
(Why have you squirted me with colour?
O Kunwarji I will swear at you)
bhaaj saku’n main kaise moso bhaajo nahin jaat
thaa’ndi ab dekhu’n main baako kaun jo sun mukh aat
(I can’t run, I am unable to run
I am now standing here and want to see who can drench me)
Bahut dinan mein haath lage ho kaise jaane deoon
Aaj main phagwa ta sau Kanha faita pakad kar leoon.
(After many days have I caught you, how can I let you go
I will catch you by your cummerbund and play Holi with you)
At Dewa Sharif, the Dargah of Haji Waris Ali Shah in Uttar Pradesh, Holi is celebrated with as much enthusiasm as Id. Therefore, it is popularly known as Id-e-Gulabi in the Sufi tradition.