It’s festival time again in India—not one date, one month and one festival but a multiplicity of celebrations that are cultural, religious and echo our famed, celebrated and fiercely guarded diversity. South and north, west and east, Adivasi, Dalit, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and Hindu (even this term had entirely different connotations and meanings across the length and breadth of this vast land), the observances and rituals are different, charming and varied. Seasonal festivals with religious and ritualistic connotations, too, mean different things to different sets of Indians.
Diwali, the festival of lights, may be the biggest one. Even here, as scholar Ramesh Venkataraman so eloquently puts it, “Diverse myths around the festival underpin Hinduism’s openness, pluralism and historically tolerant ‘live and let live’ ethos. But how does the puranic link to Vamana and Mahabali square with the predominantly north Indian belief that the festival of light marks the return of Rama to Ayodhya after his defeat of Ravana? The answer goes to the very heart of Hinduism. Diwali, like the rest of the Hindu tradition, does not have a singular, unchanging meaning — its significance varies widely across India’s regions and communities and has evolved dramatically over time.”