Intercultural Celebration & Pakistan

Margaret Mead, a renowned American cultural anthropologist, was once asked what the first sign of civilization was? 

“a broken femur that has healed”, she said. Her response had left many sceptical, confused & curious since one would expect an answer like clay pots, hunting weapons or artifacts. She went on to explain that this unusual response has a very meaningful yet logical explanation. 

When an animal breaks its leg, it is deemed unfit for its pack or community & becomes prey to prowling predators. It is no longer able to hunt, feed or provide & eventually, the broken leg becomes the cause of its doom. However, around 15,000 years ago, a broken femur, that conventionally would have taken 6 weeks to heal due to a lack of modern medicine, had recovered. This is a strong indication that someone was willing to stay behind with the injured, a companion, who has carried them to safety, tended to their wound, & stuck by them for 6 weeks, leading them to recovery. The beginning of civilization is marked by the act of unity, humanity & brotherhood. 

Then the question arose, when did culture begin? When did this newly formed civilization form varying traditions & ideas? 

To this day, anthropologists, historians, philosophers & the highly inquisitive common man are fighting tooth & nail together to trace back the roots of our ideologies & answer this question. Google defines culture as “ideas, customs & social behaviours of a particular people or society” & “the art & other manifestation of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively”.  Yet what this definition doesn’t include is the impact culture has on one’s identity, choices, celebrations, preferences, dressing & lifestyle. 

Fast forward 15,000 years from the broken femur, Pakistan in 2022, now a nation flourishing with art & talent is home to many ideas, customs, or “cultures”. From the deserts of Thar & Cholistan to the scenic hills of Gilgit Baltistan, from the hospitality of the Pashtuns to the laid-back lifestyle of Punjabis, from the mouth-watering biryani of Karachi to the soul-soothing pink tea of Kashmir, from the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr & Pakistan Day to sharing the joys of Christmas & spreading colour & happiness of Holi, Pakistan is fortunate to be the home of such a diverse & tolerant community. The integration of new cultures & celebrations in Pakistan is applauded since the already existing communities, as well as newcomers from different nations & ethnicities, are welcomed with warmth. 

Christmas in Pakistan

During Christmas, also known as “Bara Din”, meaning “Big Day” in Urdu & Punjabi, a big procession takes place in St. Anthony’s Church in Lahore. Furthermore, in other cities, this holiday is also celebrated to the fullest. Christmas trees are hard to come by in Pakistan, but this does not hinder their spirits since houses are fully decorated, people dress in their best clothes, visit parks & eat out, exchange gifts, dance & play amongst their family & friends. Santa Claus is famous amongst Pakistani children as well! & they eagerly await his arrival with presents, calling him “Christmas Baba”.

Holi in Pakistan

The festival of colours, popularly known as “Holi”, is an elaborate affair that symbolises the arrival of spring & triumph of good over evil. The festival includes a grand celebration of throwing colour at each other, wishing them prosperity & a life filled with joyous colour, as well eating & drinking their favourite foods & drinks. Holi is also celebrated in Islamabad & Rawalpindi by the Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA), although it is more common in regions of Sindh & Punjab.

Nowruz or Persian New Year in Pakistan

In Chitral & Gilgit Baltistan, a large population of people celebrate Nowruz, popularly known as Persian New Year or Iranian New Year. This holiday is widely celebrated in Afghanistan, Iran, & Iraq and with such a large population of Afghans residing in Pakistan due to war-related disputes, it’s a testimony of Pakistan’s acceptance of intercultural celebration as these Afghans have now made Pakistan their home.  Locals & visitors have described that this holiday is celebrated with great fervor & enthusiasm in Balochistan as well. Special congregations are held in different towns where special prayers were offered for the prosperity of the country. In Hunza district, the Nowruz festival is started off with agricultural activities, as people begin to plough their fields. Everyone dresses in their best clothes to wish each other a year filled with joy & a special table are set with 7 items, with each item having a special meaning behind it. Some items include a mirror & candles (reflecting into the future), a goldfish swimming in a bowl (representing life), & painted egg (representing fertility). 

Lok Virsa Folk Festival

Furthermore, one of the most diverse festivals celebrated in Pakistan is known as the “Lok Virsa Folk Festival” which is a 10-day-long festivity in Azad Kashmir Valley and attracts artisans & performers from more than 20 countries, allowing them to display their culture & customs. This festival is the pride of artisans from all around the world as it gives them a platform to showcase their talent & identity. Several countries, states & provinces from all around the world set up beautiful pavilions, bringing the world together to get a taste of each other’s world & leaving a trail of art & culture in Pakistan’s already abundant history & diversity. Locals open their hearts & homes to foreigners & they often reside with them, showcasing Pakistan’s acceptance & progression. As per tradition, the festival opens with a chadarposhi and dastarbandi ceremony, which is a way of proclaiming Lok Virsa’s commitment to the high stature that craftspeople and folk artists have in the cultural mainstream.

Baba Bulleh Shah Urs Festival in Pakistan

Moving on to Sufism, a philosophical way of living that encourages soul-searching from within & shuns worldly desires has been part of Pakistan’s rich historical and traditional heritage. To this day, the strong values of Sufism are applauded & celebrated through many festivals in various regions of Pakistan. Several aspects of our diverse culture are influenced by Sufism poetry, music, dance, & passionate devotion to serving mankind. One of the most renowned festivals that celebrate this spirit of brotherhood & selfless devotion is the Baba Bulleh Shah Urs festival. Baba Bulleh Shah was a Sufi philosopher & poet during the 1700s who lived through a period of an intense ethnic clash between Sikhs & Muslims. He was a strong advocate for non-violence, an approach that was well-received & ignited hope in these times of despair. It played a huge role in uniting the two cultural groups into co-existing harmoniously. Today, this festival is celebrated all over the nation as an ode to his efforts & our community’s progression & unanimity.