August, September, October, the season of festivals in India! Almost every religion will have celebrated at least one festival in these months, Raksha bandhan, Ganpati, Mother Mary’s birthday, Pateti, Onam, Id…
The child in me rejoices. I love the joy, the colour, the excitement, the food, the general feeling of “all is well!” that comes with every festival. But the cynical adult in me shakes her head at the Ganesh mandals and the posts about preparations for the Mount Mary feast.
Even though I have given up organised religion, (well that is a story for another time) I’ve always been fascinated by our need for religion and the hold it has over us. And watching people at all the festivities these past few weeks has made me realise that more than anything, it is the need to connect that pulls us to religion.
Today, more than ever religion is becoming a bigger and stronger force. More and more people are turning to it because we are getting more and more alienated from each other. “The aloneness in the midst of everyone” can be overwhelming and when you go to church or the temple or the mosque, there is this feeling of belonging while still having your space. It satisfies some need in your soul. You don’t feel so alone any anymore.
And then there are the festivals designed by religion to bring people together. Whether it is Raksha bandhan, getting brother and sister to spend a day in each other’s company, reminiscing about childhood pranks, reconnecting, forgiving, loving, or community get-togethers where everyone participates in the dahi handi in the society premises or takes part in the various cultural programmes organised during Ganpati.
A typical conversation at a Ganpati programme goes something like this:
I see you in the lift some time. You are the lady who owns the dog no?
Yes. You have a daughter no? I see you taking her to school. Which flat are you in?
I am in 202. And you?
I live in 306. What is your name?
Ankita . And you?
Sunita. Nice to meet you.
And that is how you connect and make friends.
I watch it all, I even participate and yet I sadly shake my head at the flip side of this need. It becomes so big that it overpowers us. And like everything that we come to depend on too much, it can be used against us, because while it binds us, it also blinds us.
The recent flaunting of the Supreme Court order during the occasion of dahi handi by the political big wigs is a case in point. When leaders play with the safety of people using religion to get them to blindly break rules, it is a sad day for any country.
Last week a school in Juhu had taken the initiative of asking people to donate books and stationery instead of fruit when they came for darshan of the Ganesh idol at the school premises. These would then be distributed to deserving students. The idea caught on like wild fire with many other people requesting visitors to their homes to do likewise. So far so good.
Then enters a serpent in the form of a Whatsapp message that I received, saying that this was a ploy by the Church to destroy Hindu traditions. When I confronted the person who had sent me the message and asked her why she was spreading such poison which was so not true, she replied that she was sorry and that she had not read the whole message before forwarding it blindly.
The whole incident just made me wonder how many messages we just forward blindly without taking the time to read or understand what the consequence of such a message is.
A “perceived” threat against “my” religion has to be fought against even if it means that the poor children of my religion are deprived of something they need.
A priest in the church I used to attend was put in charge of the youth. He was a great favourite and I felt he was really forward in his thinking, till one day he said, ” We have to create a programme to make our youth realise that homosexuality just cannot be tolerated.”
I wanted to ask him what happened to what Jesus asked us to do when he said, “Love one another as I love you! This is the only commandment I give unto you!”? How is creating intolerance fostering love? And because this priest is so popular with the youth and so charismatic, he is probably going to sway so many young minds towards the path of hate.
Yes, as I watch everything around happening in the name of religion, I wonder is it binding or is it blinding?