Festivals have their origin in the dawn of human civilization. Usually a specific date or occasion is fixed for the celebration. Although, with passage of time, most festivals have come to observe religious or cultural proceedings, these events actually began as social gatherings. The ancient organizers wanted their brethren to escape the drudgery of everyday life and embrace its colorful aspects.
As human civilization became multi-faceted over the millennia, the types and varieties of these festivals evolved from early gatherings around the fire. These came to be based on history, religion or significant local events. However, every festival is marked by collective celebration of a cause.
Festivals are often organized to propagate the cultural heritage of nations. They highlight various aspects of a society. For example, people all around the world celebrate Christmas, New Year, sporting events such as Olympics, Easter, Eid and other religious and cultural events to exhibit their emotions and happiness.
Festivals at national level help to promote solidarity and patriotic spirit in the society. Religious festivals all around the world bring convergence and propagate acceptance of all kinds of religions in different geographical segments.
International festivals help to increase brotherhood and remove ethnic racism in the world. Owing to the fact that world has become a global village, celebrations of all kinds of festivals in a country improves the overall image of the country and shows the acceptance of cultural diversity in the country. They help keeping alive the older traditions and provide entertainment to the people celebrating events in different parts of the world.
All the festivals that we celebrate have some profound meaning in them and serve pragmatic purposes too. Among the oldest festivities of the world are the following.
Nevruz dates back 5000 years, originating among the Turkish people to signify the departure of their folks from Egenekon. In other societies, the occasion is believed to be the day when Noah arrived on earth after the great flood, the day man was created by God or the harbinger of spring. The word Nevruz literally means a new day in the Persian language. Consequently, households get cleaned up and decorated and huge feasts are hosted.
Sterling Renaissance Festival is being celebrated since late 16th century in England. This festival, held in July, brings together many performers including comedians, musicians and actors, people who want to showcase their unique abilities.
Aoi Matsuri originated in the 6th century in Japan as a means to keep the Kamo weather gods happy. It started after a succession of storms brought widespread miseries to the population through the spread of diseases and starvation. This May festival is marked by people dressing up in costumes from Heian period and is punctuated by songs and dances. It runs for almost a fortnight.
Egyptian Harvest Festival dates back to the 13th century in honor of Moroccan Sufi al-Badawi who battled the crusaders. This festival features religion and entertainment such as snake charmers and fire eaters and is usually held in late October after the end of the cotton harvest.
Vegetarian Festival is celebrated by the Chinese community of Phuket in Thailand. The occasion marks the beginning of a month-long abstinence from meat among the followers of Taoist religion. The festival holds parades, offerings to gods and many cultural presentations over a period of nine days in the 9th month of the Chinese calendar.
Diwali or the festival of lights is observed across large parts of India in late October or early November. According to legends, this festival marks the return of Lord Rama after the slaying of the demon Ravana. On his return, the residents of his Kingdom Ayodhya lit lamps, decorated their homes, wore new clothes, burst firecrackers and distributed sweets.
The Dragon Boat Festival usually occurs on the 5th day of the 5th month on the lunar calendar. This festival dates back 2000 years and features a Dragon Boat race as the main event in which dragon-shaped boats participate. A food called zongi, which consists of rice dumplings with vegetarian and non-vegetarian fillings, is a big part of the festival.
Cherry Blossoms that are an integral part of Japanese society are honored with a festival in the spring. People wear kimonos and beautiful floral displays are part of the festivities.
Holi or the festival of colors is celebrated in India and Nepal at the beginning of spring. The festivities are marked by pelting each other with color and colored water, distributing sweets and drinking bhaang. A huge fire is also lit to mark the death of Holika, a creature who is supposed to have tried to kill Prahlad, a devotee of the God Vishnu.
Christmas is the most known festival of all – the one that marks the birth of Jesus Christ. It features tree decoration, gift exchanges and a huge traditional feast. Marked by church services and charitable acts, Christmas is celebrated with a lot of pomp and warmth.
There are some other purposes also that a festival serves – people meet each other along with their families and thus improve their social life.
Technology has started making inroads into the way we celebrate festivals. It builds on the notion of “shared experience.”
Everfest (everfest.com), a technology company, promotes festivals as opportunities for getting in touch again with ourselves, boost creativity, and ultimately help people recover a sense of purpose in their life, rather than just serving as some kind of diversion.
What Everfest does, therefore, is to act like an interactive “address book” of sort for those interested in attending some gathering.
It indexes hundreds of celebrations around the world, of every possible kind and standing: from the well-known ones, like Burning Man, to small book fairs, religious or food gatherings. It also offers an Android and iOS app through which to discover the nearest event, based on user’s current location.
And it has a feature, called “Find My Friends”, which makes it easier to meet acquaintances who attended the same festival.
Events take place around us all the time, yet there is something different about a festival that transcends everyday experiences and creates a mirror that reflects our own humanity. Similar to love, it is a state that is hard to describe, but we all know it when we feel it.

-          Subhodev Das

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