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Festivities And Indian Rural Economy

Festivals like Deepavali are considered by the traders as auspicious moments to offer puja at their shop, open new accounts. The farmers can be seen to throng their shops with their newly harvested crops. This is the time when new products are launched and special sale offers are made by corporate & companies, all with an aim to gain market presence

Photo Credit : Reuters


Indian society is a kaleidoscope of unity in diversity.  The multi-hued tapestry is its strength & beauty.  Its uniqueness come from this pluralism.  It is home to every major religion & philosophy of the world, whose natural corollaries are gods & goddesses and saints & gurus.  Commemorations of beliefs and faiths woven around them have spawned in India a range of delightful practices and events, which are both temporal and spiritual.  These have evolved as festivals, that are not just integral to Indian culture, but form the very basis of it.

Then there are festivals related to agriculture, which engendered human settlement 10,000 years ago.  Since then, agriculture has not only described the mainstay of Indian economy right upto modern times, but has also woven the canvas of social life.  Agriculture may not any more, in current India, be the dominant pillar of its economy, but continues to be a prima dona, when comprehended from the people's perspective.  More than 48 per cent of India's families earn their principle livelihood from practising agriculture as a vocation.

A biological production system like agriculture is organically linked to seasons, and the season determines the factors that hold key to the efficiency of output and as a sequence the welfare of the farmers.  Photosynthesis, the physiological aspect of crop life is a function of light and water, apart from chlorophyll that is a genetic trait of floral life.  Hence, the sun is important and, is therefore, a God to people.  Rainfall is life-critical for crop growth, animal life and other organic forms, and obviously worthy of worship as Rain God.

The efficiency of sunlight and rainfall, nay, the mercy of Sun God and Rain God influence the bounty of harvest.  India is geographically so vast, and so rich in agro-climatic types, that it is host to more than 400 kinds of crop commodities, besides an array of life forms - livestock, small ruminants, poultry, fish, and so on.  It is natural, that India as a nation sees harvests at different times over its yawning space horizon.

Harvest is basic economics and time to thank the 'giver - the God'.  Harvest brings relief, generates happiness and sows calmness.  Season time is a reflection of society in happiness.  It is time to eat, drink and make merry.  It is an expansive time to give and receive.  It is an ambience ripe for a festivity.  Seasons and harvests overseen by deities from above and handheld by gurus and purohits and church fathers and imams on earth.  All these blend to add a rare mystique to the practice and elevate the character and culture of the society.  

When India's cultural cupboard was already overfilled with countless festivals, modern India has given birth to its own set of new deities in Gandhi & Ambedkar and new festivals in Independence Day and Republic Day.  These are just an illustration. One count says, that there are 51 official festivals in India, of which 17 are nationally celebrated and the remaining are regional or local in nature.

There are any number of harvest festivals that are celebrated in different forms by different people in the country.  Makar Sankranti, a pan India celebration is one of the oldest and the most colourful harvest festival.  Celebrated in January, it marks the end of unfavourable / inauspicious phase and the beginning of a holy phase.  It goes gy different names in different states.  If it is sankraman in Karnataka, and it is pongal in Tamil Nadu, where it means 'spill over'; Kumbh mela is a related large celebration; Holi celebrated in February and March marks the onset of new spring season; Baisakhi in April is celebrated across the northern religion, especially in Punjab; Rongali Bihu is a national festival of Assam celebrated three times in a year (January, April and October); Hareli festival celebrated in July-August by the tribal community in Chhattisgarh, revolves around worship of farm equipments, cows and prayers for good crops;  Onam in August-September is a grand carnival of Kerala, that celebrates the homecoming of the legendary Emperor Mahabali, as harvest of rice and rainflowers fills the fields;  Nuakhai, also known as Nibanna is the harvest festival of Odisha celebrated in the months of August-September; Deepavali, the most popular festival of India marks the last harvest of the year before winter seeps in and celebrates the triumph of good over evil; Kut is a major post-harvest festival celebrated in November by Kuki-Chin tribes in Manipur, with a burst of cultural events comprising folk & traditional dances; Tokhu Emong in November celebrated by the tribes of Lotha Wagas is another post-harvest festival enjoyed with tribal folk dances & old folk songs over 9 days.

It is aptly said in Odisha, that 'there are 12 months in a year, but the year has 13 festivals'.  This holds good for India as a whole, and hence it is rightly known as the land of festival. Ladakh harvest festival, a Buddhist tradition; Lohri of Punjab, Basant Panchami, celebrating the birth of Goddess Saraswati and an endless list add to the repertoire of Indian Society.  Eid-ul-Fitr, that marks the end of a month long piety, continence and meditation;  and Muharram involve not just the believers of Allah, but all across the society and bind together everyone in observation  and celebrations.  Christmas time is a merry time and like the brightly lit lamps of Deepavali, Christmas tree and candles bring light, life and hope all around.  The merry making that begins around the birth of Lord Jesus continues till one welcomes the 'New Year', with exuberance, cheer and revelry, particularly among the youth.  Rural areas these days are as pomp as the urban centres in 'New Year' celebrations.

Very few countries can match India in bringing together people from across the faiths and from all the directions.  The temples of Sai Baba, Lord Jagannath, Thirupati Venkateshwar, Shiva of Haridwar, Vishwanath of Kashi with an enchanting flavor of Ganga Aarati, Golden Temple of Amritsar; Goddesses Meenakshi of Madurai, Renuka Devi of Savadati (Karnataka), Kali of Kolkata, Kamakhya Devi of Guwahati; and Dargha of Baba Chishti at Ajmer are places of daily congregations & celebrations.  The Dussehra of Mysuru, public celebrations of Lord Ganesha, new year carnival of Goa; and the twelve yearly Kumbh Melas of Allahabad, Nashik-Trimbhkeshwar Simhastha and Ujjain Simhastha are a sea of people.

And can there by togetherness and pomp & gaiety without commerce?  All these unique and rich festivals besides exhibiting India's deep & expansive cultural heritage, also serve to integrate different hues of people socially and economically.  These festivals facilitate the local communities to connect with their talent, art, craft, food, dance and variegated form of cultural landscape and support livelihoods by generating different kinds of enterprise.  Each of the festivals and celebrations demand specific goods and services.  With increasing purchasing power and cataclysmic changes in communication and transportation, the demand is only getting louder, larger and differentiated.  The supply is now able to keep pace with the demand.  The number of items and forms in demand are growing year on year.  They begin with the mundane accoutrements like tents and pandals, banners and buntings, music and decorations, and transit to the eclectic sweets & snacks and fruits & flowers; and finally to the core of the festival that include the worship material and the pujari/purohit.

All festivals, be they faith-centric or secular in nature, involve exchange of gifts, sweets and fruits.  All these activities support economic activities in varying degrees throughout the year.  The peaks and troughs of the year long demand wave, manifest in sharp & transitory peaks by way large number of temporary and makeshift shops and establishments around festival times.

A celebration that centres around one of the most loved and popular Gods in the young Lord Ganesh.  As  a benefactor of His devotees, the Lord is not only believed to be the slayer of all obstacles in one's life, but in practical world, He is an harbinger of a range of opportunities for the tiny, micro and small scale entrepreneurs.  There is great demand for event management, public sound systems, photo/videographer, and above all the idol maker.  The idol making is almost a year long engagement, that starts in December and ends in September of the following year.  Ever since, Lokmanya Tilak made Ganesha festival a public event, the intensity of people's engagement and the range of celebration has only been growing.

All these are economic activities, that once in an era autochthonous village republic were circumscribed by the local boundaries, but are now a part of the larger national economy and may be even global.  The goods and services between rural and urban centres enjoy a two way free flow exchange.  The agents of such an economic landscape, namely the producer, the distributor and the consumer are linked up with one another along the supply chain.

The Indian festivals are a precursor and sustainer of rural India's manufacturing and service sectors.  The rural entrepreneur class has now gone beyond the traditional carpenter and potter and blacksmith, and has evolved into a larger bouquet of all these people with modern technology, in addition to the new enterprise class of photographer, public sound and music purveyor, decorator, event manager, sweet maker, stationery shop keeper, cloth merchant, fruit and flower seller and so on and so forth.  Festivals have emerged as major source of enterprise and income.  

Festivals like Deepavali are considered by the traders as auspicious moments to offer puja at their shop, open new accounts.  The farmers can be seen to throng their shops with their newly harvested crops.  This is the time when new products are launched and special sale offers are made by corporate & companies, all with an aim to gain market presence.  This is such a robust economic activity, and rural sector with a large consuming class, cannot be left out.

New generation activities like rural and agri-tourism have emerged.  The endless line of India's multi-cultural and multi-faceted and multi-coloured festivals offer a great opportunity to promote and sustain rural tourism and enrich rural service sector.  India can develop its own brand of economic model linked to its multi-foliated, variegated and pluralist culture.  This necessitates upgradation of rural infrastructure, transportation and communication, besides special focus on civic amenities including rural lodgings and public hygiene.  The Swachha Bharat Mission is complementary to this vision.  The Pradhan Mantri Grameen Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) and works under MGNREGA can be intelligently dovetailed with rural and agri-tourism integrated with Indian festivals and culture.

There also is a counter argument. Some feel that these festivities are a waste of time and money of the rural people.  No doubt, one should cut his coat according to the size of his cloth, but money in circulation has its own positive spin off effect on the economy.  By nature, an Indian is cautious and conservative, when it comes to his spend.  It is, therefore, not surprising that India enjoys one of the highest saving rate in the world.   A balanced habit, that promotes both spending and saving in an optimal blend is good for the people and the country.

Human life after all is not just biological.  The aim of life is beyond the biological and even, the sociological.  Man's ultimate desire is to express himself and realize self-actualization.  Hence, festivals and culture have to be viewed from a perspective, that is not merely straight jacketed by economics.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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rural economy festivals indian economy

Dr Ashok Dalwai

The author is CEO, National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA), Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Government of India

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