Talking of Garba festivities in Gujarat, an Indian Express lead story today says: “The Vishwa Hindu Parishad in the state has taken up a call to stop Muslim men from attending the dances, ignoring the long tradition of Muslims taking part in Garba – as dancers, singers, organisers.” There have been other stories in the print recently of Garba organisers distributing passes so as to debar Muslim youth from entering Garba festivities whereas on other hand an FIR has been filed against a Muslim cleric for calling Garba a satanic festival.
The Muslim cleric was certainly not justified in making such a statement as it was bound to hurt the sensibilities of the Hindus who celebrate Garba with great fanfare, and see it as a religious act.
The issue is what is a religious act? Does every act performed by a collective mass of people who adhere to one religion become a religious act? I tried to find the answer in the light of Sri Krishna’s view in Gita who says that every act, even the seemingly religious act, may be performed in sattvik, rajasik or tamasik mode. Quran too says the same when it says that al-aamal bin niyat (every act will be judged on the basis of intention or thinking). Thus, from this argument, a namaz could be a satanic act if it is performed with Satanic intentions, even Hajj could be a rajasik (materialistic) act if the reasons for performing are materialistic and not spiritual (sattvik) and likewise acts like performing or watching Ram Leela, going as Kawad to fetch water from Ganges or even Garba could be a purely sattwik act, a rajasik act or even a satanic (tamasik) act depending on our intentions. We are nobody to judge an entire group collectively as the reasons or intentions inside each of the participating person may differ.
Question now arises what is a sattvik act? In my view, any act which leads to God or which is performed with God or any Divine Command in mind, is a sattvik act. In other words, any act which results in spiritual elevation is a sattvik act. Spiritual elevation is directly related to remembrance of God or His Command and even the seemingly most religious acts, if devoid of remembrance of God, cannot be called sattvik. As said earlier, the Quran too shares the same view when it says that every act will be judged on the basis of niyat (intention), which amounts to exactly same as Krishna said. If the niyat (intention) is Divine or spiritualistic, the act is sattvik, if the intention is worldly or materialistic, the act is rajasik and if the intention is satanic or dark (negative), the act is tamasik.
Performance of acts in remembrance of God or His Command endears the atma to the Paramatma. This is the message of the Upanishads. The Quran too says the same in clear words: when the good and the bad had been told to you, why you didn’t climb the steep climb, beyond which was bliss. This steep climb is the ascent of atma towards state of purity. In other words, this steep climb is ascent of atma towards Paramatma. This said and done, I wish to state in clear words that it is not an easy process, as the atma tends to slip down every time the remembrance of God gets eroded from mind and we commit sins or worldly acts. The objective of 5 time obligatory prayer for Muslims too is the same. If a Muslim will remember God 5 times a day as a mandatory exercise, it is expected that he would spend the intervening period too in remembrance of God and perform acts in sattvik mode. This will hasten his rooh (atma’s) ascent towards salvation. In exactly similar tone, Upanishads too talk of Moksha or Salvation (a stage when an atma has attained a certain level of purity and remains there till it leaves the body).
Unfortunately, be it the Hindus or the Muslims, there is little talk of spiritual elevation and salvation in this age of Kaliyuga. Today, we tend to perform even the religious acts, as a ritualistic exercise. God or the Divine Message are not talked about; neither is there any real attempt to please the Creator. That is why this is Kaliyuga, an age when most of the acts, even the seemingly religious acts, are performed with ulterior motives, and moksha or salvation have become chapters from history.
I invite you to read the first two paragraphs of the page-long Indian Express article: “For the important nights of this year’s garba, Priya Shah, a 24-year-old management student from Vadodara has her look down pat: five ornate but trendy cholis to go with embroidered chanias, those flowing, layered skirts that swirl tantalisingly as the music takes over the night; the dupattas and the brass jewellery are just like the ones Deepika Padukone had worn in Goliyon ki Raasleela Ram-Leela. But, that’s not to forget the tattoos. “Most of us (her gang of girls) wear backless cholis. We have some colourful floral tattoos to go on the waist, a ‘Love like crazy’ ink one on the back and a tattoo that reads ‘Femme Belle’ for the night on which we do the belle-dance garba,” says Shah. The tattoos are stuck on, and can be washed away, nothing so permanent that they can raise eyebrows later. The fun lasts only as long as the nine long nights.The Navratri in Gujarat is a breath-taking spectacle, a riot of colours, and, like many festivals, it upends the crusty rules of everyday life. So it follows that for young and single people it is a chance to mingle – with abandon, and away from parental disapproval. Nine nights of the year, young women in Gujarat let their hair down, as the men make the most of the opportunity, by wooing the ladies with their moves. In some garbas, like one in Vadodara, there are nearly 25 concentric circles of dancers, with some 20,000 people, mostly girls, dancing at one go. “It is difficult to keep your eyes on one girl,” says a 27-year old student, who goes garba-hopping with his gang of friends each year. But to play the game you need the wheels – the snazziest SUVs, the best bikes – and the smart lines, to take your dates out for a coffee shop or on long rides as winter begins to set in.”
Now read the last para: “…Priya Shah is getting ready for a finale designed on a ‘Turkish’ theme. Her gang of girls has been practising for over a month with a professional choreographer to perfect the belly garba – modelled on the Arabian belly dance. “That we do on the last night. We will be dressed up in shimmery lehngas and tank tops, and Turkish-styled accessories that we have ordered through e-retail sites,” she says. She needs to look her best, in case a charming young man comes along.”
Read the above description again! Did you see the mention of God even once? Not to mention God or spirituality, there is no mention of Durga as well. In the light of Krishna’s teaching regarding sattvik mode, rajasik mode or tamasik mode, you are yourself requested to frame your opinion how we have degraded in thoughts and in which category the modern-day garba falls in? Are these festivities more spiritual or PM Narendra Modi’s fasting during Navratras more spiritual? Clearly, fasting in remembrance of God is bound to elevate the atma.
The Indian Express article too agrees that we have moved away from the intended objectives when it says: “Once, the garbas were a simpler affair. Young women and girls in a neighbourhood would dance to the beat of a dhol as an elderly woman, on a fast, sang in front of a shrine to goddess Durga.”
As I said, this is Kaliyug. What has happened eventually is that the rituals which were framed for the masses in hope that some from amongst them would gain from them and come to the true religion are now considered religion themselves. For instance, the Kawad tradition was framed by our elders in hope that when the youth would travel on foot, all the way to Ganges and back, bear hardships on the way, in the way of the God, some from the masses would turn to God and work for spiritual elevation. But what is happening now is that we are doing all the acts in the name of religion, going to Ganges, making noises in the way, eating delicious food in the camps set up everywhere, bringing back the water, but with God never coming in the mind and thus resulting in no spiritual elevation. On the contrary our acts may be categorize as largely rajasik and in cases tamasik but very seldom as sattvik.
Message is that our elders have framed several rituals which have the potential to endear our atma to the Paramatma. The Kawad tradition, Hajj or even the Garba may be labelled as religious rituals but only as long as they perform the real purpose that all religions strive for; of elevating our self (atma) and endearing to the Manifest Self (Paramatma). Ultimate aim of life on earth is moksha or salvation and our atma’s continued presence on earth means we have failed to attain salvation until now. If this aim is not being achieved, the act may be materialistic or even satanic but cannot be of any benefit to us at all.