Saturday, December 11, 2010

Celebrating festivals - then and now.

I love Autumn and Winter-they have a very festive air about them! First and foremost, the weather - an oppresively hot city like Chennai, starts getting cooler once we cross October. Navratri, Durga Puja Diwali, Christmas and Eid- so many festivals ! Let  me try and express  how I feel about this season. Since we are in December or Marghazi  I will start with this month and go backwards.

I love the early "Margazhi mornings"- the music playing from the temple loudspeakers as I go for my morning walk. Occasionally I meet a troupe of Bhajan Singers dressed in thick sweaters and scarves braving the Chennai "cold" weather. I remember a childhood waking up to listening to my mother play M. L. VasanthaKumari's Thiruppavai- songs of Andaal ( our own South Indian version of Meerabai) of Sriviliputhur asking her friends to join her for a morning swim and pluck flowers to make garlands for her lord.

I absolutely adore the "Christmasssy" feel of the December evenings- the brightly lit houses and churches with the stars hanging outside, the Christmas trees that are put up. At home, I enjoy the hustle and bustle of getting things together to bake a cake ( though I dont actually bake I definitely participate in the spirit of the activity!), the conspiracy of buying presents to put under the Christmas tree and ofcourse listening to any carol singers who might come home. At college I remember being part of a carol group that used to go singing within and outside the campus.

Going further back into Oct- Nove,  I cherish the feel of  the Diwali and Durga Puja season. I love the crazy shopping adventures, the "bakshanams" to be bought and distributed for Diwali and the lighting of lamps in the evening. (What I probably do not like about Diwali is the sound of the crackers that in Chennai starts so early in the morning. )

Durga Puja - which is the first  festival that heralds this season of enjoyment has a very special place in my heart-it is the festival of my childhood. Early mornings on Mahalya day ,  All India Radio used to play the Devi Shloka " Ya Devi Sarva bhutesho"..... Sanskrit shlokas recited by artistes of the AIR Kolkata in a distinctly strong Bengali accent. Come Saptamai, the memories are of evenings  spent at  "pandals" with beautiful Durga Pratimas, the bustling crowds, the blasting music in loudspeaks and the new clothes that we used to wear.

Somewhere in this season would also come Eid after the month of Ramzan when our Muslim friends used to share Biryani and Sweets  ( in my case only the Sevai sweet as I am a vegetarian) with us during my days at Hyderabad.

I sometimes wonder if I had lived anywhere other than in India, would I have had the pleasure of being part of so many festivals in a matter of just 3-4 months? Right from my childhood every festival was a celebration whether I understood the religious significance of it or not.  There was a spirit of brother/sisterhood in everything that we did during these celebrations. Our muslim and christian friends would be as much a part of Diwali cracker bursting as we would be part of the carol singing. It was more than just "religious tolerence" that was expected of citizens of a secular country.  As  a secular country, in India  all  festivals  have a cultural angle to them which make them very inclusive.

But these days I sometimes sense a feeling of aloofness among some people when it comes to celebrations. I first sensed this during my college days when one of my classmates asked me "Why are you joining all this carol singing. You are not a Christian"? I was so shocked to hear that. I had never thought that there was a religious angle to it. 

Today as a Hindu married to a Christian and living in a largely Tamil Brahmin neighbourhood I sense again this feeling of exclusion when I am not invited by any of my neigbours for the navrathri gollu exhibitions. I dont know if they think that I may have converted and become a christian and are therefore punishing me by exclusion. But the question is what is wrong in inviting a Christian neighbour for an exhibition of dolls?

What in my understanding seems to be the change these days is that a certain religious "perversity" seems to be underlying celebrations of all festivals. This has led to certain behaviour patterns that border on aggression while celebrating any festival- an aggression that seems to announce the fact "yes we belong to this relgion and we will jolly well celebrate this festival!". Now there is nothing wrong in exercising that right in a secular country like ours. What I am lamenting about is the loss of that  genuine spirit of happiness that used to be so infectious in those good old days- when cultures used to diffuse from one religion into another like a fragrance.

Today though we growing technologically and economically more prosperous as a nation, we seem to have become narrower in our thinking. We seem to be  heading towards an India where we are trying to reinvent ourselves using religion as the parameter of defining difference. And while defining ourselves we are also defining the "other' who is no longer  accepted as the neighbour who lived with us for decades and whose children played with ours on the same streets!

Sad but true...!

2 comments:

cc said...

Dear Meera, It was great. It was really a thought provoking one. I think you could be a wonderful writer. I wish you to become a known indian. I love to quote some of your powerful sentences.
"It was more than just "religious tolerence" that was expected of citizens of a secular country. As a secular country, in India all festivals have a cultural angle to them which make them very inclusive."
"Why are you joining all this carol singing. You are not a Christian"? I was so shocked to hear that. I had never thought that there was a religious angle to it. "
"What I am lamenting about is the loss of that genuine spirit of happiness that used to be so infectious in those good old days- when cultures used to diffuse from one religion into another like a fragrance."

meerasrajan said...

Thank you. May your wishes come true - Inshallah!

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