Indian culture is nothing short of wonder for many. It is a puzzle for the people who see it from outside or through a non-Indian prism, and the one common conclusion is that India has diverse cultures. Suppose we judge from the European experience, then with the diversity, we find in Indian languages, religious practices, food habits and clothing; India cannot be one nation. Then, despite all diversities, what is that common factor that binds India together? How can one of the most ancient surviving civilisations claim to be a unique nation that is also universal in spirit?
The key lies in the festivals of Bharat.
There are numerous colours of Indian festivals. We have different New Year celebrations changing from region to region, just as harvest festivals. Even the festivals of colours and earthen lights find their expressions in diverse ways. Still, if you ask an ordinary villager about the philosophy and rationale behind those varied celebrations, you will most definitely get similar answers.
Indians are known for their integrated thinking and interdisciplinary approach towards life. For them, festivals cannot be considered in isolation. They are part and parcel of the life and culture. There is a science behind the cycle of these festivals, deeply rooted in the sacred geography of each place. The land, type of soil, crops, climatic conditions etc., have an innate connection with the festivals. So are the feasts and culinary skills associated with those celebrations. Temple structures and their association with the celebrations have also been integral. Dance forms and the playing of musical instruments are not just for the sake of enjoyment but also to facilitate some form of meditation at both individual and collective levels. Even Science and Art are not compartmentalised. Material prosperity and spiritual enlightenment are simultaneously invoked remarkably – right from the ancient ritual of a Yajna. The sweets offered at the time of festivals also take into account health considerations. Honouring feminine divinity is also a common and distinctive feature of Indian festivities. Thus, celebrations become a mammoth carnival of sharing for the entire community, village, town, and city.
The willing investment and sharing are apparent in the festive traditions of India. For the unbroken flow of this civilisation, festivals have provided philosophical, spiritual, moral, and ethical frameworks for ordinary people. The Rishis – scientists who meditated and researched for decoding the principles and laws of nature – articulated the philosophy of Sanatana, the eternal; it is the festivals that allowed those otherwise enigmatic looking thoughts to be imbibed in daily life.
Due to this integral thinking, diversity is never seen as a difference in this land. A thread of unity was woven through the unique methods of educating the masses. ‘Samskara’ – the process of inculcating a set of values – is the cumulative effect of several factors – internal and external, subjective and objective. The concept of Dharma – which is beyond the western paradigm of religion – allows that connection to evolve through festivals. The process of connecting with society, nature, and of course, the higher consciousness naturally happens through these familial and social celebrations. The narrations of Ramayana and Mahabharata are another connecting factor that binds all regions, languages and festivals.
At the root of this celebration, diversity is the philosophy of –Ekam Sat Viprah Bahuda Vadanti – The Truth is One, the Sages call it by different names. There can be multiple ways to reach the same Truth, God, or Supreme Reality you believe in. Hence, we find spiritual democracy – freedom to choose one’s path to get to that supreme reality. Individual salvation and collective good are common goals, and harmony with nature is paramount. That makes Brand India. While celebrating the unique national identity, no Indian has a problem with the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – the entire world is one family. Even the highest form of national resurgence leads to Universalism in India.
When this India is presented to the world through a pavilion at Dubai Expo 2020, we present colours of Indian festivals that teach us to celebrate diversity while realising the inherent unity. While enjoying a remarkable journey of seventy-five years of this ancient and still modern land, we hope that this edition will provide a prism to connect with the thought of Universal Brotherhood.