The recent celebration of Nowruz at Lok Virsa in Islamabad embodied the power of culture. Many from Pakistan’s Hazara, Gilgiti, Balti, and Afghan communities attended, along with hundreds of others from Islamabad and Rawalpindi. One could feel their sense of having been neglected and isolated for so long, together with the thrill of now being recognized as a cultural part of Pakistan.
Festivals celebrated by any Pakistani community are festivals of Pakistan
Yes, festivals of any community are festivals of Pakistan. Acknowledging and appreciating this diversity will help defuse the violent resentment that has piled up over the decades. With the efforts of the National Heritage Ministry and Lok Virsa, UNESCO now includes Pakistan among the 12 countries officially recognized as celebrating Nowruz.
Nowruz is the Persian for “new day” and its celebration welcomes spring as well as the new year. For many traditional cultures, including in Pakistan, the new year starts with spring. At Lok Virsa, these diverse communities were able to celebrate with their loved ones and with many others who had been unaware of the tradition.
Hazara women prepared special food for the day and proudly displayed their traditional costumes. The president of the Hazara Students Association said, “I feel so proud and grateful to Lok Virsa for recognizing us and organizing such a fantastic celebration. I can’t believe that this is a government platform that is celebrating our festival.”
The Afghan ambassador attended as the chief guest and as a partner, the embassy having helped provide displays and artists from the Afghan community in Pakistan. About 30 young men danced onstage, singing songs of celebration in Dari and Farsi.
The evening performance at the open-air theatre mesmerized audiences: the Silk Route Caravan Group performed dances representing trading caravans crossing what is popularly known as the old Silk Route. There were sword dances and songs in Wakhi, Farsi, and Shina. The performance ended with the famed singer Meherangez, who sang Sufi verses in Farsi and entranced her audience into singing with her.
Even rain could not interrupt the concert for long: the audience simply closed in around the stage, sheltering under the roof. They would not let the singers stop. The communities that celebrate Nowruz took centre-stage and every one else celebrated with them. And this is how the process of healing begins.
Dr Fouzia Saeed is executive director of Lok Virsa in Islamabad. The translations of Hafez in the captions are credited to Michael Boylan and Mage Publishers