Here’s how different faiths overcame lockdown to keep the festive spirit alive

Here’s how different faiths overcame lockdown to keep the festive spirit alive

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, technology has played an instrumental role in helping us all stay connected in an otherwise locked down scenario.

For religious faiths too, tech became a beacon of hope as Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians and all other faiths found innovative ways to overcome the ban on large gatherings and ensure that no one was left wanting for spiritual succour in these harsh times. Cyberspace became the new frontier for one and all to share and spread the message of peace and harmony that lies at the heart of every faith as also to keep the community spirit and connection alive.

In this ‘iGlobal’ roundup for 2020, we reflect on our FaithTech Series to explore how all our major festivals may have had to be different through a tough year but were no less inspiring.

Vaisakhi

Vaisakhi commemorates the Amrit Ceremony of Initiation, which took place in 1699 under the guidance of the 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, on the first day of the month of Vaisakh.

One of the most important events in the Sikh calendar that fell within the lockdown period of April, Vaisakhi celebrations took on a Zoom flavour this year.

Virtual worship was the main focal point with prayers directly from the Golden Temple in Amritsar being streamed by Sikh2Inspire.

Alongside this, Sikh2Inspire facilitated a special Vaisakhi programme, consisting of live kathas and kirtans, talks and Q&As. And, children at home got creative with over 100+ Vaisakhi activity sheets made available.

Eid

At its very heart, Eid is about gatherings and festivities with loved ones. However, across the world, this year celebrations for Eid, celebrated several times in a calendar year by the Muslim community, took on a very different look.

The first of Eid celebrations fell in May, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. It was for many an Eid like no other – away from the usual gathering at the local mosque or the fun meet and greets with family and friends.

Despite this, Indian Muslims in the UK found ways around the lockdown to rejoice in the light and spiritual bliss that Eid brings.

For Hannah Mir, a keyworker on the Covid-10 frontline, it was her first Eid as a newlywed: “For me it is about remaining positive and remembering what Eid is exactly all about.”

Mehndi artist Tayyabah Khan is usually inundated with requests from girls keen to adorn henna for the festive occasion. But this year, she decided to use her creativity to bake instead and made delicious dessert packages for Eid celebrations that were ordered by many.

Paryushana Mahaparva

One of the most important festivals in the Jain calendar, Paryushana Mahaparva was celebrated mid-August over the course of eight days as a time for self-analysis and soul-searching.

Whilst the festival would have usually been celebrated by visiting the temple and participating in aartis, rituals, and listening to discourses, the Covid-19 pandemic meant a complete overhaul of the festivities.

Keeping the young both entertained and in touch with the spiritual foundations of Jainism, 'The Art of Being Thankful' was a seven-day virtual class for Paryushana, facilitated by the SCVP Jain School in the UK. The classes, designed for 5-to-7-year olds and 8-to-10-year olds, touched upon learning about why forgiveness is important, values that make one happy, and thanking the environment and nature.

A host of spirtual events included Pratikraman, an important and profound ritual which refers to the soul going back to the path of purification and involves seeking repentenance for one’s sins and forgiveness. This journey of self-discovery and reflection was conducted via Zoom, where members of the community participated from the safety of their home.

Durga Puja

The annual Durga Puja festivities also took to the world of virtual reality (VR) to meet the coronavirus pandemic lockdown guidelines this year.

Organised by UK-based charitable organisation Bengal Heritage Foundation, London Sharad Utsav is one of the country’s biggest Durga Puja celebrations. Pujo, as it is know, was streamed live on both 2D and 3D and viewed by people across the world, from Alberta in Canada to Sydney in Australia.

“It was a unique experience to bond views across the world with Durga Pujo. People offered Anjali online as our priest recited the mantras,” said Bengal Heritage Foundation President Sourav Niyogi.

Keeping the religious spirit alive through the power of technology, the event also paid respect to Bengali culture and tributes to prominent figures. Part of the two-day event included a special performance led by the younger generation who paid tribute to key workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

A delightful mix of modern and traditional Bengali folk songs made up the entertainment for an eventful two days.

Suranjan Som, Vice-President of the foundation, said: “Technology played a key role in this challenging year to connect the Goddess with her devotees.”

Diwali

Diwali, popularly known as the Festival of Lights, is one of the most auspicious events in the Hindu calendar and ‘iGlobal’ marked it with the first-ever DiwaliFest2020 – the largest festival of lights virtual event of its kind anywhere in the world.

Celebrated this year on November 14, which marked the Hindu New Year, the festival was celebrated over five days as a celebration of Lord Rama’s return to his kingdom of Ayodhya after exile and rescuing his wife, Goddess Sita, from the demon king Ravana.

Impacted by social distancing restrictions, across the nation the Hindu community marked the day with unique touches to bring the opulence of Diwali alive through a virtual lens.

London-based BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir – popularly known as ‘Neasden Temple’ – known for their grand Diwali and Hindu New Year celebrations in Europe, began celebrations on November 11 with a musical tribute to His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Special evening rituals were conducted by Swamis from the mandir, which were virtually beamed into the homes of devotees unable to attend in person due to the lockdown.

Other temples, including the Gita Bhavan Temple in Manchester also organised interactive virtual programmes via Zoom, which included bhajans and storytelling for children.

The year 2020 may go down in history as one that imposed lots of physical distancing norms on human lives, including in the way we worship, but it will equally be remembered as the year that Faith turned to Tech to overcome many of these challenges.

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