For a vast number of people in India, explaining their relationship with their religion can be a difficult exercise. Outsiders find it hard to understand how Indians can ‘celebrate’ their faiths so openly and yet so privately. For us, religion is not strait-jacketed in the either-or of a matter of personal faith and that of a communal glue. It is both. The best time to showcase this synthesis is during the festival season that is now upon us.
Navaratri, the nine nights of ‘adoring’ the three manifestations of the supreme Goddess — Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati — is a perfect alchemy of worship and festivities. With Durga Puja unfolding this week, there will be another festival that obliterates the divide between the singularly religious and the openly communal. In fact, the pujas — that short form to signify the few days that are protected from ordinariness — need not appeal only to the religious or the Hindu alone; it is a period that is a smorgasbord of holiness, the carnivalesque as well as a period in which disbelief is temporarily suspended.
It is human nature — the human condition — to celebrate life even as we are buttressed by forces challenging life. That is what the festival season underlines. Last year, 59 people were killed in terrorist explosions in Delhi while the rest of us prepared to celebrate Diwali the next day. It is not apathy that makes us continue to embrace religious festivals in the face of such gloom, but the will to live and engage with life. Essentially, that is what all religions and religious festivals are.