Indian Festivals Guide:
Indian festivals speak of India’s rich cultural and traditional background. The colorful festivals are an integral part of every Indians. The festivals play an important part in promoting the traditional handicrafts and tourism of India. The rich cultural heritage of India attracts the Western world during the celebration of important festivals like Onam, Holi, Durga Puja and many more. Every region celebrates their festival according to their regional customs and rituals. The commonness in all the celebration is that it celebrates humanity. Some of the common rituals, which are followed in most of the festivals, are processions in the streets, decoration of homes and sacred places such as temples and traditional and folk song and dance performances. Most religious festivals have elaborate prayers, traditions, customs and rituals attached to them. The elaborate celebration and the multitude of festivals in India, each with their own unique legends and significances often awe the foreigners who come to visit India.
Festivals in India:
A three-day harvest festival and one of the most joyful events in the South. In Tamil Nadu, newly harvested rice is ceremonially cooked. In Karnataka, the festival is called ‘Sankranti’, and cows and bullocks are gaily decorated and fed on ‘Pongal’ ( a sweet preparation of rice). In the evening, the cattle are led out in procession to the beat of drums and music.
This Muslim festival of sacrifice, Id-ul-Zuha (Arabic) or Bakrid in India is celebrated all over the country. On this day Muslims sacrifice a goat or Bakr (Urdu) to commemorate the sacrifice of Prophet Ibrahim, who willingly agreed to kill his son at the behest of God. This festival coincides with the Haj pilgrimage in Mecca. Prayers are offered in the mosques and the sacrificial meat is then distributed after the Id prayers. Special delicacies are prepared and served among family and friends on the occasion.
The Festival of Muharram is an important period of mourning in the Shi’ite branch of Islam. It signifies the Karbala tragedy when Husayn bin Ali, a grandson of Muhammad, was martyred. Muharram is the first month of Islamic lunar calendar. This marks the time when Prophet Muhammed was driven out of Mecca. He, along with Muslims, took refuge in the city Ya-Th’rib, which was later renamed to Medina (City of Prophet). Though Muslims around the world celebrate the new Islamic year, the Shi’ite sect has most visible celebration proceedings.
Amongst India’s innumerable festivals, Holi ranks as the most colourful. It celebrates the arrival of spring and death of demoness Holika; it is a celebration of joy and hope. Holi provides a refreshing respite from the mundane norms as people from all walks of life enjoy themselves. In a tight knit community, it also provided a good excuse for letting off some steam and settling old scores, without causing physical injury.
The Jain community celebrates the birth anniversary of the 24th and the last Tirthankara, Vardhman Mahavir, the founder of Jainism. On Mahavir Jayanthi, Jain temples are decorated with flags. In the morning the idol of Mahavira is given a ceremonial bath called the ‘abhishek’. It is then placed in a cradle and carried in a procession around the neighbourhood. The devotees make offerings of milk, rice, fruit, incense, lamps and water to the Tirthankar. Pilgrims from all parts of the country visit the ancient Jain Temples at Girnar and Palitana in Gujarat on this day.
Good Friday is a holy day celebrated by Christians on the Friday before Easter or Pascha. It commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus at Calvary. Special prayer services are often held on this day with readings from the Gospel accounts of the events leading up to the crucifixion. Mainstream Christian churches view Christ’s crucifixion as a voluntary and vicarious act, and one by which, along with his resurrection on the third day, death itself was conquered.
An important religious festival among Christians; it commemorates the Resurrection of Jesus after his Crucifixion. Easter is celebrated on a Sunday in spring, and the season of Easter, a time of rejoicing, continues for several weeks. The penitential season of Lent is a time of preparation for Easter.
The Hindu Solar New Year Day. People bathe in rivers and go to temples to offer puja (worship). Baisakhi is of special significance to the Sikhs. On this day in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh organised them into the ‘Khalsa’, brotherhood of man. In Punjab, farmers start harvesting on this day with great fanfare. Villagers perform the ‘Bhangra’ folk-dance.
The full moon of the month of Vaisakh has a three-fold significance for Buddhists because this was the day when Buddha was born, attained enlightenment, and attained Nirvana. Here is a look at the various ways in which Buddha Purnima is celebrated and observed. Celebrations of Buddha Purnima have been extensively written about in poems and novels and depicted in paintings because Buddha Purnima is not only a day of rejoicing; it is also a day for reflection on the life and teaching of one of the greatest teachers the world has ever known.
The birth anniversary of Lord Krishna, the incarnation of Vishnu and the author of the Bhagavad Gita (Song Celestial), is observed all over. It is celebrated with special eclat at Mathura and Brindavan where Lord Krishna spent his childhood. Night-long prayers are offered and religious hymns are sung in temples. Scenes are enacted from Lord Krishna’s early life.
Onam, a harvest festival, is celebrated in Kerala, a state in India. It generally falls in the months of August-September. Onam is a celebration to mark the annual return of the spirit of the mythical King Mahabali to his kingdom, and a commemoration of his benevolent rule and his sacrifice. The festivities are intended to assure the King that his people are happy and to wish him well.
Dussehra and Durga Puja:
Among the most popular of all festivals, it symbolises the triumph of good over evil. Every region observes this 10-day festival in a special way. In the North, ‘Ram Lila’ recitations and music recall the life of the legendary hero, Rama. Large fire cracker–stuffed effigies of Ravana, symbolising evil, explode to the cheers of thousands of spectators. In Kulu against the backdrop of snow-covered mountains, villagers dressed in their colourful best assemble to take out processions of local deities accompanied by music on pipes and drums. In Karnataka, Dussehra is celebrated with magnificent pomp and pageantry. In Bengal and the East, it is called ‘Durga Puja’. Images of Goddess Durga are worshipped for four days and, on the last day, taken out in a procession and immersed in a river or the sea.
The festival of lights is one of the most beautiful of Indian festivals. It comes 21 days after Dussehra and celebrates the return of Rama to Ayodhya after his 14-year exile. Countless flickering oil lamps and lights are lit in houses all over the country making it a night of enchantment. Worship of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and fireworks and festivities are an essential part of the occasion.
Guru Nanak Jayanti:
Guru Nanak Jayanti, it is the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak who founded the Sikh faith. For two days and nights preceding the festival, the ‘Granth Sahib’ (Holy Book) is read and on the day of the festival, taken out in a grand procession. Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of the Sikh faith, was born in the month of Kartik (October / November) and his birthday is known as Guru Nanak Jayanti. He was born in 1469 A.D. at Tolevandi some 30 miles from Lahore. The anniversaries of Sikh Guru’s are known as Gurpurabs and are celebrated with devotion and dedication.
Eid-ul-Fitr, popularly known as the “Festival of the Breaking of the Fast”, occurs as soon as the new moon is sighted at the end of the month of fasting, namely Ramadan. The festival is intended to be a festive and joyous occasion. Special foods and delicacies are prepared for the day and are distributed to neighbours and friends. This festival celebrates the end of Ramzan, the Muslim month of fasting. It is an occasion of feasting and rejoicing.
The faithful gather in the mosques to pray, friends and relatives meet and exchange greetings. Prayers, family get-togethers and feasts are the major highlights of the festival.
Christmas the birth anniversary of Jesus Christ, is celebrated in India with great fervor all over India by the Christians. People decorate their houses, erect Christmas trees, make cribs with figures of baby Jesus, Mother Mary, Joseph, the three kings who come to visit the baby and shepherd boys and their herds grazing around depicting the scenes of Jesus’s Birth in the Bible. They decorate the Christmas tree, hang stars, gifts and illuminate them. This is the most important and the gayest festival of the Christians. Other communities in India also look upon it as a festival of goodwill and greetings. During the British period it was celebrated on an All-India basis and the ten days from the Christmas Eve i.e the evening of 24th December till after the New year were declared as public holidays. Children and youngsters looked forward to Christmas holidays when they enjoyed themselves to their heart’s content. It was also during the British period that the Christian missions penetrated to the interior of India even to the tribal regions, resulting in the number of people who were converted to Christian faith. This resulted in the Christians becoming the third most important community in India.