Saturday, September 20, 2008

Celebrating Festivals – Beyond the Obvious

Change is the only certain and constant process in our lives.

True to this “eternal wisdom”, there have been dramatic changes in our lives. Religion, its relevance, its observance and many other related aspects have not only changed but also accepted as natural. Consequently, festivals have begun to assume newer meanings, and logically, therefore, the way festivals are celebrated has also undergone a sea change.

A great many of these changes have been positive but the dark shadow always lurks around the corner. I prefer to be an optimist but would like to keep my feet grounded in the reality.

Let me attempt to examine a few changes that seem to have robbed our festivals of their innocence and where devotion seems to have taken a back seat.

Invasion of Corporate Sponsorship

No celebration is complete without the “Corporate Sponsorship”. Vast sums of money are flowing in these celebrations and each succeeding year the scale gets grander.

Simplicity, elegance and creativity have been sacrificed at the altar of standardized publicity material.

Political patronage has crept in

Shadowy political figures at every street corner seem to have re-discovered these festive occasions as reminding people of their presence. Their patronage is becoming ever-more visible and combined with money power are slowly edging out the non-political groups.

Declaration of large prize amounts and a host of awards has become the rallying point for such politically tinged celebrations.

This is leading to a game of one-upmanship and we have the spectacle of each group trying to outdo each other.

Money power – coercion to contribute

Life can be quite a nightmare for the residents, shops and other commercial establishments in any area.

Monetary contributions are aggressively solicited and the quantum is pre-decided. One needs to be really tough or rank foolish to pay anything lesser.

Lack of accountability:

With money comes the temptation of misuse and this is a self feeding vicious cycle. Proper accounting, of all funds collected and spent, is a problem area.

This incentive of making “easy money” is dangerous and fuels ambitions of grander efforts the following year.

Another disturbing feature is the “paid darshan” which is slowly taking root. I thought God is freely available to everyone. Probably, not anymore.

Brazen violation of all rules

No one dare show the rule book. It will be quickly twisted out of context and you would be painted “prime villain” of the piece.

Nearly every rule is broken. You have unauthorized hoardings, unauthorized “pandal” construction, illegal occupation of public spaces, roads, private spaces…, flouting time limits and probably many more.


It is alarming to count the hazards such festivities pose. Fire and safety hazards, health and noise hazards and environment degradation (recent addition) are some of the issues that do not attract any attention.

Some Pertinent Questions

Are things really so bad???

Is this another lost case where the very purpose of collective celebrations has been hijacked by a more nefarious agenda or is one reading too much in all this???

Has it become fashionable to lament on any such evolution as destructive or have we become purists and status-quo ists???

Still worse, are we being elitist by being overly critical when the vast majority of the people seem to have no problem and participation in these festivals is a matter of joy and social bonding???

In my next post, I will look for the tremendous positive impact that such collective celebrations have on our lives.


Anrosh said...

the number of sponsors are many, and everybody want to stand out for their own agenda..
and as far as coercion goes - say no to " shiv sainiks" when they come for "chanda" - boy, one has had it for the entire year !! you have to give them what they ask - such activities have been extrememly common in bombay and its suburbs as far as i can remember. and hafta's can one forget that.
that is part of being in the business happens all across the world -- same tune, different song.

Gopinath's "Artickles" said...

Mavin, you have listed quite a few Negatives of the growing trend in you post! A grand scale calls for a grand sum to be spent. Organisers too may have a 'target' to meet their grand plans, like their corporate counterparts. It is happening to the next grand celebration Mumbai will see - Navratri. You will find hoardings wanting you to come over and shell out a few thousand bucks for entry. I wonder whether the spate of floods and people dying in terrorist attacks will call for an austere celebration, this year? Perhaps not Socialising is the keyword. Praying to God Almighty is only a mere incidental formality.

Gopinath's "Artickles" said...

My previous comment to read:
"Perhaps not. Socialising is the keyword" The missing full stop may mislead one and all!

Vinod_Sharma said...

If we have to celebrate the consumerist culture spawned by increasing affluence and willingness to spend, then we have to also be prepared to accept its warts.

'Mine is bigger than yours' attitude has permeated the festival circuit too. So, the corporates will come, as will the politicians. At one level, these developments are not healthy.

But, as you have observed yourself, people are happy and enjoying themselves during these festivities. That is what really matters socially. Your prayers will always be said and heard silently.

Priyank said...

Nicely written and sums up the gross commercialization that has crept in. Plus everyone wants their neighborhood ganpati to be the best and inflation seems to get the worst of them. I have witnessed the leeching of funds from such fundraisers.

You ask pondering questions. Maybe its the natural phase - just like we have new festivals like Valentines day and we say "Happy Gudhi Padva." But as more and more people grow aware of this, things will hopefully change.

Mavin said...

Anrosh - It has grown well beyond Shiv Sainiks now.

Gopi - Janmashtami, Ganpati and now Navratri. Some organisers will laugh all the way to the bank.

Re: Prayers, I do not know but I have heard that "God Loves Fun" so people have a lot of fun and that must be making God happy.

Vinod - You said it! My God is bigger, better, richer and stronger than yours.

A striking feature about our worship and celebration, is the amount of noise we make. In that din, I suppose, we are one with GOD.

Priyank - All is not lost. There are some very heart warming stories also.

We always work and hope for the best.

mitr_bayarea said...

Reading your post helps me keep up on the current scenarios in India, yes, commercialism has indeed crept in and taken over.

Mavin said...

Thanks Mitr from Bay area.

Things are not as bad as they seem. I guess, it is also reluctance to accept change as a way of life.

Anonymous said...

Festive celebrations in india is having somuch of negative factors , so much of sound pollution, trafic on roads, pandals blocking entrance to somany shops , inshort such celebrations create problems for somny ppl, and the most irritating part of these celebrations is dt one cant even complaint for their problem , ppl gt hyper on dem without thinking abt law or human rights ppl wil jus react hyper against dem ki humare bhagwan ke liye aisa bola n sort of things.