Many a festival like Ganesh Chaturthi was once limited to a close circle within the family living in villages during the 50s and before. Things began changing slowly as the celebrations spread to towns during the 80s. Today as we move into the 21st century what we witness is the high-decibel extravaganzas that rock us
WORDS: MADHURI. Y
Hindu festivals are linked to spirituality as according to Hindu Dharma, they increase the sattvikta (spiritual content or purity) in us to build a better society. However, modern man is a different man. Though he now celebrates festivals nearly with the same ardour as he showed in the past his spiritual inclinations sadly have gone down.
During the 1950s and in pre-Independence era, the country’s population was largely confined to villages. Festivals meant a family waking up early, bathing, cleaning the house, making rangolis with rice flour and performing the puja with bhakti and religious fervour.
Special food would be cooked and the festival would be a private and intra-family affair. Going to temples on festival days was limited to bigger festivals like Ram Navami in the South during which there was a special attraction as Ramayana would be recited for nine days by experts whose erudition and humour would be the talk of the town.
And 30 years later in the 1980s, families having lived in villages for centuries had moved to towns and cities.
Living not far from their villages, many of these migrant families were still bound to their roots and were intent on carrying their puja rituals and heritage with them.
Though the practice of buying new clothes, making rangolis, cooking festival delicacies continued, new forms of religious get-togethers came up like community dancing and singing that went with each festival.
In the public mind, garba over shadowed the puja in Navratri; bursting endless firecrackers for Diwali and kite-flying and kite-fighting on Uttarayan. Though these were outward manifestations, the symbolism of religiosity was adhered to.
But, a change had begun and modern man was evolving. Puja and bhakti at home was giving way to festival ritual. Increasing numbers began visiting temples to witness mega celebrations and crowds began to swell. Celebrations counted over worship.
Came the 2010s. Worship at home continued with ardent devotion but there was significant drop in those doing puja. Worship was turning into symbolism and one was content with lighting a lamp or offering flowers rather than go the whole hog in following the rituals.
“Books are available which can tell you the entire story and the significance of the rituals. The point is not devotion in performing the ritual, it pertains to everything we do right from plucking flowers to getting things ready for the puja,” says Sujatha Garimella of Ahmedabad.
Fall in the number of people worshipping at home synchronised with a rise in people thronging to temples on festival days which led to heavy rush and stampedes. But what this meant was festival celebration was not restricted to families at home as it co-opted
the housing societies and brought communities together. Public pandals came into being as a mark of community affair overriding individual worship. It also brought in rivalry: bigger the pandal, larger the crowd and bigger the acclaim.
Navratri is probably the best example in which celebration is at its peak as opposed to worship. Once the mandatory aarti is done, what was meant to be a ritual circling around the lamp and the goddess had turned into mega fun and frolic. Over the nine days of Navratri, fashionable dress and colour codes are agreed upon; garba practice sessions would begin a month in advance; slimming centres making hay with promises of crash weight loss to give a lean look in the Navratri garb.
“A festival celebration is supposed to be about learning to do good to others,” says veteran Wing Commander Aran Kaul. “Since we have taken religion out of the festival, people seem to have dissociated goodness from festival.”
Yet, not all public celebrations are pointless. Those in housing societies get a chance to meet his unknown neighbour leading to knitting the social fabric. Living as we do close to others yet we seem to be strangers. Festival celebrations are probably the only means to bring back the lost personal touch with those who otherwise would be forgotten in an era of modern living.
It is heartening to see if for any reason, the priest of one religion is unavailable, the other two priests conducting the ritual. This, I feel is the perfect example of an India that is united socially and spiritually. That is the way a religion is supposed to be.”
“During Ganesh Chaturthi, puja is done as per the viddhi (method). Religion is personal, and when we follow it with an understanding of each part of the ritual, it is meaningful and good for our peace and physical health,’ says Anima Palshikar, a resident of Ahmedabad.
“Societies seem to be in competition with neighbouring societies,’ says Anima. This is evident from the noisier celebrations. ‘Sarvajanik’ (community) celebrations have nothing to do with God, retaining none of the original meaning. Festivals are part of the flow of culture from generation to generation, and celebrating these with filmy music and dance misses the spiritual point.”
The idea of making festivals knit the social fabric seems to have gone missing and what one sees today is a tendency to harm the environment, health of public and breach of peace and tranquillity. Following are dismal pointers when festivals turn into disturbance:
Environment turns smoky in Delhi for a week after Diwali from indiscriminate bursting of fire crackers, some of which are noise pollutants and health hazards.
Ganesh Visarjan (immersion) leaves toxic wastes behind in ponds, lakes, and rivers. These water resources are our priceless assets Nature has endowed. All one has done in the name of staging a “festival” is immersing giant, chemically painted Ganeshas, some of which remain partly submerged long after the immersions are over. Then there are the long-winding processions that halt traffic for hours. Religion is a sensitive subject and none dare to speak about the inconvenience it causes for fear of being branded an atheist.
Navratri usually sees high decibels for all the nine days with loud speakers blaring as garbas continue late into the night. Babies, infirm and the sick suffer the most.
Holi is another festival when bonfires are lit on the road that obstructs traffic. Sparks can be seen flying in all directions from these fires and a disaster could be in waiting.
During Uttarayan kite-flying, many birds routinely die as the glass-tinged kite strings (maanza) get entangled in birds’ wings. People too have died riding a two-wheeler when the deadly strings graze the neck. Children too have fallen from terraces, losing their balance over the parapet.
Janmashtami sees gamblers making a quick buck while bhang (edible form of cannabis) is the toast of Maha Shivaratri. The soul of the festival is gone. Instead, it is all about pomp and show and one-upmanship in staging the festival that reflects money and muscle power.