Sunday, October 03, 2004

festivals of india

India is a large, beautiful and bountiful country. It could be renamed Utopia, if only there were less number of festivals! Unfortunately, whilst Christians, like the Muslims and Buddhists believe in only one God, we Indians have a multitude of them. The Bengalis have aptly coined a phrase – ‘baro mashey tero parban’ meaning twelve months and thirteen festivals! There are enough valid reasons for having so many of them – the country is large, dialects are many, climatic conditions vary from area to area. Obviously, if one part of the country celebrates a festival to pay homage to the Gods for a good harvest, those in some other area will have to wait for their turn.

Another factor which influences the decision to have a multiplicity of festivals is to honor the social hierarchy. I am no socialist, I have no ill feelings against any group but, it has to be agreed that celebration of festivals lead to monetary gains by certain sections of society. The power to interact with the divine elements is bestowed only on certain groups, hence they are very much in demand to perform the rituals and are in a position to dictate terms. In order to perform these rituals, specific items are required – as a result, those who are involved in their manufacture get an opportunity to market their products. New dresses and utensils are mandatory whereas sweets and firecrackers add to the charms of any festival – hence, these also gain importance. It, therefore, stands to reason that the more the festivals, the greater is the satisfaction level of all concerned.

Let us take the New Year. The whole world celebrates it on the first day of January. The Bengalis celebrate it on the first day of January apart from pehla Baishakh, (in the middle of April) - Baishakh being the first month of the Bengali calendar. On this occasion, the business community worships Sri Ganesha the God of Prosperity. Right from the smallest of shopkeepers to the largest of retail store owners, especially the jewelers invite their regulars and try to rope in new comers into their exclusive chain. On the other hand, worshipping of Ganeshji is a ten day festival in Maharastra and is performed in each and every household and not confined to the business community only.

The Sikhs celebrate their new year on the day prior to that of the Bengalis. The Sikhs call it Baisakhi and bhangra dances usher in the Punjabi New Year.

Similarly, the kite festival for the Bengalis coincides with the worship of Lord Viswakarma, the God of Engineering. On this occasion, every worker cleans all his machines and associated tools and worships Lord Viswakarma to seek his blessings so that outputs for the next year can be given as planned without anything adverse happening. In the South, Lord Viswakarma is worshipped during Ayudh Puja (the day previous to Dassera) and the kite festival is not linked to this at all. The kite festival is held on Sankranti day. Holi is yet another festival which is celebrated mainly in the North and the East on the full moon day – but, in Maharastra, it is shifted by five days and called as Rang Panchami.

The reasons for staggering the festivals and having so many of them seem to be related to business strategies. With less number of festivals, the sale of consumer goods get restricted to only that period but, in India, there are no such restrictions. The whole world is a stage and each day brings with it newer opportunities to jump on to the bandwagon to share the spoils!