Celebration of Indian Festivals

Often, as I sit and recall the past, especially the way our Festivals were celebrated, I am filled with deep nostalgia. Those were days that have gone bye, never to come back again; they have become a part of history, and sadly, many don't even remember the tradition behind each of those celebrations.

There was complete innocence and joy even in the preliminary planning and preparations, the lady of the house shyly going up to the 'master', to request for a little more allowances to meet the additional costs, buying of the various required ingredients, washing the house, bringing in mango leaves to make the 'thoranam', the lovely rice powder rangoli on the ground, (which in no time would the squirrels and birds come to carry specks off), the pooja in all its splendor, wafting out the perfume of sandal, camphor and other incense, the fragrance of the cooking, and the heavy anticipation for that great lunch with one and all, family and friends, all eating together, and after a while the men snoring away gently to a deep sleep, the children off to play either cricket or hide and seek or Robin Hood, the ladies getting ready for preparing the evening meal.

This was more or less the pattern in every household.

Festivities were completely private. By this, I mean that there was no pomp or show and the celebrations were quiet and sans loud speakers or filmy music.

Even now, six and half decades down, when I think of my first twenty one years in Waltair, a lovely, lovely beach town those days, with the sprawling residential University campus, I recall the various festivals that were celebrated, and in every one of them, our house was the most prominent.

Come Dassera, the 'koluvu' (or dolls' festival) was arranged in the most traditional way, while I would help my mother with themes such as the sea port, or airport with planes on the tarmac or about to land, a large tank with small moving wooden ships holding a small burning candle, a railway track with a toy train chugging its way on plains and through tunnels.

The evenings would be lovely and beautiful, with the ladies and their young daughters coming in for the 'haldi-kumkum', but more than that, the soul stirring veena recital of my mother, every evening, playing ragas on the Devi, appropriate for the occasion. She had a lovely veena that was made as per her requirements from Bobbili, where all good Veenas came from. Sorry! Tanjore is a poor second. I have a few of those ragas on a cassette and play it sometimes, when I go back fifty years in time, and relive those days, albeit for a few hours. I feel my heart wrenching then.

And at Dipavali, the entire length of the house starting the outside railings and onto the verandah, my mother would light diyas, and go on feeding oil till we sat for dinner. The vast compound outside would be filled with students watching the spectacular sight, which to me seemed like something out of fairy tale book. Of course we all looked forward to the crackers, which would be burst till 10 in the night and again starting at 5 in the morning. But for me, what I looked forward most during Dipavali was the Lehyam. After Waltair, I have never tasted anything like that. After all, mother's cooking is mother's cooking! Isn't it?

Talking of crackers, the loudest that we knew were the china pataas and the Laxmi bombs. And even bursting them, needed everyone present what we were about to do, so that no one would suffer a cardiac! The eats at Dipavali is another long forgotten item, as now, everything is ordered and delivered at home, unlike the painstaking preparations made in the days of yore.

Being heavily influenced by the Telugu culture, having settled in various parts of Andhra for over three generations, our habits, festival celebrations and the accompanying culture had and are still Andhra. And so, it used to be Bhogi,  and fun and food to go with it.

For Ugaadhi, the threshold of the house would be decorated with a ball of fresh cow dung crowned by the golden yellow marigold. What if signifies, I am yet to learn. But that is yet fresh in my memory. 

With that much of Tamil influence can we forget Pongal, especially the 'Vennpongal' and the chakraipongal? And so it was Pongal time in the house.

Holi was unheard of. South then which was still in its prime of civilized behavior. It appears that Holi in its worst form as practiced today has also been adopted South of the Vindhyaas. That is breaking down of barriers for you. Why the South couldn't adopt the more friendly and appropriate festival of Bhai Dhooj or Raakhi, which are so moving and elegant, is anyone's guess.

Ram Navami had its own charm of 'paanahaam' (made of jaggery and dried ginger) and 'neer mour', (chaaz) besides of course, of the eats that one considered were Sri Ram's favorites. Both these liquids were made in abundance, and served to one and all that came home- be it the Vice Chancellor or the postman. I would be moved seeing the postman and the gardener relishing the vadais with the paanaham and neer mour

Tamil New Year for us was in passing, as it happens to be my birthday. So it was a birthday celebration, though what was made was what is normally prescribed to be cooked for
Pudhu Varshaparupu! (Tamil New Year) Those days were yet to see cakes being cut, or Happy 'Budday' being sung. A few friends did come and they were served with good old mixture and Mysore pak with lemon juice. Gift would be a bush shirt stitched from leftover of curtain material! But yet, it was fun- being 'king' for a day.

Ganesh Chaturthi was an idol made from turmeric paste, decorated with flowers, with an abundance of kumkum on it, and washed away the next day. The food again, was eagerly looked forwards to- all home made. 

Varalaksmi Nomboo (Laksmi Pooja) with a few other 'nomboos' were again low key affairs, but still my favorites, with the ladies coming in for Haldi-Kumkum with their eligible daughters!

Christmas, even then was a universal festival and even this was celebrated with gusto. Of course, our socks would still be as empty as it was the night before, and my mother would explain it off by saying that Santa was stuck because of a snow storm, or that the reindeers were ill to take off.

But then, those were the days of innocence- till even the sixties.

What happened after is anyone's guess!

All festivals became loud and as the years went by, even vulgar, Bollywood style of course.

Ganesh festival, with a leaf from the Maharashtra Tilak tradition, has become 'Sarvajanik', with blaring loudspeaker film music, inauguration by political heavyweights, and long queues for Darshan. The trend here is 'mine is bigger than yours' in the old school boy fashion. Nowadays, we have the filmy 'bimbettes' also coming into offer worship. Thank God! Supreme Court has made it a law that all loudspeakers 'shall' cease to emit sounds beyond 10 pm.

Can Navaraathrii be far behind? Dandiya Ras has to be there, or Devi will be upset. And tickets can be as much as Rs.10,000/ per head as entry fees. Either the monotonous Guajarati music or filmy tunes will be loud, and people would have planned months ahead and bought the special dresses at very 'special' prices.

When some people protested at the noise that this was creating, for the nine days, the courts again stepped in placing a time barrier of 10 pm. Guests from Bollywood would not otherwise come, they said. The courts were not amused. The Navarathri mandals protested, saying that was not enough and asked time till at least mid night. They probably expected a lot of Cinderellas!

Dipavali has become Divali, with cracker noises starting at four in the morning, and ending way beyond midnight. The blasts are bigger and louder, and there is no care for the old and the ill. 'If it makes me happy, then screw the rest.' That is the attitude. Here also, there is a competition of how much crackers one has bought. Last year, one of the society member's had bought crackers for over Rs.10,000/ and yet their children were unhappy. I had to put my foot down to see that the crackers were burst away from the building, as my asthma attacks get extremely severe at this time. I hated myself for this, as I love children. But my discomfort with the heavy wheezing is unbearable. I don't know how many, like me suffer. Mercifully, the Government has stepped in and put a deadline of 10 pm for bursting crackers. And no more homemade sweets or eats. All can be bought from the friendly neighboring stores- in attractive boxes and re-usable containers.

The less of Holi, the better. Never has there been any 'festival' so vulgar and so crude as this. The deeper and darker the paint, the better. The 'fun' actually starts a week ahead. Half-filled balloons are thrown from the terrace of 6th and 7th floor buildings. That hurts. Last year, I was hit twice by such balloons, and I warned the children, some of them in their twenties, not to do that. It persisted. I rushed to the terrace and caught two of them by the cuff of their collars. They were quivering. 'Sorry Uncle! Sorry Uncle!' Things were quiet after that, and last years mess was subdued, as it was this year.

Every Festival is commercialized.
The human touch has gone.
Participation is so artificial.

I am reminded of that old Tamil song '  Andanlom Vandhidadho
(Will not the old days come back?)

The age of Innocence is over.   


More by :  C.R. Gopalakrishna

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