An Indian calendar is full of festive seasons.. Yes, barely two weeks ago we celebrated the birth of Krishna, and now we are all set to welcome the Mother-Son duo Gowri and Ganesha. An amazing happening life we are exposed to here! Let me ponder over all the major festivals that make an appearance on an Indian calendar.
In April, we celebrated Ugadi, the Hindu new year’s day, following which comes Ramanavami, a happy moment of Rama’s arrival on our planet. Ugadi is celebrated as Bihu in some parts, and as something else in Punjab. But the spirit of welcoming the spring is the same.
Ramanavami is followed by Budha Pournami with only a month between them. This marks the auspicious day when Siddartha attained Budha hood!
Between Ramanavami and Budha Pournami there comes a day which displays importance of Love and devotion over monetary richess. It is said that a hungry Krishna was satisfied with only one gram of rice, offered with devotion and love by Droupadi. This day is known as Akshaya Thrithiya.
After this, there is a gap of two months for the observation of a major festival. But in the meanwhile, people observe different worshipping for their favourite deities. For example, Tamilians celebrate a festival called Kavadi as a means of worshipping towards their favourite Muruga, the snake God, son of Shiva and Parvathi, the celestial parents of the whole universe. And the worshippers of Goddess Durga wait for Fridays of the month Ashada to offer their prayers. Worshipping God is a daily matter, and on special occasions, it gets better. Other important festival in this season is Onam, celebrated by Malayalis. Also, there is one Guru Pournami, the graduation day for students in the Vedic era.
Somewhere around mid-July there comes a unique festive season called Naga Panchami. This is the day of offering prayers to the snake God. People offer milk to snakes to mark this festival. In certain parts this is preceded by Bhimana Amavasya, day with darkest night in the year. Un married girls offer prayers to Bhimeshwara for a better marital alliance, on this day.
Then comes a Friday when Mahalakshmi, considered as one who allots all wishes of a devotee, is worshipped. She is the consort of Vishnu, the Supreme Being. She is the Goddess of money. And people love her for everything that she brings them.
Nagapanchami is followed by Raksha bandhan, a festival of bondage. Bond I am speaking about here is that of a strong relationship among siblings. Brothers and sisters all get together on this day and spend some quality time remembering the days of their childhood. In Karnataka, this is observed on Nagapanchami itself, as snake is often related to the umbellar cord or the family tree.
Rakshabandhan is followed by Sree Krishna Janmashtami that marks the night when Sree Krishna was born. People put up a cradle right in the middle of their houses and put in it, an idol of infant Krishna with butter in his hands. It is said that little Krishna loved milk, butter and milk products.
Twelve days later comes home the most admired daughter, Gowri. Goddess Durga, mother of universe, is considered as a daughter of the house, being married to Shiva. She makes an annual trip back home. And on this day, whole family gets together and welcomes her with an affectionate warmth that is obvious. Next day comes Ganesha, her son, to take her away to her house. People ask them to stay back for a while and treats them with all that they can afford. Gowri and Ganesha go back happy and with a promise of making a trip back here, next year, same time!
With the dullness of sending off daughter to her husband’s house not vanished yet, people get ready to worship Anantha Padmanabha, one who has no beginning, no end…..and one who is the cause of this universe!
Immediately follows a fortnight when people remember their ancestors, parents, grandparents and ….and worship God to ask for peace for the ancestors in their afterlife. This season culminates on Mahalaya Amavasya. And thus ends half a year.
After satisfying daughter, her family, elders of the family who are in heaven, then comes time for the spiritual growth of one self. Thus arrives Navaratri. This includes a nine-day of continuous spiritual observation, which ends on Vijayadashami, with a declaration of burning of the egoistic “I”. Navaratri is observed with a different fervour in different parts of India. Some worship Goddess Durga, some worship Lord Vishnu, some…some other God… but all converge to one point called spiritual attainment of the self. Bengalis call this as Durga Pooja, and celebrate it with an ecstatic aura.
Exactly 20 days later comes Deepavali. In the heart of the winter, this is celebrated with joy and spirits across the country. This is the day when Rama returned to Ayodhya, completing his victory over the evil called Ravana. This is the day when Vishnu relieved the world of a selfish king called Balindra. This is the day when Krishna relieved the world of a notorious king called Naraka… Basically, this is the day of victory of good over bad, divine over evil, truth over the untruth, light over the darkness. Thus it is celebrated by lighting the house, mind and souls of each person.
10 days from Deepavali comes a day when Tulsi(Ocimum tenuifolium, known as Holy basil) plant is worshipped. Tulsi plant is usually planted in the backyard of each and every Hindu house. Scientifically, Tulsi has a medicinal value that is unmatchable. And, Tulsi is held, installed and worshipped as the Goddess by Indians. This shows the importance given to Health...
Winter gives a break to the festivals. In the meantime, there comes Christmas and the English New Year to fill the people with joy and spirit.
As the winter fades away, then comes the harvesting season across the country. Around Jan15th, the crop is ready to be consumed. This is also an auspicious day when Sun starts his movement towards North. As a mark of respect to Sun God who helped the crops grow, there is an observation of another festival called Makara Sankranti. Again, this is called by different names across this country of diversity. Tamilians call this as Pongal.
In February, there comes a special day of offering prayers to Lord Shiva. This is called Shivaratri. This is the only festival that is celebrated during and thru the night. People are up all night to pray at the feet of Shankara, the one who graces one with only joy.
Following Shivaratri comes a day of burning the deadly shivers of winter and welcome summer. This is known as Holi. Celebration pattern differs in different parts of India as usual, but at the end, spirit of the festival remains same.
Apart from the above, we also celebrate with an emotional aura the national festivals, namely, The Independence Day and The Republic Day.
Amidst all these, there comes a festival season of Universal brotherhood...Ramzan, which is celebrated across the country with as much importance.
Two things that are common among the festivals in India is the divine spiritual obedience before God and the feast that lingers in one’s culinary buds.
Even though there is a different fervour that goes with observing festivals among different cultures of the country, we can observe a similarity in them. Some of the observations I am listing here :
1. Sesame seeds(eLLU) are had as feast in all parts of the country on Makara Sankranti/Pongal. Similarly Neem leaves are consumed on Ugadi.
2. Ganesh and Parvathi are always sent off, i.e. Gowri is considered as a daughter in all parts of the country. (ex. Durga idols are immersed in water after Durga pooja in Bengal)
3. The fortnight before Navaratri is reserved for the remembrance of the departed souls in the family.
4. Navaratri marks the beginning of the second half of the year.
5. Deepavali is observed by consuming more sweets(reason being the winter, probably!)
6. Everywhere there is a special day reserved for worshipping the snakes.
7. Heavy oily stuffs are consumed during Ganesh festive season, may be because of the small break between the rains.
Thinking about these, I am always amazed at the level of understanding of nature that is required in formulating a system like this. We can see that every festival is thought of as a step up for the spiritual growth of the mankind, and most importantly, each is placed at an appropriate time of the year.
And to add to this note, each festival is linked with a particular dish that helps the body get control over the climatic changes of the season.
Note : I might have missed to mention about some of the festive seasons in this note. Please enlighten me about them. I take this opportunity to wish you a great Gowri-Ganesha festive season. Check out the details of festivities at your nearest Ganesha pendal and feel blessed.
Related links :
1. Trip to Kurudumale Ganesha temple
2. Krishna Janmashtami
3. Real essence of India
4. Festival of lights
6. Guru Pournami
7. Independence day
8. Akshaya Thrithiya