When our children were young, we lived in the City. Every year during Navratri we would take them to Chowpatty Beach at least once to see the Ramleela which was performed there for ten days. They always wanted to go on the last day, Dassera. That was when Lord Rama would aim his flaming arrow in Ravana’s direction and set him on fire. Thus triumphed good against evil.
In those days Navrati Utsavs were not celebrated so elaborately. Nowadays everything is different. The local Navratri Utsavs are celebrated on a grander and grander scale every year. Navratri used to be an occasion for local communities to come together and interact while celebrating. Now the festivities are usually sponsored by local politicians. A huge Mandap is put up with loudspeakers disturbing people until late at night. Huge amounts of money are spent. And support at election time for the sponsoring party is expected in return.
One Navratri Mandal in our area constructed their Mandap right in the middle of the street effectively blocking traffic. A huge arch was put up by the local political leaders. On one side was painted Mata Durga sitting on her throne while on the other were painted the faces of local politicians. These were all in a row, looking for all the world like the ten faces of Ravana!
Looking at these faces as I passed the arch a few days ago, I thought of how politicians had virtually hi-jacked what should be just a time for friends and neighbours, local communities, to celebrate. Maybe it is time now for the Lord Rama that is present in each of us to awaken and take our festivals out of the hands of vested interests and politicians, and put them back into local neighbourhoods, to be celebrated with simplicity and friendship.