Love in Bharat and India

Valentine’s Day was followed the next day by the Hindu festival Vasant Panchmi, in which Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, is worshipped. It was an occasion of Bharat following India. There are many people, especially in the young English speaking sections of Indian society, who might have wished others Valentine’s Day but might not know about Vasant Panchmi. I would call such people inhabitants of India, where the Western outlook, way of life and culture are increasingly followed and adopted. And there are many people, especially in sections where the Hindu tradition holds strong, who would not have been enthused at all by Valentine’s Day but who would have celebrated Vasant Panchmi. These people are in Bharat, where the traditional values, observances and way of life of our land are prevalent among people.

Valentine’s Day is about romantic love and friendship. Vasant Panchmi is not just about goddess Saraswati. It is also about the onset of vasant or spring, a season in which romantic ties are boosted by an environment suffused with flowers, fragrance, beauty and balmy weather. It is mostly in some of the eastern states where Vasant Panchmi is actively celebrated. But while Vasant Panchmi has remained confined for a long time to where it has been celebrated with zeal, Valentine’s Day has become a strong presence in the urban areas all over the country where the commerce behind it has been able to penetrate among the people through the media, advertising and other tools of marketing.

Many sections of Indians are now not aware that the tradition of romance in spring has been present in our land for a long time. They are content to associate romance with the single-day observance of Valentine’s Day. It is a story of triumph of commerce over tradition. I worked for a leading PR agency in Delhi. One of the accounts the agency handled was of a major manufacturer and retailer of greeting cards and gifts. The company has a pan-Indian presence. All major cities have multiple outlets offering the merchandise of this company. The company has cards and gifts not just for Valentine’s Day but also for other days earmarked for different relationships. Rakhi takes care of sale of products marking the relationship between brothers and sisters. But there are other days borrowed from the West dedicated to other relationships like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day.

The firm had to push sales of its products for all these days. The PR agency planted stories in newspapers and magazines related to these days on behalf of the firm so that readers became aware of them and observed them by offering gifts and cards. In the week running up to Father’s Day, for example, the agency would plant a story in the pullouts of newspapers about Father’s Day coming up and have in it quotes of celebrities on their fathers. Sure enough, prior to this year’s Valentine’s Day, too, newspapers had articles on it. The idea is to subtly and imperceptibly nudge people towards buying merchandise related to these days. And the soft selling through the PR efforts is done very aggressively. How all these efforts have succeeded! It is a cool and calculated exercise to encash emotions.

A large part of India where the Western way of life is aspirational and has already been adopted is influenced to a great extent by these efforts. Bharat is different from this India. Bharat is where traditional festivals, days, rituals and practices still have a strong presence. Bharat does not buy greeting cards on Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day or Mother’s Day. Indians are much less in number than Bharatiyas but the huge population of India ensures that the number of Indians is big enough to make business attractive for card- and gift-makers and sellers. And business is encouraged by the fact that the number of Indians with the West as their guide is growing every day. The aspiration to catch up culturally with the West is getting stronger with each day in terms of both numbers and intensity. And business interests that have a stake in this aspiration are prodding it.

There is a lot of overlapping between Bharat and India. India is not totally India and Bharat is not totally Bharat. Both have elements of each other. It is just that some sections of people in our country are more Indian than Bharatiya. The opposite holds for other sections. There are many people, for instance, who celebrate both Valentine’s Day and Vasant Panchmi.

Among Hindus, the season of romance extends from Vasant Panchmi to Holi, when it closes with a climax. For millennia, the raas or amorous play of Lord Krishna with Radha and her friends, gopis from the community of cowherds of Brajbhumi in today’s Uttar Pradesh, peaks on Holi. There are numerous songs in Braj bhasha, the dialect of the region, celebrating the love between Krishna and gopis. Here’s offering the season’s greetings to both India and Bharat. Love is a many-splendoured thing and the intermingling of cultures makes it richer.

The author is a senior journalist and columnist
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