A teenage girl wrote an essay on the recent fracas over the firecracker ban in the capital, and it was published in a national daily. The impressive piece described the girl’s personal experience on the brightest of all festivals; instead of the overjoyed abandon that ought to be every child’s lot on Diwali, this girl had to face a serious battle with respiratory ailments at that time of the year, each successive year. But this, interestingly, wasn’t the true focus of what she wrote. One line from the write-up stood out amongst all the others, for it symbolised the essence, not just of Diwali, but of every celebration.
Diwali is about coming home, she wrote. And so it is. Coming home to the ones you love — family, friends, neighbours; coming home to tradition, to familiar customs and special rituals that bind people together. More importantly, isn’t this what’s truly celebrated on Diwali — the return of Lord Rama to his home? Diwali is the celebration of a return to the roots.
And yet, what struck me most about that observation was its sweeping universality. The ‘coming home’ represented the thought behind each festival, each celebration in our lives — the thought that’s been obscured in the rush of modernity. Every festival that we celebrate is about a ‘coming home’ of sorts, a return to the roots. It’s supposed to be a day when you take a break from the mad march to the top, take a deep breath and look around at the people that love you, the ones that you’ve perhaps neglected; at the special traditions that remind you of your childhood and spell ‘home’. It’s also supposed to be a day when you look around at those left behind in the manic race to get ahead, and spare some time and a little love for them as well.
In a classic distortion of the home-coming, though, that much needed break from life has slowly transformed into an increasingly taxing, increasingly consumerist event, an opportunity to flaunt your position in the race, an opportunity to display you finery and compete with the Joneses, so to speak.
The spiritual root of all festivals lies in one word: thanksgiving. A celebration is, in its purest form, an occasion to offer thanks, an occasion to extend gratitude for all that you’ve been blessed with. When there occurs an event in your life that’s special and memorable — a victory or an achievement, perhaps a birth in the family or the joining of two souls in one sacred bond, perhaps a reunion of friends or perhaps a recovery from dreaded illness — you celebrate it. You celebrate the fact that you were bestowed with this happiness — with a moment that denotes victory and vigour, an event that enriched your life even more. And for that, you offer thanks. The celebration is, then, an expression of gratitude to the universe, to whatever divine force you worship, for the bounties bestowed upon you. It follows then, that in gratitude you would share your joy with the ones that you love, gathering together to cherish the precious moment with them. More importantly, it would be incumbent upon you to celebrate the blessings by sharing them with those less fortunate — for that is a true expression of gratitude.
Brazen display of wealth, disregard for the wellness of others and lack of empathy for the less privileged cannot be signs of celebration. They are signs of corruption of the beauty of celebration, an ironic reflection of how humankind has corrupted its own beauty, and that of its own planet as well.