Reimagining the way we celebrate

Reimagining the way we celebrate

Our country rejoices in the various festivals that dot its almanac. India with many 'countries' within it, celebrates state, community-specific and national festivals which revolve around nature, harvest seasons, and events in our epics, legends, and the lives of gods and goddesses.

Thus, Onam, the state festival of Kerala coincides with the harvest season and the legendary annual visit of its benevolent king, Mahabali from the netherworld. So, too, Pongal of Tamil Nadu. While Ganesh Chaturthi celebrates the arrival of Ganesha on earth, Deepavali (a row of lights) marks the killing of demon Narakasura; and in the North, it symbolises the return of Lord Rama to his kingdom after a 14-year exile (vanvas).

The Sanskrit word "utsava" (causing growth) comprises various activities like worship, charity, fasting, feasting, vigil, offerings etc.

Hinduism being a way of life, our customs, rituals and festivals are in sync with thankful co-existence with nature and surroundings. The Deepavali spring cleaning of the house is a pest control and cleaning measure and the ritualistic oil bath, a symbolic beauty treatment for the winter skin, while the "panaka" (jaggery-spices drink ) and "kosambari" (cucumber-lentil salad) distributed during Ram Navami, a coolant during the summer months.

Time has aberrated our festivals like all other aspects of society. As ostentatiousness and splurge replace their fervour and spirit, festivals are more of community affairs than the sweet, simple family affairs they were, spilling them literally into streets, cities, star hotels and resorts.

Festival pandals mushrooming everywhere block traffic for days, the waste generated litter the place for weeks together and the loud music pollutes the locality. Thanks to migration, today we celebrate not only our region-specific festivals but those of our neighbours, too.

While our festivals are fascinating, their aftermath not really so! They add up 1,000-4,200 tonnes of daily garbage with 15-20% of it constituting flowers, coconut fronds, leaves, banana saplings, plastics etc. Immersion of the worshipped idols pollute water bodies with their chemicals and choke the marine life they support.

Garbage disposal, a simple daily household routine in our backyards has now shifted to the front. Under the household's inbuilt garbage management system, overripe fruit and vegetables went into kitchen gardens, extra food was consumed by domestic help or beggars, garden waste was turned into fuel, kitchen waste was fodder, and the rest was taken care of by birds or turned into compost. Festival waste was 'sacred' and dumped under trees, which eventually turned into manure.

India topped the world with 25 lakh pollution deaths, (18 lakh due to air pollution) in 2015 and has the worst average ambient (outdoor) pollution level. Yet, fireworks are synonyms for our festivals. Besides respiratory and other ailments that are caused by the air that they pollute, the ear-splitting noise causes misery to animals (as it magnifies manifold for them), the sick and the old.

Responsible celebration

Under the present scenario, a redefinition of the way we celebrate our festivals is imperative where the keyword should be 'responsible celebration'. Here are a few suggestions.

The prohibitive cost of eco-friendly idols keeps people away from them. A family that shaped its own eco-friendly clay festival idols is worth emulating. Crash courses in clay modelling would encourage many more.

Immersing household idols in small tanks, drums and vessels and using this water for gardens.

Worshipping metal idols and ceremoniously cleaning them.

Vermiculture and composting deal with festival waste productively. A temple helps turn out agarbattis with used flowers providing livelihood to some.

A few open spaces in every locality allotted for fireworks display would reduce its ill effect on society. Light displays practised in foreign countries are alluring as well as a cleaner way of ushering in festivals. Several Tamil Nadu villages have been celebrating silent Deepavalis since decades to protect the bird sanctuaries and bats around. The recent Supreme Court decision made Delhi support and observe clean festivals, too.

Exchange of sweets and visits with neighbours and friends were very much a part of festivals in the past. Bring back human warmth into your interactions and the lives of the unfortunate, sick and lonely by reaching out to them.

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