Culture & History

Festive Beings: Festivals, Carnivals, Mela

Festive Beings: Festivals, Carnivals, Mela
Published On: 01-May-2021

Festivals are a global occurrence and a common feature of human society since agriculture is known to humans. With the introduction of agriculture, humans started dwelling in stationary states in settlements and that required seasonal markets for exchange of goods and provide junctures for trade, many festivals grew out of these seasonal market gatherings. Apart from Market; religion is another driving force for festivals as religion provides a worldview that is chronologically festive. Humans; since their animistic beliefs are in a reciprocal relationship with spirits, deities and divine, thence the fairs and carnivals to celebrate these reciprocal relationships. Folk Festivals are important markers in any social calendar. They are the occasions that interrupt the routine and let the social fabric reknit and rejuvenate.

Mela is the term used in Urdu and Punjabi to mention folk festivals that are associated with festivities around some sacred occasions, space or saints. The festivals are essentially social in nature, the members of society participate in the folk festivals to make it meaningful. Festivals are to entertain; therefore, the festivities are too diverse to entertain the aesthetic and cultural needs of the people. South Asian people are very fond of such festivals or Mela, Kumbh Mela is one of the largest such festivals that is religious in its orientation and takes place every twelve years in February and March. Kumbh Mela takes place in former Illahabad, that is renamed Prayagraj, at Triveni Sangam (confluence of three rivers) of Ganges, Yamuna and Sarasvati (now dried) rivers. Similarly, Mela Charaghan (festival of lights – although Divali or Deepan wali, a Hindu festival, is also translated as festival of lights) in Lahore is annual death celebrations of a Punjabi poet, revered as saint, Shah Hussain.

Music, dances, circus, sports and shops are often part of mela festivities. Food stalls are often spotted between other stalls and vendors, although charity in the form of food is a major aspect of south Asian festivals that occur within sacred spaces of shrines. The folk expressions of a festival or mela are quite idiosyncratic; the setting is often surrounding either a significant religious place, for instance a shrine, and usually the annual gathering is fixed around harvest season when the villagers have surplus amounts to spend. This interplay of veneration and gaiety is observable in mela taking place around shrines. The patronage for the mela is provided by the district or tehsil administration or the local elite or caretakers of the shrines.

Lok Virsa Mela is an annual celebration of folk culture of Pakistan; including food, music, crafts and creativity that is celebrated in Islamabad. Lok Virsa is a public organization that curates the folk culture of Pakistan within the vicinity of its premises by gathering the folk artists and craftsmen from all parts of Pakistan.

Carnivals and food festivals are the contemporary forms of jollity and joviality that transformed the orientation of festival. For instance; three or four decades ago ‘Horse and cattle show’ in different districts of Pakistan was a common feature that reflected the significance of agricultural base of Pakistan, whereas after rapid urbanization and shift of focus from agricultural base to an urbanized service, industry-based economy and a hasty growth of real estate, the festivals have transformed accordingly and Islamabad Food Festival ‘Islamabad Eat’ is one such example of food festival. This is often a sponsored event where food outlets contribute to make it a festival.

Given that festivals are the moments of joy and cheerfulness, therefore; the literary festivals are also arranged and they are more about ideas and books as a source of pleasure rather than food and sports.

Festivals, irrespective of their nature, are a great source of sociability, economic transactions, pleasure and to distinguish homo-sapiens from other species.

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