Genuine Festivals

Modern Mythmaking 10 Comments

Published in Devlok, Sunday Midday, February 20, 2011

Last Monday was Valentine’s Day. People were sending text messages of love or buying teddy bears. There were parties being organized. And people were saying, “Happy Valentine’s Day.” Then there were articles accusing the ‘festival’ of Westernization and commercialisation, and not being genuine. So one wonders: what is a genuine festival?

Festivals are manmade constructs not natural phenomena. Republic Day did not exist before India’s independence from British Rule. But today it is an important day to reaffirm our faith in the Indian nation state. Does that make it a genuine festival?

Ancient scriptures are full of stories of Madan-utsav and Vasant-utsav, festivals of the love-god and spring, when men and women danced on the streets dressed in yellow and dancers and musicians and prostitutes were celebrated. Women were encouraged to drink and dance and embrace trees to enable them to bear flowers. Today these festivals do not exist in their original form. They have been sanitized as Vasant-panchami when writers and poets are celebrated, Saraswati is worshipped in her serene glory and everyone wears yellow. Or as Holi, which though still bawdy, shies away from referring to Kama, the god of lust, who rides a parrot or Rati, the goddess of sex, who rides the pigeon. Are these less genuine festivals?

Festivals are essentially days that are rendered special by various social forces. Religions have special observance days: when Christ was born (Christmas), when the earliest verses of the Koran were revealed to the Prophet (Ramzan), when the Hebrews escape Egyptian captivity (Passover), when Mahavir was born (Mahavir Jayanti) or when Durga killed Mahisha (Vijaya Dashami). Had there been no religion, these days would not have been special. Nation states have their own special days: when Gandhi was born (Gandhi Jayanti), when independence was declared (Independence day), when a state was created (Maharashtra day, Orissa day). Had there been no nation state, these festivals would not have existed. Every family has its own special days: birth and death and marriage anniversaries.

Now in the post-liberalization era, consumerism is creating its special days. As is westernization. So last year saw Halloween parties and Thanksgiving parties. I don’t think anyone had a clue that it had to do with American culture. Everybody was having fun dressing up as a witch or a warlock, and eating turkey. I guess, we just need an excuse to have a good time. We need someone to tell us that a day is special and then tell us what to do on that day. That someone is either a priest or a politician or a shopkeeper.

We may look down upon them but we need them. So there are days when you don’t eat or don’t drink or eat only vegetables or drink only wine or wear only white clothes, or black clothes. These beliefs and rituals bind society, give it a form, a structure that comforts us by creating the illusion of stability.

  • Yes… I fully subscribe to this article…

  • Happiness is coming from without not within , Alas !wish it comes from within .

  • Sriharsh

    The problem is we in India already have a plathora of festivals and now we are adding some more. Some part of the community or the other is in a festive mood for what so ever reason and get on the nerves of the remaining. This display should be controlled. How is the question.

  • Rashmi Nair

    Illusions of stability often leads to hypocrisy in thinking and actions…..and then the circle continues to be woven in a ever spinning spiral!!!

  • ashim

    True Indian festivals were friendly and joyous affairs sans the beckon of commercialism prompted by a materialistic world. Alas, now materialism rules and thus the shopkeeper dictates the rituals for celebrating a festival !

  • Kishan

    Traditional festivals in India have a logic behind them.Holi signifies the spring season i.e.a pleasant season, neither winter cold nor summer heat, and that naturally brings in desire for male and female union.Baisakhi in Punjab and Haryana marks the onset of harvesting of Rabi crop.Diwali marks the onset of winter season.Before that Dussera marks the occasion for Kharif crop to be harvested and brought home.Before that the Pitr Paksh is a period when it is rainy season, nothing much to do for the farmer, so remember the dead previous generations(at least two generations).Makar Sankranti signifies peak winter, sun going into Uttarayan fro Dakshinayan.It is a festival of giving gifts mostly to elders and feeding animals.And so on.

  • “We need someone to tell us that a day is special and then tell us what to do on that day.”

    And spiritualists say each day is special each moment should be celebrated.

  • Festivals originated in specific situations -of climate, seasons, activities. When they are wrenched out of context and celebrated in totally different situations it leads to blind faith and open to exploitation by the leaders( priest, politician, shopkeeper / corporate – Santa Claus by Coke) who , in the guise of guiding us, hijack them for purely commercial profits.Can one celebrate the festival of Ganesh in urban Mumbai as in the village ? We create the ‘obstacles-Vighnas’ of pollution and pray to him to ‘ remove -Hara ‘ them !We have cunningly named him ‘vighna-harta’- a clear case passing the buck !

  • optyagi

    Festival in India in the villages means having new clothes for family and preparing good eatables for all the family members. The less the numbers of festivals for community, the more and more they enjoy. Celebration of festival was meant to add happiness to the already bored life. The poor villagers could only enjoy in name of celebrating a festival as they hardly have resources to make both ends meet. Too many festivals can add to the wastage of resources.

  • Giriraj Bhatia

    I absolutely agree with the thought.

    However, as always said, excess of everything is bad.

    We should celebrate but not everything.

    We should pick and choose according to our beliefs and emotions.