T’is the Season of Giving!

No, I am not referring to Christmas, the season that engenders the spirits of kindness and generosity. I am talking about the “season of giving” as I experience it in Mumbai. The festival season started with a big bang with the onset of Ganesh Chaturthi in late September. Post that, there have been several other national festivals and holidays, such as Gandhi Jayanti (birthday of the Father of the Nation), Dussera (Festival dedicated to the Goddess), Navratri (the nine nights preceding Dussera), Karvachauth  ( a North Indian religious holiday where married women fast for the longevity of their husband’s life {and you’ll never catch me doing that, unless my husband does it for me}, and now we are headed to the famous and most celebrated Hindu festival, Diwali (the festival of lights).

In the last few days, I have been noticing a certain phenomena a lot more, something I believe is related to this Hindu holiday season: begging in the name of religion! Now I am not saying that you don’t get beggars who plead for money in the name of religion otherwise, but there appears to be a certain surge in the level of exploitation and the use of “religion” during the holiday season. I have seen people beg on the streets and ask for money claiming, as if they heard directly from the divine herself, that god will bless the good-doer with either a “long life” or a “generous progeny” or (if single), “a loving and handsome marital partner”. Then you have an entire family, each playing a distinct role, who walk around Mumbai with calves or very young cows that are lightly decked in golden and orange/red fabric, with powdered color smeared on them, enticing people along the street for money in the name of religion.

Below are some pictures of what I am talking about. As you already know, the cow is thee most sacred animal in Hinduism and is highly revered. Hence I used the word “exploitation” above, because I believe this antic is an exploitation of the commoner’s religious sentiments (and of the cow, of course). I have taken these pictures from my balcony window:

Lady with a young bull, asking people on the street for money.

Lady with a young bull, asking people on the street for money.

While one member of the family will actively beg, other members will play musical instruments to attract attention. This morning I was awoken by the jarring sound of a father playing the shennai (an Indian musical instrument that originates from the flute family) and his young son (could not have been more than 6 years old), playing a drum:


Man playing Shennai

Man playing the Shennai


And finally, here’s a picture of a mother and her child petting the cow and giving the family some money (suckers!!):

Unfortunately, even in the big bad city of Mumbai, there are plenty of suckers who fall into or give in to this religious trap. So one can only imagine how wealthy some of these beggars may actually be.

So there you have it! The spirit of giving is certainly heightened in the festival season. But try giving these same people some food or clothes and, chances are, they will snub you, and snub you to the point of a rude awakening!


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