Monday, October 31, 2011


Every religion has its festival time. Christians celebrate Christmas & New Year with great fanfare. Muslims have Ramzan and Bakrid which they celebrate with a lot of religious fervor; Sikhs and Jains even have a few festivals coinciding with the Hindus.

But Hindus have more religious festivals than others to propitiate the countless gods and goddesses that they worship. India is supposed to have 25,000 Melas celebrated across the country. These Melas invariably coincide with local temple festivals in different States or specific religious occasions attracting thousands of devotees ranging from a few thousands to several Lakhs. The biggest among them being the Kumbh Mela which attracts over 10 crore people to Allahabad every 12 years!

Hindus also have a number of festivals celebrated at the family level. Apart from the mandatory New Year celebrations they have Krishna Jayanthi to appease Lord Krishna, the fun loving Lord whose advice to Arjuna in the battlefield in Mahabaratha gave us the Bhagavad Gita. Ganesha, the elephant god, very popular across India, has Ganesh Chaturthi dedicated to him which is celebrated with music and dance for 10 days in Maharashtra and many other parts of India. Similarly Navaratri is celebrated in different forms in different regions. While exhibition of dolls (Kolu) dominates the festival in Tamilnadu, it is Durga Puja in Bengal and Garba in Gujarat. Of course, Diwali the festival of lights is celebrated with firing of crackers across the country and in which members of other religions also participate.

When I was growing up in Mumbai, the children used to look forward to this festival because of the fun and excitement associated with it. Diwali used to be a special occasion which the locals, particularly the Gujaratis, used to celebrate for three days. For Gujarathis, Diwali also marked the beginning of a New Year.

In our family, as for most South Indians, Diwali is a one day affair. The night before Diwali; my mother would apply kumkum and turmeric powder on all the new dresses to be worn by every member of the family and neatly arrange them in the Pooja room along with some packets of Diwali crackers. In the morning, she would wake up the kids by 3.30 am so that all of them could have their Ganga Snanam (oil bath) and wear the new dresses before sun rise. Before the bath, all the children and elders in the house would be asked to sit in a row on the floor in front of the pooja room and my mother would apply a dash of hot gingelly oil, kumkum and turmeric powder on the forehead, hands and feet and then perform arati; before anyone was allowed to have his/her bath. While doing this she would also explain the significance of the rituals to the kids. Then there would be a scramble to get into the single bathroom; as the kid who managed to have a bath; get dressed and fire the “pattas” (electric crackers) first was considered a `hero` or `heroin` in the colony! Invariably the noise generated would wake up the entire neighborhood, if they were not already awake!

Then it would be time for tasting the special Diwali savories and sweets that my mother would have prepared with lots of love and keeping in mind the special preferences of different members of the family. Later on the family members would visit the neighbors to wish them for Diwali asking the question `Ganga Snanam Acchha? (Have you had the sacred bath?); and to exchange sweets. Diwali was also the occasion when youngsters would seek the blessings of the elders by prostrating before them wearing their new dresses.

It is sad that modern day kids are being brought up by the overstressed parents without exposure to several of the fun rituals associated with Indian festivals. When I ring up my children, who all have their own families now, to wish them Happy Diwali at 7.30 in the morning, I find that it is a wake up call I am giving them as the whole family is taking it easy being a declared public holiday.

Thanks to the propaganda against crackers which creates atmospheric and noise pollution, even the modern day children are not as excited about firing crackers as we were in our times! With many of the popular Sweet and Savories shops offering readily packed sweets and savories special for every festival, most of the young mothers take the easy way out, buying such packets, instead of spending time in the kitchen. It is the same story with most of the festivals.

I feel sorry that the modern day kids are growing up without any knowledge of our tradition and culture! But I suppose each generation has to live with the changing values and priorities of the next generation.

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