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Christmas is not a festival but a feeling

Hindus seem to be celebrating Christmas this year with a zest that's quite remarkable even for this party-loving faith.

ht view Updated: Dec 21, 2014 13:36 IST
Renuka Narayanan
Renuka Narayanan
Hindustan Times

Something's going on this Christmas of 2014 and it seems worth flagging because I think it's a classic Hindu way of personal protest. As I see it, Hindus seem to be celebrating Christmas this year with a zest that's quite remarkable even for this party-loving faith. This year, there are so many Christmas parties happening in Hindu homes, like for Dipavali, that we can barely keep up. It wasn't like that last Christmas.

Why is 'Hindu Christmas' noticeably on the up and up this year? In my view, your regular Hindu instinctively resists being coerced. While a number of Hindus may presently support the BJP, they do not support extreme hindutvists. They feel trespassed upon when told by a bunch of unwanted busy bodies to lay off celebrating anything they please - Christmas, Valentine's Day or Jumme Raat at the Sufi dargah.

This resistance comes from the fact that a Hindu's home, like an Englishman's, is his castle. His mind and soul too are his personal space. They belong only to him. The nature of the faith is intensely personal although a steel frame holds most Hindus in matters like marriage. Priests in Hinduism are for formal rites of passage or to ceremonially invoke good energy for a project or a problem, if such a need is felt. Every Hindu knows that he (and now, she) owns the faith.

That's why it's invasive for a believing Hindu to be told what to do in his own castle. I saw a curious expression of this in the 1990s when Sri Ram was first upheld as the focus to rally the forces. New calendars quietly began appearing on the pavements of Delhi depicting Shiva as a baby curled up in sleep. They were hugely popular and nothing less than a personal rejection of militant hindutva by regular Hindus. Similarly, while they dislike evangelists who vilify Hinduism (wouldn't you, in their place?), Hindus have no problem with Jesus. In an open, long-standing attitude of "What's not to love about Jesus?" many Hindus have made Christmas their own festival and cherish Jesus, if not always every act by the many churches operating in his name.

As small, old personal examples, and there are many such Hindu stories, my granny had a picture of Jesus and Mary in her puja room, my aunt had a carol-singing Christmas party around her piano for many years, a number of Hindus I know like to show up for midnight mass, my father quietly slipped into St Patrick's Cathedral in New York to pray when my mother's shraadh occurred during a visit to the US. Is he 'un-Hindu' for that? He doesn't think so and would consider it the height of impertinence if questioned. Orthodox Hindus who sincerely observe puja-paath-vrat-yatra also put up Christmas stockings and trees for their children and give each other presents. If they did not think well of Jesus, is it likely that they would rejoice on his birthday?

Hindus who share in Christmas are not 'crypto-Christians' as I recall Mr BP Singhal once castigating them. Rather, saffron extremists are crypto-Wahabis trying to invade a believing Hindu's castle.

First Published: Dec 21, 2014 13:32 IST