Ponggal is a cultural festival, not religious

31 Jan 2020 / 15:09 H.

THE human race is beautiful in its truest form and unique as it is. Why destroy its magnificence with man-made limitations and restrictions? Should I say I was shocked to see the letter banning schools from taking part in a harvest festival event? No, I was appalled.

Such is the small-mindedness of whoever signed the letter and the people who circulated the same with no remorse and afterthought. If it indeed was meant to carry a certain message, the letter could have been worded in a less lethal way.

The letter went viral on social media, with many celebrants going on a defensive binge saying that the festival has nothing to do with religion and is a harvest festival, which is cultural in nature.

The letter signed by an institute’s deputy chief registrar, who is also the Education Ministry deputy director-general (school operation sector), states that the “Ponggal festival is a celebration for Hindu worshippers”.

The letter, dated Jan 13 stated that it is “haram” for Muslims to take part in any religious activity of different faiths.

The decision was made based on the 100th Meeting of the Jakim Syariah Experts Panel held last April on laws (hukum) regarding Muslims taking part in Ponggal festivities.

The letter also states that Muslims should not insult the gods of other faiths.

Just about the same time, I received a video with the most beautiful and profound message by the British prime minister, who conveyed his Ponggal message in a lovely video, which of course got circulated far and wide.

It was a clever move with him congratulating the Tamils for their contribution and being part of the growing British economy. He has surely won plaudits from Indians in the country and worldwide.

Having said that, I would say his thoughts and words were sincere and the video got circulated virally, juxtaposed against the circular from the Ministry of Education that made its way, much to the chagrin of all Malaysians.

In retrospect, I do think it was a storm in a teacup, but it would be good if the issue is seen from a far-sighted perspective with the Malaysian multiracial context in mind.

I suppose the issue has now been watered down with all parties agreeing that Ponggal is a non-religious festival.

What is it about race and religion that is tearing the world apart with all kinds of atrocities meted out to people with no regard to humanity? The searing heat of actions and words from opposing factions is scorching the Earth. Its impact being greater than the effect of extreme weather conditions.

This brings me to the next question, can humans live without race and religion? It is debatable of course. On one hand, we can argue that animals don’t have religion and they survive fine. People can have morals without religion and sometimes are more moral without it. Many if not most wars have been fought over religion. Religion has, at times, done harm to humanity. Animals don’t kill off the entire species or do great harm without religion, and neither would humans.

I think religion creates a false sense of belonging and impressions in the mind. It leads to superstitions and illusions that eventually work against life, complicating it. If the argument is that morals and ethics are derivatives of religion, it is a grossly misjudged fallacy. If we base right and wrong on the basis of logic and scientific disposition, religion can be made redundant.

Don’t get me wrong, I am neither an atheist nor agnostic but what is the purpose of religion?

While all religions share the same essential purpose, they also share the same common problem of obsession and focusing on the lesser important aspects of the religion.

Instead of freeing people from their burdens, religion itself poses a great burden with hurdles and restrictions of various kinds. Instead of bringing unity, religion is the main cause of disunity and hatred.

As they say, “Once upon a time ... there was humanity”.

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