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The Hindu-shaming of Hindu festivals

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architecture student, a researcher on Maratha History and Hindu Renaissance in India. Avid Reader trying to foray in cultural journalism. Classical music aficionado and a Deshbhakt above all!

The subtle sermonizing on our festivals was not enough, that now the backdrop of our festivals has again become an opportunity for some to divide us on linguistic fault lines.

“Durga Puja is indeed more Bengali than Hindu” an argumentative Twitter user ranted. Some of us have suddenly had a revelation in recent times that celebrations which revolve their existence around Hindu calendars are ought to be painted ‘Secular’. The argument is being made that Hindu festivals are celebrated by non-Hindus in large numbers which makes them less ‘Hindu’ is thwarted upon the very origin and existence of these festivals. A similar narrative was being wrapped around our minds during Onam, this year. A caste angle was also brought in specifically in this argument that Keralites, unlike other Hindus chose to celebrate Mahabali over Vamana, the latter being painted as casteist in popular notion. Certain questions tend to arise as we dissect through this recent narrative – Does the celebration of Durga Pooja and Vishu by Non-Hindus make them non-Religious festivals? Is there a conscious attempt to hide the Hindu credentials of our festivals or is it a quest for regional identity? And does acknowledging the Hindu character of these festivals make them less inclusive for our Non-Hindu brethren?

The communist worldview of authoritatively commenting on the Dharmic way of living and patronizingly inserting its paradoxical logic on Hindu rituals is hilarious. However, it is proving tragic for Hinduism as leftist agnostic ideals have called upon a war by questioning the very character of the Hindu sensibilities. A normal layman Hindu is far away from discovering this scavenges on his own ideals by ulterior narratives. He in turn, goes on re-checking his own practices one festival after another. A Hindu is a womanizer when he celebrates Navratri revering the feminine divine and disregards the womanhood after the nine-day festival ends. Come Diwali, he destroys the environmental balance in a single day by burning crackers. On Holi, he proves himself to be a molester, by throwing semen-filled balloons on women. This rhetoric is beyond mere generalizations. They not only strive to convince you that Hinduism promotes anti-social elements but they make our regional identity contest with our consciousness as a religion.

And when the systematic witch-hunt fails to carve out divisive results, it’s already the time to embrace the festivities but work for its Hindu credentials to go away. Your festivals will be retained, but the religious character must be washed off. The subtle sermonizing by influential brands on our festivals was not enough, that now the backdrop of our festivals has again become an opportunity for some to divide us into linguistic fault lines. Thus, Vishu becomes Malayali festival and Durga Pooja and Bengali one and certainly, these are not Hindu Festivals. The reason given is simple – Just because they cut across many non – Hindu Keralites and Bengalis, these festivals don’t remain Hindu anymore!

The very nature of an Indian Festival is a complex one. It is a celebration of goodness and coming together of a community regardless of social barriers through birth anniversary of a religious divine, a historical event, welcoming a new season, a change in the astronomical setting or sometimes all combined into one! Our festivals resonate greatly with the natural cycles which make them ecologically sensitive, given we being a surviving pagan culture. Plus, it is a backdrop for spiritual fulfilment and a playground for self-expression. We have thousand different ways to celebrate one festival, with each home having its own culture to go about it. And thus it is the very nature of Dharmic Festivals that their dynamism resonates with all communities and they thus cut across all the cross sections of the society to celebrate it.

So when all communities come together to celebrate a Hindu festival, does that make it a non-religious one? In fact, it is Hinduism itself which goes beyond many boundaries to make it an all-encompassing inclusive gathering. Our Festivals are deeply secular because they are Hindu at the core. They are also religious at the same time because there is a science attached to the practices. The science of pouring life into a decorated idol called Prana-pratishtha, feeding the goddess Bhog and praying her like a mother, to her immersion into the natural forces underlines the Dharmic philosophy of cyclic life. At the outset, worshipping an idol itself makes us religious and at the same time makes us infidels when looked through the Abrahamic lens. From being religious celebrations to socio-cultural gatherings, Hindu festivals are deeply religious and culturally liberating at the same time. For Religion and social order don’t contest against each other in India, they only converge into each other many a time.

A game of Identities

Now, if a Bengali celebrates Durga Pujo he must be secular because he invites his Muslim neighbours to the Pandal. But if a Hindu celebrates the festival revering Durga, he is a hypocrite as he will be generalized for committing crimes against women for rest of the year while worshipping a goddess for mere nine days. At the same time, A Bengali-Hindu in the same Pandal becomes communal because cannot see the festival beyond religious lines and deters to give away its Hindu credentials.

Identities remain personal in India’s social context and they are central to individuals. But, when they are snatched out of one’s personal space to suit a vilification of our collective social possessions, it becomes a hate-driven agenda. Moreover, it is always the Hindu ideals that are challenged. No eyebrows are raised when Nusrat Jehan, a TMC MP performs Pujo and the Mullahs go berserk.

The trope of creating divisions within differences has been systematically employed to create fault lines by highlighting our religious, cultural and linguistic identities. Never before on the account of any Hindu festival in Kerala or Bengal, were the linguistic identity and religious identity separated. It looks like these identities are made to contest against each other to serve a purpose of creating pockets of political vote banks. It also seems like the intellectual divide-and-rule is here to stay.

The slandering of our fundamentals by unassuming divisors within or external is not new. The festive season of pontificating the eternal discourse of dharmic ideals is here. The challenge now remains for us to keep celebrating our ideas and not give away them against sophisticatedly carved out divisive world views. We as a nation must realize that despite of our million ways live and look at life in different ways; we are bound by a sacred geography that is the seat of continuing Civilization. Also, for a civilizational state like us our federal character is bound by our strong sovereignty.  It is only when we assert our civilizational priorities that we will give away the slandering of our Hindu consciousness.

  • – Suyash Sherekar

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architecture student, a researcher on Maratha History and Hindu Renaissance in India. Avid Reader trying to foray in cultural journalism. Classical music aficionado and a Deshbhakt above all!
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