VIBRANT FESTIVALS OF INDIA
India is a land of diverse culture and vibrant festivals. Every region here is beautifully touched by the colourful hues of celebration. There are innumerable festivals in India that the entire year is the pulsating year of celebration and feasts. Here is a list of some of these vibrant festivals of India.
Lohri is a folk festival fondly celebrated by Hindus and Sikhs on 13th of January. Lohri marks the harvesting season in Punjab and the onset of spring. It is the festival of abundance and prosperity. Celebration includes singing folk songs, folk dances and enjoying treats of the season like gajjak and rewadi (sweets made from sugar, jaggery and sesame seeds) . At night, people gather around bonfire and throw some of these treats into the flames of fire as a tribute to the Fire God and pray for the abundance in their lives.
2. Makar Sakranti
Makar Sakranti is celebrated on the 14th of January in almost all parts of India. The day marks the arrival of spring in India as well as the onset of six months of auspicious period for Hindus. Dedicated to the Sun God, it is celebrated as a transition of Sun into the zodiac sign on its celestial path. Celebration includes flying colourful kites, relishing sticky sweets made of jaggery and sesame seeds, socialising with your loved ones and cooking traditional dish ‘Khichdi’ made from rice, urad dal (black lentil) and clarified butter.
Pongal is a four day harvest festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu from 14th of January to 17th of January. The festival is dedicated to Sun God as it is beginning of sun’s six month long journey northwards. Pongal is celebrated as a gratitude to Nature and Sun God for the successful harvest. As a part of the celebration, people discard their old belongings and celebrate new possessions. Houses are decorated with mango and banana leaves and colourful rangolis. People also cook ‘pongal’ – a traditional sweet dish made with rice, milk, split green gram, cardamom, raisins and cashew nuts. The dish is cooked in sunlight in a decorated clay pot and is served on banana leaves.
4. Maha Shivaratri
Maha Shivaratri is a major Hindu festival dedicated to Hindu God Shiva. It falls on the new moon day of Maagha month of Hindu Calendar (January/February). The festival is celebrated as the day of marriage between Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Celebrations include worshipping the Shivalingam (symbolic of Lord Shiva) with water, milk, honey, wood apple leaves, flowers, fruits etc. Temples are beautifully decorated and vibrant processions are carried out throughout the city. Devotees fast all night and stay awake singing hymns in praise of Lord Shiva. Staying awake all night symbolises the overcoming of darkness and ignorance. The festival is also observed by doing yoga and meditating on self ethics.
Holi is the vibrant festival of colours that celebrates the victory of good over evil. It falls somewhere between the end of February to the mid of March and marks the arrival of spring. The festival starts from Holika Dahan where people gather around bonfire at night and pray for their inner evil to be destroyed in the flames of that fire. The next day is Rangwali Holi which is played with dry colours, water guns, water balloons and coloured water. People smear colours on each other’s faces and use innovative techniques to drench each other. They sing, dance and play drums and dholak enjoying every moment of the festivity. Special sweets like ‘Gujiya’ and ‘Malpua’ are served to the visitors at home after teasing them with colours.
6. Mahavir Jayanti
Mahavir Jayanti is one of the most important festivals of the Jain Community. The festival celebrates the birth of Lord Mahavir – the founder of Jainism and the 24th and last Tirthankara of Avasarpin. Mahavir Jayanti falls somewhere between March and April (depends upon the lunisolar Hindu calendar). Celebration includes grand processions where the idol of Lord Mahavir is carried out on a chariot. Devotees follow the procession singing hymn in praise of their lord. The statues of Lord Mahavir is given ceremonial bath with milk, rice and flowers. His teachings of non-killing, simplicity and charity are narrated by the Jain monks and nuns. Kheer (sweet dish made with rice, milk, sugar, green cardamom and dry fruits) is prepared and relished in most houses on this day.
Navratri is a nine day Hindu festival that is celebrated twice every year. Vasant Navratri falls in April and Sharad Navratri falls around October (based on lunisolar Hindu calendar). Navratri is celebrated in honour of Hindu Goddess Durga who symbolises purity and power. The eight days of Navratri are fasting days where people avoid eating grains like rice, wheat and pulses. On the nineth day, there is ‘kanjak pujan’ where nine little girls are worshipped as incarnations of Goddess Durga and offered gifts and sweets.
7. Gudi Padwa
Gudi Padwa is a spring-time harvesting festival enthusiastically celebrated in Maharashtra and some other parts of India. It marks the traditional new year for Marathi Hindus. It generally falls in the month of March on a day when the sun is above the point of intersection of the equator. This marks the end of Winters and the onset of Spring in India. Celebration includes cleaning and decorating the house with colourful rangoli, wearing new clothes, eating a paste made with neem leaves, tamarind and jaggery which is believed to purify blood and strengthen immunity. A beautifully decorated ’gudi’ (a stick wrapped in brightly adorned cloth, decorated with flowers and mango leaves) is placed at the entrance of the house. There is feast of traditional dishes that include shrikhand, puri and Kheer made with rice, sweet potato, coconut milk, dry fruits and jaggery.
Vaisakhi is a spring harvest festival of Sikhs and marks the Sikhs new year. It is celebrated on 13th of April as the birth of Khalsa Panth of warriors (Soldier Saints) in 1699, under the tenth Sikh Guru – Guru Gobind Singh. Vaisakhi celebrations include morning prayers in Gurudwara, evening celebrations with traditional folk songs, folk dances – Banghra and Gidda, bonfire and feasts at night. Traditional Vaisakhi fairs are also organised at many places.
10. Buddha Purnima
Buddha Purnima is a major Buddhist festival celebrated in many parts of India, especially Bodh Gaya (where Buddha attained enlightenment), Sarnath (where the lord delivered his first sermon) and Kushinagar (where he breathed his last). The festival marks the birth of Gautam Buddha and celebrates his enlightenment. Celebration of Buddha Purnima includes huge processions, holy chantings, decorating of Buddhist temples and offerings of fruits, sweets and candles to the Buddha statue. People wear white clothes and distribute kheer (sweet rice porridge).
Losar is a 15th century Tibetan Buddhist festival that celebrates the Tibetan New Year. In India, it is celebrated with all its glory in Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir), which is very close to Indo-China border. The festival date falls between late January to February depending upon the Tibetan calendar, and it lasts for 15 days. Losar represents the struggle between good and evil. Celebrations include dancing, singing and various performances like dance of the Ibex deer, and battles between the king and his ministers. Houses are cleaned and decorated with auspicious images like sun, moon, swastika and Ibex deer. An amusing ceremony is performed where hundreds of Buddhists carry flaming torches, chant prayers and parade through the streets to chase away evil spirits. Feasts of the festival include fried twists (Kapse) and warm barley beer (Chang).
Gurupurab is marked as the celebration of anniversaries related to the lives of Sikh gurus. These anniversaries include birthdays of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh, martyrdom days of Guru Arjan and Guru Teg Bahadur, and installation of Guru Granth Sahib (the holy book of Sikhs) in Amritsar. Celebrations include early morning religious processions, 3-day akhand path where Guru Grath Sahib is read continuously for three days, decorated religious processions with performances on the road, distributing sweets and organising langar (free food for everyone). Sikhs visit Gurudwaras for prayers and offering their service to God. Gurudwaras and houses are decorated and beautifully lit at night.
Eid-Ul-Fitr is the religious festival of Muslims that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan and the feast of breaking the fast. Muslims fast from morning to dawn for the entire month of Ramadan, which recalls the revealing of Quran (the holy book of Muslims) to Prophet Muhammad. Celebrations include special prayers at the mosque, giving alms to the poor, letting go of the grudges, socialising and feasting on delicious traditional meals. A special vermicelli sweet dish called ’Sewain’ is prepared on this day along with other delicacies.
Onam is the biggest rice harvest festival of Kerala and falls in the month of Chingam – the first moth of Malayalam calendar. The festival is celebrated in honour of the homecoming of their legendary king Mahabali. Another legend celebrates Onam as a tribute to Parashurama avatar (the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu) who is believed to be the creator of Kerala. Onam is a rich display of the vibrant culture of Kerala and is celebrated by both Hindus and Christians of Kerala. The celebrations of the festival include prayers, wearing traditional dresses, flower decorations, charity donations, traditional dance events, elephant processions, boat races, sports competitions, martial arts, cultural parades and delicious South Indian feasts.
Ugadi is celebrated as New Year by the Hindus of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana states of India. The festival falls in the month of March and it marks the beginning of a new era. People clean and decorate their houses with lights, colourful rangoli and mango leaves that are believed to bring good luck and prosperity. Celebrations include prayers for the coming year, poetry recitals, exchanging gifts, preparing sweet meats and candies, buying new clothes, oil treatments, adoring the altars with flowers and incense sticks. Along with other traditional dishes, Ugadi Pachadi is the major dish of the day. It is prepared with neem flowers, jaggery, salt, raw tamarind and raw mangoes. The dish is known to represent life in all its flavours – bitter, sweet, sour and tangy.
16. Raksha Bandhan
Raksha Bandhan is the celebration of the bonding between the brother and sister. It falls in the month of August and is a knot of protection between the siblings. Sisters tie a holy thread on their brothers’ wrist and pray to God for their protection. In return, they receive gifts from their brothers and a promise to protect them for life. The festival holds a lot of significance especially after marriage when the siblings are busy with their own lives, Raksha Bandhan becomes a beautiful event to revive the childhood memories and enjoy a family feast.
Janamashtami is celebrated in India as the birthday of Lord Krishna – the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu. The festival falls somewhere between August and September depending upon the Hindu lunisolar calendar. The festivities include morning prayers, decorating temples, decorating the Krishna idol with new clothes and garlands made of fresh flowers, making a swing for little Krishna and relishing yummy feasts. Colourful processions adorn the city and little children run around dressed like Krishna. Some people fast on this day avoiding grains and eating only fruits. It is believed that Lord Krishna was born at 12 midnight. So, people visit temples again at midnight to worship the little Krishna idol kept in a beautiful swing. The priests give people prasad that includes panjiri (sweet made with whole wheat, clarified butter, jaggery and nuts) panchamrit (holy liquid made from sugar, cow milk, clarified butter, honey and curd) and Makhan Mishri (unsalted white butter mixed with sugar crystals). The next day of the festival is celebrated with ‘Matki Phod’ tradition where a group of people make human pyramid to break a high-hung earthen pot of milk/curd/buttermilk.
18. Ganesh Chaturthi
Ganesh Chaturthi is a ten day festival that falls in September/October depending upon the Hindu lunisolar calendar. The festival starts with the installation of clay idols of Hindu God Ganesha in homes or public pandals. In Hindu mythology, Lord Ganesha is believed to be the God of intelligence, wisdom, auspiciousness and new beginning, and the remover of obstacles. The celebration includes offering prayers and traditional Indian sweets like laddoo and modaka. On the last day of the festival, the idol is carried in a public procession with people singing religious hymns and dancing with joy. The clay idol is then immersed in the nearest water body (ocean or river) and it dissolves in water and Lord Ganesha is believed to be returned to his home in Mount Kailash. Many people have recently started an innovative way of celebration by making the idol with chocolate and immersing it in milk. After the idol dissolves, the milk is then distributed among the needy children.
19. Durga Pooja
Durga Pooja is celebrated as a tribute to Goddess Durga who is known as the Goddess of simplicity and power. This five-day festival falls in the month of September/October during the Sharad Navratri. It marks the battle of Goddess Durga with a powerful buffalo demon Mahishasura and her victory over him. Durga Pooja celebrates the victory of good over evil. Festivities include stunningly decorated pandals, traditional fairs, dandiya and garba dances, wide fanfares, amazing performances, traditional sweets and shopping discounts. On the last day of Durga Pooja, a procession is carried out and the clay idols are immersed in a nearest water body (ocean/river). Although Durga Pooja is a traditional Bengali festival, it is celebrated in many regions of India.
Dusshehra or Vijayadashami is celebrated as the victory of good over evil and remembers the victory of Lord Rama over the demon Ravana. It falls on the 10th day after the nine days of Sharad Navratri. Celebrations include the enact of Ramlila narrating the story of Lord Rama and then burning of the effigies of Ravana. It is symbolic of destroying the inner demons. People also dance, sing and enjoy feasts. There are dandiya nights and traditional fairs organised on Dusshehra.
Karwachouth is a one day festival celebrated by Hindu women in Northern India. It falls after 10 days of Dusshehra and is a day of fast for married women. The festival starts with prayers and before dawn feasts. After the feast, the women take fast for the long life of their husband and go without food and water for the entire day till moonrise. In return they get a lot of pampering and gifts from their husband. Fasting women dress in fine clothes and jewellery, apply the best makeup, adorn their hands with henna and meet their friends. They perform various rituals in the evening. After the moonrise, they worship the moon and drink water offered to them by their husband before they feast on delicious meals. The festival symbolises that the love of their husband is more important than the basic necessities like food and water.
Dhanteras is known to be the festival of wealth and abundance. It is celebrated two days prior to Deepawali. It is believed that on this day, Goddess Lakshmi emerged from the churning of sea carrying a jar of elixir. Celebrations include worshipping Lord Kuber (God of Wealth and Abundance), Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth) and Lord Ganesha (God of Wisdom), and buying utensils, gold, silver, clothes, property, automobiles, property etc.
Deepawali is the Hindu festival of lights and spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness. It celebrates the homecoming of Lord Rama with his wife Sita and brother Laxman after a long exile of 14 years. Celebrations include cleaning and decorating houses with rangoli, flowers, mango leaves, colourful lights and earthen lamps, wearing traditional clothes, exchanging gifts, worshipping Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi, enjoying sweets and festive feasts, and lighting spectacular firecrackers in the dark new-moon night sky.
24. Chhath Pooja
Chhath Pooja is an ancient Hindu Vedic festival fondly celebrated in Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh. The festival falls in October and is celebrated as a tribute to the Sun God for bestowing the gift of life on earth and to seek his blessings for the overall well being of the family. Rituals include offering prayers to the Sun God, fasting for four days and taking dips in holy water. The offerings and prasada include fruits, Indian sweets, sweet rice porridge, rice laddu and thekua (dry sweet made from wheat and jaggery).
Christmas is celebrated on 25th of December as the birth of Jesus Christ. It is celebrated with all pomp and show in India. Although it is the festival of Christians, but the entire country is painted in the colours of the festival. Celebrations include prayers in Churches, Santa Claus processions, Installation of Christmas tree, buying secret gifts for your loved ones as Santa, baking plum cake, ginger bread and cookies and enjoying family feasts. Most malls, markets and shops are decorated in Christmas themes and there are Christmas sales around the city.