“How could they demean a festival by linking it to sex?” A news report about an organization that was doling out condoms at the Navratri garba festival was responsible for a friend’s tone of righteous indignation.
“But if people do use the festival as an excuse to indulge in sexual activities, isn’t it better to preach safe sex than to ignore the problem totally?” argued another friend.
“Utter rubbish. Navratri is a religious festival. It is a time of abstinence. Nobody would do such things during the festival.” My friend was quite obviously extrapolating her sexual morals on the entire teen population participating in the garba festival.”
The argued back and forth. Both had a point.
In many parts of the country, Navratri is a festival of abstinence. The truly religious have only one meal a day during the entire period. Many people fast on at least one of the nine days. And most people shun non-vegetarian food during the period. The communal dancing that takes place in the evening is a form of worship, not an extended party.
But despite its roots in religion, the garba festival, today, has become an almost commercial enterprise. Professional musicians, designer clothes, highly priced tickets to the better venues in town. To most participants, it is one long party, and yes teen pregnancies show a peak during this time.
“Maybe you are both right”, I suggested when the debate got too tedious. “The garba festival is a religious festival, not party. But how better to worship the womb than by indulging in sex?”
I am not sure if the stunned silence that greeted my statement was one of sheer disbelief, or of a point going home. During Navratri, everyone worships the earthen pot containing a lighted lamp, but few choose to remember that it is actually a symbol for the Mother Goddess. Its name says it all – garba (womb) deep (light) – the womb containing life.
Hinduism is perhaps the only mainstream religion that openly cherishes the sexual union that produces life, and yet practitioners of the religion choose to ignore it completely.
By distributing condoms, people are not sanctifying illicit sex. They are only accepting something that happens, and advocating that people take adequate precautions while indulging in it. If anything, the fact that it is seem to have moral sanction, may well make the whole act less appealing to people.