This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Ranjeet Menon. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Narratives About Festivals Have Shrouded Traditional Beliefs And Control Our Lives Now

More from Ranjeet Menon

Image via Flickr

It’s the festive time in India and festivals are lining up one after the other. It’s Diwali time, Diwali being the colonial version of Deepavali which means ‘rows of lamps’. The significance of this festival is in the innumerable traditional earthen oil lamps that are lighted up across the country on Diwali evening. Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, is supposed to visit the houses of her devotees on this day. This is also celebrated as the day when King Ram, the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, returned to his palace at Ayodhya with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman, after slaying the demon king Ravan. The people of Ayodhya had lighted lamps across the kingdom to mark his return. But Diwali is not a one-day festival like all the other festivals in India. It is celebrated for five days, and Diwali is celebrated on the third day.

This is the tradition I grew up in, and as common sense and logic started forming in my mind, I started wondering about the logic behind all the festivals across religions. If Lakshmi the Goddess of wealth was visiting the houses of all her devotees, no Hindu would be poor and struggling to make his/her ends meet. Ayodhya, as the birthplace of Ram, has long been a contentious issue—because no clear material evidence of either his or the existence of his city has been found yet. Does this make me an atheist and a non-believer of Hinduism and Hindu beliefs? On the contrary, I have only been trying to separate logic from narratives.

Diwali is celebrated on New Moon day when the Sun and Moon appear together in the Libra constellation between October and November. Libra is the sign which is supposedly auspicious for business and professional lives. On the day of New Moon, the sun is at its weakest and moon does not have any powers according to the astrology. The darkness is supposedly the time when malefic forces gain strength and affect humanity adversely. In olden times, there were only oil lamps to light up in darkness. So oil lamps were lighted in all houses to ward off evil forces and also to usher in prosperity because of the positioning of Sun and Moon in the Libra constellation.

So this is how the tradition of lighting lamps on New Moon day between October and November started, and celestial changes were the reason behind it. Then what is the connection with Goddess Lakshmi and Ram? If people were told to light lamps by explaining the movement of Sun and Moon from one constellation to another and its effects on us, none of us would either understand it or care to light lamps. But associate it with divinity and the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, and the situation changes completely. Oil lamps have been replaced with electric bulbs, and we always have light now. The Goddess has never walked into any Hindu’s house till now, and none of us is expecting her either. But we still light oil lamps on Diwali evening nevertheless even after thousands of years from the time the tradition took its roots. This is the power narratives have over us.

Ram returning to Ayodhya and the lighting up of the city is another powerful narrative. I do not have the knowledge to dismiss it as mere story authoritatively. An epic cannot be built around an individual without his/her existence at some point in time. All of it cannot be the fantasy of some writer. But the question of logic props its head up again with questions. Ram and Lakshman supposedly travelled from north India to the southern tip and then crossed over to Sri Lanka to rescue Ram’s wife Sita from the clutches of the demon king Ravan, and the journey has been written in great detail.

We have to wonder if anyone did take up the journey along with them and write it all down or were the details added into the epic over the course of thousands of years. The narrative of Ram’s return and Ayodhya getting illuminated could be true, but then, the question is, what about the tradition that was created around Sun and Moon moving to Libra constellation and all of that? Did the tradition come first or Ram’s return? Logically, I will go with tradition. Ram’s killing of Ravan could be seen as the metaphor for the victory of light over darkness, or he may well have chosen to return on a particular day because of its traditional significance.

Christmas is another festival that has fascinated me to very similar levels. I thought nothing about it until I read about how Emperor Constantine decided to integrate Christianity into Rome from his death bed. All the numerous sects of Christians existing at that time assembled at Rome and from the hundreds of Gospels, four were chosen to ultimately create the New Testament which came to be called the Bible. Then I read about the tradition of winter solstice getting celebrated even thousands of years back before the time of Jesus and how Romans used to celebrate for a week in honor of Saturn God who was called Saturnalia. The last day of Saturnalia was celebrated on December 25 with exchanging gifts and lots of merriment.

So what is the significance of celebrations in the honor of Saturn God? Every celestial body in the near and distant vicinity of the earth affects it with gravitational and electromagnetic forces. But why Saturn? Recent research may point to Saturn being a star in the distant past which got reduced to a brown star when it lost all its energy and became a planet when it came under the influence of Sun. Many ancient civilizations seem to have worshipped Saturn as the Sun. This finding seems to be credible because, in ancient Indian texts, Saturn (Shani) is referred to as the son of Sun (Surya), which essentially means Saturn was created by the Sun. No one would have had guessed about its true meaning even remotely without the knowledge of Saturn being an ancient star.

In Indian astrology, Saturn is considered to be a tough taskmaster. Its appearance and movement in a person’s astrological chart are meant to transform the person’s personality and behavior. For example, if the person is used to splurging money, he will be forced to tighten up his trouser’s belt and made to survive to teach him the importance of wealth which is symbolic of how the Sun appeared in Saturn’s journey and reduced it from a star to a planet.

Again the question comes to believing in celebrating the significance of a celestial event or believing in the narrative of the birth of Christ. Logically, I will go with tradition again. Here too, I am no one to question or disbelieve about the birth of Christ. With time, what would we celebrate? A celestial event or the birth of the proponent of a religion? I would rather like to believe that Christ was indeed born on the day, which is considered auspicious and has been celebrated for thousands of years.

All of these signify that every festival we celebrate has a celestial significance associated with it irrespective of religions and communities. Most Hindu festivals are so old that it is no longer possible to find the true celestial events for which they are celebrated because the narratives about them have overlapped the events with passage of time. Vishu and Onam are two harvest festivals in Kerala. Vishu is celebrated in April before the onset of monsoon season and Onam in August/September towards the latter half of the monsoon season.

Vishu is considered to be the new year for Keralites (and for the rest of south India), but the tradition of Onam is steeped in the legend of demon king Mahabali who was banished into the underworld by Vishnu and came to meet his people once every year during Onam. The celebration of Onam begins 10 days in advance, and the Onam festival itself is for four days. I am quite sure there is some celestial event associated with such long drawn festivities, but the image of Mahabali is so strongly imprinted on the festival’s history that I am unable to ascertain what lies in its background.

We start celebrations for most of the festivals with a particular observation of the Sun or Moon or based even on astrological star positions as declared by religious leaders without understanding why. The ancient people who studied celestial events had extremely advanced knowledge which is what led them to start celebrating the events. The positions of celestial bodies must have definitely changed in the thousands or even millions of years since the traditions started—so we no longer know how relevant the traditions are now. So, is it possible that older traditions are getting repackaged by creating newer ones so that the celestial events continue to be observed and celebrated?

I see narratives about traditions as the best way to control our minds and thoughts. The Babri Masjid was brought down by a mob that was incited into destruction under the belief that Ayodhya is the venerated place of Ram. Now Ram is considered to be the ideal man (uthama purusha) with regards to his character, personality, devotion towards his family and people, righteousness and in performing his duties among many other things. But he had his fallibility as well. His life story has been used to exemplify how we can make our lives perfect. Then how is building a temple in his name and praying before his idol going to make us ideal human beings like him? Would such an ideal person want himself to be restricted to an idol in a temple or would he want us to learn from his life and make our lives better?

No one is asking these questions, which is the measure of controlling the narratives representing the traditional beliefs have over us. The Vatican had incited the English and French kings to start the Crusades to invade and capture Jerusalem with the narrative that Jerusalem, the holy land and birthplace of Jesus was flowing with milk and honey. When the Crusaders reached Jerusalem, they found only a barren land with heat and dust. The true purpose behind initiating the Crusades is still obscure, but the entire Middle East is still in its throes even after so many centuries. Muslim countries are in conflict among one another, and Israel is in conflict with Muslim countries. But why are the U.S. and other western countries involved in the conflict there?

It’s not that I do not believe in festivals. I love the festivities and all the food that gets made even though I am not a foodie. What is amazing is how passionately people celebrate festivals, especially in north India. But this passion is being exploited by business establishments with offers and discounts to the point where people are even taking loans to buy goods for themselves and to gift to relatives and friends. The purpose of celebrating festivals has shifted far away from celestial events. In spite of having higher intelligence to think critically, we are still allowing ourselves to be shepherded and controlled in the name of Gods and narratives.

You must be to comment.

More from Ranjeet Menon

Similar Posts

By Gulraj Bedi

By Anchal Gupta

By Tina Sequeira

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below