Let us first analyse why there is a need for these religious festivals. As we work everyday from morning until evening, we become tired and naturally need to rest. We go home to eat and sleep and we feel revitalized, and are ready to work again the next morning. However, as our life continues between work and rest, day after day, a kind of monotony sets in. We feel bored and think to ourselves, “I need a change.” Although our physical exhaustion is revived by sleeping, how do we get rid of this boredom, this mental exhaustion? What we generally do is look for some kind of entertainment.
The Sanskrit word for entertainment, mano ranjana, means delighting the mind, entertaining the mind. Some people sit and watch television for entertainment, others play cards, go on picnics, or spend time on a hobby. Everyone looks forward to their weekends so that they can do something that is fun and relaxing, a relief from the pressure and monotony of work. Yet, after a while, even these weekends become routine and we want to go on vacations to Lake Tahoe, Disney World, or Las Vegas ! When these places become dull for us, we want to go to other exotic countries far away from our ordinary experiences – some place totally different ! Thus our vacations and amusements are meant to remove our boredom and give us a sense of mental rest and relaxation, at least for some time.
Recognizing this need for change and entertainment, the Hindu religion provides special occasions, festivals of a religious nature, called utsavs. No religion will last very long if it does not understand the common needs and desires of people, insisting only on strict discipline at all times, Other than fasting there must also be feasting, singing, dancing, and joyous celebrations.
One may ask that if the purpose of these festivals is to remove our mental and physical exhausion, then why are our vacations and weekends not sufficient ? Why do we need religious festivals that involve pujas? The answer is clear : Though these various amusements relax the mind and revive us for a while, they themselves become monotonous rituals after some time, leaving us with a peculiar feeling of incompleteness. Although the purpose of vacations is to help us feel rested, to gain more enthusiasm, cheerfulness and energy for our regular work, we generally find that the opposite is true. When the vaction is over, we think,” Oh now I have to go back to the office. What a bore !” Often we are left exhausted not only physically, but also financially ! Our pockets are empty and we must again work hard to make up for the lost hard earned money. The pleasure, of the vacation has, in effect, not removed the pressure, it only added a new one ! Why did the vacation not give us the desired result? Because it was a purposeless entertainment.
On the other hand, our religious festivals have a very different effect. They not only give us occasions for merrymaking, but they also give us a noble, divine vision and inspire us to raise our minds to the heights of that great goal. Rather than merely exhausting us physically and mentally, they purify the mind and prepare us to face life with more enthusiasm, to live life more happily and fully. If we observe these festivals closely, we will see that they not only point out the ultimate goal of life, but also give us guidelines to reach that goal. In short, our religious festivals serve the purpose of all other entertainment and at the same time give us much more.