We may not particularly care for the promotion of consumer culture around newly created festivals like Friendship Day. We need not go out of our way to buy things or acknowledge them if we do not want to.
Yet, they do have a significant presence in our children’s lives. So instead of hiding in the sand ostrich-like and pretending that these days do not exist, we can subvert them into serving our purpose. Start a dialogue with children on the role of friendship in Bharatiya culture.
The concept of friendship can be explored in many ways by making children interested in how it has been dealt with since time immemorial in Hindu dharma.
Children learning classical dance and music will already be familiar with compositions by bhakti composers who address their chosen devata with great intimacy, as a close friend would. They often speak in a teasing manner, or with a rebuke, to their Supreme Friend for not hearing their pleas and coming to save them.
Many Bharatiya dance forms also depict a close friendship between two women – the female protagonist as nāyika, and her companion, the sakhi.
In the Mahabharata, various types of friendships find a mention. There is of course the well-known friendship of Arjuna and Bhagwan Krishna, the quintessential Nara-Nārāyana relationship. When Arjuna was confused, he turned to his Divine Friend for support, clarity and encouragement.
Another beautiful friendship from the Mahabharata is that of Krishna and Draupadi. They were sakha and sakhi, Krishna Vāsudeva and Krishnā Draupadi, like-minded friends who never failed to help each other.
Then there is a good friendship gone bad, which turned toxic for both the friends and the people around them – that of Guru Dronacharya and Raja Drupada. Duryodhana and Karna shared a devoted friendship, but they did not check the bad tendencies in each other. Each encouraged the other in acts of adharma, leading them down a spiral in which they both finally perished.
In the Bhagavata Purana, the devotee Prahlada tells his father Hiranyakashipu about nine forms of bhakti called Navdha Bhakti. One of the nine forms, Sakhya bhakti, approaches Bhagavan in the spirit of supreme devotion through friendship, as exhibited by Arjuna, Draupadi and Sudāma.
The topic of friendship can never be complete without bringing in the story of Sudama. Krishna and Sudama were childhood friends. After many years when they grew up, Sudama came carrying a small packet of boiled rice as a present for his royal friend, Krishna. Boiled rice was all that Sudama, the poor Brahmin, could afford. Krishna welcomed him with full honors, accepted his present with gratitude and embraced him warmly. Later in the Bhagavad-Gita (9:26), Bhagwan Krishna tells Arjuna, in much the same spirit:
“patram, pushpam, phalam, toyam yo me bhaktyā prayacchati
tad aham bhakti-upahrtam ashnāmi prayatātmanah”
Whoever offers me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, water, that I accept, offered by the pure-minded with love and devotion.
When children are provided with some context and encouraged to memorize this verse, it will help them link Friendship Day with the beauty and simplicity inherent in this worldview.
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