Festivals Celebrated by Hindus in India!
Hindu festivals range over the entire year; some are celebrated by almost all Hindu communities while others are of regional significance.
In mid-January comes Shankrant marking the change of season when the sun is supposed to move into its northern home and the days get longer and nights, shorter.
People usually take a dip in the holy rivers such as Ganga and Yamuna at this time.
A day before Shankrant comes Lohri, which is specially celebrated by Punjabis. It is the last day of the month of Paus. The Lohri bonfire is believed to take the people’s message to the sun to shine brightly and end the chill of winter. The fun is in eating the revdi (a sweet) and popcorn by the bonfire. Coinciding with Shankrant is the Tamil festival of Pongal falling on the first day of the Tamil month of Thai.
It is a harvest festival, the chief event being the boiling over of a pot of pongal—a mixture of rice, dal, jaggery and milk, symbolic of prosperity and abundance. The day before Pongal is celebrated as Bogi dedicated to Lord Indra. The day after is Mattu Pongal dedicated to cows.
In January-February, on the fifth day of Magha, comes Vasant Panchami which is celebrated by Bengalis especially in honour of Saraswati, the goddess of learning. People generally wear yellow clothes on this day. On the fourteenth day of the dark fortnight of Magha (Janaury-February) is celebrated Mahashivaratri. It is a day of fasting and prayer dedicated to Lord Shiva.
In Phalgun (sometime in March) comes the festival of colours, Holi. It marks the end of winter and beginning of summer and people enthusiastically throw coloured water (or powder) on one another, and exchange good wishes and sweets. One the night before Holi, bonfires are lit to symbolise the destruction of the evil demon Holika.
In the month of Chaitra (March-April) Ramanavami is celebrated in temples. Also in this period most of the regional New Year Days are celebrated. Ugadi is the Telugu New Year that usually comes in March. In Punjab the year starts with the first of Vaisakh, coincinding with the ripening of the rabi harvest Baisakhi (April 13).
At the same time the Nava Varsha of Bengalis begins. The Tamil New Year also begins at this time. The Assamese celebrate their New Year, Goru and Rangoli Bihu, as a cattle festival. The people of Kerala celebrate Vishu with the kani (preparation of an auspicious omen the preceding night so that it is the first thing one sees on waking up on New Year’s day).
In May the Pooram festival is held at Trichur in Kerala. The highlight of this festival is the parade of magnificently decorated elephants.
In June-July, Lord Jagannath’s stately temple chariot goes in procession from the temple at Puri. The Rath Yatra celebrates Krishna’s journey to Mathura to visit his aunt. The images of his brother, Balarama, and sister, Subhadra, are taken in procession with him.
Naga Panchami comes sometime in July-August. It is dedicated to Ananta, the serpent on whose coils Vishnu rests. Snakes are believed to have power over the monsoon rainfall and to keep evil away. On the full-moon day of Shravana comes Raksha Bandhan.
Girls tie coloured chars (rakhi) round their brothers’ wrists. It symbolises the bond between sisters and brothers. The brothers give gifts to sisters who offer sweets along with the rakhi. On the eighth day of the dark fortnight in the month of Shravana (or in Bhadra) the anniversary of Krishna’s birth—Janmashtami—is celebrated with prayers and rejoicing. Devotees fast till midnight.
Ganesh Chaturthi falls on the fourth day of Shukla Paksha (period of the waxing moon) in the month of Bhadon (August- September). It is celebrated with particular enthusiasm in Maharashtra. Shrines are erected and a day idol of Ganesh is installed, all beautifully made and brightly coloured. Every family buys a clay idol.
It is worshipped for a specific period before being ceremoniously immersed in a river, tank or the sea. Ganesh is the god of wisdom, the deity who can remove obstacles from anyone’s path to success. It may be recalled that Bal Gangadhar Tilak popularised this festival on a large scale to invoke nationalistic feelings in the masses during the struggle for freedom. Also in August-September comes Onam, a harvest festival of Kerala.
The celebrations lasting ten days begin with a colourful welcome to King Mahabali (the wise and good ruler of ancient Kerala). Beautiful floral patterns are made on the floor, usually with flowers, and girls dance typical items like Kaikottikkali. Onam is specially famous for the Aranmula snake boat races. The earliest record of Onam celebration dates back to AD 861.
Dussehra is a festival of ten days celebrated all over India in Aswin (September-October). In the north it celebrates Rama’s victory over Ravana. The Ramilia is acted out in episodes during the festival and on the tenth day— Vijayadashami—the effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Meghnad are burnt to symbolise the victory of good over evil. The Bengalis celebrate the festival as Durga Puja. Gujaratis celebrate it as Navaratra (festival of nine nights).
In the south it is Navaratri and there is a tradition of displaying dolls and images of gods and goddesses on steps and inviting womenfolk to each other’s houses. In Kulu, the festival takes place a little later than elsewhere. But it is a special occasion with images of gods from all over the valley being brought together, and a fair is held to celebrate it. That is why Kulu is called the ‘Valley of the Gods’.
In October-November, that is in Asunn/Kartik, come the popular festival of Diwali (or Deepavali) which falls on a New Moon or Amavasya. Several legends are associated with the festival. One legend is that the lights are lit and there is rejoicing because Rama was returning to Ayodhya after his exile.
Bengalis dedicate the festival to Kali, while in the south it commemorates Krishna’s victory over Narakasura. It is also considered, especially in West India, as the day on which Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity, emerged from the Milky Way. Diwali is the New Year for Jains and marks the beginning of the new financial year for some companies. In the south it is also considered as the day of the visit of King Bali whose arrogance Vishnu suppressed. It is an occasion when people give one another sweets, and fireworks are exploded in the evening.
Kartikai is a festival of lights held on kartik poornima in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and parts of Kerala. It is celebrated in honour of the appearance of Shiva at the birth of the universe.
The Assamese observe three Bihu or festivals. The Bohag Bihu, the Magh Bihu and the Kati Bihu coincide with the spring, winter and autumn seasons respectively. The Bohag Bihu or the Spring New Year marks the beginning of agricultural operations. The Magh Bihu is a harvest festival celebrated in winter. The Kati Bihu held in October-November involves the worship of the tulsi plant in the house countryard.