NEW DELHI: Festivals come and go but in every tradition…every religion…the spirit of the celebration remains the same. All of them speak of social harmony…they promote peace and brotherhood…they spread the message of love and mutual respect and yet we are plagued by religious bigotry…hatred…intolerance at various levels. Sad, isn’t it?

Festivals, more often than not, are born of historical tradition. As traditions of different communities are different, when these take shape, naturally the forms become different. However, the underlying spirit remains the same. It is not possible to bring about uniformity in form. However, form is a matter of external appearance, and it does not matter if there is difference in appearance. Each festival may seem different but since they all represent the same message we ought to focus on the well-known principle of unity in diversity.

As the month of Ramzan came to an end and we together as a country celebrated the festival of Eid al-Fitr (the literal meaning being ‘Feast of the Breaking of the Fast’), it was heartening to see different faiths come together to join in the celebrations. One of the greatest needs of mankind is the promotion of brotherhood among different groups of society. Eid provides one such occasion like all other festivals.

On the day of Eid people meet, greet each other, exchange gifts and sweets. Muslims observe two units of prayer in congregation. Among Muslims there is a practice called Sadqa-e-Fitr, or Charity of Fitr, to extend monetary help to the poor, so that they too may join in the celebrations. Sadqa-e-Fitr is not merely a ritual; it has great divine reward. It provides an opportunity for philanthropy. One

part of the congregational prayer performed by Muslims on the day of Eid is that at the conclusion of the Eid prayer, when they turn their heads on both sides and greet everyone by saying, “Peace be upon you.” This practice imparts a universal flavour to this festival, promoting universal love and compassion.

Eid and other festivals are basically a part of social culture. Festivals are not meant just for exchange of gifts. They are more than that. They are meant for exchange of thought. Every such occasion is bound to create interaction and discussion among people. Where there are interactions and discussions, there is bound to be intellectual development, which is good as long as we respect other’s beliefs.

In life, everyone is engaged in areas of self-interest. This state of affairs produces a kind of distance between different groups. Festivals provide a remedy in that they help develop an environment where people may come closer to one another. Festivals are meant for people to reunite, re-conciliate and maintain social harmony and solidarity. In the last few years, the plot seems to have been lost and we need to focus once again on bridging the distance and closing the widening gap.

Eid al-Fitr may seem to be a festival pertaining to a particular community – but from a wider perspective it becomes a part of the celebrations of all communities worldwide. Every faith is composed of a set of unique rituals to bring discipline and peace to human life.

Fasting is one of the five key rituals that Muslims around the world observe. Although Ramzan is popularly known in the West for its culinary delicacies and fancy Iftaar (ceremonial breaking of fast at sun down), the spirit and intent of Ramzan lies in a human transformation in a month long inner spiritual journey of finding oneself in tune with spirituality.

Religion should be a source of peace and solace and one must go beyond the rituals to bring forth kindness, charity and caring. Self-purification brings about values such as justice, generosity, patience, kindness, forgiveness, mercy and empathy - values that are indispensable for the success of the community.

Every festival brings with it frenzied activities, a festive atmosphere, excitement in the air and unending cheer and boundless energy. Unfortunately, things don’t look good right now – situations seem bleak but together we must fight to get back the India we love and respect. Our country deserves peace and tranquillity…an end to the problems swirling in the cauldron of repressed anger…and harmony in all corners of our great nation.

Let’s not forget all those less fortunate than us…we need to be more compassionate, patient and caring. Spare a thought for all those who have lost their loved ones…for those who are protecting our nation night and day…for those who find no reason to celebrate anything anymore… After all, everyone is looking for peace…for forgiveness and strength in faith!