Life is all about happiness and as human beings, social interaction with our fellow beings not only brings happiness but helps us grow our capacity to learn languages, familiarise ourselves with cultures, inquire, think, play and work.
We are dependent on social heritage, which is a mixture of customs, traditions, moral values, attitudes, festivals, folklore, beliefs and ideals not only makes us who we are but binds us to pass it on from one generation to another.
Festivals have both social and economic angles. In the chaotic and stressful planet we inhabit, happiness is overshadowed by negativity and insecurity and so the need for something that could bring positivity has been felt time and again. Thus, festivals that give us the opportunity to forget all our worries and celebrate the positive side of life, even if it is for a few days, came into existence.
Festivals act like stress relievers and help us balance our emotions. More positivity naturally lowers negativity. It also provides an opportunity to reduce friction and brings estranged friends and relatives together in a bond of love.
Nothing brings people together like festivals do. They play a pivotal role in nation-building; bringing people from every religious, economic and social background together. If we look at the fascinating journey of human evolution, we understand that human beings do not invent or create something unless it is required. There is no written history to explain when festival celebrations started but in ancient Greece and Rome, festivals linked with religion, social organisation and political processes were celebrated.
Agriculture, in addition to religion and folklore, has significantly contributed to the tradition of festivals. Many festivals across the planet are associated with the time of harvest. Religious festivals like Christmas, Rosh Hashanah, Diwali, and Eid have gathered cultural significance over the centuries. Events of historical significance, such as important military victories or other nation-building events also provide the impetus for festivals. An early example is the festival established by the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Rameses III to celebrate his victory over the Libyans.
Festivals contribute immensely to feelings of social cohesion. Many such celebrations focus on cultural or ethnic topics and seek to inform community members of their traditions. They involve community elders sharing stories and experiences; setting templates for maintaining unity among families.
Festivals also stimulate economic activities since they provide employment opportunities to people. When Basant was banned in 2005, around 150,000 people in Lahore and 180,000 people in Gujranwala and Kasur lost their jobs. The recent ban on the celebration of Valentine’s Day also deprived many people from earning a living by selling flowers, gifts and balloons.
Festivals have historically been a great source of entertainment especially before the advent of mass-produced entertainment. They divert peoples’ attention from their demanding lives and amuse them in their leisure time.
Against the backdrop of recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan, it becomes all the more important to revive and celebrate many festivals that are either banned by the government or ignored by the society at large.
Pakistan is home to dozens of different festivals and their celebration will surely bring communities together. It was heartening to see how members from civil society defied terrorists and performed dhamaal at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. Launching and closing the two-day mother languages festival at Lok Virsa Islamabad with dhamaal by the delegates and participants was indeed a fitting response to the obscurantist mindset of the terrorists. One delegate rightly said, “Our response to the terrorists is dhamaal ”.
Lok Virsa is the only institution in Pakistan that has been very active over the last couple of years in reviving and celebrating several cultural and religious festivals. After successfully holding the two-day long mother languages festival, the institution will celebrate Basant: there will be songs, dances, food stalls and kite-making by master artisans. Lok Virsa will celebrate the festivals of Nawroz, Holi, Diwali, Christmas in addition to Rabab and Saroz in the following months. Such festivals bring us together in a bond of love, irrespective of colour, creed, race and religion. We believe that festivals, like life, are gifts that need to be celebrated.
The writer is the media adviser of Lok Virsa. Email: zalmaykgmail.com