Dussehra was celebrated all over the country yesterday in various ways in tune with regional beliefs. Today’s [25 Oct] Times of India carries a few interesting headlines in relation to the celebrations.
“Filth, stench mar Durga idol immersion,” says one such headline. “Puja material adds to Yamuna’s woes,” laments another. The devotees of Durga were not aware of the Delhi government’s order that the idols should be immersed only in certain places allotted specifically for the purpose. Consequently people disposed of the idols wherever they liked. Along with the idols was also disposed a lot of waste matter including plastic wrappers of food items and empty mineral water bottles. The much polluted Yamuna was ill fated to carry more pollution than it could ever digest.
A question that should necessarily arise in our minds is: why can’t we modernize certain rituals that have become out of tune with the time? Doesn’t religion require modernisation, renewal, or – in technical jargon – aggiornamento? Are the old rituals relevant today?
We can say with some certainty that the conquest of evil by good, symbolised by Dussehra, is not quite meaningful today. We live in a world in which the distinction between good and evil is increasingly becoming blurred.
Another headline in the same Times of India reports that some JNU [Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi] students were planning to celebrate Mahishasur Day. Mahishasur is the demon, the evil monster, vanquished by Durga. But asur is a tribe in Jharkhand, according to these students.
The question that these students are trying to raise is whether Durga was the real embodiments of goodness and Mahishasur that of evil. Or, was Durga the embodiment of the power of a certain section of people who wanted to have absolute control over the others who were perceived and projected as evil? In the recent past we had such philosophers as Foucault who argued that some people could get the others to accept their ideas of who we were. The process involves some power to create belief. Is Durga a creation of such a process? Is Mahishasur a victim of such a process?
Another philosopher of the 20th century, Barrows Dunham, argued that “truth has been suffered to exist in the world just to the extent that it profited the rulers of society.” According to that theory, evil can be anything that becomes inconvenient for the ruling classes, the powerful classes.
Yet another headline in the very same Times of India says that Ravana is a mahatma for some people like the Valmiki community. The report also says that Ravana’s wife, Mandodari, was the daughter of the King of Mandawar, today’s Mandor, 11 km from Jaipur in Rajasthan. Some relatives of Ravana stayed back after his wedding and their descendants still live in the place. For them too Ravana is a mahatma. They have even constructed a temple where the entity that is perceived as a monster by many others is worshipped.
Where lies the truth, and where the falsehood? Where lies goodness, and where the evil?
Can Rama’s indifference to Sita after his murder of Ravana be justified? Can the fire test meted out to Sita be justified? Wasn’t it the duty of a leader to raise the consciousness of his followers? Instead of doing that why did Rama play to the gallery?
Quite many questions can be asked.
A colleague of mine, Mr S K Sharma, tells me about a Hindi play titled Andha Yug [Dark Age] which tells the story of the Mahabharata from a different perspective. Wasn’t it a sign of the darkness (moral and spiritual blindness) of the time that the wife of a blind man chose to be blind herself instead of being her husband’s light? Can we really justify the allotment of one woman as the wife of five men? And then staking her at a bout of gambling? Is the Mahabharata really about the victory of the good over evil?
Isn’t it time that we redefined our religions and their rituals so that the followers can find them really meaningful in today’s real life situations? Does ‘good’ belong to the rituals or our hearts?