Welcome to the New Year
India is a land of rich diversity. It has diverse communities, ways of worship, festivals, foods, languages, etc. Let anything in human life be named, and India has it in as many diverse ways as one could think of. Even the beginning of the year, that is, the New Year, is diverse. Different regions, communities, have different day as the New Year.
In this month of April we welcome the New Year. Yugadi - the New Year as celebrated in states like Maharashtra, Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh was in the preceding month. That New Year is decided as per the Lunar calendar. In the month of April, 14th is the New Year Day for many of the states like Tamilnadu, Kerala, Punjab and Assam. This New Year Day is determined as per the position of the Sun, though these states too follow Lunar calendar for some other purpose. Many of the tribal communities in India have their own specific New Year Day. The traditional business class has its own New Year. How such diversity could flourish in India?
India is a land of diversity because never a community in India tried to force on other community its own custom whether it was celebration of New Year Day or a pooja or a dress code. Sometimes the Hindus are charged that, “You did not go to the tribals when the missionaries converted them. The missionaries went first to civilize them; at that time you Hindus did not go. So if today the tribals are converted, why blame the missionaries? You are responsible. You never bothered to go and civilize them, educate them…etc.” But then, in India just because a person stayed in forests or in the houses made of bamboos, he was never labelled as uncivilized and therefore there was never a question of someone going and civilizing someone else whose lifestyle was different. India is a land full of diversity. This diversity is reflected in all walks of life.
But then, because we have lot of diversity it does not mean that we are all unconnected or different from one another. This is what those who have always gone for uniformity have misunderstood and misinterpreted the diversity in this land. We cherish diversity, we revel in diversity because we have known ‘That’ from which we all come. It is only because we have a vision of Oneness, we have such rich diversity. The ‘Other’ different from us is not considered as separate from us but only another beautiful expression of us. A hand, just because it has a different function, would not look down upon the stomach and try to convert it! Same way, no community would try to impose its way on others but it would actually respect others’ ways as valid for them – just as the function of hand is valid for it and is in the interest of all other limbs and organs. It is because of this vision of Oneness, there was no ‘them versus us’ syndrome in our land. And therefore no need of trying to convert others to our way so as to maintain our supremacy! In a just-published three-year study into the month-long Hindu festival by psychologists from the universities of St Andrews, Dundee and Lancaster the team of scholars said its work overturned many old beliefs about crowd behaviour. Professor Steve Reicher, a social psychologist at St Andrews University, observed: "Despite the fact that the mela seems designed to increase stress in every way — it is very noisy day and night, very unhealthy, and very packed — what we found was that actually people feel serene, peaceful and unstressed. The West has much to learn from India in how to avoid the divisive "us" and "them" forces in society and, thereby, create greater harmony.” The team found that even though people at the festival came from different castes and social backgrounds, there was a strong sense of common identity. They said this positive outlook stemmed from the absence of an "us" and "them" psychology, which was often the root of social conflict.
Thus this land was never afraid of diversity and therefore did not try to destroy it. Really, any culture, which claims of an omnipresent God, has to respect diversity. Because, as God is present everywhere, naturally each and everything is sacred and therefore each and everything has the right to exist. But surprisingly, the exclusive religions which claim an omnipresent God, do not accept everything as Divine. For them nature is not sacred nor the mother Earth is sacred. Not only that, they cannot accept even God in other forms or names as valid and are bent upon the destruction of all variants from their own. Surprisingly, we see only Hindu Dharma accepting this variety. Thus it has become Sanatana – eternal.
Why the exclusive religions are in a hurry to destroy others also can be understood in their understanding of time. For them, time is linear. It has a beginning and an end. Then, there will be a “day of judgement” and then the world will come to an end forever. Under the influence of exclusive religions, for the western mind, time has a beginning and an end.
The Indian concept of time is one of cyclic (Kaalachakra). It has no beginning and no end. Even in the physical concept of time we think in terms of billions of years. For example, a cycle of four yugas constitutes 43, 20,000 years. Thousands of such cycles are one cosmic day of Brahma. Equal amount of time is His night. Three hundred and sixty such days and nights constitute one year of Brahma. The life of Brahma is hundred cosmic years. Then another Brahma arrives and the play starts all over again. There is no beginning and no end to time, compared with the western notion of time which is just a few thousands of years. The time of one creator for us is 315,360,000,000,000 years. Whatever exists in the world is not beyond the destructive power of Time. To become immortal, one has to go beyond time.
Time does not exist as an absolute but only eternity. Time is quantified eternity. What we call linear time is a reflection of how we perceive change. If we could perceive the Changeless, time would cease to exist, as we know it. Perception appears to be automatic, but in fact it is a learned phenomenon. The world we live in is completely dictated by how we learned to perceive it. If we change our perception we change the experience of our world. Experience is not what happens to us, it is what we do with what happens to us. If we go beyond time, then each moment is new and welcome. Eternal life is then ‘here and now’ and not hereafter. It is this understanding which made us rejoice in the change of seasons, in the luxuriant variety of presents, etc. Seeing the Changeless one beyond the changeable, seeing the One beyond the Many, made us also capable of finding rhythm in creation.
It is because we see the rhythm in the whole creation, we cherish the time. The celebration of New Year is to learn to be part of that rhythm, to touch the Changeless in the changing world so that it keeps us going in spite of trials and tribulations. It also makes you live with security and serenity. People then would be bent upon destroying others as is being done by those for whom time is linear and God is exclusive.
Our every ritual, custom, associated with New Year celebration in all parts of India, was for finding this rhythm. Unfortunately, we forgot this meaningful celebration of New Year with the result, today we become part of drinking parties on 1 January. Recently, when I was present in a hospital in the first week of January, half a dozen young men and teenagers were admitted in the hospital due to accident, the reason being, they, in their fervour of welcoming the New Year, had drunk. Now-a-days, in some cities, on the night of 31st December some accident-prone roads, fly-overs, etc. are closed down to minimize the accidents. But this is treating of the symptoms and not the disease. What we need is to stop this imitation of western custom to understand and follow the path of the Rishis and touch the Changeless One, see that One expressing as many. Welcome to this New Year with the hope that it takes us to that path shown by our Rishis.
Editorial of Yuva Bharati - April 2010