Perspectives of great festivals

NILRATAN HALDER   | Thursday, 5 May 2022

Before the invention of agriculture in 8,500 BC, known as Neolithic Revolution, human races had their migration much like the animals in African Savanna and birds from the chilly and frozen northern hemisphere to the warmer tropical parts in Asia and Africa. Such migrations were more like a festival or maybe, the efforts expended on the way left no room for a festival. After all, it is permanent settlers, not the people on the move, who feel the need and have the leisure for festivals.   

Then all festivals are a break from the unvarying if not monotonous routine life. People, moreover, feel the urge to participate in something common that helps remove the otherness in the fold/s to bring them closer to each other, leading them towards a universal unity and understanding. Greece is known for organising many festivals and sports meets, the earliest of the most popular of which was in honour of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture. Yet the credit for the world's oldest festival goes to Turkey --- one that is still observed, marking the "exit of Turks from Argenekon" and the "beginning of the new year on Turkish calendar".   

The origins of the majority of great festivals, however, have their link to religions --- pagan or monotheism. Eleusinia festival commemorated agriculture, the Dionysus festival or spring festival, the greatest of all, was arranged for theatrical performances. To the Romans Dionysus came to be known as Bacchus, the god of wine and pleasure and the festival thus got relegated to revelry.   

That tradition continues till today. Alongside the expression of gratitude and thanksgiving/submission to gods/goddesses or the Almighty, the elements of pleasure --- sensual or otherwise --- have run simultaneously. Asceticism has long taken a back seat but ancient religions such as Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Stoicism, Pythagoreanism and the latest religions such as Christianity and Islam have followers who strictly maintain the traditions. Buddhist monks, Hindu Synasis, Christian hermits and monks practice various forms of abstinence including celibacy.   

Notwithstanding the amazing progress in science and technology, plain living still attracts many and not all of them are particularly religious. Some of them have sought to know the meaning of life on this planet and discovered the pleasure of working for the distressed humanity. They have been witness to the dilettantism of religious preachers and disillusioned by double standards of political idealisms. The yawning differences between and among races, castes, colours and creeds have pained and motivated them to bring about equality of human beings and social justice everywhere.   

Many of them have catapulted civilisation miles ahead and the events marking their successful campaigns are celebrated the world over. Let alone men like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, even a Malcolm X proved by his transformation from a drug pusher, thief and pimp to an Islamic minister and human rights activist what people are capable of if remedy to personal sufferings can be turned into that of universal sufferings. When celebrated, their causes become mostly secular festivals apart from the national or republic days and the New Year's Day. The Bangalees in this country have their Ekushey February to commemorate the sacrifice of language martyrs which has by now elevated from a national event to the International Mother Language Day.   

All such great festivals highlight the progress of human civilisation. Even the differences in religious or cultural festivals of communities should have been considered beauty in diversity. Unfortunately, religious prejudice is fast shrinking the spaces once enjoyed by minority communities in several countries. Scientific and technological advancement has taken material comfort to unimaginable limit, fuelling all the way consumerism but has not triggered matching enlightenment of mind. Religious dogmas and socio-cultural superstitions or obscurantisms still have decisive influences on people's lives. Also there are opportunists to exploit such a mentality to spread hostility and divisions between and among different peoples and communities.   

Here exactly lies the tragedy of modern civilisation. Materialism has flourished to outrageous levels without matching liberty of minds. Today festival economy gets the better of even spiritual quest. Unless the production and commerce of weapons of mass destruction can be contained, which get their origin from mistrust and the unbridled lust for power to dominate others, and religious and cultural enlightenment attained, the present civilisation will be seen to dig its own grave. Luxurious living and material acquisition together with arms race by powerful and wealthy nations are paving the way for bankruptcy of human soul.   

Contrarily, every festival --- Pagan or monotheist --- is a testament to the human species' elevation to a higher plane. If nurtured well, they could be culturally more uplifting too --- in most cases to the point of art of life and living. Unfortunately, some are showing a retrogressive journey back to the dark ages. The fear lurks not at too distant a future that like all the preceding civilisations which invited their own demise, this highly advanced latest one can as well follow suit.    

Festivals are preserves of sustaining power if only they are used so in order to reenergise and renew human ties. Looked closely, though, the opposite trend appears to be dominant. The privileged and the opportunists are making the most of all things that come their ways ---from artificially creating crisis of essentials at home to stoking antagonism on previously marked political lines, leading to a war in Ukraine. The priority for elimination of hunger and adopting measures against climate change disappears from the sight---a sure sign of the beginning of a reverse festival of mass annihilation.     

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