Few days back on karwachauth, some media people publicly displayed their views that Hindu festivals are regressive and celebrate only male relatives. The most basic thing to understand about festivals (from any religion) is that they originated thousands of years back, more so Hindu festivals because Hinduism is one of the oldest, (rather oldest) surviving religion. The origin of a festival remains the same, whereas the ways to celebrate it keep evolving. With time, people keep adding their opinions about it and pass them on to their children. A festival’s origin relates to the social, spiritual and religious aspects of that specific period of time (when it originated). There are 2 issues around the elite feminists/ media people being so vocal about Hindu festivals, one is whether they have actually expressed honest views on festivals of all major religions existing in India or are the opinions selectively reserved for Hinduism?, second is obviously examining with a neutral mindset if Hindu festivals are indeed regressive or not. Lets cover the second issue first. I shall be restricting myself only to festivals in this write up.
Looking at particular Hindu festivals in isolation, they might seem as celebration of manhood but the truth is far from it. We in fact have exclusive festivals that celebrate feminine power. Some of those festivals are for days and are celebrated by large sections of society. There are many to count like durga puja, navaratri, lakshmi puja, kali puja. Even diwali and rakshabandhan are a celebration of woman’s honour and man’s duty. For example – during navaratri, on ashtami and navmi, unmarried girls are invited for meals, their feet are washed by men of the house on arrival and they are given little money or fruit when they leave after the meal. Overall, looking at the variety of festivals that Hinduism offers, it seems foolish to pick up just a couple of festivals and claim misogyny. And origins of all religious festivals (whichever religion) will look regressive with respect to today’s world.
Coming to karwachauth, if we do some research on the origin of this festival, we realize that this festival existed even before the time of Mahabharata. It was a different world socially. The geography was divided into various kingdoms and men were engaged in battles for considerable periods of time. Women too used to fight but not as a primary function. The probability of death while fighting was very high in those times. So, this must have been one of the reasons for beginning of this festival. Also karwa means mud pot, in those times, grains were stored in mud pots and this festival was also a prayer for, and celebration of good autumn harvest. Moreover, women were not bread earners in those times. If one looks more deeply into the system of festivals accused as misogynistic ones, the celebrations include gifting precious things or money to women. The system of festivals ensured that women collected enough amounts of jewelry and wealth, most women had own tijoris (wealth boxes) until the advent of banks and locker system. Though more research is needed on it, but it is said that fasting on karwachauth leads to synchronization of women’s menstruation with moon’s cycle, leading to better health n mood.
In today’s world, karwachauth is a celebration of the relationship that leads to continuation of human civilization. Infact, one of the very reasons why Hinduism has been surviving for so long, is the duty aspect so tightly tied to our family system. Karwachauth has taken a more symbolic meaning in today’s modernity and i know many men who also fast along with their wives. So evaluating a single festival on the basis of apparent gender equality is not a holistic view, especially for a religion like Hinduism, which celebrates many gods, goddesses and varied aspects of family system.
Coming back to the first issue mentioned above, of selective feminism & progressiveness, the truth is that the same media people don’t offer opinions on festivals of other religions. May be because ‘offense’ is immediately felt and expressed (many times legally) by the leaders of other religions, and there could be a bigger agenda as India is the only large country left with majority hindu population. While the festivals of some of the biggest religions do not look misogynistic or regressive on the face, but the truth is that they are quite regressive and based on superstition. For instance, lets talk about Halloween. Halloween began to protect the seasonal harvest from wandering ghosts. Does it mean that if we are celebrating it by dressing up like ghosts in today’s world, we are actually promoting existence of ghosts in today’s scientific world? The biggest christian festival is christmas (interestingly with regressive pagan roots), it celebrates the birth of jesus from a virgin mary. How progressive is the idea of virgin births? Going even by the highest standards of spiritual attainments in the recorded history, the feat of virgin birth seems a feminist fantasy or ultimate superstition. Lets come to muharram, how progressive does the idea of inflicting pain on oneself seem? Infact, young children are forced to keep roza during Ramadan in many parts of the world. How good is the such lack of choice in celebrating festivals? So, why do the voices criticize hindu festivals selectively? If we celebrate durga puja, why cant we celebrate shivratri?
Every religion has a certain percentage of people who are rigidly fundamental and celebrate festivals with many rules and regulations. No religion is an exception to this. As a feminist, i do understand that in small towns, some women may feel socially embarrassed on choosing not to fast on a festival like karwachauth, but such incidents are minimal and even the fussiest of relatives ultimately get adjusted to that choice in a couple of years. Though some of those women may get to feel disapproval for a day from family but they are not severely boycotted , as compared to similar situations in some other religions. Imagine a muslim woman choosing not to fast during ramzaan, or a dalit christian woman choosing not to celebrate christmas! So lets do our homework properly and show some tolerance before we selectively criticize Hindu festivals publicly.