The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, November 3, 2002
Lead Article

Rearticulating the festive spirit
by Manisha Gangahar
IT'S gala time... time for celebrations and jubilations. It is Divali time!! Year after year, we indulge in merry-making at this time of the year and it seems as if the Indian panorama has come to life. In fact, life itself emerges with all its vigour. Are festivals merely a means of digression from the daily routines or are they about confirming one’s religious sentiments? Or, perhaps, there is more to these festivities.

In fact, the heterogeneity of cultures and traditions in India gives people an opportunity to celebrate a range of festivals throughout the year. Although, in recent times, we have become indifferent towards the significance of these festivals but the values and sentiments attached to them remain embedded in the psyche of even the so-called modern Indian. Festivals and ceremonies are, to an extent, central to the essentialised idea of India as "a mystery and a muddle" that Forster found it hard to comprehend in A Passage To India. Whether it is nature worship or beliefs and concepts, they all add to the mysticism of India that has always lured the West.


Each individual needs to have a sense of belonging to particular place or a clan, and cultural or religious ties that the person establishes with it further bestow a sense of identity. A distinctive feature of these events is that they help people to reconfirm that sense of identity. However, religious underpinnings have always been the dominant trait of festivals. Durga puja in Bengal and Ganesh Chaturthi of Maharashtra are festivals during which life becomes a bustling affair for days together. On the last day, the idols of goddess Durga and Ganesh are carried in processions to be immersed in water. In Mysore, the concourses blaze with colours for Dasehra celebrations. The festival otherwise celebrates Lord Rama’s victory over Ravana but in Mysore it celebrates Goddess Chamundeswani.

The most popular of all festivals is Deepawali, when Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile. Divali is also the day for Lakshmi pujan, or worshipping the goddess of wealth. This ‘festival of lights’ is celebrated by each and every person, irrespective of his faith in religious matters. Thus, it is an embodiment of the secular character of the people of India.

Another festival that infuses similar feelings is the Karga procession of Bangalore in which people from all sects and cults participate. The fact that it halts before the Dargah-e-sharif of Hazrat Mastan tells of the spirit of communal harmony. Indeed, the idea of secularism is best put across by Swami Vivekananda thus: "We have to learn yet that all religions, under whatever name they may be called, either Hindu, Buddhist, Mohammedan or Christian, have the same God, and he who derides any one of these derides his own God."

The festivals are emblematic of yet another fact of "Indianness" — the need for social communion. The idea is to break the barriers between castes and classes, allowing the dividing lines to blur in a spirit of fellowship. People, having curbed their inhibitions and prejudices, come together to partake in these festivities. The entire interlude, starting with Durga puja and ending with Divali, is characterised by this concept of "sharing" and "give and take" not only among equals but also across hierarchical divisions. Collective participation in the puja and in the commemoration of victory of good over evil with the burning of Ravana exemplifies the community spirit that the people of this country possess. Although Divali is more of a personal occasion, the exchange of gifts and visiting friends and relatives only emphasises the importance of socialising.

Another festival that cultivates the feeling of solidarity and, at the same time, legitimises the breaking of taboos of the social system is the festival of colours, Holi. The colours displace even the kernels of enmity and fill the gaps between the high and the low sections of society. It allows people to take pleasure in, otherwise proscribed, illicit buffoonery. Thus, the day is a kind of celebration of the democracy of castes and sexes as they all mingle together in the colours of the festival.

Like Holi that is "relation-specific" in a larger context, festival like Karvachauth and Raksha-Bandhan are focused on specific human ties. Karva is specific to the husband-wife union while Raksha-Bandhan reiterates the brother-sister bond. The Halloween of the West could be the parallel of the festival of Lohri in India. Children go from house to house to gather gifts or eatables and sweets. This brings to mind the concept of bhiksha that strengthens the sense of belonging and sharing one’s existence with others.

Harvest and fertility festivals a special significance for an agrarian country like India. Pongal in Tamil Nadu is symbolic of ripening of the crops and of copious harvest. The festival, which carries on for three days, is in praise of the Sun and the Rain gods. Pongal, interestingly, is the name of a dish of sweet rice. Kerala celebrates the bounties of nature and a full harvest with the festival of Onam. The people celebrate King Mahabali’s return to his kingdom every year. Floral decorations, fireworks and kathakali dance are central to the celebrations. Nonetheless, vallamkli or the boat race is the event that lures the crowds. A kind of sport is incorporated within the festival itself which is quite entertain for the participants as well as the spectators. Punjab celebrates the onset of monsoon with the songs of Teej. Before it falls Baisakhi that gets its name from the month of Vaisakha (April-May). It marks the advent of the harvest season. Dressed in vibrant colours and with mehndi applied on their hands, women participate quite actively in singing and dancing. Such occasions relieve them from their arduous schedules in villages. For Sikhs, it has a special significance as on his day the order of Khalsa was formed.

All these festivals, in fact, instil sensitivity among people towards their environment and culture. The festivals may have different forms or mythological themes and there may be varying ways of celebrating them but the fundamental theory behind them is the sense of togetherness and the culturally rich legacy of the people of India.


Sparklers that light up the star(ry) night

EVEN though Divali is at hand, the mood in Bollywood is not as buoyant as it should have been. This is mainly because there has been no reason to celebrate. Films have been falling like nine pins at the box-office and the general air is that of despondency.

Even so, old habits die hard. Showbiz, after all, is about showmanship. There certainly would be festivity dominated by gambling. The industry believes in the general refrain, 'If you don't gamble, you'll be an ass in your next life.'

RekhaRekha: Earlier, Divali used to be different. The whole family would come together and have a lot of fun. But it was never loud or pompous. Now, that my mother isn't around, there are no family get-togethers. This year, even as my sisters are not in town, it is going to quiet. I will take some time off for puja and distribute sweets. I will watch others celebrate, especially my staff. For the rest, I'll be with myself.

Anil Kapoor: I haven't planned anything big. There might be spontaneous celebrations. We (Anil and wife Sunita) plan to send gifts to close friends, as per tradition. We haven't planned the usual gambling sessions. It's usually a must-have with close friends.

Govinda: In the morning, I perform Lakshmi puja. Actually, Divali is like any other day for me. Producers and directors keep dropping by, as usual. I call up friends and relatives to wish them. The evening is spent with close friends and family. I enjoy lighting sparklers with my children, followed by a leisurely dinner with my wife and kids.

Juhi ChawlaJuhi Chawla: I will spend the day decorating our home with rangoli (coloured powder decoration). I love rangolis as they give a vibrant, festive feeling. Usually, during Divali, I put lots of fresh flowers all over the house and do puja. The evening is spent meeting close friends and sometimes playing cards. I never play for high stakes or big money. I believe that one should play cards just for fun, nothing else.

Rati AgnihotriRati Agnihotri: We don't play cards during Divali. My husband, Anil, and I go for puja at his office in the morning after offering prayers at home. I love candles. So in the evening I light up the entire house with them. Then we go to Anil's parents' place, where the entire family gets together to celebrate. We have lots of fun catching up on gossip, bursting firecrackers and playing different games. We plan to stick to the routine this year as well.

Shilpa Shetty
Shilpa Shetty:
I am going to be in London this Divali, doing some charity work. I think that's the best way to spend Divali. I don't like playing cards or partying during Divali.

My celebrations will depend on my son Tusshar's film Jeena Sirf Merre Liye. If it turns out to be a hit, we'll celebrate in a big way. Or else, it's going to be a damp Divali for us.


— Leisure Media News

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