The Good, The Bad and The Festive

DussheraIt’s that time of the year again…when India breaks into its festive jig, when in their own diverse ways people across the country revisit the original ‘good versus evil’ story. Almost like the n-number of K serials on air, the storylines are very much the same, only the characters have different names and settings. While the Ramlila culture is rampant in north India, along with the Garbha fervor which is an export from Gujarat, Durga Puja has found its special place in Delhi too though it is originally Bengal’s baby. Tamil Nadu Andhra and Karnataka also dedicate themselves to Goddess worship, however here the trio of Lakshmi-Saraswati –Durga is worshipped for three days each. And as if to ensure that none of the goddesses (I suspect the human female behavior has prompted this) is left out, Mysore organizes elaborate celebrations in the honor of Chamundi Devi, who is believed to be Durga in her warrior role, when she slayed Mahishasura, the demon. Interestingly all these Goddesses are actually merely the personification of the various roles that a woman plays.

At the risk of sounding like a preacher, there are many a lesson waiting to be learnt from the myths that our festivals are born out of. Men would be excused for using the above facts to prove any ‘all women are the same’ theories. On a more serious note, notice how in bringing home the message of the victory of good over evil, it seems that man and women were both thought to be equally capable of tackling the difficulties. It is infact fascinating to note, if in Ramayana the dainty Sita is the epitome of good wifely conduct and a woman who seeks and relies on the protection of her better half; Ram, Ma Durga has no qualms about going ahead and resorting to a rare but forceful display of power.

Recently in an attempt to add a rider to the accepted notions of the hero and the villain in the endearing tale, an article in a leading daily claimed that people no longer identify with the portrayal of Rama as the oh-so-perfect man or with the complete demon-isation of Ravana. This interpretation somehow does not leave me much impressed, but it has its merits. The article further claimed that the society has now began to relate more to grey characters rather than black and white models of human character. I wouldn’t challenge this observation. However, I still doubt that people ever actually saw people as Ram type or Ravana type. If anything they recognized the quality rather than the person that was Ram. Even if we were to stick by the person approach, Ramayana itself has an account of the weakness of Ram when under pressure from those who thought they knew better decided to subject Sita to ‘agni pariksha’ ( literally a trial by fire) where her fidelity to Rama was to be proved. On the other side of the Palk Strait, Ravana himself was quite a well known Shiv devotee. The typecasting of Ram and Ravana as Harry and Voldemort can be attributed to about the same factors. And I sincerely believe that no individual above the age 10 years would be out there looking for boys with scars or men with ten heads.

So when after the ten days of dramatic enactment of the Ramayana a mass of people converge to witness the fall of Ravana, the moment of truth is not between any two people in the crowd, it’s a momentary sense of personal gratification at such a befitting end of evil. Most of the GvE battles are fought in the mind, intra-individual rather than inter-individual. Also though it may never have intended to be, the explosives strategically placed inside the effigy are a reminder that no matter how big the evil it will ultimately self destruct; all it needs is for the good people to start the fire. As Ravana’s effigy makes its way into the sky as stardust, my recollection is that of another effigy that fell with almost similar flourish. A Dusshera that the world was witness to; the fall of Saddam Hussein, and I have a feeling only a small minority of people sees G W Bush as their Ram. Maybe the article got it right afterall.

Symbolism and fireworks apart Dusshera happens to figure on my favourites list , for another reason, the festive mood created seems linger, waiting for Diwali to come and light it up again. Can you smell the festive spirit?