Sunday, April 11, 2010

#29. Indian Festivals: A Viewpoint

Festivals- Indian Style

Muslims slaughter a whole goat for Id-uz-zuha (Bakrid or Qurbani), and eat kebabs and sewai (vermicelli and milk pudding) on the occasion of Id-ul-Fitr. Christians have turkey on Christmas day which is almost ten times the size of a gawthi murghi (local fowl). And Hindus f-a-s-t during festivals. It is true for Ram Navmi, Janmashtami, Shivratri, Durga Puja and also for the Festival of Lights, which generally falls in end October-November. On this day, people are supposed to fast for the day, worship the Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi, in the evening and then partake food. I frankly don’t know why fasting is so closely associated with the rites and rituals of Hindu religion. Why, even the bride is supposed to fast on the day of her marriage, what to say of Teej and Karva Chauth when fasting is more rigorous. The other fad intricately linked with our religion (and fasting) is turning veggie on certain days. Tuesday most of North India turns vegetarian. During Navratri (nine days before Dashera), people keep fast, some do not take salt even and those who don’t fast are emotionally blackmailed by their wives to be strict veggie during those nine days. And when our pandits were not satisfied with nine days of fasting during Dashera, they discovered another Navratri before Ram Navmi, the birth anniversary of Ram (one of the trinity of the most revered forms of God (Ram, Krishna and Shiva). Another nine days of fasting and/or vegetarianism. Panditji will counter with the remark: ‘What about Muslims who fast during the entire thirty days of the month of Ramzan?’ ‘But my dear Sri Watson, they take two meals during the day, Sehri in the morning and Iftaar in the evening. Anyway, to dilute what I said before, during our childhood days, we looked forward to such fasting festivals to eat something different for the everyday routine. Potato, sago, nuts, milk pudding with makhana (popped lotus seeds), banana and all kinds of fruits, and loaf made of dried waternut and kuttu flour. Thus some of the laity does have a gastronomic gala time, It is the religiose who have to suffer. Suffering, tapasya (penance),, and sanyam (abstemiousness) are intrinsically linked with Hinduism and Jainism.
They say that Rakshabandhan is a festival of the Brahman (the thinkers, advisors and teachers), Dashera of the Kshatriya (the warriors), Diwali for the Vaishya (the business class) and Holi for the Shudra (slaves and those who did menial work). Kshatriyas do shastra puja (weapon worship) on Dashera day. When my father was killed by a petty dacoit in his village, I started shastra puja on the Dashera day despite being born in a Brahman family. My wife is horrified. In spite of being a Kayastha, she keeps fast on Thursdays, and another three days in the week are vegetarian for her. Needless to say, the remaining three days are festive for her, and that gastronomic delight gives its share to poor me as well.
In most of North India, crackers start bursting from about 5 p.m. almost continuously on the Diwali day, and keep on and on till about 11 p.m. when it subsides a little. My wife’s cousin is so sound allergic that he runs away from Mumbai on that day. My nastiest thought on such blunderbussing is that it would be easy to shoot somebody on Diwali day without anybody getting wiser.
Crackers bring accidents, and during my childhood and even young days, it was a routine for me to get burnt on diwali, though, touch wood, everytime it was nothing serious. During my civil services examination more than three and a half decades ago, I burnt my right hand (mercifully not seriously), and for a few days after that I was in jitters. Thank God my writing hand was absolutely fit on the day of the next paper.
One good custom is to clean and whitewash your house just before Diwali. The geo-climatic reason is not far to seek. October-November is the end of rainy season in India, and the right time to do some cleaning and printing.
A phenomenon which I have been observing for a few decades is the confusion on the exact date of some of the festivals. So some people observe it one day, and some on the next. My feeling is that it is a confusion deliberately created by the pandits who let you perform the puja and other religious rites. If you have the same festival on two successive dates, a pandit can visit more homes. Muslims also have confusion about the exact date of the two Ids, but that is firmed up when you see the moon, and there is no duplication of dates.
So enjoy your Diwali sweets, kheer-pudi, and the variety of fried goodies which many of the ladies still prepare with love and care in north Indian homes. Happy Diwali!

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