The Philosophical Basis of Hindu Festivals - Sample Essay
The Hindu sages declared that Brahman is all there is (sat). “He” is awareness (chit), and is delight (ananda). God is not only omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient, but also omniamorossus (all loving), omnidelectabilis (all delicious), and omnidiletante (all delighting). A sense of joyous playfulness is a part and parcel of Divinity and of the Cosmos. All of life is a celebration and a festival (utsava). In their deepest spirit, Hindu festivals attempt to reflect this deep sense of rejoicing in life and the world, although when it comes to practice much of that esoteric spirit may be replaced by exoteric rituals and customs.
Strictly speaking, Hindu festivals are devoid of philosophical justification; since all existence is an expression of divine joy and creativity, any day is good as any other day, there is no point in celebrating any particular day as a special occasion. If such is the case with time, such is the case with space too. All life-sustaining places are manifestations of divine power. There is no point in constructing temples and considering them holy in contradistinction to the places surrounding them. Prakriti, Nature, is the consort of Purusha, the Transcendental Principle of life.
However, such profound philosophy cannot be expected to be understood by the masses. As we all know, temples abound in India, as do festivals. The essential rationale for Hindu festivals usually derives not from the esoteric Hindu scriptures called the Upanishads, but much latter-day mythologies called Puranas. Compared to the ultimate heights scaled by the Hindu philosophical doctrines, the stories from epics and Puranas appear to be rather juvenile, though they often contain much more powerful symbolic significance than epics and mythologies of other cultures of the world.
Although the grandeur of the Vedantic sense of festivity and constant celebration of life is lost to the modern world, in India as elsewhere, it seems to shine at times through the color, dance and jollity of many of these Hindu festivals. Thus, paradoxically, though their very existence goes against the essence of Hindu doctrine, they manage to convey that very same spirit in a poignant manner occasionally. There is indeed a great sense of paradox here. But Hinduism is full of paradoxes, contradictions and contrasts.
In a religion that has dared to conceive the most abstract conception of divinity possible, the Brahman, it is indeed very strange to see even a hint of idol worship. However, India is teeming with idols in every house and street corner. Hindu festivals too are another expression of this deep paradox that Hinduism is riddled with. India is often considered a land of festivals. The Hindu festival best known in the Western world is the fall festival of lights, Deepavali or Diwali. Even to Hindus, it is the quintessential religious festival.
The date varies every year but occurs either in late October or early November, in the months of Karthik, on Amavasya (new moon day) — the darkest night of all nights (MacMillan 6). With its arrays of lighted lamps, firecrackers, and festivities, Deepavali transforms the desolate moonless skies by filling them with laughter, happiness, and radiance. In India, the festive season between Deepavali and the festival of Dusshera that precedes it a by a couple of weeks, is the time that comes closest to Christmas season in the Western world.
This nearly month long period is also marked by heightened shopping activity and huge discounts on consumer goods in the modern-day thriving consumer society that urban India has turned into. But if we briefly move away from the hustle and bustle of booming Indian metropolitan scene, and enquire into the original truths that lay behind the festival, truths echoing the pristine silence of eternal Himalayas, we may stumble upon profound revelations. From falsehood lead me to Truth, From darkness lead me to Light, From death lead me to Immortality. – Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 1. 3. 28 (Joshi 44)