Festivals in India would mean holidays, new clothes, meeting relatives, eating delicious dishes, dance, decorated streets and houses. And once people come together elders tell lots of stories to the young ones. Folklore related to gods and goddesses, divas and demons and the war between the noble and the evil forces. Every time in these stories the evil spirits are defeated at last by the noble ones, for example, Ravana is killed by Ram; Hiranyakashyapu by Narsimha; Mahishasur by Ma Durga and so on. We feel children would understand the importance of being noble and abstain from their evil thoughts.
But life isn’t made of such clear BLACK and WHITE people. In fact even our stories too don’t have such clearly made good or bad characters. They all have qualities which with time and situation become good or bad. During a recent In-service course with teachers on storytelling, some of the teachers mentioned a fact which will further illustrate how children observe everything minutely and positively, if taught to do so. When one of the teachers asked the children about their favourite characters and the reasons for liking them at the end of a story-telling session related to Ramayana, many of them wrote they liked Ravana. And the reason for liking him was his perseverance. He loved Sita and wanted to keep her at any cost.
For this he fought in all possible ways with Rama. Similarly, many children like Duryodhan and Mama Kansa too.
So, is this a sign of the rising tendency of the clear BLACK and WHITE characters fading into shades of grey? I can’t say. But what I can definitely say is that children have a lot of potential to understand where the love and compassion resides. They would definitely like the righteous one, if they see one. This means, a lot depends on us parents and the way we tell them these stories. For instance, when we tell about lord Shiva cutting the head of child GANESHA, many children ask how can a God kill an innocent child who was just following his mother’s orders? It is for us to co-relate it with how anger can be destructive for anyone, be it God or a Demon. Still the reason for worshiping him as a God even after this is his struggle to make Ganesha alive once again.
When we tell stories to children revolving around the festivals, we need to relate them with the contemporary world too. We need to make them understand why we practice certain rituals as a representation of the past and leave it to them to make them relevant in today’s life. If a child feels happy burning fire crackers or chanting mantras, they need to be given the freedom to do so at least once so that they can understand the effects of their actions. Do not kill their excitement by not letting them try anything at all. Be there for them.
Blindly following traditions would definitely mean end of the relevance of these festivals. Instead if the children understand and then decide to follow or leave certain rituals, there are more chances of your community growing in future.
Similarly, the most important practice to be followed in today’s world is the respect for other religions and communities. Due to globalization and open economies, a lot of foreign practices have creeped into our country too. As a result, we find more publicity throughout our country being given to celebration of festivals such as Ganesha Puja, Chath Puja, Kawar Yatras, Halloween or Thanksgiving which were earlier specific to only some parts of the nation. Again, as parents, is this good or bad for us? What stand should we take? Do we preserve our roots and remain concerned about our religion and practices or do we welcome the onset of new practices? As a nationalist definitely, we must preserve and promote our national interests. But at the same time, as a citizen of the world, we must respect other religions too. The extent to which we want to participate and introduce these other festivals to our children will depend on us.
So, once again let me emphasise the fact that parents must look at these festivals as an opportunity to not just celebrate the victory of good over bad, but also to make children understand and accept that good and bad co-exist in the world and that there cannot be only good or bad within us.
Everyone has some inherent qualities which become good or bad based on time, space and people with whom we live. And what is most important is to identify this good and bad as early as possible and make it our strength.
Easier said than done, I know. But let’s make a beginning this year.