Colourful trinkets and friendship bands commercialised via pop culture. Music and dance celebrating the necessity of friendship. Cafés raising a toast to the divine bond of friendship, observed globally on first Sunday of August every year. Amidst this a rarity exists. Not many may be privy to the fact that ‘Winnie the Pooh’ was anointed and honoured as the global mascot of friendship by the United Nations. In 1998, the UN General Assembly honoured Pooh Bear and family with a commemorative inscription thanking him for his consistent message of companionship, loyalty and friendship to the world.
A walk down the memory lane
It is believed that the initial concept of friendship day came into existence with Joyce Hall, the founder of Hallmark greeting cards, advocating the idea in 1919. At the time, this was perceived as an exercise meant for commercial gains and expansionary business propaganda of the gifting industry.
Historically speaking, it is believed that hostilities after World War I in 1935, led the United States Congress into starting the tradition. The idea was to promote principles of peace, trust, cooperation and ameliorate hatred and mistrust among people and nations. Probably in sync with the ‘Wilson Fourteen Point’ agenda, a statement of ‘peace principles’ advocated by President Woodrow Wilson in 1918 to the US Congress.
Carrying that baton of peace and faith further, the ‘World Friendship Crusade’ was founded in 1958 so as to promote harmony as ‘a culture of peace’, commemorating July 30 as friendship day.
Diplomacy and Friendship
Further, United Nations proclaimed July 30 as the ‘International Day of Friendship’ in 2011. According to the Friendship Day declaration, the UN member States and the civil society were invited to observe this day and encourage participation of people to promote global diversity. This was an attempt to promote camaraderie and peace between people and nations weaving together traditions, ethnicities and different cultures, much in line with international cooperation efforts.
For instance, in the Indian context, consider the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Friendship that is revered for its bilateral engagements. The recent visit to Israel by honourable PM demonstrated newer ties and bonhomie between him and his counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu, the PM of Israel. The golden principles of peace, coexistence and mutual respect of the ‘Panchsheel doctrine’ have time and again reverberated in context of diplomatic relations between India and its neighbours.
In fact, the peaceful philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (meaning world is one family) from the Maha Upanishad is the real spirit of Indian global affairs moving away from binaries, to an all inclusive concept of comity and amity.
Fables from folklore
In this light, it is but axiomatic to unearth numerous virtues of friendship from the treasure trove of Indian legends. Here’s looking at few anecdotes that are cherished as timeless examples of amity from Indian mythology.
An eternal bond of friendship exhibiting a flourishing tie, knowing no boundaries of caste, creed or social status is that of Krishna and Sudama. It is said that both were best of friends, despite a huge socio-economic chasm that divided society at the time. It is believed that once Sudama fighting grave poverty, upon insistence of his wife so to combat penury, travelled all the way to Dwarka carrying a humble present for Lord Krishna. This gesture was more of a memento to honour the immortal bond that the two shared. Sudama’s wife packed a small amount of rice for his beloved friend in spite of not having enough food to feed her own children. Lord Krishna was delighted to meet his childhood friend. He savoured the rice serving, while calling it the sweetest meal he ever had.
Legends have it that even though Duryodhan wanted to befriend Karna for his own pursuits, the union between them transpired to become one of the best remembered depictions of amity. At the time, Hastinapur was marred with realities of caste and discrimination, Duryodhan challenged conventions and norms by appointing Karna as the King of Anga amidst a battle between Arjuna and Karna. Karna while skilful, lacked an appropriate lineage that rendered his candidature futile in the eyes of Kripa, who mocked Karna on knowing his caste. Realising this, Duryodhana appointed him as the King of Anga, so he was regarded as Arjuna’s equal in that battle of power.
Touted primarily as a ‘teacher-disciple’ relationship, their bond is famous for its friend-philosopher-guide principle and eternal devotion that Arjuna exhibited towards their divine association. Legends are replete with their tales. The verse between them at the battle field forms the powerful narrative of Srimad Bhagvad Gita. Their relationship also teaches us that mentorship and friendship go hand in hand.
In the Ramayana, even though Trijata is planted as Ravana’s agent, Trijata pines for Lord Ram’s victory. She helps Sita in all her adversities and provides her comfort by keeping her informed of the news from outside world. According to folklore, after Ravana’s death, Trijata is rewarded by Sita and Rama for having been her true companion. Revering her as local goddess, Trijata is worshipped in Ujjain and Varanasi.
Legendary tales reveal that Draupadi and Krishna’s friendship had the eternal bond of ‘sakha’ and ‘sakhi’ at its essence. Many legends see the origins of Rakshabandhan in this tale of friendship and respect. According to beliefs, Krishna hurt his finger, when he threw the Sudarshan Chakra at Shishupal. Looking at this, Draupadi took a piece from her sari and tied it around Krishna’s finger to prevent it from bleeding. Touched by such gesture, Krishna took the vow of protecting Draupadi for all times to come.
Similar such tales and stories exist all across the world that have origins in mythical legends and popular culture. Greek story of Damon and Phythias; numerous tales from Panchtantra; TV shows such as Malgudi Days (especially the episode Swami and his friends); tales of Akbar and Birbal are stellar examples that urge us to keep the eternal bond between people alive. Especially in this age of hyper-individualism and technological seclusion.
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