People sometimes question the need for India’s numerous religious festivals. To reach a conclusion, we need to analyse this point. Working everyday from morning until evening, we become tired and naturally need to rest. However, day after day, as we alternate between work and rest, a kind of monotony sets in. We feel the need for change. Physical exhaustion can be revived by sleeping but how can we be rid of this boredom, this mental exhaustion? We generally look for entertainment of different kinds.
The Sanskrit word for entertainment, manoranjana, means delighting/entertaining the mind. Most people look forward to their weekends, because this provides them an opportunity to do something that is fun and relaxing. It is a relief from the pressures and monotony of work. However, after a while, even weekend activities become routine. Then we plan vacations to exotic destinations, far removed from our ordinary experiences. These vacations and amusements remove our boredom and, for a while, offer a sense of mental rest and relaxation.
Recognising this need for change and entertainment, the Hindu religion celebrates special occasions, festivals of a religious nature, called utsavas. Any religion that insists on strict discipline at all times, without understanding the common needs and desires of people, will not last for long. In addition to fasting, people require feasting, singing, dancing, and joyous celebrations.
If the purpose of these festivals is to remove our mental and physical exhaustion, then why are our vacations and weekends not sufficient? What is the need for religious festivals that involve pujas? Though these various amusements relax the mind and revive us for a while, after some time they become monotonous rituals, leaving us with a peculiar feeling of incompleteness. Often vacations leave us exhausted physically as well as financially! In effect, the pleasure of the vacation does not remove the pressure, but only adds a new one! Being purposeless entertainment, it does not give us the desired result.
On the other hand, religious festivals not only give us occasions for merrymaking, but also present us with a noble, divine vision. They inspire us to raise our minds to the heights of that great goal without exhausting us physically and mentally. In fact, they purify the mind, prepare us to face life with greater enthusiasm, live it more fully and with happiness. Some festivals are devoted to celebrating the birth of incarnations of the Lord, others glorify the life and work of divine masters. These festivals serve the purpose of entertainment and at the same time give us much more. Not only do they point out the ultimate goal of life, but also give us the guidelines to reach it.