One of the characters of English language fiction that impressed me most is Ayn Rand’s Ellsworth Toohey in her cult novel, “The Fountainhead”. Toohey aims for power over other men, and he discovers the ultimate secret to obtaining it: deny people joy in living, and make them look to you for a remedy for their misery. Toohey at first experiments with religion for his joy-denial mission, and then discrovers that socialism is an even better tool. How apt: some scholars say socialist belief is but another branch of the Abrahamic line of faiths.
A lot of Abrahamic theology, of course, is obsessed with the “crimes against God” that humans commit. The Original Sin of them all is procreation. Come to think of it: the basic mechnism that nature invented for the reproduction and survival of the species is sinful! Man is born of sin and cannot live without sinning. Isn’t that devastating? It seems like we are screwed. But wait a minute, there is Toohey. More precisely, there is Good News. The redeemer will lift you out of the misery of sin. All you need to do is to seek salvation in him (alone) and shun false gods, and abracadabra, you can go on sinning without the fear of divine retribution.
The religious festivals of this line of theology, reflecting its “seriousness”, are generally sombre affairs. Of course, in recent years the pendulum has so swung in the other extreme that Christimas has become an occasion for drunken partying and debauchery for some people in the West, but it was not originally meant to be celebrated that way. Some people say the fun elements of Abrahamic relgions, such as those are, were actually borrowed from the “pagan” “cults” they replaced. Indeed, many fun celebrations in Western cultures are non-religious, and are even condemned as anti-religious: Halloween in the US, for example.
Ironically, Christian Mission-inspired “scholars” projected Hinduism as a fatalistic, life-denying faith; a mis-characterization that still sticks. But Hindu festivals hardly reflect this alleged preference for life-denial. Deepavali is fun. Holi is fun. Krishnashtami is fun. Durga Puja is such fun that there have been angry secular demands in recent times for denying free pass to Muslim guys (but nobody mentioned Muslim girls) to dandiya nights. In fact, life is celebrated in its various stages in Hinduism, most always accompanied by a religious ritual. Naming of the new-born, first solid-food feeding of the baby, when the baby takes first steps, when the child is initiated into education, coming of age, completion of sixty years … All of these seem to me to be very life-affirming rituals.
At the same time though, I would not go so far as to suggest that Hindusim is so “liberal” it permits one to indulge the senses in a no-holds-barred fashion, either on festive occasions or at other times. However, the refusal to accept drinking oneself to death as a mark of “celebration” is hardly life- or joy-denial.
The “waterless Holi” and “crackerless Diwali” crowd wants to bring the joy-denial element to Hindu festivals and rob it of its fun spirit. It has been repeatedly, and correctly, pointed out by the “rightwing” on Social Media that this crowd has nothing against ritual slaughter of millions of animals on Bakr-Id. But of course, why would it have any? Its goal is to make Hindu festivals lifeless; not to strip others’ festivals of the “fun” of taking the life of countless helpless creatures that share the planet with us.
I am not into preaching against non-vegetarian diet; but I believe that ritual slaughter of millions of animals as a form of celebration, with children in witness, speaks poorly of human capacity for compassion. Ritual animal slughter is not alien to Hinduism either; but is simply not done on the gargantuan scale of Bakr-Id. Moreover, as the faith evolved, the practice largely went out of vogue, with symbolic forms of “sacrifice” taking over: the breaking of the pumpkin in the South, for example.
Hinduism must any cost not lose its joyous nature and its penchant for celebrating life. It must of course couple this feature with reasonable restrictions concerning the well-being of oneself and others, and compassion for lesser life forms. A plug for eco-friendliness is welcome: but it is in fact is old hat in Hinduism (Siva and Ganesha love to be decorated with grass and leaves). Less noisy, less polluting Deepavali crackers are welcome too. It is debatable however that the crackerless-Diwali nuts have anybody’s well-being in mind. They are the Tooheys of our times: they want power over us. And since most scheming, calculating power-mongers are deep down cowards, they remain silent over large-scale animal slaughter. As they remained silent over this incident .