If you browse through the various ‘Panchangs’ that are in use in India – almanacs-calenders referred to by the myriad communities in our country – you will find a festival, an occasion, observance, vrat, auspicious and inasupicious days and more for each and every single day of the year. But over time, these have fallen into disuse, with just a few key festivals being celebrated in our country. In this issue of NRI Achievers, Sadhguru discources on the importance festivals hreld for our society of yore, and delves into the the logic and rationale behind the rites and rituals that formed part and parcel of these festivities.
In the yogic culture, the summer solstice, which falls in the month of June, marks the beginning of ‘Dakshinayana’ – which means the Sun begins to trace a southward movement in the Earth’s sky, in the northern hemisphere of the planet. Similarly, the winter solstice falling in the month of December marks the beginning of ‘Uttarayana’ or the northern run of the Sun. The half of the year from the beginning of Uttarayana in December to the beginning of Dakshinayana in June is known as ‘Gnana Pada’. The other half of the year from the beginning of Dakshinayana to the beginning of Uttarayana is known as the ‘Sadhana Pada’.
The southern run from June to December is the phase of intimacy or the feminine – the earth is acting out her role as a woman. Festivals concerned with the feminine energy are celebrated in these six months. The whole culture of this land was attuned to this. Every month there is a festival of some kind. In this feminine half of the year, September 23rd marks the autumnal equinox – and the first ‘Amavasya’ (or new moon) after this is known as ‘Mahalaya Amavasya’. This Mahalaya Amavasya is a special day, dedicated to making an offering (shraadh) to express our gratitude to all the previous generations of people who have contributed to our life. During this time, new crops would have just begun to bear yield in the Indian subcontinent. Their first produce is offered to the ancestors as a mark of respect and thankfulness.
Mahalaya Amavasya is also the beginning of Devi’s time. The quarter from the Amavasya to the beginning of Uttarayana in December is known as the ‘Devi Pada’. In this quarter, the northern hemisphere of the planet becomes ‘gentle’ because it is the quarter where the northern hemisphere receives the least amount of sunlight in the year. So everything becomes subdued; it is not “ON” in a big way.
The day after the Mahalaya Amavasya marks the first day of Navaratri or Dussehra, which is all about the goddess. In Karnataka, Dussehra is about Chamundi, in Bengal it is about Durga. Like this, it is about various goddesses in different places, but essentially Dussehra is about the feminine divinity. The nine days of Navaratri are classified as per the three basic qualities of ‘tamas, rajas and sattva’. The first three days are tamas, where the goddess is fierce like Durga and Kali. The next three days are Lakshmi related – the gentle but materially-oriented goddesses. The last three days are dedicated to Saraswati, which is sattva – it is related to knowledge and enlightenment.
Later in the year is Diwali, which is celebrated for various cultural reasons. But historically, it is called “Naraka Chaturdashi” because Narakasura – a very cruel king – was killed by Krishna on this day. Because of that, this celebration happened in such a big way. Evil need not necessarily come in the form of demons. Desperation, depression and frustration can cause much more damage to one’s life than the demons that you have not seen. Diwali is a reminder to slay all that is negative in our life. The celebration is auspicious in so many different ways. On this day, it is said that if someone needs money, Lakshmi will come in. If someone wants health, Shakti will come in. If someone wants knowledge, Saraswati will come in. These are dialectical ways of expressing that it will lead to wellbeing.
In Indian culture, there was a time when there used to be a festival every day of the year – 365 festivals in a year – because a festival is a tool to bring life to a state of exuberance and enthusiasm. That was the significance and importance of festivals. The whole culture was in a state of celebration. If today was ploughing day, it was a kind of celebration. Tomorrow was planting day, another kind of celebration. Day after tomorrow was weeding, that was a celebration. Harvesting, of course, is still a celebration. But in the last 400 or 500 years, with the blight of poverty descending on our country, we have not been able to celebrate every day. People are satisfied if they just get some simple food to eat. So all the festivals fell away and only 30 or 40 festivals remain. We are not even able to celebrate those now, because we have to go to the office or do something else daily. So people usually celebrate only around 8 or 10 festivals annually.
Unfortunately, festivals nowadays mean you are given a holiday from work, and you wake up only at noon. Then you eat a lot and go for a movie or watch television at home. It was not like that earlier. A festival meant the whole town would gather and there would be a big celebration.
To bring back this culture in people, we at Isha celebrate four important festivals: Pongal or Makarasankranti, Mahashivaratri, Dussehra and Guru Purnima. If we don’t create this, by the time the next generation comes, they will not know what a festival is. They will just eat, sleep and grow up without concern for another human being. All these aspects were brought into Indian culture just to keep a man active and enthusiastic in so many ways. The idea behind this was to make our whole life into a celebration.
If you approach everything in a celebratory way, you learn to be non-serious about life but absolutely involved. The problem with most human beings right now is, if they think something is important, they will become dead serious about it. If they think it is not so important, they will become lax about it – they don’t show the necessary involvement. In India, when someone says, “He is serious,” that means his next step is you know where. A lot of people are in a serious condition. Death is the only one thing that is going to happen to them which is of any significance. The rest will bypass them because with anything that they think is not serious, they are unable to show involvement and dedication. That is the whole problem. The passage, the secret of life is to see everything with a non-serious eye, but to be absolutely involved – like a game. That is the reason the most profound aspects of life are approached in a celebratory way, so that you don’t miss the point.
If people want to celebrate 365 festivals in a year, they must have enormous zest for life. Otherwise, if you celebrate for one day, people generally want to rest for three days. So making every day into a festival, involving elaborate rituals and processes, people had a tremendous sense of zest and involvement. This sense of involvement with life, this sense of unbridled passion for everything that you are in touch with right now, is what is most crucial for one’s life to flower into an ultimate possibility.