Hinduism is known for its many feasts and festivals, reflecting the diversity of India’s country, culture and people. This article lists and explains the most essential Hindu Festivals in the course of the year.
Makar Sankranti – the Sun Journeys Northward
Makar Sankranti celebrates the beginning of the sun’s journey into the northern hemisphere, marking its transition from Sagittarius to Capricorn and the beginning of the six month long period of Uttarayana. This highly auspicious period is mentioned in the Mahabharata, where the veteran Bhisma postpones his imminent death for several days in order to wait for the beginning of Uttarayana, in spite of being pierced by countless arrows. Makar Sankranti is celebrated throughout India as a harvest festival and the time when winter starts to recede.
Shivaratri – Night of Shiva
The festival of Shivaratri (“night of Shiva” or “auspicious night”) is a Hindu festival dedicated to the worship of the god Shiva. It is celebrated all over India, usually in late February or early March.
The main element of the observance of Shivaratri is the night-long vigil during which devotional songs (bhajans) and prayers to Lord Shiva are being recited, accompanied by the beating of drums. This is believed to be a time especially suitable for controlling and transcending the mind and a great chance for reaching the ultimate goal of spiritual life: the realization of the Atman, the indwelling spirit.
Holi – Festival of Colors
Holi marks the day when Prahlad, a famous devotee of Lord Vishnu, was saved from a female demon. It is also related to Krishna’s killing of the demon Pootna. Holi is celebrated by smearing colors on friends, relations and strangers alike. Throwing water balloons, dry colors, and washable dyes on anyone in sight are also common activities on this day of fun and frolic.
Rama Navami – Birth of Lord Rama
Rama Navami celebrates the birth of Lord Rama, an avatar of Vishnu and hero of the famous Ramayana. The latter is continuously being recited on this festival day and the story of Rama is being told in temples and religious gatherings. Particularly huge celebrations take place at holy places associated with Sri Rama, such as Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh and Rameshvaram in Tamil Nadu.
Guru Purnima – Festival of the Guru
Guru Purnima is a day on which disciples and devotees remember and express their gratitude to their guru as well as her or his lineage of gurus. Vyasa, editor of the four Vedas and author of the Puranas and the Srimad Bhagavatam is particularly remembered with gratitude. Guru Purnima is celebrated on the full moon day in the Vedic month of Ashad (July-August).
Krishna Janmasthami – Birth of Lord Krishna
Krishna Janmasthami celebrates the birth of the Krishna Avatar. Being one of the most universally recognized deities of Hinduism, Krishna is well known as the charming cowherd boy of Vrindavan, the playful lover of Radha and the Gopis, the divine charioteer of Arjuna on the battlefield of Kuruskhetra and the teacher of the immortal Bhagavad-Gita. His birthday is celebrated by fasts, reading, reciting and singing his leelas (playful miracles) as well as chanting his name through Japa and Kirtan.
Ganesha Chaturthi -Birth of Lord Ganesha
The birthday of Ganesha (also known as Vinayaka) is an opportunity for worshipping and remembering the god with the elephant head who is regarded as the embodiment of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune.
Navaratri and Dusserah – Festival of the Divine Mother
On Navaratri, Hindu devotees celebrate the female aspect of the Divine as Mother and worship her protective, transformative and nourishing qualities. Navaratri symbolizes the victory of good over evil, of the divine power (Shakti) over the forces of darkness and illusion. Fittingly, it concludes with an additional tenth day called Vijayadashami (tenth day of victory), also called Dasara or Dussera (remover of bad fate).
Diwali – Festival of Lights
Diwali (also known as Deepawali) is literally translated as “row of lights”. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the dark fortnight of the Vedic month of Kartik, (October-November). It symbolizes the victory of truth and light over darkness and illusion and commemorates Sri Rama’s victory over the demon Ravana, as well as the end of Sri Rama’s exile.