We are always pleased when news reports tie religion into stories about social celebrations and holidays. Celebrations like Mardi Gras -- known today by most for its explicit expressions of drunkenness and lascivious behavior -- have religious roots that go back centuries. Reporters would be amiss in neglecting to report that angle. However, when dealing with celebrations such as Mardi Gras, it is always refreshing to see news reports that tell just it how it is today.
When National Public Radio reported on a religious angle to Carnival, the Mardi Gras equivalent in Brazil and many other countries with Catholic cultures, they focused on the "Sons of Gandhi" also known as Filhos de Gandhy and their religious roots in the nation's celebration of a mix of cultures and religions. It is an interesting angle that mixes many of the aspects of Carnival and its history in Brazilian culture:
Although the holiday may be an excuse to party for most people, the parade of the Filhos de Gandhy is intended as a spiritual experience. The group, named for the late leader of India's independence movement, marches at several major religious festivals throughout the year. Carnival is their biggest event.
"The Sons of Gandhi serve to bridge the sacred and the profane, a connection that is characteristic of Brazilian culture -- and above all, Carnival," says anthropologist Goli Guerreiro.
The article has a nice reflection on the group's lofty aims. It mentions briefly that the chants sung by the group during the celebration are in honor of Afro-Brazilian gods and that religious beliefs from Africa were discriminated against in Brazil's Catholic-dominant society. But that is the only implied mention of the Carnival's roots as a Catholic celebration.
As a reader submitted to us, failing to mention Carnival's connection to Lent and Easter is surprising considering that the story is about syncretism and the blend of religion and cultures.
Nevertheless, the article accurately notes what celebrations like Carnival and Mardi Gras in the United States have become today:
But in truth, not everybody who joins the group is looking for peace. Saba says that when asked, almost all of the Sons of Gandhi will say the same thing: They're in it for the women.
"The women go crazy for the Sons of Gandhi. Many women come from other states just to have the chance to go out with one of us," Saba insists.
Of course, Gandhi himself spent much of his life celibate. The Sons of Gandhi also have their rules -- since the beginning, they've never allowed women to join their ranks. They also forbid members to consume alcohol or drugs during marches.
The prohibitions aren't a matter of keeping pure, but rather of keeping the peace. In the macho society of Brazil, the Filhos de Gandhy believe that where you have men mixing with women and alcohol, you have fights.
One has to wonder whether a reporter's tone would change if a group such as this in the United States refused to allow women to join. Somehow I imagine it would be given a greater significance than rules about not drinking or doing drugs during a parade march.