Saturday, January 31, 2015

Culture: Not for Sale

While going through the literature on cultural tourism, one usually gets the impression that culture is an exhibit, an item for sale, or at best, a catalyst for the promotion of tourism. For many, culture is synonymous to folk dances and folk songs only, and this is exactly so in the minds of the planners of the community cultural shows during the national and state festivals, as we really find it during such occasions. In reality, there is a lot of perceptional haziness and confusion in matters of culture and tradition in this country, especially among our English educated elite, most of who may be categorized as culture and tradition illiterates.  In case of the tribal societies, anthropology, as a colonial discipline, also promotes confusion.

Our festivals have much in common, and to find the thread of commonality, and to some extent, the pan-Indian frame, one should develop a macro perception based on micro studies. The Indian festivals, including that of the North-Eastern region, cannot be properly conceptualized in purely profane framework. To think of our festivals having something queer, something strange and thereby attractive for the tourists, as the planners of cultural tourism may think, is erroneous. In fact our festivals operate in overall frame-work of sacred-profane complex.

Festivals of North-East, like the festivals of the rest of the country, have social, ecological, cultural and religious aspects. There is a lot of social interaction, sharing and reciprocation during our festivals. Of course, during many festivals, such as during traditional Angami Naga festivals, outsiders are not allowed entry in the village, what to say of their being entertained. Cleaning of the paths, water ponds, and worship in the sacred groves, point towards ecological aspect of the festivals.
During a large number of our festivals the songs about the legendary and community heroes are often sung. This trend is visible throughout the country, as for example among the tribal of North-East India, such as the Chang Nagas, Madhya Pradesh tribal and the caste communities throughout the country.

The worship of deities, which include pan-Indian deities, community deities, village/local and household deities, is an essential part of most of our festivals. Cattle are also worshipped during certain festivals. Even agricultural implements and the tools used by the artisans are the objects of worship. Kayasthas worship the pen. This aspect of our festivals may hardly be understood by the foreign tourists, especially of the Semitic religious-cultural background; this is, because, ‘man-nature-spirit’ sacred complex under the living non-living continuum frame- work is an alien concept for them. God Vishvakarma is worshipped by the castes and tribes throughout the country.  Vishvakarma is included among the deities of the Khasis and the Jayantias also.        
Writing all these about our festivals does not mean that they lack the entertainment content. In reality they have enough of it. But we cannot afford to present them to the foreigners as something queer only for their entertainment, unless they perceive them sympathetically in proper perspective with their full significance. Here, it needs mention that many Indian tribal Christian converts have started observing their community festivals of the Pagan days, but their attitude towards the same is not the same as that of the non-converts. The lack of the elements of the sacred and the spiritual content makes the difference in the case of the former. In case of our presenting the community festivals for attracting the tourists, there is every danger of dilution of our own attitude towards them.

B.B. Kumar
Editor :Quest

Quest : The Journal of Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture