THE MOST IMPORTANT HINDU HOLIDAYS
In India, festivals mean a time of happy celebration and spiritual cleansing. On holidays people often fast to clear their hearts from impurities. Temples are decorated and magnificent food is offered to the deities/murties (earthly representations of the gods). The holidays usually follow the Indian lunar calendar (Vikramadit), and therefore fall on different days of the year according to the western calendar. This calendar is based on lunar months beginning with the full moon and adopts a leap month every 30 months to match the months with the seasons. This system is 79 years ahead of the Christian calendar.
This holiday is held in the month of Sravana (July-August). Balarama, Brother of Krishna (Vishnu’s avatar), appeared on this day in Gokula, near Vrndavana. Balaram is considered the god of agriculture and fertility, along with Krishna he grew up among cowherd people, protecting them from evil.
Hindu Day of the New Year. Baisakhi celebration is held in Punjab and Haryana in the northern states with much joy and enthusiasm. Baisakhi indicates the time for farmers to harvest the crops. Blooming and abundant crop awaits the Baisakhi feast. The villages are full of colors, cheerfully dressed men and women are dancing the energetic bhangra on the fields.
Buddha Purnima (May)
This feast is the celebration of the birth, enlightenment, death and liberation of Buddha, which falls in May. Special festivities are held in Bodh Gaja and Bihar state in honor of the holiday. Monks and devotees meditate and pray at the Buddha statue, offer fruits, flowers and light candles.
Dipavali means "a line of lights." On the day of Dipala, they remember the return of Rama to his kingdom, Ajodhya. They celebrate the event by burning lanterns and candles in both temples and homes. There are those who celebrate in Dipavali when Krishna killed Narakasur, who also ruled the earth and the heavens. On Dipála Day, fireworks are held all over India and a new business year for business people begins. The houses are completely cleaned and often repainted. This ceremony is also related to Laksmi because it is believed that wealth (laksmi) does not enter the house of man on this day if the house is dark. Most people also offer special puja (worship) to the goddess at this time.
Durga puja (September-October)
It is one of the most popular festivals in India, during which the goddess Durga, one of the most horrific forms of Párvatí, is worshiped amidst great celebration. Durgádéví is the controller of material energy, from which her followers expect their material circumstances to turn to the right. This event is held in September-October, bringing to excitement millions of Hindus all over India.
The celebration of Dushéra Ramachandra's victory over Ravan is a commemoration of the liberation of Rama's wife, Sita. At the same time, Durga’s victory over the buffalo demon, Mahishasaura is celebrated. In some places, even a buffalo is sacrificed during the commemoration. This ceremony also lasts for ten days. On the night of the first nine days, various forms of Durga are worshiped. On the tenth day, a parade with a huge procession is held in many cities.
This festival is a celebration of the appearance of Krishna. According to tradition, Krishna was born in Mathura about five thousand years ago. As part of the ceremony, believers fast until midnight, as Krishna appeared at that time. The temples are decorated and the deity(murti) of Krishna is bathed in a special, public ceremony (abhis). After the "abhis", they finally offer the murti a particularly beautiful new dress. The temples usually organize plays and dances that depict the various pastimes of Lord Krishna and hold a great “arati” (offering) at midnight.
Jhulan Jatra (Swing Festival) (July-August)
During this feast, in the temples, the deity of Krishna and Radha (Krishna’s sweetheart) are often rocked on a swing made of gold or silver. The 13-day festival begins on the third day (tritia) of the bright two weeks of the month of Sravana (July-August) and lasts until the full moon night of the same month. In Vrndavana, this is one of the biggest celebrations of the year.
Ganesh Chaturti (August-September)
Hindus celebrate the birth of Ganesha (the elephant-headed god, the remover of obstacles) on this day. A statue of Ganesha, often up to 10 meters high, is made of clay, fabric and other materials. They are worshiped for seven to ten days and then immersed in the sea or a lake. During the worship, an unconcentrated amount of sweets (milk rice, laddut) and coconut are offered to Ganesha. He who worships Ganesha on this feast does not look at the moon at this time, because it is believed that the moon god once violated Ganesha. Once Ganesha’s mouse who carries him fell,
because a snake scared him. When Ganesha fell from his mouse, his belly burst out and sweet balls and milk rice fell out of him. The full moon, they say, began to laugh at this, and this angered Ganesha, who in return cursed the moon. As a result of this curse, the moon should run out month after month.
This is the important Gaudiya-Vaisnava celebration, which is the day of the appearance of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the last earthly descent of Krishna in the present world age, the Kali-yuga. Chaitanya appeared in 1486 in Navadvipa, West Bengal. He has widely disseminated the philosophy and practice of Krishna consciousness in India. He began chanting the Hare Krishna mantra — publicly. On this day, a great ceremony is held at Sri Chaitanya’s birthplace, Sridhama Mayapur in West Bengal, attended by about a quarter million people.
Krishna read the Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kuruksetra on this day. At Kuruksetra, the famous place of pilgrimage, a special ceremony is held at this time, during which the great poems of the Gita are repeated again and uttered aloud, to the great satisfaction of the guest army. The Bhagavad-gita is one of the basic works of Vedic literature, a summary of the philosophy of Vedic literature. Originally the Gita is part of the epic, Mahabharata.
Govardhan Puja (October-November)
This festival celebrates Krishna, who raised Mount Govardhana as an umbrella to protect the inhabitants of Vrindavana from the wrath of Indra in the form of a devastating rain. The inhabitants of Nanda Maharaja and Vrndavana, on the advice of Krishna, offered the sacrificial offerings not to Indra but to Mount Govardhana, which was then eventually consumed by Krishna. In Indra's anger, he wanted to destroy all the inhabitants of Vraja, but Krishna's wonderful arrangement thwarted his plan. On the day of Govardhana Puja, most temples in India prepare a huge amount of magnificent food for this occasion, which is then distributed to the people. Demonstrating their respect, the pilgrims walk around Mount Govardhana and offer their homage to it.
Hanuman Jianti (April)
Hanuman’s birth is celebrated during this popular festival. Hanuman is a monkey, an eternal servant of Lord Ramachandra. There are beautiful descriptions of his actions and his relationship with Ramachandra in Ramayana. Rama, along with many other monkey warriors, sent him to find Sita, who was abducted by Ravan. At such times, the deity of Hanuman is repainted in the temples with paint mixed with ghi (purified butter). Believers fast all day while they listen to the chapters on the glories of Hanuman from the book of Ramayana.
Holi is celebrated on the full moon day of February-March. According to tradition, people spray or sprinkle powder paint and colored water on top of each other. According to one story about Hol, once when Prahlada Maharaja, instead of worshiping his own father, wanted to worship his enemy, Lord Visnu. His father’s sister, Holika, who was not burned by the fire, sat down in a big fire with the little boy to kill him. However, Prahlada's devotion was so great that it protected him from the claws of the fire, while Holika was burned to death. In remembrance of this, on the eve of Holi, large campfires are lit all over India, into which a portion of the new grain crop is thrown as an offering.
Kumbh Mela (every 12 years)
A Hindu pilgrimage held every 12 years, tens of millions of people take a ritual bath in the Ganges River. Its origins in Hindu mythology are found in one of the most popular creation myths: the churning of the sea of milk. The gods lost their power, and in order to regain it, they wanted to churn the Sahara of Caesar (the sea of pre-creation milk) for the amrita (the nectar of immortality), so they were forced to engage with their ancient enemies, demons, asuras for a while to each other to distribute the nectar evenly. However, when the nectar-containing Kumbha (chalice) appeared, they began to fight. There was a fight for the nectar in the sky for 12 days and 12 nights. (This corresponds to 12 human years.) It is believed that Lord Visnu flew away with the elixir in the kumbha, and droplets of nectar fell to the ground at 4 points.
Makara sankranti (Pongal) (January)
This holiday is on the day when the sun enters the zodiac sign of Capricorn (Makara). This is the first day after the winter solstice, from here the days are getting longer. Makara sankranti is considered to be a favourable day on which people distribute donations among the poor. People also bathe in sacred rivers and lakes, fly paper kites and make offerings to the sun.
Nag Panchami (July-August)
Snake Festival - The Hindu Nag Panchami Festival is held in honor of Ananta, on whose tangled snake body Visnu rests among the universes. The women visit their relatives. Snakes are treated with respect like flood totems. It is held in July or August.
Navarátri is a nine-day celebration (nava = nine). Three main goddesses are worshiped at this festival. For the first three days, Durga (Siva’s spouse), then Laksmith (Visnu’s spouse), and finally Sarasvati (Brahma’s spouse) are worshiped. Images of the goddesses are sunk into the sea or a lake after they are made and worshiped. The last day of the festival is called Dushera or Vijayadasami. At such times, women and sometimes men in Gujarat go for a garbha dance, during which they dance in a large circle with rocking steps, while applauding rhythmically.
Narasingha Jajanti (April-May)
This festival falls in April-May, when the appearance of the divine incarnation of Narasingha (or Narasimha) and the destruction of the demon, Hiranyakasipu are celebrated. Narasimha is the human lion, the mythical figure of Hinduizm, the fourth incarnation of God Visnu. Narasimha appeared in the golden age of humanity, in Szatja-juga, and killed the demon, Hiranjakasipu. Hiranjakasipu was inviolable, expelled Indra, from his throne, and exiled the celestial gods. People on this day usually fast until dusk while meditating on Narasinghan, reading stories about him and praying to him.
This ceremony is held in memory of the king of demons, Bali Maharaja. Kerala is a very famous holiday in the state. Bali Maharaja was removed from his throne by Vamanadeva, the incarnation of the beggar Visnu, who by then had ruled the entire universe. Vamana asked for 3 steps of land from Bali and then turned into a giant, he crossed the world in 2 steps and sent Bali to the underworld with the third to rule there. However, the king was so attached to his subjects that he returned once a year to see them. In Trichur, a large gathering with colorfully decorated elephants is held on this holiday. Huge rowing competitions are held in Kotayan, Aranmula and Csampakulam. In this case, many rowers pull the paddle to the rhythm of the drums and cymbals.
Radhastami is the day of appearance of Srimati Radharani, the wife of Sri Krishna. This holiday falls on the 8th day of the bright two weeks of the month of Bhadra (August-September), 15 days after the appearance of Krishna. This festival is extremely popular in Vrindavan, and all the inhabitants of the city celebrate it late at night on this day.
Ratha-Játra (Chariot festival) (June-July)
The Ratha-yatra festival is held in Puri, Orissa, on the first day of the new moon of the month Asada. Jagannatha, Balarama and Subhadra are dragged in their huge chariots along the main road of Puri. It is a very exciting festival with more than half a million people attending. It is believed that Lord Jagannath is no different from Krishna. The huge chariots are pulled along the Grand Road from Jagannath Temple to Gundicha Temple, which is about three kilometers away. The king of Orissa, meanwhile, sweeps with a gold-handled broom, clearing the way in front of the chariots. During the festival, non-Hindu-born people will also have the opportunity to see the deity of Lord Jagannath. Jagannath’s chariot, called Nandigos, is 13.7 meters high and has 18 wheels. It is covered in bright yellow and red fabric, and the top of the chariot is decorated with Visnu's combat disc. At least 4,000 people are required to tow carts without a steering gear.
Raksa Bandhan (July-August)
It is said that once in a battle between the demigods and demons, the demigods lost their heavenly kingdom. At this point, Indra’s wife tied a mystical-looking rakit — a hand-pounded cotton (or silk) yarn dyed yellow with turmeric — to Indra’s wrist, as a result of which the demigods regained their kingdom. On this holiday, the girls also tie a rakit to their brother’s wrist. The brother then gives his sister a gift and promises to take responsibility for her safety. This holiday symbolizes the protection of women. It is the duty of the person from whom the raki is tied to protect the person from whom he received it.
Ráma-naumi (Rámnavami) (március-április)
It is the day of the appearance of Ramachandra, the Incarnation of Visnu megjelenési napja, which falls onto the months of March-April. On this day, believers who fast all day are constantly chanting the names of Lord Rama and reading stories from Ramayana glorifying Him. Temples are decorated with flowers, lanterns and other beneficial objects. The festival is colored by street games.
Sarasvati Puja (Vasant Panchami) (January-February)
On this great feast, held in January-February, Sarasvati, the wife of Brahma, the goddess of knowledge and art, is worshiped. She is considered to be a patron of learning, arts, sciences, crafts, especially the deity of literature, poetry and music. She is also the goddess of speech through which knowledge can be expressed. She blesses her worshiper with intelligence, wisdom, and good memory. An adorable deity of scientists, students and artists. She is regarded as the creator of Sanskrit language and writing, the mother of the Vedas. In their homes, people put a picture or deity of Sarasvati covered with yellow cloth on their altars to celebrate this auspicious occasion. Musical instruments, books and pens are also placed on the altar, all of which are worshiped as the abode of goddess Sarasvati.
Shiva Ratri (February-March)
Siva Ratri is the day of appearance of Lord Siva in the month of Phalguna (February-March). Visnu, Brahma and Shiva together form the Hindu trinity (trimurti). Siva is the destroyer, who acts in the kali-yoga, the end of the present age, and by his dance destroys the whole universe, so that it can then be reborn purely. Special celebrations are held on this day in Varanasi, Kalahastti, Chidambaram, Srisailam and other places where there are important Shiva temples. The Siva-lingas in the temples are bathed in holy water (usually the water of the Ganges), in milk, ghee (purified butter), yogurt, honey, flower petals and other beneficial things. Believers fast for part of the day and sing hymns glorifying Shiva.
This event is held in September-October, during which children make offerings to their dead ancestors. This is usually done by the oldest boy. The offerings provide peace for the departed souls of the ancestors. During the sraddha ceremony, people refrain from celebration, consolation, and try to give up actions for the satisfaction of their senses.
Camel Festival (October-November)
A few hundred thousand people and, of course, camels will take part in the camel festival in Puskari, which falls during the full moon of the month of Coltika (October-November). Hundreds of thousand livestock farmers, farmers, traders and the village people are coming to the festival from all over Rajasthan which used to be a commercial carnival and has now grown into a spectacular carnival. The event lasts for three days. This time is considered to be very favourable for the performance of religious acts.
Vámana dvádasí (August-September)
Vana dada is celebrated during August-September. The scriptures suggest that believers worship Lord Visnu in the form of Vamanana on this day. It is believed that the one who observes this feast and donates to the Brahmanas on this day will be born in his next life as king in a heavenly kingdom like that of Bali Maharaja.
Collected by: Panni Cserepes 2017-01-22
Translation: Gina Rubik (ELTE MA Media)