Di­wali part of the rich mix of In­dia’s fes­ti­vals

Cape Times - - OPINION - AB­HISHEK SHUKLA

IN­DIA is some­times called “Land of fes­ti­vals and fairs”. In­dia’s fes­ti­vals of­fer a unique per­spec­tive of its cul­ture and civil­i­sa­tion and a full flavour of the di­ver­sity.

With 29 prov­inces and seven fed­er­ally ad­min­is­tered re­gions, di­verse ge­og­ra­phy (there are around 10 recog­nised bio­geo­graphic zones), a med­ley of lan­guages (22 of­fi­cial lan­guages, 99 other lan­guages and thou­sands of di­alects – more than 19500 at some es­ti­mates) and home to all the ma­jor reli­gions of the world (Hin­duism, Is­lam, Chris­tian­ity, Jain­ism, Buddhism, Zoroas­tri­an­ism, Ju­daism, etc), the num­ber and geo­graph­i­cal ex­panse of the fes­ti­vals is but a way to do jus­tice with the di­ver­sity of the na­tion – and re­joice in the unity in di­ver­sity when peo­ple from dif­fer­ent faiths join in to cel­e­brate the fes­ti­vals of other faiths.

All In­di­ans have grown up cel­e­brat­ing Holi, Di­wali, Eid, Onam, Pon­gal, Bihu, Durga Puja, Christ­mas, Baisakhi, etc with equal fer­vour.

Ear­lier this week, Di­wali was cel­e­brated in In­dia and in dif­fer­ent cor­ners of the world. The “Fes­ti­val of Lights” marks the re­turn of Lord Ram along with his spouse Sita and brother Lak­sh­man to Ay­o­d­hya af­ter an ex­ile of 14 years and af­ter de­feat­ing de­mon king Ra­van.

It is said that vil­lagers en route lit up the path with earthen lamps to wel­come them back, hence the name Di­wali or Deep­awali (“deep” means lamps, wali is “rows”).

Fol­low­ers of the Sikh faith cel­e­brate the day as “Bandi Chor Di­was”, com­mem­o­rat­ing the re­lease of Guru Har­gob­ind, the sixth of the 10 gu­rus in Sikhism, from the Gwalior Fort prison by the Mughal em­peror Ja­hangir, and the day he ar­rived at the holy Golden Tem­ple in Am­rit­sar. Jains cel­e­brate it as the day Lord Ma­havir at­tained Nir­vana (mok­sha or fi­nal re­lease) in the 6th cen­tury BCE.

The story of Lord Ram and his vic­tory over de­mon king Ra­van has been im­mor­talised in the epic Ra­mayan.

Ra­van had ab­ducted Sita, spouse of Lord Ram, while they were in ex­ile; Ram, with the help of mon­key God Hanu­man, de­feated the evil army of Ra­van and res­cued Sita.

The an­ni­hi­la­tion of Ra­van and his army is marked as Dusshera, a fes­ti­val cel­e­brated around 20 days be­fore Di­wali.

Di­wali cel­e­bra­tions this year in Ay­o­d­hya were also un­usual in an­other re­spect. Kim Jung-sook, first lady of South Korea, was the chief guest at the Deepot­sav (Fes­ti­val of Lights) or­gan­ised on Tues­day, Novem­ber 6. Read­ers might be won­der­ing about the Korea con­nec­tion to Ay­o­d­hya.

Through her visit, Kim Jung­sook was com­mem­o­rat­ing the deep his­tor­i­cal con­nec­tion be­tween the two coun­tries through the leg­endary Princess Suri­ratna of Ay­o­d­hya, who trav­elled to Korea in 48 CE and mar­ried the Korean King Suro, start­ing the Karak dy­nasty.

It’s es­ti­mated that prog­eny of the royal cou­ple num­ber more than 6 mil­lion to­day, around 10% of the pop­u­la­tion of South Korea.

The first lady also led the ground­break­ing cer­e­mony for the new me­mo­rial of Queen Suri­ratna (Huh Hwang-ok) in Ay­o­d­hya on Tues­day.

The leg­end of Ram and the epic Ra­mayan has tra­versed far and wide across the cen­turies. At al­most the same time last year, world lead­ers and del­e­gates were pleas­antly sur­prised to wit­ness a dance drama, Rama Hari, based on Ra­mayan at the open­ing cer­e­mony of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South-East Asian Na­tions Sum­mit in Manila in the Philip­pines.

In fact, the story of Ra­mayan is a liv­ing shared her­itage be­tween In­dia and coun­tries in South-East Asia. The story of Ra­mayan has been adapted in lo­cal cul­tural mi­lieus across the re­gion. It is also rep­re­sented in myr­iad ways in mythol­ogy, lit­er­a­ture and art forms such as dance, drama, mu­sic, sculp­ture and ar­chi­tec­ture.

Ayut­thaya, the sec­ond cap­i­tal of the Si­amese King­dom in Thai­land (14th-18th cen­turies CE) is said to de­rive its name from Ay­o­d­hya in In­dia. Ra­makien, a Thai na­tional epic, is de­rived from Ra­mayana and has im­por­tant in­flu­ence on Thai lit­er­a­ture, art and drama.

Ra­maker is the Kh­mer ver­sion of Ra­mayan in Cam­bo­dia.

In­done­sian adap­ta­tions of Ra­mayan are found in Kakawin Ra­mayana of Java and Ra­makavaca of Bali. Yama Zat­daw or Rama Zat­daw is the Burmese ver­sion of the Ra­mayana.

Ram is as much a hero for peo­ple in South-East Asia as he is for the those in In­dia. The name finds its man­i­fes­ta­tion in both lo­cal nomen­cla­ture as well as iconog­ra­phy.

Mu­rals based on Ra­mayan abound in tem­ples, palaces and other iconic mon­u­ments across the re­gion.

A unique blend through in­ter­mix­ing with Bud­dhist mythol­ogy and iconog­ra­phy has pro­duced a splen­did cul­tural her­itage in the re­gion.

The fes­ti­val of Di­wali is an of­fi­cial hol­i­day not just in In­dia, but also in about 10 other coun­tries with large pop­u­la­tions of In­dian di­as­pora.

Di­wali is cel­e­brated in the Oval Of­fice in Wash­ing­ton, at 10 Down­ing Street in Lon­don, as well as in mil­lions of tem­ples and homes across the world, with much en­thu­si­asm and pas­sion.

Di­wali is a bond that unites na­tions and peo­ples through its mes­sage of the vic­tory of good over evil, light over dark­ness and knowl­edge over ig­no­rance.

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