Hindu Religious Festivals
Hindu festivals are related to the various myths and legends. They have a cultural as well as deep spiritual meaning behind them. They serve to bring relatives, friends and others together in friendship and love. In addition to festivals, there are also fasts which some Hindus observe on particular days, which have religious significance. Festivals are held on specific dates of Hindu calendar. It would be useful to know about the Hindu calendar. Almost every month there is a festival or a fast, but not everyone celebrates each and every one. Some of the popular festivals will be described here which are widely celebrated throughout India.
This festival is commonly known as Mahashivaratri, the great Shiva night. It falls on the 14th day of the dark fortnight of the month of Magh. Devotees of Shiva observe fast and go to the temple of Shiva to perform Puja, in the tranquillity of midnight with special items, like Holi Ganges water, bel-patra (leaves of wood-apple tree), milk, ghee, honey, fruits and flowers.
The significance of offering prayers at this time is to sit in silence, meditate and make resolves to get rid of evil tendencies and awaken the cognitive faculties like a yogi. Devotion to God and acquiring spiritual knowledge are the main aspects of Shivratri. Devotees chant the Vedic Mantra, "Aum Namah Shivaya, Namah Shankaray, Namah Shambhavaye", meaning we offer our salutations to Lord Shiva, the giver of peace, happiness and good fortune to all.
It is a celebration of the birthday of Rama. It falls on the 9th day of the bright fortnight in the month of Chaitra.
This falls on the full moon day (Purnima) in the month of Shravana.
In ancient days, when a guru initiated a disciple, he tied a red or orange thread around his right wrist, which signified a promise to protect and a bond of mutual love and trust between the pupil and teacher. Even now a Brahmin ties a red or orange thread to a householder's wrist on this day and receives a gift. Later on the practice of sisters tying rakhi to their brothers became prevalent and is still very popular among Hindus. It has become a symbol of affection between a brother and a sister. It also signifies the duty of a brother to protect his sister in the times of crisis.
It is a celebration of the birthday of Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu. It is observed according to Hindu luni-solar calendar, on the eighth day (Ashtami) of the Krishna Paksha (dark fortnight) in the month of Shraavana of the Hindu Calendar. Devotees pray and worship till midnight to celebrate his birth.
It is an important festival particularly to the Vaishnavism tradition of Hinduism. Dance-drama enactments of the life of Krishna according to the Bhagavata Purana (such as Rasa lila or Krishna Lila), devotional singing through the midnight when Krishna is believed to have been born, fasting (upavasa), a night vigil (jagarana), and a festival (mahotsava) on the following day are a part of the Janmashtami celebrations.
Karva Chauth is a one-day festival celebrated by Hindu women in Northern India, in which married women fast from sunrise to moonrise for the safety and longevity of their husbands.
Dussehra, Navratri and Durga Puja
This festival, with three different names, is celebrated in different ways in different parts of India. It lasts from the 1st day to the 10th day of the bright half of the month of Ashwin. Tenth day is called Vijaya Dashmi or Dussehra.
Navratri means festival of nine nights. It is based on the belief that strength to fight evil and power to protect the weak is represented by the Hindu Goddesses. The nine nights' worship are divided into three days for each of the three Goddesses, Durga, the Goddess of Shakti (strength), Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth, and Saraswati, the Goddess of knowledge.
During these nine days, some people observe fast during the day. Worship and prayer to the Goddesses are performed. The whole function is celebrated on a communal basis. A very popular type of dance is associated with Navratri, called Ras Garba.
In North India, where Rama is worshipped with more fervour, festival of Rama Leela is celebrated during Navratri. It is a celebration of Rama's victory over Ravana, the demon king of Lanka. Thus on the tenth day, called Vijaya Dashmi, there is a celebration of the victory of good over the evil. Big effigies of Ravana are burnt with fire crackers.
This is another festival rejoicing after taking the crops out of the fields. This is mainly celebrated in the North of India. Brotherhood feelings and cooperative sentiments are at the heart of this festival. Families come closer leaving out their sorrows and differences.
For many Hindus, this festival is their traditional solar new year, a harvest festival, an occasion to bathe in sacred rivers such as Ganges, Jhelum and Kaveri, visit temples, meet friends and party over festive foods. This festival in Hinduism is known by various regional names.
Holi (festival of colours)
Holi is celebrated on Purnima (full moon) in the month of Phalgun. It is a spring festival. Spring and Autumn are the two harvest seasons in India, when harvest is safely gathered by the farmers of the country. This is, therefore, a time of carefree enjoyment. It is also called a festival of colours. Men and women of all ages splash colours on each other and smear faces with powder paints on Holi. It possibly commemorates the innocent frolics of youthful Krishna with the gopis of Vrindavan.
Holi is derived from the word hola, which means offering oblations or prayer to the Almighty as thanksgiving for good harvest. Customarily, grain, wheat, and other grams are roasted in a bonfire (holika) and offered to friends and relatives which promotes a feeling of friendship and brotherhood among the community.
There is a legend associated with this festival. It is the story of a female demon called Holika. She was the sister of the demon king Hiranyakashipu. The King's son Prahlada was a great devotee of God, but the King did not favour this idea, as he considered himself to be the Lord of the Universe. The King tried to kill Prahlada and persuaded his sister Holika to help him in the mission. Holika had obtained a boon from Brahma that she would not be burnt by fire, so she entered the fire taking Prahlad in her lap, with the intention of burning him to death. With God's grace Prahlad escaped and Holika was burnt to death for misusing her boon and powers.
Ganesh Chaturthi is the Hindu festival that reveres god Ganesha. A ten-day festival, it starts on the fourth day of Hindu luni-solar calendar month Bhadrapada. The festival is marked with installation of Ganesha clay idols privately in homes, or publicly on elaborate pandals (temporary stage). Observations include chanting of Vedic hymns and Hindu texts such as Ganapati Upanishad, prayers and vrata (fasting). Offerings and prasada from the daily prayers, that is distributed from the pandal to the community, include sweets such as modaka believed to be a favorite of the elephant-headed deity. The festival ends on the tenth day after start, wherein the idol is carried in a public procession with music and group chanting, then immersed in nearby water body such as a river or ocean, thereafter the clay idol dissolves and Ganesha is believed to return to Mount Kailash to Parvati and Shiva.
The festival celebrates Lord Ganesha as the God of New Beginnings and the Remover of Obstacles and is observed throughout India, especially in the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Telangana, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh,and is usually celebrated privately at home in states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
Diwali (festival of lights)
It is commonly known as the festival of lights and is one of the most popular Hindu festivals. It falls on the night of new moon in the month of Kartik. Hindus decorate their homes with lights, which nowadays may be brightly coloured or simply decorated with deepaks made of clay and having small amount of oil with a cotton wick which is lighted.
It signifies the victory of divine forces over those of evil. It is a celebration of the homecoming of Rama after 14 years of exile in the forest. Legend is that people of Ayodhya lit thousands of clay lamps known as deepa to welcome Rama, Seeta and Lakshman.
In some parts of India, Diwali is also like the New Year's Day for Hindus. Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth is worshipped in all households and prayed for prosperity and well-being throughout the year. The legend is that on this very day Goddess Lakshmi appeared during Samudra Manthan and hence she is worshipped.
Another legend is that on the day preceding Diwali, Shri Krishna killed the Demon Narakasura who had enslaved about 16000 women.
Vikramaditya, the greatest Hindu king was coroneted on this very day. Thus, Diwali signifies victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance and goodness over evil.