Festivals like Vaisakhi, Bihu losing out to western New Year?

  • Abhishek Saha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 14, 2015 19:55 IST

Sikh men in colourful robes showing off their Gatka skills or Assamese youngsters dancing to the tunes of dhol and pepa or Bengali delicacies and wishes of 'Subho Noboborsho' - starting from today, the country celebrates regional harvest festivals that mark the new year for many communities.

Vaisakhi for Sikhs, Poila Baishak for Bengalis, Rongali Bihu for Assamese, Vishu in Kerala and the Tamil Varusha Porappu or New Year - each of these festivals is associated with unique celebrations related to the agricultural practices of a region.

Apart from harvest-related significance and New Year celebrations, the festivals have a history of their own.

For example, on the date of Vaisakhi in 1699, the 10th guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, laid the foundation of the Khalsa, the Order of the Pure Ones. It is said that the guru wanted to create a "unified group of people within the religion to defend their rights and the rights of the vulnerable".

The Bengali calendar (a solar calendar), historians say, came into being when Mughal emperor Akbar modified the Islamic calendar (a lunar calendar) to ease tax collection in the region - the lunar calendar did not match the harvest seasons.

Calculating our time using the Western calendar may have been due to gradual modernisation and today, for many official purposes, the Gregorian calendar is used alongside the Saka calendar, with Chaitra as its first month and a normal year of 365 days.

It's a no brainer that these regional celebrations don't match the pomp observed when people celebrate the New Year based on the Gregorian or Western calendar on January 1.

While celebrations like Vaisakhi and Bihu are mostly seen as exotic Indian festivals, popular culture has picked up the Western New Year in all its glamour.

An increasing commercialisation of Western New Year celebrations has pushed the somewhat homogenized event into popular culture. But that, however, is not an argument to criticise what's basically a Christian celebration.

Whatever the reason, when a popular culture dominates the discourse, indigenous festivals stand a chance of becoming less popular. And if celebrations as vibrant as Vaisakhi or Bihu or Vishu are considered only as exotic ones and fade away from popular culture, the country stands to lose a lot.

(The views of the author are personal. He can be reached at @saha_abhi1990)

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