Friday, September 10, 2010

Ultimo Evangelism

It seems fitting that as the 9th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is almost upon us, the date also marks the convergence of three major religious festivals that are celebrated with gusto across the South Asian sub-continent - a region of the world where the repercussions of that heinous event are being, arguably, the most profoundly felt.

Perhaps a little primer on the festivals at hand might imbue us with a sense of brotherhood and historical perspective on this, the most consecrated of the year’s weekends.

Ganesh Chaturti
The Indian freedom fighter and social reformer, Lokmanya Tilak transformed the annual (and hitherto small) festival of Ganesh Chaturti into a large, well-organized public event in 1893. Tilak recognized the wide appeal of the deity Ganesha as an everyman god within the Hindu pantheon, and championed Ganesh Chaturthi as a national festival in order to bridge the communal divide between Brahmin and non-Brahmin Hindus and find a context in which to build a grassroots unity among them. He believed that this would in turn generate a sense of nationalism among the people of India against British colonial rule. Originally the festival facilitated community participation in the forms of: public debates, poetry recitals, plays, music concerts and folk dances. Tilak encouraged the installations of large images of the popular god in public pavilions, and also established the practice of submerging idols of Ganesha in ponds, tanks, rivers and in the sea on the tenth day after Ganesh Chaturthi, a practice followed to this day across Central and South India.

According to Islamic tradition, it was in the year CE 610 when the Prophet Muhammad, while meditating in Mount Hira one night, had a vision of the angel Jibril (also known as Gabriel) appearing before him, revealing to him his name, and declaring to the latter that he was the messenger of God. Though the angel informed him that he was the messenger of Allah and that he was going to be a prophet for his people, the prophet was reportedly greatly disturbed at his meeting with Jibril. It is believed that he considered the angel an evil spirit at first. It was left to his wife Khadijah to eventually allay his fears, when she reminded him of his good conduct until then and, therefore, that it was impossible for him to be visited by a demon.
It is said that the Quran was revealed to Muhammad during the month of Ramadan. As a mark of respect to Allah and to show gratitude to him for the true knowledge that was given his sons and daughters, the prophet instructed his followers to pass the month of Ramadan in fasting, prayers and other austerities and to end the month with festive celebrations. This is how Eid-Ul-Fitr was born. The aim of the festival is to promote peace, strengthen the feeling of brotherhood and bring oneself back to a normal course of life after a month-long period of self-denial and religious devotion.

The feast of St. Mary
The feast of the Nativity of Mary originated in Jerusalem in the fifth century CE as the feast of what is now the Basilica of Saint Anne. In the seventh century, the feast was celebrated by the Byzantines and at Rome, as the feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. The source for the story of the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the Protoevangelium of James, an apocryphal gospel written about CE 150. From it, we learn the names of Mary's parents, Joachim and Anna, as well as the tradition that the couple was childless until an angel appeared to Anna and told her that she would conceive.

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