(Published in Sadhana, August 24, 1985)
Festivals can be envisioned as the very energy of the social life. All over the world, festivals are central to the lives of people, perhaps more so for us Indians. In the land of Bharat, festivals are not merely limited to being expressions of personal joy or means of entertainment some are instrumental in enabling a person transcend the boundaries between the individual and the society and even between the individual and entirety itself; they have transformed from celebrations to the means of attaining the highest element.
Some festivals chart the path of personal fulfillment, some point out the course from ‘Nar’ to ‘Narayan’. Some provide glimpses of the various material joys that life has to offer, while some embellish one’s visions of the afterlife. Some festivals are guides for us to conduct our daily lives, while some bring us closer to divinity.
Some teach us to accept our all-encompassing des- tinies, while still others rake up the glorious memories of our rich cultural heritage. A definite social science can be seen playing its part behind each festival. It is a science that is animate, that is full of zeal and enthusiasm that gives an impetus to life itself. It is ever evolving, not just a religious ritual, but a vital life force in itself.
These character- istics make festivals the most suitable medium to help people imbibe the values that society stands for and believes in; in fact, they have been utilized for this purpose time and again, kept con- stant or changed as and when deemed fit. Rakshabandhan: Yesterday and Today Rakshabandhan festival celebrates the sacred bond between brothers and sisters.
However, this manifestation of filial love has not always been what it is today – it has evolved over the ages. Rakshabandhan was originally a symbol of praying for the safety of a loved be it a husband, son or brother. one
There are innumerable incidents in our ancient texts where wives, mothers and sisters have tied the protective thread around the wrists of brave warriors Indrani tying a ‘Raksha’ to Indra, Kunti blessing her grandson Abhimanyu with the sacred thread and Lakshmi praying for the safety of Baliraja.
In the Middle Ages, when India faced the threat of foreign invasions and the grave issue of protecting the hon- our of its women arose, Rakshabandhan took on a different form. This period saw thousands of brave brothers laying down their lives to shield their sisters who requested protection by tying the “Raksha’ on their wrists.
As time passed, Rakshabandhan came to be celebrated by families in major parts of India. The touching expression of the bond between a brother and a sis- ter was ensconced as an integral part of our culture. Rakshabandhan unleashes a flood of emotions and spreads the fra- grance of sibling love.
In the midst of the celebrations, the ever-materialistic man comes up with innovative ways to extend this festival to his worldly belongings – the vendor ties ‘Raksha’ to his weighing scales, the scooterist to his scooter, the student to his book and the clerk to his pen undoubtedly expecting some form of, ‘protection’ from them.
A Stream of Love All of us need to ask ourselves Have we been able to maintain the flow of emotions like love and brother- hood even after centuries of celebrating Rakshabandhan? Is it relevant in soci- ety today? We claim to be steeped in love and respect for our sisters, and yet women in our society have to face abuse, insults, rapes and many other forms of tyranny. If our sensibilities do not flinch at these incidents, what is the use of celebrating a festival signifying love for our sisters?
If we believe in “Mata Pruthvi Pu- tro’ham Pruthvyah” (the Earth is my Mother and I am Her son), it makes all of us on earth each other’s’ broth- ers and sisters. Why, then, do we need to engage in war and strife? We talk about “Tatvmasi”, then how can we be capable of cruelty and barbarism towards our fellow human beings? If “Aham Brahmasmi” (God is within me), how have we degenerated to the stage where racial hatred blinds us to every- thing else?
How could we Indians, who used to astound the world with our legendary unity, fall to the nadir of divisiveness and disarray? Our scriptures generously proclaim “Atmavat Sarvb- huteshu” (there is a soul in every being) and yet, how can our intolerance unravel the very fabric of our society? We will have to find a solution to this problem ourselves. Our philosophers and thinkers are among the best in the world, and yet, when it comes to putting our philosophies into practice, we have failed miserably. Our actions are not in step with our lofty ideals. The need of the hour, then, is a social revolution that will use our own strengths and beliefs to infuse fresh life into our society.