Most festivals have a religious origin. The original intention of holding them, therefore, was to inspire religious feelings or religiosity. This was done in various ways. Sometimes a religious procession was taken out, whose members sang and danced and played musical instruments as they went their way. Sometimes people undertook fasts to commemorate an occasion. Fairs were also held in which the life and times of the religious personage in question were highlighted.
Notable figures gave uplifting speeches, and plays and dance dramas were enacted in honour of the festival’s central figure. On some occasions, special services were held in places of worship. Sometimes two or more or all these observances went together, and the cumulative effect was to inspire the individual into thoughts and acts of goodness. Another aim was to make the individual introspect on his past behaviour.
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A number of festivals, wherever they are held in the world, are still like that; but another way of celebrating the same events is fast gaining ground. In this version, a festival is purely an occasion for enjoying oneself. It is a time to take a break from one’s work and have a whale of a time. It is a time to wear one’s best clothes and do one’s best shopping. It is a time to meet people. It is a time to have special food.
There is nothing spiritual or religious in this version of the festival, though it may involve paying some token respect at the altar of the Almighty, a deity or a saint. It is this version of festivals that the media often highlights. It is more colourful and it has more takers in the general population. It is somewhat similar to the tale of a popular movie selling more than a classic.
The world is increasingly getting more cosmopolitan and secular. Many festivals which were once restricted to specific communities have assumed a pan-Indian character. No doubt, this promotes national integration.
But today’s world has also opened the flood-gates of the commercialisation of festivals. Festival time is a boom time for opportunity-seeking businessman. As the number of revellers willing to splurge increases every year, wily business houses come up with more ideas to cater to them—and thus the rich variety of greetings cards, the plethora of speciality items related to a particular festival, the festival feasts at restaurants and the festival- themed shopping malls and super markets.
Is this a good or a bad development? If it keeps businessmen and a growing segment of the population happy, and if it causes no inconvenience or harm to others, who can complain? Like they say, it takes all sorts to make the world and, hopefully, there is room enough in it for everyone. It is not necessary that everyone should celebrate a festival in the same way, or that it should have the same significance for everyone.