Yes, we saw some newly invented faux festivals—Balcony Diwas No. 1 and 2. But the colours leached out of India’s real festival calendar this spring—especially if the celebrations were of the sort that revolved around congregating. We just about sneaked in a subdued Holi, on March 10—both Prime Minister Modi and Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal abstained. The first big event to be officially cancelled was a mega show in Ayodhya for Ram Navami, on April 2. The long phase of Lenten austerity didn’t really seem to end on Easter, April 12. For the cluster of traditional New Years around April 14—from Vishu to Bihu—all the festivities stayed at home.
As the month turned to May, the ilanji tree outside Thrissur’s Vadakkumnathan temple stood lone witness to a strangely empty vista—no percussion from paradise, no ecstatic lakhs. The Pooram had been cancelled, perhaps for the first time since 1962, the war with China. The chariots are being readied at Jagannath, but will they roll on June 23? Puri, in the green zone, hopes so. Madurai saw a quiet Chithirai—this Monday, Goddess Meenakshi opted for a spartan wedding (even best man Vishnu cancelled his appearance). Shiva, meanwhile, is feeling lonely up in Rajasthan’s Hadoti region—it’s the practice here for unmarried men to kidnap Parvati idols, to prod the Lord into granting them a consort too, after which they return the divine loot. This year, no shaadis, so all the Parvatis are still in the hijacker’s hands! Another goddess, the storied Kamakhya of Guwahati, also awaits an empty hush around the Ambubachi mela in June. The million footfalls will be missing for the first time in remembered history. Before that, around May 23-24, an Eid will go by where communion will have to be minimised—the traditional embrace forsworn. Already, Ramzan is bereft of the aroma of haleem and the delights of the nocturnal food bazaars.