Festivals of India
A country as huge and divergent as India is bound to have a plethora of festivals in different forms, manners and means associated with every culture, state, religion, custom and people. India being mainly an agricultural land, many of its festivals and traditions are directly related to agricultural cycles like sowing, harvesting,flowering. Apart from these seasonal celebrations, India has many festivals with religious significance too.
Is the the Traditional New Year for many states in India.
In the West Bengal, it is known as "Poila Baisakh"
The first day of the Bengali calendar, celebrated in both Bangladesh and West-Bengal, and It coincides with the New Year's Days of numerous Southern Asian calendars.
In the state of Kerala, this is known as "Vishu"
In the state of Assam, it is known as "Rangoli" or "Rangoli Bihu".
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Most of these festivals are predominantly social gathering with religious sanctions, customs and traditions, bringing people together, spreading goodwill and ending enmity and disharmony. Customs and rituals are a repository for social heritage. They help to preserve the culture, by bringing people together, and thus transmitting it to the next generation.
In this page, we have tried to name a few important festivals of India, month wise. Each and every month will have a few festivals, some important, some less known, some religious while some are related to special occasions like birth and death of some holy and famous personality, or Indian Independence Day, or some cultural celebrations like music and dance festivals in ancient temple complexes. As the saying goes, India boasts of 13 festivals in 12 months.
Makar_Sankranti is an important festival in the month of January. It is one of the most auspicious occasions for the Hindus, and is celebrated in almost all parts of the country in myriad cultural forms, with great devotion, fervor and gaiety. It is a harvest festival. Makar Sankranti is perhaps the only Indian festival whose date always falls on the same day every year i.e. the 14th of January. Makar Sankranti is the day when the Sun begins its ascendancy and entry into the Northern Hemisphere. Traditionally this has always been an important harvesting day. Different states celebrate this day in different ways, depending on their customs, climate and agricultural environment.
Vasant_Panchami is a joyous Hindu religious festival in the month of February, though at times according to lunar calendar this special day, the first day of spring falls in January too. Generally on this day, Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning, Knowledge, Art and Music is venerated. Traditionally on this day kids are taught their first alphabets, and many schools and institutions organize special worship and social functions dedicated to Goddess Saraswati. Students pray for knowledge, learning and blessing to perform better in studies and other performing arts. The prayer of Saraswati finally concludes as, "Oh Mother Saraswati remove the darkness (ignorance) of my mind and bless me with the eternal knowledge." On this day Pitr Tarpan, - ancestor worship is also performed. In North India, it is also the day for kite festival.
Holi generally falls in the month of February-March, and is a spring festival. It is undoubtedly one of most boisterous and fun-filled Hindu festival. Buckets and barrels of strongly colored water are concocted and water balloons filled to greet friends and neighbors. The gala time starts in the morning itself. People go around smearing each other with gulal (colored powder) and colored water. Children shoot jets of water from their pichkaris, (water pistol) screaming gleefully. A lot of people spend the day alternating between getting drenched and colored, and consuming thandai (a marijuana-based drink) in large quantities as the day progresses. Singing and dancing to the beat of dholaks (drums) completes the picture.
Originally Holi was regarded to be the festival to celebrate good harvests and fertility of the land. There are several legends and stories behind Holi.
Vaisakhi is a seasonal festival with a special accent. Vaisakhi Festival falls on the first day of Vaisakh month (April). Baisakhi is one of the major festivals of Sikhs and is celebrated with lot of enthusiasm and gaiety in the state of Punjab. This is the time when harvest is gathered in and the farmer exults in the fulfillment of his year's hard work. For the large farming community of Punjab and Haryana, Baisakhi marks a New Year’s time as it is time to harvest rabi crop. On Baisakhi, farmers thank god for the bountiful crop and pray for good times ahead. People buy new clothes and make merry by singing, dancing and enjoying the best of festive food.
For the Sikh community, Baisakhi Festival has tremendous religious significance, as it was on a Baisakhi Day in 1699, that Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru laid the foundation of Panth Khalsa-the Order of the Pure Ones.
Orissa is famous for its Ratha-Yatra in Puri, held every year, in the month of July. This festival is held to commemorate Lord Jagannath, who is said to have been the incarnation of India's revered deities, Lord Vishnu and Lord Krishna. Held for nine days, the colorful Jagannath Yatra attracts tourists not only from all over India, but also from abroad. On the first day of this Yatra, statues of Lord Krishna, Lord Jagannath's brother Balaram and his sister – Subhadra are taken in a procession to the Gundicha temple, which is two kilometers away from the Jagannath temple. On the ninth day, the statues are brought back with due ceremony. All these deities are worshipped by the lakhs of devotees that throng the city during these nine days. Orissa is known globally for its Jagannath and Konark temples, Chilika lake – one of the world’s largest brackish lakes and a home for migratory birds. Orissa's famed Odissi dance, patta paintings, appliqué paintings and shell craft curios attract tourists from all over. While Puri has visitors at any time of the year, the Jagannath festival is the time when the district overflows with activity.
Ganesh_Chaturthi or the birthday of Ganesha (the elephant-headed God of Wisdom and Prosperity) falls on the fourth day of the Hindu month of Bhadrapada (around August-September). Ganesha Chaturthi is the one of the most important festival of Indian people. Lord Ganesha is the lord of wisdom, mind power and success. He is the son of Shiva and Parvati. In Maharashtra, this festival has assumed epic proportions. It is a huge community affair and people contribute towards elaborate idols of Ganesha, pandals (massive, decorated marquees), the ceremony, the prasad, (sweetmeats offered to the gods but consumed by the people) to make the festival impressive and blessed. For 10 days Ganesha is worshipped. On the 11th day, the statue is taken through the streets in a procession accompanied with dancing, singing, and fanfare to be immersed in a river or the sea symbolizing a ritual see-off of the Lord in his journey towards his abode in Kailash while taking away with him the misfortunes of his devotees, this is the ritual known as Ganesh Visarjan. At individual homes the Visarjan is also done on 3rd, 5th or 7th day as per the family tradition.
Krishna_Janmashtami is celebrated every year on the 8th day of the dark fortnight that is also known as the Krishna Paksh, in the Hindu month of bhadon (around July-August). The period usually coincides with the rainy season. The festival celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna – the black God. Krishna is the eighth and most important incarnation of Vishnu. According to legends and myths, Janmashtami is actually celebrated twice, the occasions coinciding with Krishna's birth in captivity in Mathura, and the discovery of the newborn Krishna in Nand and Yashoda's house in Gokul. This tale is fondly remembered on the day of Janmashtami as temples and homes light up for the joyous occasion. Especially cities like Mumbai, Agra, Mathura and Vrindavan come alive during the festival. Cribs and swings displayed with dolls in traditional costumes depict the life and times of Krishna. Raas Leelas (dance dramas) enact incidents from Krishna’s life amidst much pomp and show. Elaborate prayer ceremonies are held in temples and homes to welcome the lord at midnight amongst joyous singing of hymns.
Other most popular event that takes place popularly in the state of Maharashtra on this day is ‘Dahi Handi’. During this event, a pot containing yogurt called as ‘dahi handi’ is tied at certain height and boys try to break this pot by making pyramids.
Raksha_Bandhan is a festival which celebrates the loving relationship between brothers and sisters. It generally falls in the month of August on a full moon day. The pure bond of love and affection between a brother and a sister is one of the deepest and noblest of human emotions. Rakhi is basically a sacred thread of protection embellished with the love and affection of a sister for her brother. This ritual not only strengthens the bond of love between brothers and sisters, but also transcends the confines of the family. When a Rakhi is tied on the wrists of close friends and neighbors, it underscores the need for a harmonious social life, where every individual co-exists peacefully as brothers and sisters. As in all other festivals, sweetmeats and other delicacies are prepared and eaten with relish and gifts are also exchanged.
Onam - the state festival of Kerala - is celebrated with great enthusiasm. The festive season of Onam, which falls on the Malayalam month of Chingam, every year (between August and September), is a ten-day carnival for the Malayalees all over the state, country and abroad. Being a harvest festival, it is time to thank God for the bountiful yield. Intricate flower carpets, elaborate banquet lunch, snake boat races, Puli Kali, and the Kaikottikkali dance all play a part in the festival. One of the main attractions of Onam, is the 'Vallamkali' or boat races. Hundreds of oarsmen row traditional boats to the rhythm of drums and cymbals. These long graceful Snake Boats called 'Chundans' are named after their exceedingly long hulls and high sterns that resemble the raised hood of a cobra.
Durga_Puja is the biggest Hindu festival in Bengal and other Indian states. This is also known as Dussehra and Navaratri in other parts of India. Durga is the Goddess of divine power against all evils. The festive mood builds up as Dhakis (drummers) from the countryside starts gathering near the city. They beat feathered drums to attract the attention of local Puja organizers. The construction of images starts months back. Kumartuli, a place in north Calcutta, is famous as a place for expert artisans who use clay modeling to build the images of Durga, and her sons and daughters. Another group of people starts building a pandal (a covered huge stage) with paper, wood, bamboos, clothes and other materials. They come up with beautiful structures, most of the times they are so beautiful and real that, it tough to believe that these are made for only couple of days or a week. Some constructions are built as replica of world famous structures.
Although the entire festival is for 5 days, the main celebration is for three days. After the three days of Puja, in Dashami, in the last day, a tearful farewell is offered to the Goddess. The images are carried in processions around the locality and are finally immersed in a nearby river or lake. Vijaya Dashami is an event celebrated all over the country.
The city of Calcutta takes a different look during these three days, especially at night. Millions of people come to the city and line up before the pandals. The streets are lighted and the electricians display all different kind of light shows. The restaurants are packed and numerous temporary food stalls are opened though out the city. People are decked in new dresses and finery. During these 5 days, people tend to forget all the worries and sadness and revel at the pomp and gaiety of the festival with family and friends.
October is an important month for Hindus as many religious festivals happen in this month. Diwali or the Festival of Lights is perhaps the most popular of all Hindu festivals of India. Originally, the name was Deepawali, which has its origin from Sanskrit, meaning “rows of Deep”. The festival of Diwali is not only significant to Hindus, but has importance in Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. For Hindus, it is associated with the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya, after his 14 years of exile and victory over the demon Ravana. Thus, there is a tradition of lighting oil lamps that symbolize the victory of good over evil and freedom from spiritual darkness. The festival of Diwali is truly a “Festival of Lights”, as it not only involves lighting of lamps but, it brings the light of happiness, togetherness, spiritual enlightenment and prosperity for everyone.
Celebrated with vigor and gaiety by people of every religion, the magical effect of Diwali creates an atmosphere of joy and festivity. Innumerable lamps are lit on the roofs and windowsills of the houses, thus, giving a divine look to the whole scenario. It is said that Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth, roams the earth on this day and enters the house that is pure, clean and brightly illuminated. Young and old, men and women, all dress up in new clothes on this day to illuminate their home with lamps. Fireworks, which attract the kids the most, form the highlight of the festival.
Deepawali symbolizes the victory of righteousness and the lifting of spiritual darkness. It is the celebration of victory of good over evil - and the glory of light.
Bhai Dooj or Bhau-beej comes every year on the fifth and last day of Diwali, which falls on a new moon night. The name 'Dooj' means the second day after the new moon, the day of the festival, and 'Bhai' means brother. After the happy celebrations of Diwali, sisters all over India get ready for 'Bhai Dooj' - when sisters ceremonies their love by putting an auspicious tilak or a vermilion mark on the forehead of their brothers and perform an aarti of him by showing him the light of the holy flame as a mark of love and protection from evil forces. Sisters are lavished with gifts, goodies and blessings from their brothers. Like all other Hindu festivals, Bhai Dooj too has got a lot to do with family ties and social attachments. It serves as a good time, especially for a married girl, to get together with her own family, and share the post-Diwali glee.
Eid_ul-Fitr or the 'festival of fast breaking' is the most celebratory of all Muslim festivals. The term 'Eid' has been derived from the Arabic word 'oud', which means 'the return' and hence, signifies the return of the festival each year. The festival is significant as much for its timing, as for its religious implications. It is celebrated after the long fasting month of Ramadan (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar), on the first day of the Shawwal month of the Hijri year (Islamic calendar). Legend says that the Qur'an was revealed to Prophet Mohammed in the last ten days of Ramadan. Eid Ul Fitar is the biggest Muslim festival of India. Fasting during the month of Ramadan, according to Islamic beliefs, helps in developing self-control and is a way of getting closer to Allah. The festival of Eid ul Fitr marks the beginning of celebrations and merriment for a period extending over three days. Women prepare sweets at home and all Muslims are seen adorned with new dresses on this day. Eid ul Fitr is synonymous with joy and thanksgiving. Such is the spirit of this great festival that even a lot of Non-Muslims participate in Eid celebrations in India.
Christmas is an annual holiday of the entire world. This festival is celebrated on every 25th December not only in India, but also in all around the world. Mostly this is festival is celebrated by Christian community people but everyone likes this festival and this is observed by everyone in India.
In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, people hang beautiful star-shaped paper lamps of various colours and sizes outside their homes. The star lamps of Kerala are however more elaborate with some patterns or cutwork designs on them. n the North-western states of India, the tribal Christians of the Bhil folk take out caroling processions during the whole Christmas week and often visit neighbouring villages to tell the Christmas story to people through songs. Nearly a week before Christmas, the church, club and school choirs start doing the rounds of their neighbourhood and are greeted by people with cakes and other eatables. Christmas carols are sung in various local languages all over the country.
Religious fairs like Kumbh_Mela , Ganga Sagar_Island Mela attract hoards of people not only from India but from all over the world. Some come to take a dip in the holy water to attain nirvana and wash off their sins, while others come to experience the holy atmosphere created by thousands of sadhus and pilgrims.
Pushkar_Fair, and Desert Festival in Rajasthan, Suraj Kund Fair in Haryana, Sonepur Fair in Bihar are some of the most popular agriculture related fairs in India.
Hampi Utsav, Khajuraho Dance festival, Konark Dance festival, Mammalapuran dance Festival, Elephanta Festival and Goa Festival are some of the most sought after cultural festivals which invited people from all over the world. The classical Indian dances performed on the ancient temple premises create an aura of magnificence and bygone grandeur.