Rearticulating the festive spirit
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.
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.