Hindu festivals and holy days celebrate many events every year, with each one being marked by music, dance, processions, and long standing rituals. These events include the birth of gods, death of asuras, victory of the gods, marriage of the gods, the new year, new months, full moons, new moons, harvests, birthdays, initiations, marriages, deaths, and anniversaries.
Some festivals are only observed in specific communities or geographical region, often because of the importance certain gods enjoy in a particular community or region.
Diwali – The Festival of Lights
Diwali, also known as Deepawali, is the biggest and brightest of all the Hindu festivals. Diwali is marked by four days of celebration, which literally illumines the country with its brilliance, and dazzles all with its joy. Each of the four days in the festival of Diwali is separated by a different tradition, but what remains true and constant is the celebration of life, its enjoyment and goodness.
Each day of Diwali has its own story:
1. Day 1, Naraka Chaturdasi, marks the vanquishing of the demon Naraka by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama
2. Day 2, Amavasya, marks the worship of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth in her most benevolent mood, fulfilling the wishes of her devotees. Amavasya also tells the story of Lord Vishnu, who in his dwarf incarnation vanquished the tyrant Bali, and banished him to hell. Bali was allowed to return to earth once a year, to light millions of lamps to dispel the darkness and ignorance, and spread the radiance of love and wisdom
3. Day 3, Kartika Shudda Padyami, is when Bali steps out of hell and rules the earth according to the boon given by Lord Vishnu
4. Day 4, Yama Dvitiya (also called Bhai Dooj), is the day sisters invite their brothers to their homes
The Diwali tradition of illuminating homes with lights and the skies with firecrackers is an expression of obeisance to the heavens for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity.
Durga Puja, Dusshera, & Navaratri
In this autumn festival, Hindus observe 10 days of ceremonies, rituals, fasts, feasts, song and dance in honor of the supreme mother goddess Durga. After 9 divine nights of Navaratri comes Dusshera or Vijayadashami that celebrates goddess Durga’s victory of good over evil.
Goddess Durga is the mother of the universe and believed to be the power behind the work of creation, preservation, and destruction of the world. Since time immemorial she has been worshipped as the supreme power of the Supreme Being and has been mentioned in many scriptures – Yajur Veda, Vajasaneyi Samhita and Taittareya Brahman.
Holi – The Festival of Colours
Holi is a celebration of life, a boisterous occasion when Hindus smear each other with the colours of joy. Every year this spring festival is celebrated on the day after the full moon in early March and glorifies the good harvest and fertility of the land. It is also time for spring harvest. The new crop refills the stores in every household and perhaps such abundance accounts for the riotous merriment during Holi.
Raksha Bandhan or Rakhi – The Thread of Love
The chaste bond of love between a brother and a sister is one of the deepest and noblest of human emotions. Raksha Bandhan, or Rakhi, is a special occasion to celebrate this emotional bonding by tying a holy thread around the wrist. This thread, which pulsates with sisterly love and sublime sentiments, is called the Rakhi. It means ‘a bond of protection’, and Raksha Bandhan signifies that the strong must protect the weak from all that’s evil.
During the festival sisters tie the sacred Rakhi string on their brothers’ right wrists, and pray for their long life. Rakhis are ideally made of silk with gold and silver threads, beautifully crafted embroidered sequins, and studded with semi precious stones.
Raksha Bandhan 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 neighbours, it underscores the need for a harmonious social life, where every individual co-exist as peacefully as brothers and sisters.