Important Hindu Festivals in India
This article contains brief details of important Hindu Festivals such as Shivaratri, Holi, Onam, Krishna Janmashtami, Durga Puja, Dassehra, Diwali and Pongal.
Hindu festivals in India are numerous and culturally diverse and their importance and methods of celebration vary from region to region. They are usually linked with seasonal changes and reaping of harvests. Interestingly, the same festival can be associated with different legends and events in different parts of India. They are remarkable for their religious and philosophical depth.
The word ‘festival’ has a secular significance implying feast, fiesta or fete. But Hindu festival observances are additionally associated with religion, mythology, and symbolical legendary importance. That is why they are so intimately a part of the Hindu way of life.
“The Night of Shiva”. Strict fasting is observed because this is considered to be an extraordinarily auspicious day. Shiva is the Maha Yogi who controls his sensuality and meditates with total concentration for self-purification. A significant festival commonly observed from Kashmir to Cape Comorin.
A spring festival celebrated in the north, west and east of India. It is also observed in the south as Kaman-Pandigai, the festival of Kama Deva, the god of love.
Holi is celebratd by the burning of the ogress Holika, and the rescue by Lord Vishnu of the devout boy Bhakt Prahlada. Holi is characterized by merry making, carnival rollicking, playing with coloured water and powder and a spirit of wondrous joie de vivre, which makes it so appealing to both young and old.
A ten day Keralan festival is a harvest occasion chosen specially for renewing family ties. It is associated with the legend of Maha-Bali, the Asura king, and the (Vamana) dwarf incarnation of Vishnu. Before Bali was pushed down to the Patala he asked Vishnu for a boon that he be allowed to visit his people on the earth once a year. Onam commemorates the granting of the boon.
Krishna Janmashtami (August-September)
Janmashtami also known as Gokulashtamii is a joyful remembrance of the birthday of Lord Krishna, the perfect incarnation of Vishnu, celebrated with great eclat especially in Vrindavan and Mathura. Unglazed ceramic pots are hung from tall poles for decoration. People fast the entire day till midnight, the auspicious muhurta of Krishna’s birth. Night ends, day begins, evil is crushed, virtue triumphs.
Raksha Bandhan (August)
In Hinduism thread has a religious significance, for it is believed that it forms a magical insulation against odds and troubles and a source of protection. When Vishnu in his dwarf incarnation planned to slay the anti-god Bali, his consort Lakshmi tied it round his wrist as a charm. After her rescue from Ravana, Sita tied it round Lakshman’s wrist, seeking brotherly protection; Rakhsa Bandhan has a great sentimental significance to the Hindu mind.
Durga Puja, Dassehra and Vijaya Dashami (September-October)
These festivals known by various names in different parts of this vast country, occur throughout the country is the victory of Goddess Durga (Kali) over Mahishasura, a grim and mighty demon who had assumed the form of a buffalo and tormented the world. In Bengal, the mythical perception is that Durga (Parvati, the hill goddess consort of Siva) visits her parental home in the plains every year for three days. After this joyous visitation she returns to her husband’s abode in the Himalayas.
In North India this celebration marks the victory of Lord Rama of Ayodhya over Ravana of Lanka. It is appropriately called Vijaya Dashami (the tenth day victory).
Divali or Deepawali or Diwali (October-November)
Dipa means light and Avi means row (abbreviated into Dipavali). So Deepawali means the “Festival of Lights”, this is the acme of the Indian Festivals, the highlight observed throughout the whole country.
In the South it marks the killing of Narakasura by Krishna.
In the North it commemorates the return of victorious Rama to Ayodhya.
The festival also inaugurates for some the New Year of Vikram Samvat.
Pongal marks the day Shiva married Parvati. It starts the Tamil New Year. It inaugurates the rice harvest; cattle are venerated and garlanded, and taken out in procession.
Pongal in North India is known as Makar Sankranti. Hindus view the entire cosmos as a divine system makara means crocodile and sankranti meaning the monthly entry of the sun in a zodiacal sign. There is a massive Kumbh Mela at Prayag, the confluence of the three sacred rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati.