If one is not too curious about the origin and social significance of an Indian Festival, one can look at it profitably as an excuse for a fashion display. It is difficult to over-estimate the extent to which it penetrates the Indian mind, and it is even more difficult to give an analytic explanation of something that has originated in the subconscious and appeals as well to the subconscious. Every festival is, as its name implies, an occasion to rejoice; it is a chance to exhibit joy of life, love and passion of life. It is; yes, a materialistic exhibition; but it is beautiful and noble as well, for in its art and in the variety of its expression has gone all that is enduring in man’s personality. They are symbols of the rich cultural heritage of India and give a fair idea of the economic, religious, social and cultural ethos of the nation.
Indian festivals are somewhat like our trees, When Diwali comes, it comes like a shock. The heart automatically leaps and is attracted by the new tang and flavor in the air. It is not something you can lay your hand on. Of course, we too, like the English wait for Christmas, prepare; but compared to their frenzied shopping ours is more methodical, sober and a matter of fact. It is in fact the children who are most interested in buying of fire-crackers, red and blue matchsticks, ‘Krishna-patakas’, magnesium wire, and sprouting crackers. In the adult’s heart sprouts something different— a vague joy, a sense of release, and an awareness of one more year gone, and never to be recovered. There is, I suppose, in our best and happiest moments a lingering element of the sad; and nowhere else is this more clearly exemplified than in the arrival of Diwali. Here we are, in November waiting for a new year, and perhaps hoping for the best in it; and all the time a little voice is giving to us all the regrets and mistakes of the eleven months that have passed. Yet, though there is an unforgettable undercurrent of pathos and nostalgia, the general note is one of ‘Jole devivre’.
A festival in the tropics is not something available in temperate countries. Its color, warmth and richness cannot be easily duplicated. Even sincere duplication is likely to give an impression of artificiality. For it is not the outward expression that really matters; you can duplicate that you can reproduce, perhaps with more glamour, the red draperies of a pandal, the multi-colored saris on the streets. Where will you reproduce the feeling behind the expression?
An Indian festival is an Indian festival, and nothing else. It is the most concrete manifestation of the Indian personality.
Among the most representative are ‘Holi’ and ‘Raksha Bandhan’. Our Burmese neighbors have a curiously similar festival to Holi, when they go about with pails of water—happily or unhappily un-coloured—drenching friends and strangers. We do the job more thoroughly and with a greater eye for glamour. We do not merely indulge in sprinkling colored water; that seems too inadequate; we carry packets of gulal (red powder) to give a friend a real make-up. We dance in joy and sing merrily.
There is, perhaps, one great fact of psychology in every festival of our country. It sweeps away barrier and convention, and takes man as man. The rich may do a grander job with a pandal, but once within it, he and his servant operate on the same level. Nobody is going to ask you how much you earn before sprinkling Holi water on you. Once or twice or thrice in a year people are led by tradition to indulge in game that is symbolic. It levels distinction, greatness and superiority. It makes one realize that behind the passing show of the world there is something that does not pass, and it is this something that is really the most valuable thing in life.
But we are not all the time a riotous people. It is difficult to imagine a more tender festival than ‘Raksha-Bandhan’ in which sisters the token threads of affection to their brother’s wrists and pray foe his well-being. Hence again, there is deep symbolic significance behind the gesture. It is the sister’s way of offering help and encouragement in the battle of life that her brother most one time, or other face. It is her way of saying “I am only a women. I cannot stand by your side and fight against terrible odds. But, when you are in the thick of it, remember that I am always praying for your well-being and success. Remember that there is somebody who, though she cannot, always wants to be cm your side.” In return there is the brother’s pledge for his dear sister’s security and welfare.
Thus, we see that Indian festivals have a great social and cultural significance. Fed-up with the monotony of dull routine and drudgery, people want to get themselves refreshed with something exhilarating and culturally integrating. These festivals come like a whiff of fresh and fragrant breeze, bring a cheerful smile on their lips and fill them with revived courage to play the game of life. Moreover, they are the surest way of rising above the narrow bounds of regionalism and of accomplishing national integration.