Is it celebration of love or mindless imitation?
All of us are ceaselessly busy but also haunted with the impression that we haven't really made an impact on things around. Certainly, not visibly. Psychologists tell us rituals help us combat that uncomfortable feeling. Giving yourself a regular, routine excuse to have a drink, go shopping, exchange presents with those near and dear to you, celebrate something or even have a relaxed drive. It affords you the chance to clear your mind. The very fact that you took the time to engage in that ritual makes the experience more meaningful. All rituals work on that principle: you're imbuing something with value because you've made the commitment to continue to do it. It is far better if it comes with the added value of being notably classy. You're assured that you're doing something in a way that isn't cheap and disposable, because you consider it relevant enough to do it right.
No wonder Eric Berne included rituals as one of the possible six ways of structuring your life time.
Rituals are performed at both individual and social levels. Religious rituals have in our time become increasingly secular and as such are, increasingly, commerce-driven, like Easter and Christmas in the Western world (and now also in the non-Christian world). Consumerism in our times provides a forceful propellant.
Let’s Fall in Love
St. Valentine day is one such popular social ritual that is being observed today all over the world. How secular have we all become is illustrated by dropping the word Saint altogether.
Over the years, the spread of internationally prevalent rituals among our middle classes in India is best represented by the way young and old have started celebrating Valentine's Day. When I was young – and once upon a time I was – such a celebration was unknown – at least in the world I grew up in. Now it is a day that all the young – and who isn't young in the Viagra age – look forward to.
Birds do it; Bees do it,
Even educated fleas do it.
Let's fall in love.
Having made that mistake once, I have no intention of repeating it. But then (as Blaise Pascal said) the heart has its reasons that the head knows not.
Those who are knowledgeable about such matters tell me that the day is a feast day of St. Valentine. He was a Roman priest. (He didn't fall in love since priests aren't supposed to, and even if they do, they keep it under as many wraps as they can manage to muster.) However, he made another mistake – the mistake that we're all paying for – of enraging Roman Emperor, Claudius II. The wise Emperor had issued an edict abolishing marriage. No, he wasn't promoting, instead, the present day live-in arrangement. He was against marriage itself because he thought married men make poor soldiers which, in fact, was (and is perhaps still) true. Once married, they reared families and were reluctant to leave their dear ones behind to go to war.
All on the Quiet
When the tender-hearted Christian priest heard of the predicament of the young lovers, he asked them to come over to him in secret. With a very brief ceremony – he didn't want to get caught out – Valentine joined them in the sacrament of marriage. They could thus serve their King and also (secretly and without the stigma of sin) enjoy marital bliss.
The trouble with such arrangements, unfortunately, is that they get leaked out. Soon the Emperor came to know of this. He ordered Valentine's execution in 170 AD. A very noble death indeed! Having joined, unofficially, hundreds of thousands in holy wedlock, the good priest must have straight gone to heaven to join Him who, moved by the plight of mankind, had sent His only son to redeem humans of the original sin. So far so good!
For some unknown reason, eighteen centuries later, Valentine emerged as a patron of lovers. How and why, I don't know. However, if a sixteen year old has a crush on her neighbor's son, she must send a Valentine's card. We don't require an enterprising American businessman to tell us the potential of this burgeoning card market which, happily, is immune from the ups and downs of the market. It is increasing and will, forever (in our country), register an assured growth rate, howsoever the economy may perform.
There are other versions of the Valentine's Day. Some authorities maintain that February 14 – the Valentine's Day – is the date when birds are supposed to pair. Chaucer seemed to subscribe to this belief. (Or is it a plain make-belief?) In Canterbury Tales, he mentioned:
For this was Saint Valentine's Day
When every Fowl Cometh to choose her mate
How about Basant Panchmi?
I’m not a prudish old man to begrudge young Indians having a Lover's Day. But why not choose an indigenous festival. For instance, Basant Panchami? How about weaving the lovers' union around Kamadeva and his beloved Rati? The only possible objection I can foresee to my suggestion is that a symbol of Hindu mythology won't perhaps be readily acceptable in our supposedly secular society. Our increasingly all-powerful vocal minority will not accept that. Valentine's Day can, on the other baud, win the approval of all – Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and of course Christians. Though of Christian origin, it is, after all, a foreign import and its commercial spin-off is enticing enough to facilitate its growth in any soil.
May I however put forward the proposal to substitute Valentine Day by Basant Panchmi which incidentally falls this year on February 14, the day Valentine Day is being celebrated. And to give it a brand name – call it Atanu Diwas.
Kamadeva in Hindu mythology is known by several names. Atanu (one without a body) is one of them. Some others are Manmatha, (churner of hearts), Pushpavan, (one with arrow of flowers) to name a few. Images and stories about Kamadeva are traced to the verses of the Rig Veda and Atharva Veda although he is better known from prominent and lesser known stories of the Puranas.
The story of the birth of Kamadeva has several variants in different Puranas. In some, Kamadeva arises from the mind of the creator god, Brahma: in others he is the son of Sri Kamadeva's consort Rati, whose very essence is desire, carries a discus and a lotus, her arms are compared with lotus-stalks. Rati is a minor character in many traditional dramas involving Kamadeva and in some ways represents an attribute. The goddess Vasanta, who also accompanies Kamadeva, emerges from a sigh of frustration.
One of the principal myths regarding Kama is that of his incineration by Shiva. It occurs in its most developed form in the Matsya Purana but is also repeated with some modifications in other Puranas too.
The legend has it that Indra and the gods are suffering at the hands of the demon Tarakasur, who couldn’t be defeated except by Shiva's son. Brahma advised that Parvati should woo Shiva; their offspring will be able to defeat Taraka. Indra assigns Kamadeva to break Shiva's meditation. To create a congenial atmosphere, Kamadeva (Madana) creates an untimely spring (akal vasanta). He evades Shiva's guard, Nandin, by taking the form of the fragrant southern breeze, and enters Shiva's abode.
After he awakens Shiva with a flower arrow, Shiva, furious, opens his third eye, which incinerates Madana instantaneously and he is turned into ashes. However Shiva observes Parvati and asks her how he can help her. She enjoins him to resuscitate Madana, and Shiva agrees to let Madana live but in a disembodied form. Hence, Kamadeva is also called ‘Ananga’ (without body i.e., “body-less”), or ‘Atanu’ (without body). The spirit of love embodied by Kama is now disseminated across the cosmos: it affects Shiva whose union with Parvati is consummated. Their son Kartikeya goes on to defeat Taraka.
The attributes of demigod Kamadeva are familiar: his companions are a cuckoo, a parrot, humming bees, the season of spring, and the gentle breeze. All of these are symbols of spring season, when his festival is celebrated as Vasanta continuing till Holi.
If Basant Panchmi is not acceptable, how about Holi which is essentially a Spring Festival. In Sanskrit literature it is sometimes called Madana-Mahotsava or Kama-Mahotsava. According to the Matsya Purana, Visnu-Krishna and Kamadeva have a historical relationship. Some Vaishnavas distinguish a form of Kamadeva who is a deva, demigod in charge of inciting lusty desires, the cause of generation and referred to in the Bhagavad-Gita with the words “prajanas casmi kandarpa.” It is this Kamadeva who to distract Lord Siva from deep meditation with his passionate influence and feminine associates.
In depicting the celebration of love among man and woman, Sanskrit literature is absolutely unrivalled. Perhaps the most famous of treatises dealing with the theme of love is the world-renowned Kama Sutra which is widely considered to be the standard work on human sexual behavior by Vatsyayana.
“Kama” which is one of the three goals of Hindu life, means sensual or sexual pleasure, and “sutra” literally means a thread or line that holds things together, and more metaphorically refers to an aphorism (or line, rule, formula), or a collection of such aphorisms in the form of a manual. Contrary to popular perception, especially in the western world, Kama Sutra is not just an exclusive sex manual; it presents itself as a guide to a virtuous and gracious living that discusses the nature of love, family life and other aspects pertaining to pleasure oriented faculties of human life.
The Kama Sutra is the oldest and most notable of a group of texts known generically as Kama Shastra.
Another work dealing with the theme of love is Kumarasambhava literally means “Birth of Kumara”. This Kalidas epic of seventeen cantos entails Shringara Rasa, the rasa of love, romance, and eroticism, more than Vira rasa (the rasa of heroism). The story centers around the legend that Tarakasur, the demon was blessed that he could be killed by none other than the son of Lord Shiva who had overpowered Kama-deva (the god of love). Parvati therefore performed great spiritual penance to win the love of Lord Shiva. Consequently, Shiva and Parvati's son Murugan is the one who ultimately killed Tarakasur.
IIf my suggestions to change the date or name don’t carry conviction, do continue with St. Valentine’s Day. All said our society is doing exactly what Gandhi dreaded the most, i.e., to “live in other people's houses as an interloper, a beggar or slave”. And worst of all, they deem it a privilege and a badge of honor.