The ultimate goal of every individual following the path of sanatana dharma is to obtain moksha — salvation — mukti. To be free from samsara — the cycle of birth and death. To be part of HIM. Or be a part of HIS abode. Or be like HIM. Or just be close to HIM.
But then, not everyone gets moksha. Not even those who deserve it. At least not easily.
Moksha is not something that happens automatically. It is a state granted by Paramatma. It is hari-prasada. Granted by the Lord to the deserving. Only to the deserving. Since he is the most unbiased entity in the world, rewards matching up to qualifications is the rule. So only those who have the requisite knowledge — jnana — get his prasada — moksha. The jnana that is required is that of HIS supremacy, HIS infiniteness, HIS glorious attributes — HIS gunas.
But then, not everyone has the requisite jnana. Even counting only those who deserve, how does one obtain it?
Shastras say the means to achieve jnana (direct knowledge — aparoksha) is through dhyana — uninterrupted contemplation of the gunas of the Lord. There are various fine-prints in dhyana as well, some of which are detailed very well in yoga-shastras, but I won’t get into that in this post.
But then, not everyone is qualified to engage in dhyana. How does one enable oneself to perform dhyana?
Shastras say the means to get ready for dhyana is through acquiring information about HIM and contemplating on that information — shravana and manana. Read the shastras under an able guru, study them again and again, contemplate over them, ask questions to the guru and get them clarified, re-read them. The process goes on.
But then, not everyone can succeed in constantly engaging in the study of scriptures — “I just cannot concentrate for even a minute” — How does one get to this stage?
Shastras say shravana and nidhidhyAsana cannot even begin if one’s inner-soul is not clean — shuddha antahkarana. And for that purification to happen — one must have control over one’s sense-organs — the indriyas.
Not everyone has control over the indriyas. We are always submerged in the material world. How do we get our tongue to resist the lure of alcohol? How do we get our eyes to resist the sight of others’ wives? How do we control our ears from listening to other’s denigration?
Shastras say that performance of sat-karma destroys the sins — the paapas- in our material body, leading to indriya-nigraha — the control over senses — that can start the process of antahkarana shuddhi. Shastras suggest various nitya and naimittika karmas — daily and occassion-driven noble deeds. Perform sandhyavandana — prayers — thrice daily. Perform deva-puja every day. Perform ekadashi upavasa every time. Perform shrAddha to the departed regularly. Perform the requisite samskaras without fail. And so on.
But then, I am so fallen in my spiritual endeavors I am not even able to get to the stage of being able to perform these nitya and naimittika karmas regularly. Do I stand no chance?
We all know shastra says — “dharmO rakshati rakshitah” — but what we don’t realize is that the protection offered by dharma is orders of magnitude more than what we offer in return in the service of dharma. Dharma repeatedly extends a helping hand to even those who are only notionally grateful to it.
Throughout the year — we have special marked out occasions — the parva kalas — our festivals — which offer us a hand so we can cling on to our dharma — to cling on to our journey towards moksha. Festivals are our straw — to which we need to cling on to — and breathe- so we continue to tread on the path of dharma leading us to moksha.
Our festivals are full of rituals. They are intentionally designed so as to trigger our interest in our karmas and our dharma. To those already well on the path, they serve as reinforcements. To the uninitated — they offer a chance — a chance to begin the journey.
In order to maximize the chance of starting this journey, our festivals insist on rituals. And each ritual has at least three main components — discipline, devotion and celebration. While devotion is the basic ingredient, the need for discipline has translated into custom rituals for each festival. And to sustain both of these is the role of the celebrations or festivities. The joy associated with a festival — the new clothes, sweets, singing, dancing, bursting crackers — triggers a curiosity in the mind.
“Why do we always burst crackers on Deepavali?”
“Why is that we always bring an idol home to celebrate Ganesha chaturthi?”
“Why do we break dahi handi pots during Krishna Janmashtami?”
These are the questions that the mind of an inquisitive child will trigger. And the knowledgeable elder will tell him the story of Narakasura samhara from the Bhagavata, the story of Ganapati’s creation from the Puranas, the story of Krishna’s leelas in Vrindavana from the Harivamsha. In a small percentage of the kids — the answers to their inquisitive questions lead to a strong desire to know more. That desire eventually leads them to seek more — to get their hands on to the Bhagavata, the Puranas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Vedas and Upanishads.
The process of shravana begins. The journey begins.
Festivities are like the latch on the door. The door of rituals. The door opens up to a ladder of stairs. Climbing each one of those stairs is the only way to reach HIM. But we will never get there if the latch on the door is locked. Let us clear our path on our spiritual journey. Let us not allow anyone to close the doors of our rituals. Let us firmly resist the locking of the latch.
Festivities are the first node in our spiritual food-chain. To let them go is to initiate the destruction of the entire chain. May that day NEVER be allowed to arrive!