On the Clash of Civilizations

What appears to be a clash of civilizations is really a tension that has always been present within all cultures between two groups which I will designate as A and B.

Group A consists of the upholders of anachronistic values, ancient worldviews, and deep-seated cultural insecurity because Group B seems to be on the right side of history. 

Group B consists of the awakened sections of society who are striving to replace older visions and worldviews with newer ones.  

There are elements in the older frameworks which are intrinsically good, and also quite a few elements which are intrinsically evil.

The tension between the two groups has always been there within all cultures and societies throughout human history.

For various reasons, in the Western world, by and large Group B succeeded in gaining an  upper hand. Group A is still present in the Western world, trying to regain its traditional supremacy. Groups A still dominant in many Non-Western societies.

Because of this, it seems as if the clash is between two civilizations. Actually it is between the two groups, also brought into the international arena.  There are protagonists and fighters of both groups in the Non-West as well as in the West.

 Honor-killing, widow-burning, caste hierarchy, untouchability, racism, gender inequality, economic disparity, religious intolerance, sectarian bigotry, God-invoking fanaticism, oppression of weaker peoples, colonialism, and social injustice are among  the evil components of  bygone ages which  ought to be eradicated for the benefit of  human societies at large, but which have supporters in various parts of the world.

Multiculturalism in the sense of respecting the positive elements of all religions and cultures, and making all citizens welcome and become part of a larger culture based on Group B principles was one of the greatest achievements of the last quarter of the twentieth century in the modern world.

However, an increasing number of people in Europe, Australia, and the U.S., as also some Western governments, are beginning to feel that  multiculturalism is a failing framework because they see/fear that many immigrants from some Non-Western cultures want to persist in belonging to Group A in the versions of their place of origin, and some are even wanting to  transform the West into its earlier Group A dominant phase.

This struggle for power between Group B and Group A is at the toot of much of the malaise in the world. In the view of the enlightened minority in the world,  healthy survival of civilization calls for the success of Group B all over the world.

It is not clear if this will eventually happen, given that the counter forces (within nations and among nations) are quite strong and are scheming and agitating for their own victory.

October 14, 2012

On the Golu Festival

While most of the Hindu world is observing the nine-day Navaratri festival, in many South Indian homes there is also another joyous celebration going on. Known as kolu (pronounced as golu), in this festival the family constructs a seven, nine, or eleven tier step-structure and covers it with a nice cloth. Then on the steps are arranged – often in a particular order – every colorful doll and figurine in the house. By tradition each year one may add a new doll or set.

Auspicious decorations (kólam) adorn the arena where a traditional oil lamp is lit in the evenings.  Invited guests gather and sit at the doll-filled steps after admiring them.

An anointed pitcher with a coconut on top is usually placed on the first step, and there is an idol of Ganesha on the highest step. Many of the dolls on the other steps are symbolic of the various avataras of the tradition. In the various other steps there can be dolls and figurines from various cultures, with or without religious significance. There could be a set displaying a wedding ceremony, another set consisting of an elderly couple, yet another with a cart and driver, and so on. It is also common to have traditional doll-pair made with black wood (marappácchi bommais), and nicely clothed in colorful costumes. Some of the dolls come from previous generations: from mother and mothers-in-law.

Though men and women participate in the rejoicings, the golu festival is only in homes with daughters, and is generally hereditary. That is, only families with the golu-tradition continue it.

Given that in a community many homes may set up golu, invitations are often time and day specified. So there is an open house during those days and times during which a stream of guests come and go. Some of them sing a devotional  song or two, sitting at the golu-steps. Every festival in the Hindu world is colorful and joyous, each associated with special snacks. So during the golu days too there is a treat consisting of some snacks: in some cases this may become sumptuous and even border on a dinner. When the women guests take leave, they are given a special parting gift.

Golu is one of the most beautiful, aesthetically pleasing and religiously least myth-laden festivities of the tradition. It brings the community together in a very unusual way. It is always a pleasure to visit a golu-home.

It may be mentioned in passing that in Japan there is a somewhat similar one-day festival of dolls known as Hina Matsuri. It is also focused on girls. One of its goals is to ensure a happy and fruitful life for the daughters in the family. On this day, it is customary to drink some sweet sake and a special type of sushi, called chirashi. One also makes a special cake with rice in a geometrical form, called hinshi-mochi, for day, consisting of a few colored layers. Two of these are also placed with the dolls.

As with golu, dolls are displayed in special arrangements, often in different tiers. Since this occurs in  the season of peach flowers (March), these are used for ornamentation. One also refers to this festival of Momo-no-Sekko (Peach blossom festival). In the Japanese tradition, peach blossoms represent auspiciousness. They are also regarded as representing the qualities of gentleness, peace, and equanimity. The dolls are nicely left in place for all to appreciate for a whole month.

It is remarkable that two traditions (Tamil and Japanese), quite different in many ways, have festivals which have such parallels.

October 19, 2012