Festival of India

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Festivals of India

There is no denying that India is one of the countries in the world that is rooted to a very rich yet diverse culture.

The people are also loyal to the religion to which they are raised and this is exemplified in the different festivals and other cultural/religious activities observed here.

Religious events in the country are calculated according to the ancient lunisolar calendars.

In the West meanwhile, Hindus make use of a pattra, a calendar that helps them keep track of festival dates.

Ganesh Chaturthi
Also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi in Sanskrit, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu, Ganesh Chaturthi is a celebration commemorating the day that the Lord Ganesh made his presence to all his devotees. It's also said that it was on this day that Ganesh materialized as Mayureshwara to kill the demon Sindhu.

Though celebrated all over India, elaborate festivities can be witnessed in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and other former states of the Maratha Empire. Lasting for 10 days, the festival usually occurs sometime between August 20 and September 15.

During the celebration, a special puja is performed twice daily, which involves material and verbal offerings such as the Ganesh mantra and a Ganesha prayer.

Participants wear make-up in different styles but are generally inspired from Ganesh’ 8 forms.

The sweet called modak is the special dish during the festival. It is rice flour dumpling with coconut stuffing and other condiments and is either steamed or fried. Modak is garnished with fresh or dry grated coconut.

Meaning the “great night of Shiva”, Mahashivrati is a Hindu festival honoring Lord Shiva and his marriage to Goddess Parvati. This is done during the eve of every new moon or the 14th day of the month of Magha. Families may fast and ceremonies involving, praises, prayers and hymns take place at night.

Originally known as Holika, this extremely popular festival begins at the time of the spring harvest or the full moon of Phalguna and is often associated with the demoness of the same name.

Especially marked by unmixed gaiety and frolics that are common to the people, Holi literally means burning.The festival therefore involves lighting bonfires and spraying of colored dyes or powders.

Practically no religious observations are done during the celebration; it is generally merrymaking to declare the beginning of spring. Holi begins at the time of the spring harvest (the full moon of Phalguna) and is often associated with stories of the demoness Holika. Festivities include lighting bonfires and spraying coloured dyes or powders in good-hearted fun.

Celebrated every 13th of April, Baisakhi is significant to Sikhs since this is said to be the day when Guru Gobind Singh organized the Khalsa/Panth Kalsa, or the Order of the Pure Ones.

The formation of the Khalsa also involved offering he five emblems of purity and courage popularly known today as the five Ks namely: the Kesh or unshorn hair; Kangha, the wooden comb; Karra, the iron (or steel) bracelet; Kirpan, the sword; and Kachera, the underwear.

In Punjab, villagers perform the Bhangra folk dance. The festival is usually occurs in riverbanks where people can bathe and re-enact the baptism of the Khalsa and the Guru as well.

Maha Kumbh Mela
Also known as the Urn festival, Maha Kumbh Mela is a Hindu pilgrimage that occurs four times in 12 years and is attended by millions, making it the largest gathering the world. The major event of this festivity is the ritual bath at riverbanks in each town, signifying cleansing of the soul and purification of the body.

Legend has it that thousand of years ago, gods and demons made a temporary agreement to churn the amrita or the nectar of immortality from the Ksheera Sagara or the primordial ocean of milk and equally share it. When the Kumbh or the Urn appeared however, the demons allegedly ran away with it and the gods chased them for 12 days and 12 nights. Those days and nights are equivalent to 12 human years. It is said that during the battle, drops of the amrita fell in Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik. These are the places where the Kumbh Mela is observed.

Falling on the 9th day of the bright fortnight of the Chaitra (March-April) month, Ramnavami is the celebration of Lord Rama's birth and is one of the most important festivals of the Vaishnaya sect of the Hindus. During the occasion, temples are decorated and images of the Lord Rama are adorned.

The celebration involves reading of the holy Ramayana and practitioners take a firm resolve in repeating Ram-Nam with every breath and struggle to lead a righteous life. Ayodhya, the Rama's birthplace, a big fair is held while in South India, the Sri Ramnayami Utsayam is celebrated for 9 days.

Independence Day
The 15th of August marks India's Independence from British rule back in 1947. It is often celebrated with solemnity with the national flag hoisted in government and private establishments. Highlighting the event is the Prime Minister's speech at the Red Fort in Delhi.  Relatedly, it can be remembered that Indian nationalism became a mass movement in the 1940s and was popularly supported.

Krishna Janmastami
Marking the birth of the god Krishna, Vishnu's incarnation and the author of the Bhagayad Gita, this is a festival observed by Hindus all over India. Over at Mathura and Brindayan where the Lord Krishna spent his childhood, the celebration comes with special éclat as well as night-long prayer offerings and singing of religious hymns.

Hindus also fast until midnight when the god is said to be born. The fasting is culminated with a sharing of prashad, or food blessed by God. The anniversary is celebrated between August and September.

Probably one of the most fun and flamboyant festivals in India is the Diwali. Also called Deepavali, which means array of lights, this major Hindu festival is known as the Festival of Lights, symbolizing the victory of good over evil.

Lit lamps, particularly the traditional diyas, signify hope for mankind. In some regions of the country, fireworks are associated with the festival. Celebrated for five consecutive days, it is also significant for Jain since this marks the beginning of the Jain year.

Even Sikhs regard Diwali as a celebration of life and an opportunity to strengthen family ties and social relationships. During this day, many wear new clothes, light firecrackers and share sweets. For the North Indian business community, the Diwali serves as the start of a financial year and most businessmen open new accounts during the celebration.

Republic Day
Also known as India's National Day, January 26 marks the anniversary of the adoption of the constitution in 1950, 3 years after the country gained independence from the British. Celebrations are usually colorful in state capital. New Delhi for one, showcases a magnificent parade of civilians and the armed forces. Impressive cultural pageants and a folk-dance festival are also staged.

Mahavir Jayanti
A Jainism festival, Mahayir Jayanti is the most important religious holiday celebrating the birth of the last Tirthankara, Mahavira. Occurring during the 13th day of the rising moon of Chaitra, the holiday is celebrated in late March or early April on the Gregorian calendar.

During the festival, temples are adorned with flags and the Mahavira idol is given a ceremonial bath called the abhishek during the morning. Offerings of milk, rice, incense, fruit, lamps and water form part of the series of events and some sections of the community participate in a grand procession. Since cows are sacred to Jains, donations are collected to save them from slaughter. The popular destinations for pilgrims during this celebration are the ancient Jain temples at Girnar and Palitana in Gujarat.

Dussehra and Durga Puja
Commemorating the victory of the goddess Durga over the demon Mahisasura, this significant Hindu festival is celebrated with much enthusiasm. It is also a remembrance of the victory of Lord Rama over Rayana, the king of Lanka who abducted Rama's wife, Sita. Celebrated at the end of Navaratri, a nine-day festival, images of Durga are wprshipped during the festival and related stories are repeatedly told.

The 10th day, called the Dussehra, buffaloes are sacrificed to the goddess and during the evening, colorful effigies of Rayana, including those of his son and brother, are burned. Fire crackers are also set-off to symbolize the triumph of good over evil.

Guru Nanak Jayanti
Celebrated by the Sikh community all over the world and one of the most significant festivals in the Sikh calendar, Guru Nanak Jayanti, also known as Gurupurab, is the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith. Two days and nights prior to the festival, the Holy Book is read for 48 hours and taken on a grand procession on the day itself. The celebration on different areas generally similar, only the hymns provide the distinction.

The day of the Gurpurab begins early in the morning with the singing of Asa-di-Var and hymns from the Sikh scripture. Expositions of the scripture as well as recitations of poems praising the Guru are conducted. A special community lunch called the Langar is then shared by those who joined the celebration.

Id ul-Fitr is an Islamic festival marking the end of Ramadan, the third of the Five Pillars of Islam. Lasting for several days, the Id-ul-Fitr is a time of rejoicing and feasting. People wearing new clothes gather to chant praises to Allah and Muhammad.

This is a celebration of Jesus Christ's nativity, the son of God who became human to save the people from their sins. Even some non-Christians also celebrate the holiday season and in India, Christmas bazaars and festivities are organized in bigger cities like Delhi, Calcutta and Bombay.

Buddha Purnima:
Serving as a festival to remember the birth, enlightenment, and the day that the Lord Buddha attained Nirvana, the Budhha Purnima is the most sacred day for Buddhists. Every festival has distinct rituals, providing an insight to the lives, beliefs, customs and culture of the people observing them. Every full moon is sacred to the Buddhists but the moon of the month of Vaisakh, which occurs between April and May, is when Buddha Purnima is celebrated.

Rakhi as it is popularly called. The sister ties a thread to her brother who in turn gives her a gift, money. In these commercialized times the thread has given way to Jumbo, fancy, loud Rakhis. By tying a Rakhi to a man, the women is making him responsible for her safety. Its a commitment from a brother that he would take her care of her, financially, emotionally etc. This festival is more popular in the North. Since most of India's battle with foreign invaders be it Alexander or the Muslims were fought in the North, Raksha or security of women folk was needed more in the North than else where. Rape of women, inevitably followed every military loss.

On this day, sisters offer food to brothers to wish them a long life. The festival is an occassion to strengthen the bond between a brother and a sister. In South India, The Raksha Bandhan full moon day is a household festival for the men, where the sacred thread is ceremoniously changed.

The rakhi are made of red and gold thread. They are a symbol of the bond between brothers and sisters. When the sisters give their brothers the rakhis, they give them candy to eat as well. The brothers give their sisters little gifts in return.

Festivals In India
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