There is a common phrase in Bengali, “Baro mashe tero parbon” which roughly translated means thirteen festivals in twelve months referring to the innumerable festivities we Bengalis (or for that matter Indians) celebrate. This phrase accurately describes the festival loving country ours is. We Indians, I believe are a merry lot, we love our festivals, the celebration, gaiety and the fun associated with all of them.
Apart from our own indigenous festivals that we have been celebrating for ages and which has come down to us from generation to generation, we have now happily added innumerable Western festivities to the list of merriment. Be it our religious festivities like Holi, Diwali, Eid, Onam, Pongal, Christmas or the newly added Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Friendship Day, the list is endless. Add to it our national festivals and we Indians indeed prove that we need a mere reason to deck up ourselves and our surroundings and celebrate.
Apart from the usual hullabaloo and celebrations, what makes festivals more joyous is the fact that these occasions serve to be a get together for families, friends and loved ones. These festivals are the much awaited times when all loved ones gather and bond over food, celebration and long chats. Food is undoubtedly the most important part of every festival and is undoubtedly my favorite bit. It is interesting to note that a lot of festivals have a tradition of food arrangements unique to them. For example til ke laddoo (sesame seed and jaggery balls) during Baisakhi, sewaiyaan (sweetened vermicelli) during Id, eggnog during Christmas, gujiya (a stuffed and fried sweet dish) and thandai (soft drink) during Holi, roasted turkey during Thanksgiving and srikhand (sweetened and flavored yoghurt) during Janmashtami.
Festivals are also a way of keeping up with our cultural and religious traditions and remembering our history. Most festivals have specific messages, traditions and stories associated with them. For example-
Holi – It is very similar to the carnival idea in the Western cultures. For one day people forget their cultural and class differences and enjoy applying colors on each other so that they become indistinguishable from one another. Another theme that is associated is the story of Holika which reminds us of the ultimate destruction of evil. Holika dahan (burning of the evil’s pyre) is one integral part of the celebration.
Christmas - Celebration of the birth anniversary of Jesus Christ. Traditions include decorating Christmas trees, making cribs and singing carols. Children and also told stories about Santa Claus, a kind bearded old man who lives at the North Pole and gives generous presents to kind kids on Christmas.
Dussehra and Diwali - These two festivals are celebrated one after another, the first being a celebration of Good’s victory of Evil through the story of King Ram’s victory over Ravan. Diwali is a celebration of Ram’s return to his home after 14 years of exile.
Muharram – This is a little different from other festivities as it is a celebration of the bravery of Imam Hussain, Prophet Mohammed’s grandson. Muharram is the first month in the Islamic calendar and the first ten days are a period of mourning for Muslims who mourn the death of Imam Hussain in the Battle of Karbala (in Iraq) on the tenth of the month. Being a mournful festival, it does not include very colorful celebration as people wear black clothes and pray for the martyr. Scenes from the battle depicting the hero’s bravery are enacted and regular prayers are held.
In a nutshell, festivals serve as the comic relief to our usual regular mundane lives. It is these occasional breaks from our monotonous daily lives that help us forget our worries for a short period of time and relax. This month is particular is one of celebration all over the country as people from different parts of the country celebrate the beginning of the New Year according to the Indian national calendar (or the Saka calendar). So Happy Vishu, Baisakhi, Rongali Bihu and Subho Noboborsho to everyone!!