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Just because I am a modern woman, doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy festivals. Traditional celebrations mean a lot to me and I’ll tell you why!
Every time I put up a post on Facebook about the various festivals I celebrate, I have to face a barrage of questions.
“How can an educated woman like you allow the celebration of festivals which uphold patriarchy?”
“Why are you teaching your children these baseless rituals?”
Well, I do celebrate festivals. And I have my own reasons for doing so.
The word ‘FESTIVAL’ comprises of eight alphabets and they can be decoded this way.
A festival is inextricably associated with food.
If it’s Saraswati Puja in Bengal, the combination of Khichdi Bhog, ‘Labra’, mixed vegetables and sweet Chutney is a must. There are long queues outside the pandals for a plate of this delicious spread.
Janmashtami celebrations are incomplete without offering Krishna his favourite fruit – the fruit of Palmyra. The kernel of the fruit is taken out and various delicacies are made from it.
Thekuas during Chhatt Puja and modak during Ganpati are also famous. A Navratri diet is equally popular which many women follow strictly. Kali Puja in Bengal is synonymous with mutton and Pulao.
These are the perfect opportunities for me to celebrate with my diverse neighbours and learn how to make these dishes.
Cooking a variety of delicacies, inviting people home and flaunting my culinary skills is another reason. It’s the perfect time to impress one and all with my skills.
My housewarming party in Bangalore was accompanied by a Satyanarayan Puja and a meal comprising Bengali-style Suji Halwa and Prasadam I had made. These dishes won hearts and made me some good friends.
Every festival has a relevant background. Be it historical, social, economic or political, it’s important to know the logic behind it. Tracing the history and looking up the rationale behind it makes the festival intriguing. In the process, we get to know more about our culture, folklore, myths and also the scientific principles that were applied to them.
For example, the Goddess of Snakes, ‘Manasa’ is popular in West Bengal and is worshipped throughout the year. If you look closely at the timing of the Puja, you will find that she is worshipped more frequently during the monsoon. I’ve heard from villagers that she is ‘a tough to please Devi’ and should be worshipped with great sincerity. It’s during the monsoon that the maximum number of people die of snake bites. Hence the frequency of the Puja gained momentum during the monsoon, besides being celebrated throughout the year.
Come April and the scourge of viral diseases is at its peak. Children, owing to their age and immunity are more prone to such diseases. High fever accompanied with delirium often proves to be fatal. This is the time when ‘Maa Shitala’, the Goddess who has the power to cool and calm you down is venerated every year.
There are many such stories behind festivals which are worth knowing and documenting.
Festivals are the perfect time to catch up with friends, family and relatives. It is an opportunity to organise and attend get-togethers. Most evenings are spent in the company of our near and dear ones, reliving old memories and creating new ones.
Festivals also break the monotony that sets in our life and give us a chance to modify our routine and escape from the drudgery. Old bonds are rejuvenated and new bonds are established, re-energizing us for the days ahead.
Festivals are synonymous with holidays; either a restricted holiday or an earned leave. It has always been a custom for us to grab the first calendar of the year and mark in red the festivals and the accompanying holidays.
Accordingly the travel plans for the year are chalked out. The long stretch of holidays during Durga Puja, Diwali and Christmas make it a perfect time for a break from the humdrum. It’s also the right opportunity to travel and visit those must-see places on our wish list.
It’s interesting that our country with its diverse groups of people has a lot of variety to offer. But we are all bound by a common thread. For example, while the Bengalis in the East celebrate the Goddess perched on a lion and name it Durga Puja, their counterparts in Northern India celebrate various forms of the Devi, mainly the one perched atop a tiger and call it Navratri or the nine forms of Durga. What is Durga Puja is Navratri in another part of the country!
Every part of India boasts of a rich repertoire of rituals and customs. New Year is celebrated throughout India. But the way in which the Assamese celebrate theirs is markedly different from that of the Punjabis. While it’s ‘Poila Boishakh’ in Bengal, it’s ‘Baisakhi’ in Punjab and ‘Bihu’ in Assam.
The theme is the same but the rituals differ. That is where the beauty of our country lies. When we celebrate with our Punjabi friends we earn a slice of their culture. When it’s Bihu, we soak in the Assamese rituals. The festivals are the only opportunity for the much-needed exchange, interaction and bonding.
I grew up watching my grandmother and mother celebrating these festivals in their own little way. “Celebrate it the way you want to. The moment you make rules and impose them, the fun is lost.” That was their motto.
Unknowingly I picked it up and started celebrating in my own way. Carrying on the legacy left behind by my ancestors has become my responsibility. Passing on the rich traditions to the next generation provides them with the much-needed base for development.
With every festival we celebrate, we impart important lessons to our offsprings. The value system gets firmly entrenched in their mind. ‘Light the torch and ensure that it burns’, is what we have followed through generations.
Festivals are the perfect time to flaunt my ethnic wear! The saris which hardly see the light of the day get an opportunity to be taken out, matched with accessories and clicked as a memory for the days to come. Deck up and enjoy, is another meaning of festivals.
Every festival that we celebrate gets captured in the lenses of the camera. Every moment is stored as a memory which we can always revisit. They remain the only link between our past and our present and serve as a guiding light for the future ahead.
Festivals serve to bridge the gap between tradition and modernity.
They will remain the only link between me and my child when I am long gone. For example, I am carrying on what I have learnt from my mother and grandmother. The same would apply to the next generation.
Every time I celebrate a festival, my children observe me minutely. I am aware that they are noting down the intricacies and inculcating them. It happens spontaneously just the way it happened with me when I was at an impressionable age.
I hope the next generation will continue celebrating our festivals, our culture and the ethos that accompany them.
Picture Credits: Szefei/Getty Images via Canva Pro
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Sreemati Sen Karmakar holds a Masters in Social Work (MSW) From Visva Bharati, Shantiniketan. She
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