Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Festivals Brighten Up Community Life

by Sri Ajit Halder

Festivals contribute a great deal towards making individual life more enjoyable and enriching community life by adding a host of social, cultural, arts, music and other entertaining events to life’s activities. They free us from our daily monotonous routine and offer us physical relaxation and a great deal of joy (aanandam).

‘Festivals’, the first word in the title of this article, has been used to include religious, traditional, seasonal and national holidays, besides world-wide observance of International Days proposed by the United Nations. Every festival tells a story pertaining to our custom, culture, traditional values, mythology and historical events.  Members of the community spontaneously join in these functions to help promote social harmony and cohesion.

It may be noted that members attending fairs and festivals become so absorbed in these events that they may overlook the deeper significance of participating in different festivities.  This article attempts to focus on the broader aspects of festivals: especially community cohesion and social integration of members that the participants help to realize.

In India, over 100 religious festivals are celebrated annually by the various religious groups.  Diwali (Deepavali), the festival of lights, is the major festival for the Hindus. The Bengali community celebrates Durga Puja (Durgotsav) with great enthusiasm. There are, however, many other festivals like Holi, Dussera, Vijaya Dasami, Janmasrtami, Ram Navami, Ganesh Chaturthi, to name but a few.    Community members join in the celebration of events of different religious groups - the Christmas holidays, the Eid, and the Jain Pareshnath pageant are awaited with eagerness by all and they bring that extra touch to living and make it more pleasurable.  Likewise, Buddha Purnima (celebrated with reverence to mark the birth of Lord Buddha) and Guru Nanak’s birthday are occasions to spiritually uplift our thoughts.  The members of the Saccidananda Society and devotees of Sri Sri Babathakur organize the annual Gurupurnima function with much devotion.  Members regularly hold Satsang classes at the Society premises to discuss the divine message of the Pragna Purus and get spiritually enlightened.

An attempt will now be made to catalogue important festivals that add colour and gaiety to the celebratory spirit.  We start with festivals having wider communal purposes and national interest.

National Holidays

The two national days in India - the Republic Day (on 26th January) and the Swadhinata Divas (on 15th August) head our list.  Both these important days are celebrated nationwide with great pomp and grandeur.

Thanksgiving Day, an American holiday is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of each November.  Traditionally this day is marked with families and friends getting together to share a special meal.  Thanksgiving Day is a time for people to give thanks for their life and possessions.  By participating in the Thanksgiving Day celebration, the members of a family with friends join millions of other countrymen. The celebration offers a sense of belonging to the American nation.

New Year’s Festivals

Pahela Baisakh is the traditional New Year Day for the Bengalis.  The festival is celebrated with processions, fairs and community singing.  All over Bengal, Pahela Baisakh is warmily and joyfully celebrated by organizing Manga Shovajatra (meaning auspicious street procession) drawing large crowds of onlookers.  In the same vein, we should mention the New Year's Day on January 1 which is welcomed as a celebratory holiday.

Food and Drink Festivals
Most festivals culminate in the consumption of specially prepared food (feasting) and they bring people together, contributing to group cohesiveness.
Mention may be made of the Harvest Festival highlighting the output of producers of a certain region; in Punjab harvest festival is celebrated with songs and Bhangra dance recital.

Oktoberfest is the world's most famous beer festival, taking place in the German city of Munich in the month of October.  It attracts people in droves in a huge party spirit.  Live music, parades, and a vast array of German cuisine complete the festivities.

Arts Festivals

Under this broad heading, mention may be made of specific types of festivals that showcase intellectual or creative achievements such as Literary, Poetry, Theater, Music festivals, Rock festivals and Jazz festivals, -- surely offering a choice to suit individual taste.

Film Festivals

Film Festivals are organised in various countries for screening films (local and foreign), and are usually held annually.  Two of the most noteworthy festivals are the Venice Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival.

International Days

Festivals of international appeal are occasions when people all around the world join together to share fun and good times.  Listed below are major international days for observation as recommended by the United Nations.  They are celebrated as festivals all over the world. By joining in these celebrations, one links up with the world audience and feels happier being a part of the entire human community.
The International Mother Language Day  is celebrated on 21 February each year. It marks the appreciation and expressiveness of one’s mother tongue. Other days of world appeal include: International Women Day (March 8), International Youth Day (August 12), United Nations Day (October 24), and Human Rights Day (December 10).

There is a saying in Bengal: ’Baaro Maase Tero Parvon’, meaning that the Bengalis celebrate thirteen festivals in a period of twelve months.  The quotation implies that there will be at least one festivity for jubilation in each month. It is obvious that festivals are an integral part of family as well as community life in Bengal.

The purpose of this article has been to focus on the religious, social and cultural values that festivals contribute to bring immense merriment to all members in the community.  Because of the large number of festivals taking place near one’s home or far away, it may not be possible for an individual to participate in each and every festivity.  Don’t despair though – you can catch a glimpse of events you missed out on by watching videos of the proceedings on sites such as YouTube and virtually partake in the festivities.

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