The unique beauty of our festivals is that they uplift us, and at the same time unify people of all religions
It is festival time again. This is the time to put all worries away, forget all differences and disputes and revel in the joy and merriment that only festivals of Bharat can generate in one and all. For centuries, Bharat has been known as the land full of traditional cultural festivals, celebrated across the country, without any fear or discrimination, all the year around, observed by its many cultures and religions. This is the unique beauty of our festivals: they are beneficial to all, celebrated by all, unifying in the process the people of all religions in the entire nation.
Pongal not confined to Tamilians
His Holiness Paramacharya, Dharmapuram Aadheenam, Mayiladuthurai, the seer of the Saiva Siddhanta Sect in Tamil Nadu, in a brief interview to Organiser representative S N Aiyer explained why Pongal is celebrated. Excerpts:
Can Pongal be celebrated by all?
Of course yes. It ought to be so, by one and all. Pongal is not confined only to the Tamilians. Pongal is celebrated to herald the coming of auspiciousness, to invoke the blessings of Sun God.
Why we should pray to only Sun God?
Sun is seen in our scriptures as the eye of God. Sun is also the source of all energies on Earth, without the rays of the Sun reaching us, there would be no creation. Sunshine brings cheer and happiness all around us, especially in the aftermath of a harsh winter. So by praying the Sun God, we thank Him.
Can we pray anytime to the Sun God?
Certainly yes. But on Pongal day, which is Makara Sankranti, our prayers reach Him the best, because this is the onset of Uttarayana. After all, we all want that human effort should not go waste. Actually, the main reason is that Pongal is the thanks-giving
culmination of a successful month-long strict austerity and severe penance which is performed in the previous Tamil month of Margazhi.
Is this reason why the Tamil month of ‘Thai’ is so sacred?
Yes, indeed. It is said that any good work started in this month will bear fruitful result. The adage is: Thai Pirandhaal, Vazhi Pirakkum (When comes Thai, dead-ends end!). Our Tamil saints, Thiruvalluvar in particular, and folklore are rich in praise for this month. Nobody should think that the festival is limited to Tamil people alone, all can enjoy this festival and enjoy the Divine blessings in Thai month.
No doubt, each and every Hindu festival has its separate set of cuisine, ceremonies, presiding deities and a whole set of elaborate customs which over the years have become part and parcel of the localised celebration. Yet, each such Utsav be it in North, South, East or West has a special set of Bharatiya commonalities. The main attraction for the scores of foreigners who visit Bharat during various festivals is to see how people unite together in a community without any distinction of age, caste or gender.
The onset of the festival season brings about a sea change in the zeal and enthusiasm. Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Bihu in Assam are some remarkable examples of this. It is as if this ability to sense the coming of the festival were ingrained in their blood and every sinew. Similarly, Ganesh Chathurthi in Maharashtra or Durga Pooja in West Bengal or Baisakhi in Punjab unites the people in its celebration.
Celebrated as per Lunar or Solar Calendar
Interestingly, the dates of perhaps all the Hindu festivals are fixed according to either the lunar or solar calendar, which depends on the transit of the moon and the sun respectively throughout the year. Many people unfamiliar with why the festivals are observed reduce the importance of festivals by saying that the “festivals of Hindus are celebrated owing to reasons of historical mythology, some for seasonal changes and some for cleaning and keeping the environment safe”.
Traditionally, our festivals have been termed as ‘Utsava’, which has been translated from its Sanskrit roots as meaning “to cause to grow upward”. It has been said that this Sanskrit word Utsava comes from the word “ut” meaning “removal” and “sava” which means “worldly sorrows” or “grief”. So, it is obvious that only when one connects with the source and re-charge oneself, can the observance of the festival be its truest. The Hindu seers in the ancient past were able to painstakingly and meditatively fathom which were the right periods (tithi as they called them) to get this up- linking perfectly. Today, this is sadly criticised by the ill-informed West, quickly to be joined and condemned by those who ape them in Bharat.
Perhaps, one of the best example of the Hindu festivals is the widely popular all-India observance of Makar Sankranti, known in the Tamil heartland as Pongal. The very interesting aspect here is that though the actual astronomical phenomenon behind Makar Sankranti or Pongal is the same everywhere as it marks the transition of the Sun into Makar Rashi, it is sought to be projected as different festivals. This divisive proclivity on the part of the West is abominable. While Hindus all over the world, be it in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, USA, UK or anywhere else observe it for the singularly common purpose, the attempt made is to divide them on the basis of nationality, language or region. We all know that the occasion marks the gradual increase of the duration of the day, being the first day of “Uttarayana” (Sun’s journey northwards and transit into Makar Rashi), which coincides with the beginning of the Tamil month of “Thai”.
Pongal, tragically too has been reduced to now being only for the Tamils, no doubt, it is one of the most popular harvest festivals, but surely it is far beyond, for every person, any creature, to partake of the bounty of the mighty Sun, not just for those of Tamil Nadu. Again, Pongal is not just to be remembered for Jallikattu and neither for dividing the rest of Bharat from the Tamil people.
A similarly unique pan-India festival, of enormous significance if one were to go deep into its spiritual aspects, is Maha Shivratri. Tradition has it to be observed in the month of Maagh (as per the Hindu calendar), when devotees of Lord Shiva undertake rigorous fasting and worship by offering of Bael (Bilva) leaves to Shiva. Indeed, one must visit the Dwadash Jyotirlinga sites which span across the country to catch the fantastic sensation of true devotion and religious fervour in the devout. Thus, it will be obvious to any discerning person is what binds this country in one thread: the adherence of our people to the glorious traditions and values of Hinduism. There is no exception to this, even in Tamil Nadu or the North-East, Kerala or Kashmir.
Pan Indian picture of Festivals
Countless examples can be given for the country-wide festival calendar, which runs the whole year. Kerala has made an effort to bring out a tourist-friendly version of such a list but one is apprehensive that this may not be representative of the Bharatiya-ness, given its present Government’s penchant to do so. In reality, Bharatiya culture can best be understood by presenting a pan-India picture of the festivals, in their totality. One can think of many such characteristic of the “Bharatiya” folklore such as Holi, Deepavali, Ganesh Chathurthi and Navaratri. This is important to reinforce and strengthen our cultural unity facing the onslaught of all kinds of forces.
Here, it is important to clearly and transparently demonstrate to the youth, who should be the prime movers of this cultural drive (while our elders can be on its bandwagon!), the huge body of science (and related aspects of spiritual knowledge) behind the Hindu festivals. Their astronomical connections will definitely awe-inspire the coming generations as, unfortunately, one expert has remarked “the Universe has been reduced to a mere ensemble of objects which we study with a view to discovering laws of nature and testing our theories”. This is a fault of leaning on the West. Our festivals can (and should) cultivate children’s interest in the study of the cosmos, the forces beyond our existence and dispel the notion fostered by Christianity that has been so far of fear. Curiosity driven study of astronomy is the key to celebrating our festivals with renewed vigour and festivity so as to achieve greater glory for Bharat in the years ahead.
-S N Aiyer
(The writer is special correspondent & a columnist)