Vaisakhi is a Hindu and Sikh festival celebrated according to the solar calendar on April 13 or 14 and is observed in different in different places in India. In northern India, Vaisakhi is regarded as harvest festival. People buy each other gifts and celebrate with dancing. In the Himachal Pradesh state, Vaisakhi honors the Goddess Jwalamukhi (also known as Durga, Mata, Amba). In Bihar it honors Surya (the Sun-God). In Bengal, Vaisakhi marks the beginning of the New Year. People make rangolis, or floral patterns, at the entrance of their homes. Vaisakhi also marks the New Year in southern South of India. Pooram festivals, with processions honoring Lord Vishnu are held. In Assam, Vaisakhi is celebrated as Rangali Bihu (colours). What all versions of Vaisakhi have in common is that Hindus celebrate them by visiting temple to pay their respect and seek blessings, and exchange gifts and sweets with friends and family members. [Source: BBC]
Varsha Pratipada is the Hindu Spring New Year. Diwali, in the autumn, is also a new year but many Hindus (particularly from South India) prefer to celebrate their new year on Varsha Pratipada, which is held on the first day of Chaitra (the first month of the Hindu lunar year, in March and April). It is an auspicious day and it symbolises renewal. It is a good day to start new ventures and it is also a lucky day astrologically. Varsha Pratipada means Birth of the Year. New Year and the beginning of spring mark the coming of the monsoon, which arrives in most India in May or June and lasts through the summer.
Havan is the sacred nine day fire ceremony in December. During this ceremony village elders worship nine little girls which Brahmans believe are just like goddesses. The girls are given sweets, saris and money and their feet are strung with flowers as a symbol of female modesty. The festival honors the mother-goddess Matabai. Ram Lila is a month-long festival celebrating the marriage of Rama to his wife Sita described in the epic Ramayana. Actors act out episode of the god's life, particular the story of Sita abduction by the demon-kings Ravana and Lanka and Rama's rescue with the help of the monkey-god Hanuman.
Swaminarayan Jayanti celebrates the birthday of Lord Swaminarayan (1781-1830), the founder of the Swaminarayan tradition, on the ninth lunar day in the fortnight of the waxing moon in the month of Chaitra (March–April). Devotees of Lord Swaminarayan celebrate his birthday by fasting and offering a large variety of food to sacred images of Swaminarayan in temples. The day passes in worship and reflection. In the evening, celebrations include scriptural discourses, devotional singing, and live enactments of episodes from the life of Swaminarayan. At precisely 10.10pm, believed to be the time of Swaminarayan's birth, the arti ritual is performed symbolising the auspicious birth. Festivities continue into the night and with the breaking of the fast the following morning. [Source: BBC, Wikipedia]
Websites and Resources on Hinduism: Hinduism Today hinduismtoday.com ; Heart of Hinduism (Hare Krishna Movement) iskconeducationalservices.org ; India Divine indiadivine.org ; Religious Tolerance Hindu Page religioustolerance.org/hinduism ; Hinduism Index uni-giessen.de/~gk1415/hinduism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Oxford center of Hindu Studies ochs.org.uk ; Hindu Website hinduwebsite.com/hinduindex ; Hindu Gallery hindugallery.com ; Hindusim Today Image Gallery himalayanacademy.com ; Encyclopædia Britannica Online article britannica.com ; International Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Shyam Ranganathan, York University iep.utm.edu/hindu ; Vedic Hinduism SW Jamison and M Witzel, Harvard University people.fas.harvard.edu ; The Hindu Religion, Swami Vivekananda (1894), Wikisource ; Hinduism by Swami Nikhilananda, The Ramakrishna Mission .wikisource.org ; All About Hinduism by Swami Sivananda dlshq.org ; Advaita Vedanta Hinduism by Sangeetha Menon, International Encyclopedia of Philosophy (one of the non-Theistic school of Hindu philosophy) ; Journal of Hindu Studies, Oxford University Press academic.oup.com/jhs
Hindu Festivals That Honor Hindu Gods
Mahashivaratri, or the great night of Shiva, during the month of Magha (January-February), celebrates Shiva's emanation of the universe through his cosmic dance, and is a day of fasting, visiting temples, and in many places staying up all night to sing devotional songs. On the fourth day in the month of Bhadra (August-September) comes the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi. Families and businesses prepare for this festival by purchasing brightly painted images of Ganesh and worshiping them for a number of days. On the festival itself, with great celebration, participants bathe the images (and in most cases permanently dump them) in nearby rivers, lakes, or seas. Janmashtami, the birthday of Krishna, also occurs in the month of Bhadra.
Janmashtami in August is celebrates the birthday of Lord Krishna throughout the country with procession, fasting and rituals at temples. Ramnavami in March or April is a celebration of Lord Rama's birthday. It is observed throughout the country. It is held in the Hindu month of Chaitra (March-April).
Hanuman Jayanti is a festival that commemorates the birth of Hanuman, the popular monkey God and symbol of strength and energy. A popular festival, it can be celebrated individually or in the temple where the sacred text, the Hanuman Chalisa, is recited. This text is - a set of prayers glorifying Hanuman, describing his past times and adventures. Depending on the temple where it is performed, the text is either recited non-stop for 24 hours or performed a set number of times. Special Pujas and offerings are made to Hanuman. Sometimes sacred fire ceremonies are carried out. In some places, colorful processions fill the streets. People dance, carry idols of Lord Hanuman and some people wear masks and tails to imitate the monkey God. The celebration is usually accompanied by a period of fasting and then a big vegetarian feast. [Source: BBC]
Diwali (the Festival of Lights) in late October or early November is regarded as the happiest festival in India. It is a five-day event that climaxes on a new moon in the Hindi month of Kartick. Celebrated by most of India's people including Muslims and Sikhs, Diwali commemorates the homecoming of Lord Rama and his wife Sita to north India after the victory over Ravana, the demon-king of Sri Lanka in the epic "Ramayana". People light rows of lamps and place them on sills around their houses, set off gigantic amounts of fireworks, pray for wealth and good fortune, distribute sweets, and send greeting cards to friends and business associates.
Diwali (also known as Divali, Dipavali and Deepavali) is the biggest Hindu festival. It symbolizes prosperity and good will. People celebrate by inviting Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, into the house. Lamps are lit to drive out the demon Alakshmi and help Rama and Sita find their way home. The holiday is also linked with trade and the beginning of the financial year.
Like New Year's Day in the West, Diwali is a time to usher out the old and ring in the new. Small flickering lamps are placed in front of freshly-cleaned houses and clay lamps are sent drifting down the rivers and waterways. Markets are hung with tinsel. Sparklers, firecrackers, Roman candles and rockets are set off. Large fireworks displays are held. Puju is performed at homes and temples. People exchange gifts, give each other sweetmeats, and send Diwali cards to one another and party in the streets.
Affluent families enjoy lawn parties and the poor light up their sections of sidewalks with the few lamps they can afford. People pray for their troubles to end and for children to grow to be men and women. Outside the cities, villagers start the day by patching their houses with dung and mud, and fisherman gamble with cowrie shells. In the Punjab structures are outlined with oil lamps and people ask the gods for prosperity. Punjabi Sikhs and Muslims generally take part in the celebration.
Diwali falls in the Hindu month of Kartika (October-November). It is officially a one-day holiday, but in reality it becomes a week-long event when many people take vacations. One tradition links this festival to the victory of Krishna over the demon Naraka, but for most devotees the holiday is a recreation of Ram's triumphant return with Sita, his wife, from his adventures.
Holi (Festival of Colors) is a Hindu festival that welcomes the spring and celebrates the new life and energy of the season. Usually held in March, Holi celebrates the legend of Prahalad and Krishna and the destruction of the demon Holika with the throwing of colored powders and the smearing of colored paints. Holi comes from the word “hola”, meaning to offer oblation or prayer to God in thanksgiving. The festival gives thanks for a good harvest and is celebrated in the spring when flowers bloom and seeds sprout. People often wear yellow to symbolize spring and green to symbolize the earth. For some it marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year.
Originally a fertility rite, Holi is celebrated throughout India with the throwing of colored powder and water on friends and passers-by. The celebration usually begins on the eve of Holi with a large bonfire to symbolize the killing of Holika and the end of the old year. The holiday is a chance to have a good time, let normal codes of behavior slide and make mischief. Bonfires are lit and food offerings are roasted.
Holi is primarily celebrated northern India and Nepal and receives varying amounts of attention in other parts of the country. Holi is not that big in Tamil Nadu. Although it has religious roots, not much religious activity goes on during the celebration. Holi features gender rivalry, with contests between men and women, and public flirting, Strict rules of separation between castes are abandoned. The festival is officially marked on the day after the full moon during the month of Phalunga, which falls in February-March. Holi is seen by some as the Hindu festival that is nearest in spirit to St. Valentine's Day. [Source: BBC |::|]
According to the BBC: Holi is a great leveller. By the time everyone has been covered in paint and coloured water, it's pretty hard to see any of the normal clues as to who is what caste, or what class. And because no-one is likely to take designer clothes out for a soaking, there's not much chance of seeing who is rich and who is poor. Holi is a festival that's enjoyed by both high and low. Indian newspapers are likely to show pictures of ministers, even prime ministers, seriously splashed with paint.” |::|
Max Benwell wrote in The Independent, “Holi takes place over two days, and is a celebration of fertility, colour, and love, as well as the triumph of good versus evil. It is often associated with the coloured powders that end up coating its participants after they’ve thrown them at each other. But this is just one part of Holi, which is split into two events: Holika Dahan and Rangwali Holi. Holika Dahan takes place the night before Rangwali Holi. Wood and dung-cakes are burned in a symbolic pyre to signify good defeating evil (in Hindu Vedi scriptures, the God Vishnu helps burn the devil Holika to death). The next morning, people gather in public spaces and take part in Rangwali Holi. This is a raucous affair where people chase each other around, throwing handfuls of coloured powders (known as gulal) at one another, while getting drenched in water. The timing of Holi is synchronised with the moon, which means that the dates of each celebration varies year on year. “ In 2016 Rangwali Holi took place on March 24, while the pyres of Holika Dahan were burned the evening beforehand. [Source: Max Benwell, The Independent, March 23, 2016 /*/]
“Holi is mostly seen as a time for people to get together and enjoy themselves. It is purported to be a time when friends, families and communities can get together without any concern for caste or ethnicity, although how much this holds true in reality is debatable. That said, there are certain groups that take its religious elements more seriously than others. In the Braj region of India, celebrations last for 16 days.” /*/
Holi is an energetic and fun Indian festival, filled with laughter and naughty tricks. People celebrate the festival by smearing each other with paint, and throwing coloured powder and dye around and enjoy dance films, the Holi dance, Indian wine, beer, food and conversation. Some people engage in cross-dressing and play tricks on each other. Dyes mixed in water are dropped on women at the Dauji Temple of Uttar Pradesh at a festival that celebrates the "passion of the Hindu god Krishna for his lover Radha. In the legend gopi (cowgirls) showered the couple with colorful flower petals."
According to the BBC: “ Holi is a time when traditional roles and levels of status in Indian society are turned upside down. Distinctions of caste, class, age, and gender are suspended. In one part of India there is a tradition of men and women taking part in a mock battle, however one of the rules is that the men are not allowed to fight back. During Holi celebrations in India it's possible to behave pretty outrageously. You can throw paint at strangers, soak your friends with coloured water while saying "don't feel offended, it's Holi", and, unless you're very unlucky, no-one will be upset. (But don't try this outside India!).” [Source: BBC |::|]
During the evening of the full moon, bonfires are lit in the streets. These bonfires not only purify the air of evil spirits, but mark the story of Holika and Prahalad. The next day, people of all ages go into the streets for jollifications and paint-throwing. Describing the festival in Chandigarh, the BBC reported: It was a sunny day, offering a perfect setting for the revellers. The festivities picked up around 10 a.m. with kids targeting passersby with their colour-filled 'gubaras' and 'pichkaris' from roof-tops and shouting 'Holi hai'. "Soon the entire city was dominated by 'youth brigades' zipping around on their jeeps, cars and mo-bikes, with loads of colour packed on their vehicles. During the great cupid festival townsfolk dance at the touch of brownish water thrown from squirt-guns. Everything is coloured yellowish red and rendered dusty by the heaps of scented powder blown all over. They are seized by pretty women while all along the roads the air is filled with singing and drum-beating. Drenched in the 'Holi' spirit to the core, they spared none. Everyone coming in their way got a splash of colour either spewed by water-jets or from different shades of 'gulal'. |::|
In Rajasthan, men drink opium and perform stick dances. In central India, after drinking a liquid laced with hashish, boys heave cow dung at houses and men try to capture a bag of brown sugar on top of a pole defended by stick-wielding women who are not shy about whacking the men as hard as they can. In western India, people toss buckets of colored water on unsuspecting victims from windows, smear each other with colored powders and squirt one another with high powered brass squirt guns.
The Rajasthan opium ceremony is a low-key affair with turbaned men preparing an opium drink for guests to drink. It is regarded as an act of hospitality. Guest drink it from their open palms. Jay Tindall wrote in remotelands.com: “I took part in an opium ceremony in a Rajput village. Here, the men gather three or four times per day to drink opium together. The men who have gathered in their colorful turbans are not engaging in any ordinary tea ceremony — to be frank, they are addicted to opium. Yet drinking opium is not the same as smoking it. There is a certain energy and euphoria which comes forth. Like most of the men, I drank the opium from the hands of a village elder, rather than using a cup. If I was there again I suppose I’d do it again – it is basically what all the men do. It is their social drink, if you will. [Source: Jay Tindall, remotelands.com, January 14, 2013]
Holi History and Legend
Holi is an ancient festival. Mentions of it can be dated back to fourth century poetry, and it was described in a 7th century play called Ratnaval: "Witness the beauty of the great cupid festival which excites curiosity as the townsfolk are dancing at the touch of brownish water thrown from squirt-guns.They are seized by pretty women while all along the roads the air is filled with singing and drum-beating. Everything is coloured yellowish red and rendered dusty by the heaps of scented powder blown all over."
Holi It was originally a spring festival of fertility and harvest. Now it also marks some Hindu legends. Max Benwell wrote in The Independent, “First and foremost is the burning of the devil Holika, but it also draws on the legend of Radha and Krishna. Krishna loved Radha, but felt self-conscious about how different their skin-colours were. So on the advice of his mother, he went and playfully painted her face so it was the same colour as his. It is said that lovers often celebrate Holi in this tradition, by colouring their faces the same colour during the celebrations. [Source: Max Benwell, The Independent, 23 March 2016]
The BBC reported: According to the main Holi legend. Holika was a female demon, and the sister of Hiranyakashyap, the demon king. Hiranyakashyap considered himself ruler of the Universe, and higher than all the gods. Prahalad was the king's son. His father hated him because Prahalad was a faithful devotee of the god Vishnu. One day the king asked him "Who is the greatest, God or I?" "God is," said the son, "you are only a king." The king was furious and decided to murder his son. But the king's attempts at murder didn't work too well. Prahalad survived being thrown over a cliff, being trampled by elephants, bitten by snakes, and attacked by soldiers. [Source: BBC |::|]
“So the king asked his sister, Holika, to kill the boy. Holika seized Prahalad and sat in the middle of a fire with the boy on her lap. Holika had been given a magic power by the gods that made her immune to fire, so she thought this was a pretty good plan, and Prahalad would burn to death while she remained cool. But it's never wise to take gods' gifts for granted! Because Holika was using her gift to do something evil, her power vanished and she was burned to ashes. Prahalad stayed true to his God, Vishnu, and sat praying in the lap of his demon aunt. Vishnu protected him, and Prahalad survived. |::|
“Shortly afterwards, Vishnu killed King Hiranyakashyap and Prahad ruled as a wise king in his father's place. The moral of the story is that good always wins over evil, and those who seek to torment the faithful will be destroyed. To celebrate the story, large bonfires are burned during Holi. In many parts of India, a dummy of Holika is burned on the fire.” |::|
Holi Powder and Colors
According to the BBC: “Holi is messy, there is no getting around that. People throw powder paint (called "gulal") at each other (yes, even at complete strangers) and no-one seems to mind. The air is often bright with clouds of coloured powder. Gold and Silver used to be popular colours with young women, but are currently unfashionable. The more gadget-minded fill water pistols or long syringes (called pichkaris) with coloured water for distance squirting. Balloons and folded paper water bombs full of coloured water are another useful weapon of fun. [Source: BBC |::|
“Holi colours used to be made from the flowers of the 'tesu' tree. These would be gathered from the trees, dried in the sun, and then ground up. When this powder was mixed with water it produced an orange-red coloured fluid. Gulal is powdered colour, and Indian streets are bright with stalls selling powders of different colours for days before the festival. Abeer (small crystals of mica) is used to make sparkly colours. Because of health fears natural colours such as mehndi, haldi, besan and maida have become popular again. |::|
“In the last few years there has been much concern about gulal and abeer being mixed with dangerous material, and people becoming ill, or even blind as a result of using it. Small bits of mica (chamkili) are used to give the 'gulal' a shine. When smeared on the face, mica and colour powder might get into the eyes and affect the cornea leading to abrasions and loss of sight. Another expert warned: "Many Holi colours sold in the market are oxidized metals or industrial dyes mixed with engine oil and can have dangerous effects on the skin and eyes". |::|
Max Benwell wrote in The Independent, The best way to prevent any powder from sticking to your skin is to moisturise well beforehand. Some people also oil their hair so that the powder is easier to remove, or wear a hat. It is also recommended that anyone taking part uses home-made powders with ingredients that are guaranteed to be non-harmful. One way you can do this is by putting together a mix of flour, water and a few splashes of food dye. [Source: Max Benwell, The Independent, 23 March 2016]
13-Year-Old Boy Dies from Holi Powder
In 2012, Lindsay Goldwert wrote in the New York Daily News, “Toxic dye is being blamed for a mass poisoning and one death amid the joyous Hindu celebration of Holi in India. More than 200 people were hospitalized in Mumbai following the two-day Festival of Colors, where celebrants toss vibrantly colored powders, reports The Times of India. [Source: Lindsay Goldwert, New York Daily News, March 9, 2012 ^\^]
“A 13-year-old boy, Vikas Valmiki, died after being sickened. The hospitalizations began after revelers began complaining of giddiness, nausea, vomiting and burning sensations on the skin. While the government is investigating what caused the mass poisoning, police suspect chemicals dumped by local leather dealers. ^\^
“"There is a major leather tanning industry in Dharavi," said assistant commissioner of police Prabhakar Satam. "It is possible that some children mistook leftover tanning dye for Holi colors and traded in it." For a decade, health authorities have been cracking down on dangerous chemicals often found in the brightly colored pigments used on Holi, such as lead, mercuric sulfide, Prussian blue and silica. ^\^
Mankar Sankranti on January 14th is one of the most important Hindu festival. It is a harvest celebration that marks the sun's entrance into the constellation Capricorn and celebrates the sun's journey into the northern hemisphere, a period which is considered to be highly auspicious. It is considered to forget about sad and unpleasant moments in the past and look forward to new phases of life full of purity, knowledge and wisdom.
Mankar Sankranti is one the biggest festival in southern India where it is known as Pongal and Uzhavar Thirunal. In Tamil Nadu, family groups boil rice with milk, sugar and turmeric (the mixture is known as pongal) in homes and temple until it spills out of the pot (the greater the spillage the better) and eat it communally. Pongal lasts for three days. On the first day, pongal is offered to the Rain God. On the second day, it is offered to the Sun God. On the third day, family cattle are bathed and adorned with flowers, bells and colors to recognize all the hard work they have done in the fields.
There is a wide variation in how Makar Sankranti is celebrated in different regions of India and it goes by different names. In villages in and around Thanjavar, cattle and oxen have their horns painted red and green and garlands are placed around their necks. Some are raced. Women make geometric patterns known as kolams with rice powder. The festival is widely celebrated in West Bengal, where it is known at Shantiniketan as Paush Mela.
In Gujarat and Maharashtra, where the festival is known as Uttarayan. the young and the old are honored and colorful kites are flown. In Punjab, Makar Sankranti is known as Lohri. Huge bonfires are lit on the eve of Sankranti. Sweets, sugarcane and rice are thrown on the bonfires and friends and relatives gather together. In Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, it is named Maghi. Here people, before the celebration, people prepare sweets and savory dishes to celebrate the harvest. In Uttar Pradesh, the celebration is called Kicheri. It is considered a particularly auspicious time to take a bath. Large groups of people take baths in the Sangam at Prayagraj where the rivers Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswathi flow together.
On the day of Makar Sankranti, the sun enters the area of the constellation Capricornm which is known as Makar in India. The term ‘Sankranti’ refers to the movement of the sun from one zodiac sign into another. This is why it is named Makar Sankranti. The celestial event occurs on the same day every year and is one of the few Hindu festivals celebrated on a fixed date rather than a moveable one set by the Hindu lunar calendar. Makar Sankranti is regarded as the beginning of an auspicious phase or a holy phase of transition. It also marks the end of an inauspicious phase which begins around mid-December. Makar Sankranti marks the beginning of warmer and longer days. It is believed that any sacred ritual can be performed from this day onwards. [Source: Zainab Mulla, India.com, January 13, 2017]
Because the festival is celebrated in the winter, people like consume food which gives them energy and makes them feel warm. One such food — Tilguls or Laddu of Til (Sesame) — is made with jaggery and given as an offering to the Goddess Saraswati. People greet each by saying Tilgul Ghya Aani God God Bola. Several Melas or fairs are held on Makar Sankranti, the most famous of which is the Kumbh Mela, which is held every 12 years at one of four holy locations: Haridwar, Prayag, Ujjain and Nashik. Mini melas include the Magh Mela, held annually at Prayag, the Gangasagar Mela held at the Ganges River, Tusu Mela in parts of Jharkhand and West Bengal.
Navaratri (Meaning “Nine Nights”) is one of the greatest Hindu festivals. Held over nine days as the name implies in late September and early October, it symbolizes the triumph of good over evil and takes place around harvest time. The festival honors Durga, the mother goddess who also represents power. Durga annihilated the demon Mahishasura after a relentless battle lasting nine days and nights. During this period Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati — three major Hindu goddesses — are worshipped as three different manifestations of Shakti, or cosmic energy. Navratri is also known as Durga Puja. The last day is called Dussehra [Source: BBC |::|]
According to the BBC: “Navaratri is a festival in which God is adored as Mother. It is said that Shiva gave permission to Durga to see her mother for nine days in the year and this festival also remembers this visit. Families make an attempt to return home on these days, and leave on the tenth. Hinduism is the only religion in the world which has emphasised to such an extent the motherhood of God.|::|
“To celebrate a good harvest and to propitiate the nine planets, women also plant nine different kinds of food grain seeds in small containers during these nine days and then offer the young saplings to the goddess. Some devotees of Durga observe a fast and prayers are offered for the protection of health and property. A period of introspection and purification, Navaratri is traditionally an auspicious time for starting new ventures. |::|
“Navaratri is celebrated by communities getting together for dances and nightly feasts of great variety and delicacy are offered to guests and family. For women, Navaratri is a time for shopping for new clothes and new pots. It is an auspicious time to buy gold or jewellery and the gold markets are open late each night. Women dress elaborately each day for the puja or rituals and nightly dances. |::|
“Another part of the puja may involve designing puja-thalis or aartis which are decorated plates in honour of the mother goddess, Amba (Ambika). The most colourful and elaborate celebrations take part in Bengal, where huge idols of the goddess are worshipped. In Gujarat painted earthern pots with water or a lamp inside symbolise the power of the goddess. The flame symbolises everlasting divine power whilst the fluid water is transitory.” |::|
Dussehra (also spelled Dasera, Dussera) is one of India's most colorful festivals. Held at the same time as the nine-day Navaratri festival, with a tenth day, it marks the triumph of good over evil, and the motherhood of God. In northern India, Dussehra commemorates Rama's victory over Ravana, the demon king in the Ramayana, and the rescue of his wife Sita—and celebrates the triumph of good over evil. The ten days represent the ten heads of Ravana, and each day is used by Hindus to get rid of bad characteristics, such as lust and jealousy. The tenth day is known as the Day of Victory. In east India and Bangladesh it honors Durga’s slaying of the buffalo demon. Here, large images of Durga are paraded in the streets and immersed in a river on the last day. (See Durga Puja Below).
Dussehra is held late in the month of Asvina (September-October) according to the Shaka calendar, India's official calendar. On the ninth day of Dusshera, people bless the "weapons" of their business life, including everything from plows to computers, with sandalwood paste. On the final day of Dussehra, in North India celebrating crowds set fire to huge paper effigies of Ravana.
In Delhi and other places in north India, plays are held that recall Rama’s victory over the demon Ravana and the rescue of his wife Sita. The event climaxes with 80-foot-high paper-and-wood effigies of Ravana being paraded through the streets and set on fire. Some of the effigies have fireworks that explode in their eyes. At Kullu, in Himachal Pradesh, people dress as local deities from neighboring villages converge for a huge celebration. Caparisoned elephant processions are held in Mysore. Dussehra is primarily a northern festivals and receives varying amounts of attention in other parts of the country. It is not that big in Tamil Nadu and southern India.
Durga Puja in Calcutta and West Bengal
Durga Puja in late September, Early October is the biggest event in Kolkata (Calcutta) and other cities in West Bengal. Held at the same time as Dussehra, it lasts for up to three weeks and honors the ten-armed, demon-chasing goddess Durga (Kali). Durga Puja is particularly important for Hindus in Bengal. After worshiping Durga for nine days, her image is taken to the streets in a procession and there is much celebration and dancing. To mark Durga leaving her mother after the nine day visit, her image is cast into water.
Durga Puja is also known as the Kali Festival, Kali Puja, Shyama Puja or Mahanisha Puja. The festivities include merrymaking and family reunions, and displays of papier mâché statues of Durga, riding a lion and defeating demons.
Durga Puja is celebrated on the new moon day of the Hindu month Kartik especially in West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Assam and Bangladesh. It features terra cotta images of the goddess Kali, holding severed heads, and hundreds of pandals, fake buildings made of cotton stretched over bamboo. Some of the pandals are decked out in colored lights, and brightly painted with moving snakes, film stars and deities. Some cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to make. The festival features all night partying and fireworks.
In Calcutta, the festival climaxes with procession in which statues of the goddess are carried to the Hooley river and immersed in the water. People watch as statues break up into floating body parts. Afterward the praying continues in the Midan. In 1996, there were replicas of the Victoria Memorial airport that were over 30 meters long. The climax is when the pandals are dragged in the streets and destroyed by traffic and the images of Kali are dragged into the river.
Ganesh Chaturthi is a celebration in September honoring the birth of Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god of wisdom and prosperity and destroyer of obstacles. Also known as Ganapati, Ekadanta, Vinayaka, Pillaiyar and Heramba, Ganesh is one of the most popular Hindu deities. Possessing an elephant's head on a human body and the son of Shiva and his wife Parvati, he is particularly sought out and prayed to when people are beginning a new enterprise or starting a new business. At this time, he is believed to bless the Earth with his presence.
In places such as Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, Ganesh Chaturthi is a grand 10-day occasion. Huge clay statues of Ganesha are taken to the streets accompanied by music, dance and merry-making. In other places the occasion is celebrated more modestly at home with hymns sung and offerings made to Ganesh. Sweets are also distributed because in Hindu legend Ganesh liked them. The biggest celebrations are Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. On the fifth day of the festival in Mumbai. Ganesh idols are immersed in the sea. In some places you can see large idols of Ganesh pulled on bullock carts.
In Mumbai (Bombay) and Maharashtra there are large processions with huge crowds that immerse images of Hindu Gods in the Arabian Sea and lakes. Local competitions and other festivities are held. Celebrants often powder their faces and bodies in bright colors. Ganesh Chaturthi falls on the fourth day in the month of Bhadra (August-September). Families and businesses prepare for this festival by purchasing brightly painted images of Ganesh and worshiping them for a number of days. On the festival itself, with great celebration, participants bathe the images (and in most cases permanently dump them) in nearby rivers, lakes, or seas.
Half of Bombay's population turns out for the celebration. Ganesh idols are displayed in houses for ten days. Thousands of brightly painted imaged of Ganesh—made of plaster-of-Paris, wood, mud, coconut hair and spray paint— are paraded through the streets and placed in homes or special shrines. Most are relatively small but some are seven or eight meters feet high. The biggest ones sometimes belong to gangsters and are part of their efforts to win public goodwill. The festival climaxes at Chowpatty Beach where hundreds of thousands people gather, many of them dousing images of Ganesh in the water, "purifying the faithful and sending the Ganesh back to the realm of the gods." The day after celebration the beach looks like a battlefield, with images and limbs of Ganesh sticking out of the water and lying on the beach.
History of Ganesh Chaturthi
The Ganesh festival evolved into present form in the late 19th century as an expression of displeasure towards the British at a time when political rallies were banned but religious festivals weren't. At that time skits often had political messages as freedom fighters attempted to rouse the people. So many Ganesh images are deposited in the water that large numbers of fish die from toxins from the paint and an impermeable layer made by the plaster of Paris exists on the sea floor. Environmentalists have raised a fuss and argued that the practice should be stopped
Geeta Anand wrote in the New York Times, “In the late 19th century, after the British banned political gatherings, a leader of India’s independence movement got the idea of spreading nationalist sentiment by organizing a street festival around Ganesh.Two followers of that leader, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, lived in Keshavji Naik Chawl, a housing complex in Mumbai of tiny three-room apartments along open-air corridors, a common housing design for middle-class residents at the time, and one still in use today. The Ganesh festival was started in that chawl in the 1890s. “The objective was to create an awakening among the people against British rule,” said Madhukar Keshav Dhavalikar, a former archaeology professor and former director of Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute in Pune, India. [Source: Geeta Anand, New York Times, September 15, 2016]
“The festival spread across the country, although Mumbai remains its heart and soul. In the same chawl where it all began in the late 19th century, residents, some of whose families have lived there for three generations, keep the tradition alive. They have succeeded in holding onto the tradition’s low-key origins, centered on cultural activities, even as the festival has evolved into an ever-noisier competition for the largest, most beautiful statue.”
Ganesh Chaturthi in Khetwadi, Mumbai
Geeta Anand wrote in the New York Times, “The giant plaster-of-paris statue of Ganesh...is the most famous in Khetwadi, one of Mumbai’s oldest, densest neighborhoods, near where the festival was first celebrated. Almost every alley features yet another wildly decorated, ardently worshiped Ganesh. But this one, Khetwadi Cha Ganraj, or the Ganesh of Khetwadi, often wins awards as the most beautiful. That fame drew the Balsaras and thousands of others on Wednesday, the last day before the deity would join about 50,000 other statues across the city in a procession of dancing crowds to the ocean, where the idols will be gently lowered into the water. “More than 160,000 Ganesh statues had already been dropped in the city’s waterways, some just a foot tall and worshiped in people’s homes, others close to 30 feet high, paid for by politicians and businessmen as centers for worship and merriment at the festival. [Source: Geeta Anand, New York Times, September 15, 2016]
“Despite the surrounding city, the community has maintained its village feel. On Wednesday, the courtyard in the chawl was an oasis of calm in the midst of all the urban hustle. Children ran in and out of the apartments, most of which had their doors wide open; women wearing saris cooked dinner; and men in shorts napped and watched TV. “You can just enter anyone’s room,” said Vinod Satpute, a 58-year-old flight attendant with Air India, whose parents moved to the chawl decades ago. “It doesn’t matter if he’s eating or sleeping. That’s his problem.”
“A few streets down, vast crowds gathered around the Khetwadi Cha Ganraj. The first statue went up here in the neighborhood’s Lane No. 12 in 1959, and this year’s celebration cost close to $75,000, financed in large part by corporate donations. The costs cover not just the giant, elaborately painted and dressed Ganesh, but also the themed room that holds the deity — this year, a “Rome and Rajasthan palace.” Two huge chandeliers hang overhead as 12 speakers boom temple music at a deafening volume. A crane holds a video camera that beams live footage to a smartphone app and to a YouTube site. In addition to many flower garlands, this Ganesh wears a 33-pound necklace of pure gold, the gift of an anonymous donor in 2008, said Ganesh Mathur, who was among those in charge of the Khetwadi Cha Ganraj this year.
“Along the street, almost every alley has been transformed into a tent with an enormous Ganesh inside. Crowds throng, buying cotton candy, toys, tea and watermelon slices, as couples and families make a day of visiting the idols. Lines snake around almost every tent, inside of which crowds gape at the latest iteration of the revered god. At the Khetwadi Cha Ganraj, it was time for the evening prayers. As they finished, workers on ladders used peacock feathers to dust Ganesh’s massive arms and pink fingernails. Then they began replacing the deity’s many flower garlands with fresh ones. At that, the Balsaras, until now engaged in deep prayer at the back of the room, rushed forward and shouted to the attendants over the temple music that they wanted to take the discarded garlands home. In minutes, they were weaving their way through the motorcycles and street vendors outside, arms buried in red and white flowers, convinced that another great year lay in store for them and for everyone else.”
Raksha Bandhan is a festival in August that celebrated mainly in northern and western India with young women tying colorful silken rakhi on their wrists and pledge their love. According to the BBC, “Raksha Bandhan, also abbreviated to Rakhi, is the Hindu festival that celebrates brotherhood and love. It is celebrated on the full moon in the month of Sravana in the lunar calendar. The word Raksha means protection, whilst Bandhan is the verb to tie. Traditionally, during the festival sisters tie a rakhi, a bracelet made of interwoven red and gold threads, around their brothers' wrists to celebrate their relationship. It is a significant festival in the Hindu calendar, followed eight days later by Janamashtami. [Source: BBC |::|]
Today the festival has developed with others joining in the festivities: 1) Priests tying rakhis around the wrists of congregation members; 2) close friends tying rakhis to express their relationship; 3) women tying rakhis around the wrists of the prime minister and other politicains; and 4) people tying raktis around the wrists of soldiers.
“It is believed that when a woman ties a rakhi around the hand of a man it becomes obligatory for him to honour his religious duty and protect her. Traditional stories state that rakhis are blessed with sacred verses and are encompassed by them. This festival has evolved over the years to encompass the importance of many people in Hindu society, yet foremost it continues to honour and uphold the relationship between a sister and brother. |::|
“Sometimes rakhis are consecrated in rice and grass before they are given, and they are traditionally tied by people familiar with the Vedas. Following these customs the rakhi is believed to remove sin from one hand and provide safety to the other. The protection offered by a rakhi is believed to remain for a year. As the rakhi is tied, a prayer is offered asking for happiness and prosperity. Today rakhis are often decorated with multi-coloured silk thread, and often adorned with stones and beads. Once the rakhi has been tied a mantra is chanted either in Sanskrit or Punjabi. At the end of the ceremony the sister places a sweet in her mouth. Following this her brother gives her a small monetary gift of appreciation.” |::|
Krishna Janmashtami (Krishna Jayanti)
Krishna Janmashtami (Krishna Jayanti) is a festival in August that celebrates the birthday of Lord Krishna, one of the most popular Hindu gods, throughout the country with processions, fasting and rituals at temples. It occurs in the month of Bhadra. Krishna is perceived by most Hindus to be an avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu, who is regarded as the highest avatar. Krishna is considered to be a warrior, hero, teacher and philosopher by Hindus. [Source: BBC |::|]
According to the BBC: “Krishna's birthday is celebrated eight days after Raksha Bandhan in the month of Sravana and celebrations are spread over two days. The first day is called Krishan ashtami or Gokul ashtami. The second day is known as Kaal ashtami or more popularly Janam ashtami. Given the significance of Krishna in the Hindu pantheon, Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated with great importance and consideration. |::|
“For the 48 hour period Hindus are likely to forego sleep and instead sing bhajans, which are traditional Hindu songs. It is believed that Krishna was born at midnight and it is at this time that the true festivities commence. Food is prepared from milk and curds said to have been favoured by Krishna. Some Hindus choose to fast for the first day of Krishna Janmashtami, choosing only to eat after the midnight celebrations. |::|
“Dances and songs are used to venerate and remember this supreme God. Plays are also carried out re-enacting scenes from Krishna's early life. In Temples images of Krishna are bathed and placed in cradles, whilst the shankh (conch shell) is played and bells are rung. Holy mantras are also chanted to venerate Krishna.” |::|
Mahashivratri (also known as Shivaratri) is a Hindu festival dedicated to Shiva. Mahashivaratri means “the great night of Shiva” and is held during the month of Magha (January-February). It celebrates Shiva's emanation of the universe through his cosmic dance, and is a day of fasting, visiting temples, and in many places staying up all night to sing devotional songs. There is an all-night vigil held at 900-year-old Lingaraja Temple in the capital of Orissa, Bhubaneswar. Worshippers light butter lamps and priest with torches run through the crowds and climb up the dome of the temple to celebrate the end of a fast.
According to the BBC: “While most Hindu festivals are celebrated during the day, Mahashivratri is celebrated during the night and day that come just before the new moon. Each new moon is dedicated to Shiva, but Mahashivratri is especially important because it is the night when he danced the 'Tandav', his cosmic dance. It also celebrates the wedding of Shiva and Sati, the mother divine. Night represents evil, injustice, ignorance, sin, violence, and misfortune. Tradition says that Shiva, like his symbol the new moon, appeared in order to save the world from darkness and ignorance, before the world entered complete darkness. |::|
“Devotees of Shiva observe a fast during Mahashivratri and stay up all night at a place of worship. Shiva is offered special food made from the fruits of the season, root vegetables, and coconuts, during ritual worship. Those who observe the Mahashivratri fast only break their fast the next morning, and eat the prasad (food offerings) offered to Shiva. |::|
“In temples, Shiva linga - the phallic symbol of Lord Shiva - is worshipped. Devotees flock to the temples to perform the ritual of bathing the Shiva linga. It is bathed with milk, water and honey, and then anointed with sandalwood paste, and decorated with flowers and garlands. The legend of Lubdhaka. Young girls observe the fast and worship Shiva so that he may bless them with good husbands. They sing devotional songs in praise of the lord, and holy texts are chanted throughout the night. The pandits in the temples perform the puja (religious worship) according to the scriptures. This is done four times during the night. |::|
“The legend surrounding the festival of Mahashivratri says that Lubdhaka, a poor tribal man and a devotee of Shiva, once went into the deep forests to collect firewood. At nightfall, he became lost and could not find his way home. In the darkness, Lubdhaka climbed a bel tree, and sought safety and shelter in its branches until dawn. All night, he could hear the growls of tigers and wild animals, and was too frightened to leave the tree. In order to keep himself awake, he plucked one leaf at a time from the tree and then dropped it, while chanting the name of Shiva. By sunrise, he had dropped thousands of leaves on to a Shiva lingam, which he had not seen in the darkness. Lubdhaka's all-night worship pleased Shiva. By the grace of Shiva the tigers and wild animals went away, and Lubdhaka not only survived but was rewarded with 'divine bliss'.” |::|
Rama Navami is a celebration of Lord Rama's birthday. It is observed throughout the country during the Hindu month of Chaitra (March-April). Lord Rama, son of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya, was an incarnation of Vishnu and the hero of the Ramayana, the Sanskrit epic of 24,000 stanzas. A continuous recital of the book takes place for about a week prior to the celebration and on the day itself, the highlights of the story are read in Hindu temples. The celebrations are particularly big at places associated with Rama, like Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh and Ramesvaram in Tamil Nadu. Events there attract thousands of devotees.
According to the BBC: The house is thoroughly cleaned on Rama Navami and is also decorated. Offerings of fruit and flowers are placed on the family shrine and after an early bath, prayers are recited. The youngest female member of the household leads the puja (prayers) by applying a red tilak (mark) to all the other members of the family before everyone joins together in worship. An image or picture of baby Rama is placed in a covered cradle. At noon the covering is removed and Prasad (special sacred food) is offered to Rama, which may then be shared amongst the congregation. The festival is a focal point for moral reflection and being especially charitable to others. There is an element of fasting. Some people don't eat certain foods, particularly things like onions, garlic, some spices and wheat products.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Internet Indian History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 3 South Asia” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); “The Creators” by Daniel Boorstin; “A Guide to Angkor: an Introduction to the Temples” by Dawn Rooney (Asia Book) for Information on temples and architecture. National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018