Onam: The Festival of Freedom
Onam is the celebration of freedom of the people who experienced tyranny. Freedom is not something that is given by some body. If freedom is a given gift then it could be taken by the giver at any time. The giver of freedom would be the authority to fix the nature and function of the taker’s freedom. If freedom is given by somebody then it is known as determinism because the freedom giver would define and determine the nature and limit of your freedom. There cannot be freedom where there is determinism. Freedom is not a state of anarchy as it has been interpreted by the so-called free thinkers who have been influenced by euro-centrism. Anarchy is a state of chaos where there is no order. Nobody can enjoy anything where there is no order. It does not mean that freedom is a state of unregulated experience. It is a state of self-regulated experience where the person concerned is the master of his mind and sense organs. Naturally, the person concerned would be the master of one’s own action. Hence, one must be responsible for one’s actions. This is known as self-determinism. The role of self-determinism has totally been denied in a state of affair where freedom is given by somebody. The people enjoy freedom when they get a chance to regulate themselves within the context of their limitations.
The main difference between democracy and dictatorship is that people regulate themselves in democracy while they are being regulated by the authority in dictatorship. There can be benevolent dictators who may be good administrators capable to establish and maintain perfect law and order in society. Perfection itself is a super human concept because man by nature is imperfect. Like sub-human, super human also is dangerous. Any effort to attain perfection is a journey to the unknown destination because nobody knows what exactly is the limit of perfection. So, any human effort to attain perfection is only an attempt to go to the higher level in accordance with the context in which a person lives rather than a journey to the unknown destination. Therefore, it is meaningless to suggest a uniform standard for all persons alike because uniformity itself is against the nature of the universe as universe is the communion of multiformity rather than uniformity. Uniformity leads one to abstraction rather than concreteness. Since, abstraction cannot be experienced then uniformity remains as something which cannot be experienced at all. Such a state of affair alienates one from the context in which one lives. Alienation generates fear.
It is the general belief of the Keralites that there was a golden era in the ancient history of Kerala when the emperor MAHABALI was the ruler. Emperor Mahabali is a mythological hero rather than a historical personality. An unknown poet wrote a eulogy of Mahabali in which the poet portrayed him as a just ruler who could establish and maintain perfect law and order and social and economic equality in society. It is praised that nobody committed theft or cheating, the traders and business men kept absolute fairness in the practice of legal metric system and all the people were alike. Mahabali could establish perfect equality among people during the period of his rule. Such a fair king was driven to PATHALA, the world beneath the earth, by Vamana, one of the incarnations of Vishnu, a god in the Hindu mythology. Considering the popular sentiments and the wish of Mahabali, Vamana permitted him to visit his subjects annually. It is believed that the onam is being celebrated to honor Mahabali during the period of his visit and to pay tribute to him.
According to the mythological belief Mahabali belonged to the asura dynasty. The humans have been divided into three classes namely Deva, Manusya and Asura on the basis of their merit and ability to grasp and to respond. It is believed that when Prajapathy, the creator of the universe, uttered the first syllable-DA-it was heard and understood in three senses by the three groups. The Deva understood it as DAMYATA which means to give than to take. The Manusya could understand it as DAVAIDHVAM which means to give and take while the Asura understood it as to DATVAM which means to take than to give. Since, deva is a person who believes in giving rather than taking, then he is not expected to keep anything for himself. Manusya is a person who believes in giving whatever he can to others by taking the minimum which he needs. But asura believes only in taking not in giving anything to anyone.
So, an Asura believes in taking everything for himself that is to conquer and keep everything for oneself. A person who conquers and controls everything for oneself is a self-centered man. Such a person should be a dictator because he cannot tolerate any one who opposes his move to possess everything, which means to possess power, wealth, position and fame for himself. Those who opposes his move to possess power, wealth, position and fame would be treated as his enemy. Intolerance to dissent is the hall mark of dictatorship. It is to be noted that all Asura kings according to the Hindu mythology are dictators. Dictators can establish law and order and equality and welfare in society inflicting fear in the minds of the subjects. There were many asura personalities like RAVANA who could bring prosperity and maintain perfect law and order in their kingdom. But nobody considers him as an ideal king because he inflicted fear in the minds of the people. The unconditional obedience from the subjects enjoyed by a dictator is the direct outcome of fear inflicted in mind of the subjects by the dictator. Where one is afraid of somebody or something there one cannot be truthful and cannot lead a contextually sensible life.
The eulogy of Mahabali narrated that he could establish perfection par-excellence in society during his tenure as a king which is absolutely inconsistent with the basic characteristic features of the human beings because, humans are by nature imperfect. It is logically impossible even to think of that a group of imperfect humans are capable to form a perfect society. It might have been a big lie told by an opportunistic poet to please his master to get some benefits. If we admit that Mahabali could form a perfect society which only means that he could do it inflicting fear in the minds of the people as a dictator. Anything that is being done out of fear must be an artificial and alienated action. There is no doubt that such a society must be artificial rather than natural. So, if Mahabali ever could make such a state of affair in his kingdom as dreamt by his admirers then he would have been a dictator and such a dictator might have been removed from the throne. No dictator either in history or in mythology could ever retain his power and crown for a long time.
The merit of Mahabali has been elaborately narrated by the poet. The most important feature of the narration is that people were alike during the period of his rule. It means that he established uniformity which is inconsistent with the nature of the universe because multiformity, which ensures plurality, is the basic character of the universe. It is the multiformity that guarantees the co-existences of various phenomena together. The instincts, emotions, sense of imagination and rational capacity of the people would be different from person to person, place to place and time to time. If instinctive, emotional and even rational actions of humans were either suppressed or repressed by draconian methods by the dictator then it was impossible for the human beings to keep uniformity in their actions. Hence it was impossible and even unimaginable of having a society in which all the members willfully kept away from theft and cheating.
Such state of affair is possible only under two conditions. If such society has been constituted by angels then there cannot be having any chance to commit theft because angels do not know how to commit theft. If the kingdom is being ruled by a dictator then out of fear people may obey the commands of the authority suppressing their instincts, emotions and feelings as it happened during the period of emergency in India. During the period of emergency, the public transport system kept perfect timing, the government offices opened at 9 in the morning and closed at 5 in the evening, the officers kept dignity and decorum in their behavior to the common man, there were no agitation of the people in the streets because the command given to the people was to shut their mouth and to act as directed by the authority. But the people of India had over thrown the dictators. So, if Mhabali could establish a perfect kingdom as narrated by poet then the second option was the only possibility. All asura kings in the mythology had been driven to hell and all dictators in history have been thrown out of power by the people.
Mahabali had been removed from power by Vamana who was a tiny creature. Vamana represents the powerless people who were destined to live under the rule of a dictator. The fear generated by a dictator forces everyone to give up one’s natural identity and to lead an artificial life. He who disobeys the dictums of dictator would either be expelled or executed as it has been done by Ravana in the Ramayana. When Vibhishana, the brother of Ravana, disobeyed the will of Ravana he was expelled from the kingdom. Asura kings believe in exclusion rather than inclusion. But the philosophy of exclusion cannot survive because of its inbuilt inconsistencies. If one believes in the exclusion of those who dissent with him then such a process of exclusion would lead one to a point of survival of one person alone because he has to finish everyone who dissent with him. Such a state of affair is not practically possible. Hence the dictators used to get perished in the course of time. The will of the people always gets victory over the dictator.
Indian DARSHANA is unique for its structure and function. The life and culture of this piece of land is sculptured by the Darshana of the rishis that believes in inclusion which provides space to everything. Rishi is one who experiences truth in his context. The contextual experience of truth may be different from person to person. So, there cannot be only one darshana but there can be any number of darshanas. This is the basis of Indian pluralism. Hence exclusion is not possible. The prophetic religions exclude god from the responsibility of the creation of sin and evil. Satan, the counter part of god is responsible for the creation of sin and evil. Therefore, logically speaking, god excludes Satan and Satan excludes god since both of them are mutually exclusives. Since both of them are mutually exclusive there would be two worlds, one ruled by god and the other left for Satan to rule. Naturally prophetic religions believe in dualism. The good and bad, heaven and hell ectara are to be kept in water tight compartments. Though god is the redeemer he could not redeem the Satan because god has no control over the Satan as Satan enjoys absolute power over his kingdom. The Satan is the ruler of the hell and god is the ruler of heaven. But that is not the case of Indian Darshana. That is why the Bhagavd Gita declares that ‘’ I am the gambling of the cheat’ ’which means that the evil also is in me. So, nothing can be excluded and everything has to be included.
The all-inclusive approach provides space for an expelled king to take part in the celebration of freedom as a distinguished guest along with his subjects who expelled him. This is the basis for acceptance of all forms of divergent thoughts as integral part of our culture which is absent in the west. In this sense onam is the celebration of freedom as all-inclusive experience which provides space for everything irrespective of its status as a phenomenon. Onam is the only celebration where the differences are sub-merged. It is the communion of plurality rather than co-presence of uniform entities. Uniformity celebrates regimentation. There is no freedom in regimentation. The celebration of freedom that breaks the walls of conceptual prisons created by the dictatorial mindsets. Hence onam is the victory of free minds over regimented determinism. So, we have to celebrate it.
(The author is a writer, orator and academician)