Hindu Festivals:

Hindu Festivals-
A festival may be observed with acts of worship, offerings to deities, fasting, feasting, vigil, rituals, fairs, charity, celebrations, Puja, Homa, aarti.

We celebrate individual and community life of Hindus without distinction of caste, gender or class.

� List of important Hindu Festivals-
*Ganesh Chaturthi
*Hanuman Jayanti
*Krishna Jayanti (Janamashtami)
*Makara Sankrant
*Dasera (Dussera)
*Raksha Bandhan
*Rama Navami
*Varsha Pratipada

Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, is the most popular of all the festivals from South Asia, and is also the occasion for celebrations by Jains and Sikhs as well as Hindus.
The festival of Diwali extends over five days. Because of the lights, fireworks, and sweets involved, it's a great favourite with children.
The festival celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance, although the actual legends that go with the festival are different in different parts of India.
One such legend is that of Ravana, who had ten arms and ten heads, was the wicked king of the island of Sri Lanka, who kidnapped the wife of Ram. Ram had been in exile for 14 years because of a disagreement as to whether he or his brother should be the next king in Ayodhya. After a great battle Ram killed the demon and recovered his wife. Ram's return with his wife Sita to Ayodhya and his subsequent coronation as king is celebrated at Diwali. When Ram and Sita first returned to Ayodhya it was a dark moonless night and they couldn't see where they were going. Their people put little lamps outside their houses so that the new king and queen could find their way, thus beginning the tradition of the festival of lights.

In a recent editorial, the Times of India summed up the modern meaning of Diwali:
"Regardless of the mythological explanation one prefers, what the festival of lights really stands for today is a reaffirmation of hope, a renewed commitment to friendship and goodwill, and a religiously sanctioned celebration of the simple — and some not so simple — joys of life."

The name of the festival comes from the Sanskrit word dipavali, meaning row of lights.Diwali is known as the 'festival of lights' because houses, shops, and public places are decorated with small earthenware oil lamps called Diyas. These lamps, which are traditionally fueled by mustard oil, are placed in rows in windows, doors and outside buildings to decorate them.

The lamps are lit to help the goddess Lakshmi find her way into people's homes. They also celebrate the return of Rama and Sita to Rama's kingdom of Ayodhya after fourteen years of exile.

Hindus will leave the windows and doors of their houses open so that Lakshmi can come in. Rangoli are drawn on the floors - rangoli are patterns and the most popular subject is the lotus flower. This because images of Lakshmi traditionally show her either holding a lotus or sitting on one. There is much feasting and celebration, and the Diwali lamps are regarded as making it easy for Lakshmi to find her way to favoured houses.                                                                                          List

On this day Hindus all over the world will celebrate the birthday of Lord Ganesh (Ganesh Chaturthi).

Ganesh is also known by the names Ganapati, Ekadanta, Vinayaka and Heramba. Irrespective of what Hindu tradition, he is still one of the most popular deities for worship.

Ganesh is depicted with an elephant's head on a human body and in the Hindu tradition he is the son of Lord Siva and the Goddess Parvati. He is known as the Remover of Obstacles and is prayed to particularly when people are beginning a new enterprise or starting a new business. Ganesh is also known as the patron god of travelling.

In places such as Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra (in India), the festival is celebrated for ten days and is a joyous event and regarded as a public occasion. In other places it is simply celebrated at home and hymns are sung and offerings made to Ganesh. Sweets are also distributed because in Hindu legend Ganesh liked them.                                                                                       List

Hanuman Jayanti is celebrated to commemorate the birth of Hanuman Ji, the monkey God. He is the symbol of strength and energy.

Hanuman is worshipped for his unyielding devotion to Rama and is remembered for his selfless dedication to the God. Hanuman is considered the living embodiment of the Karma Yogi (one whose meditation and devotion are demonstrated through hard work or service).

He said "I am a humble messenger of Sri Rama. I have come here to serve Rama, to do His work. By the command of Lord Rama, I have come here. I am fearless by the Grace of Lord Rama. I am not afraid of death. I welcome it if it comes while serving Lord Rama."

In return for his unconditional love, Lord Rama granted him everlasting life. He promised that he would be worshipped alongside Rama and that his idol would be placed next to his.
This is a very popular festival. It can be celebrated individually or in the Temple.

On this day, the sacred text is recited, Hanuman Chalisa - a set of prayers glorifying Hanuman, describing his past times. Depending on the devotee, the text is either recited non-stop for 24 hours or sometimes it's performed a set number of times. Special Pujas are performed and offerings are made to Lord Hanuman. Some people have different rituals, such as sacred fire ceremonies.

In some places, especially in India, colourful processions fill the streets. People dance, carry idols of Lord Hanuman and some people wear masks and tails to imitate the monkey God. Every celebration is always accompanied by a period of fasting and then a big vegetarian feast.                       List

Holi was originally a spring festival of fertility and harvest. Now it also marks some Hindu legends, which provide some of the ingredients for the celebrations.
Holi is an ancient festival which is referred to in the 7th century Sanskrit drama, Ratnaval.
Witness the beauty of the great cupid festival which excites curiosity as the townsfolk are dancing at the touch of brownish water thrown from squirt-guns.
They are seized by pretty women while all along the roads the air is filled with singing and drum-beating.
Everything is coloured yellowish red and rendered dusty by the heaps of scented powder blown all over.

The Legend of Prahalad and Holika-
This is the main Holi legend. Holika was a female demon, and the sister of Hiranyakashyap, the demon king. Hiranyakashyap considered himself ruler of the Universe, and higher than all the gods.
Prahalad was the king's son. His father hated him because Prahalad was a faithful devotee of the god Vishnu.
One day the king asked him "Who is the greatest, God or I?" "God is," said the son, "you are only a king." The king was furious and decided to murder his son.
But the king's attempts at murder didn't work too well. Prahalad survived being thrown over a cliff, being trampled by elephants, bitten by snakes, and attacked by soldiers.
So the king asked his sister, Holika, to kill the boy.
Holika seized Prahalad and sat in the middle of a fire with the boy on her lap.
Holika had been given a magic power by the gods that made her immune to fire, so she thought this was a pretty good plan, and Prahalad would burn to death while she remained cool.
But it's never wise to take gods' gifts for granted! Because Holika was using her gift to do something evil, her power vanished and she was burned to ashes. Prahalad stayed true to his God, Vishnu, and sat praying in the lap of his demon aunt. Vishnu protected him, and Prahalad survived.
Shortly afterwards, Vishnu killed King Hiranyakashyap and Prahad ruled as a wise king in his father's place.
The moral of the story is that good always wins over evil, and those who seek to torment the faithful will be destroyed.
To celebrate the story, large bonfires are burned during Holi. In many parts of India, a dummy of Holika is burned on the fire.

A colourful celebration
Holi is the Hindu festival that welcomes the Spring and celebrates the new life and energy of the season. Although Holi has religious roots, not much religious activity is involved in its celebration.
Holi is the most energetic Indian festival, filled with fun and good humour; even the strict rules of separation between castes are abandoned.
Holi is also called 'The Festival of Colours', and people celebrate the festival by smearing each other with paint, and throwing coloured powder and dye around in an atmosphere of great good humour.
Holi is seen by some as the Hindu festival that is nearest in spirit to St. Valentine's Day.

Holi in Brief
A spring festival, usually celebrated in March Holi also celebrates Krishna, and the legend of Holika and Prahalad
Holi is particularly celebrated in North India Although Holi has religious roots there are few religious things to do Distinctions of caste, class, age, and gender are suspended during Holi A very exuberant festival, with dancing, singing, and throwing of paint Holi features gender rivalry, with contests between men and women, and public flirting Bonfires are lit during Holi, and food offerings are roasted The festival is officially celebrated on the day after full moon during the month of Phalunga, which falls in February- March.
During the evening of the full moon, bonfires are lit in the streets.These bonfires not only purify the air of evil spirits, but mark the story of Holika and Prahalad. The next day, people of all ages go into the streets for jollifications and paint-throwing.                                                                           List

The Janamashtami festival marks the birth of Krishna, the most highly venerated God in the Hindu pantheon.

Temple worship
At a Hindu temple, different parts of the building have a different spiritual or symbolic meaning. The central shrine is the heart of the worshipper. The tower represents the flight of the spirit to heaven. A priest may read, or more usually recite, the Vedas to the assembled worshippers, but any "twice-born" Hindu can perform the reading of prayers and mantras.

Krishna is perceived by most Hindus to be an avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu, who is regarded as the highest avatar. It is believed that all other deities are manifestations of him. Krishna is considered to be a warrior, hero, teacher and philosopher by Hindus.
Krishna's birthday is celebrated eight days after Raksha Bandhan in the month of Sravana and celebrations are spread over two days.
The first day is called Krishan ashtami or Gokul ashtami. The second day is known as Kaal ashtami or more popularly Janam ashtami.

For the 48 hour period Hindus are likely to forego sleep and instead sing bhajans, which are traditional Hindu songs. It is believed that Krishna was born at midnight and it is at this time that the true festivities commence. Food is prepared from milk and curds said to have been favoured by Krishna. Some Hindus choose to fast for the first day of Janamashtami, choosing only to eat after the midnight celebrations. Dances and songs are used to venerate and remember this supreme God. Plays are also carried out re-enacting scenes from Krishna's early life. In Temples images of Krishna are bathed and placed in cradles, whilst the shankh (conch shell) is played and bells are rung. Holy mantras are also chanted to venerate Krishna.

Given the significance of Krishna in the Hindu pantheon Janamashtami is celebrated with great importance and consideration.                                                                                          List

Mahashivratri (also known as Shivaratri) is a Hindu festival dedicated to Shiva, who destroys the universe, one of the deities of the Hindu Trinity.

Night and Day
While most Hindu festivals are celebrated during the day, Mahashivratri is celebrated during the night and day that come just before the new moon. Each new moon is dedicated to Shiva, but Mahashivratri is especially important because it is the night when he danced the ‘Tandav’, his cosmic dance.
It also celebrates the wedding of Shiva and Sati, the mother divine. Night represents evil, injustice, ignorance, sin, violence, and misfortune. Tradition says that Shiva (symbolised by the new moon) appeared in order to save the world from darkness and ignorance, before the world entered complete darkness.

The Festival-
Devotees of Shiva observe a fast during Mahashivratri and stay up all night at a place of worship. Shiva is offered special food made from the fruits of the season, root vegetables, and coconuts, during ritual worship. Those who observe the Mahashivratri fast only break their fast the next morning, and eat the prasad (food offerings) offered to Shiva. Young girls observe the fast and worship Shiva so that he may bless them with good husbands. They sing devotional songs in praise of the lord, and holy texts are chanted throughout the night.
The pandits in the temples perform the religious worship (Puja) according to the scriptures. This is done four times during the night. In temples, Shiva linga - the phallic symbol of Lord Shiva is worshipped. Devotees flock to the temples to perform the ritual of bathing the Shiva linga. It is bathed with milk, water and honey, and then anointed with sandalwood paste, and decorated with flowers and garlands.

The Legend of Shiva
The legend surrounding the festival of Mahashivratri says that Lubdhaka, a poor tribal man and a devotee of Shiva, once went into the deep forests to collect firewood. At nightfall, he became lost and could not find his way home. In the darkness, Lubdhaka climbed a bel tree, and sought safety and shelter in its branches until dawn. All night, he could hear the growls of tigers and wild animals, and was too frightened to leave the tree.

Staying Awake
In order to keep himself awake, he plucked one leaf at a time from the tree and then dropped it, while chanting the name of Shiva. By sunrise, he had dropped thousands of leaves on to a Shiva lingam, which he had not seen in the darkness. Lubdhaka’s all-night worship pleased Shiva. By the grace of Shiva the tigers and wild animals went away, and Lubdhaka not only survived but was rewarded with ‘divine bliss.’                                                                                                                      List

Makar Sankrant is the first Hindu festival of the solar calendar year, falling on January 13 or 14. It falls at a time when the Sun enters the Zodiac sign of Makar (Capricorn) and when the day and night are of equal duration. Days become longer from this point on so it is a time for celebration.

There is a wide variation in the celebration of Makar Sankrant thoughout India in particular the name:
In Gujarat and Maharashtra, Makar Sankrant is a festival of the young and the old and colourful kites are flown all around.

In Punjab, Makar Sankrant is called Lohri. December and January are the coldest months of the year in Punjab and huge bonfires are lit on the eve of Sankrant. Sweets, sugarcane and rice are thrown on the bonfires and friends and relatives gather together.

In Uttar Pradesh, this period is celebrated as Kicheri. It is considered important to have a bath on this day and masses of people can be seen bathing in the Sangam at Prayagraj where the rivers Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswathi flow together.

In Maharashtra on the Makar Sankranti day people exchange multi-coloured halwa and til-gul ladoos. While exchanging til-gul as tokens of goodwill people greet each other with the words, meaning ‘Accept these tilguls and speak sweet words’. The underlying thought in the exchange of til-gul is to forget the past ill feelings and hostilities and resolve to speak sweetly and remain friends.

In Southern India it's the harvest fetival Pongal and lasts for 3 days. On the first day, rice boiled with milk is offered to the Rain God. On the second day, it is offered to the the Sun God and on the third day, the family cattle are given a bath and dressed with flowers, bells and colours. The cattle are honored for their hard work in the fields.                                                                               List

Navaratri (nine nights) is one of the greatest Hindu festivals. It symbolises the triumph of good over evil. Navratri takes place at the beginning of October around harvest time and, as the name implies, this festival is celebrated for nine days. Navratri is also known as Durga Puja.
During this period, Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati are worshipped as three different manifestations of Shakti, or cosmic energy.
Durga, The Mother Goddess:
The festival is dedicated to Durga, the mother goddess who also represents power. Durga annihilated the demon Mahishasura after a relentless battle lasting nine days and nights.
The motherhood of God:
Navaratri is a festival in which God is adored as Mother. It is said that Shiva gave permission to Durga to see her mother for nine days in the year and this festival also remembers this visit. Families make an attempt to return home on these days, and leave on the tenth.
Hinduism is the only religion in the world which has emphasised to such an extent the motherhood of God.
To celebrate a good harvest and to propitiate the nine planets, women also plant nine different kinds of food grain seeds in small containers during these nine days and then offer the young saplings to the goddess.
During Navaratri, some devotees of Durga observe a fast and prayers are offered for the protection of health and property. A period of introspection and purification, Navaratri is traditionally an auspicious time for starting new ventures.
An auspicious time:
Feasts of great variety and delicacy are offered to guests and family during the nine days.
For women, Navaratri is a time for shopping for new clothes and new pots. It is an auspicious time to buy gold or jewellery and the gold markets are open late each night. Women dress elaborately each day for the puja or rituals and nightly dances.
Another part of the puja may involve designing puja-thalis or aartis which are decorated plates in honour of the mother goddess, Amba (Ambika).                                                                    List

Dasera (Dussera)
The tenth day of the festival is called Dasera, and marks the triumph of good over evil, and also the motherhood of God.
Durga Puja is particularly important for Hindus in Bengal. After having worshipped her for nine days, her image is taken to the streets in a procession and there is much celebration and dancing.
To mark Durga leaving her mother after the nine day visit, her image is cast into water.
In northern parts of India, Hindus also celebrate Rama’s victory over Ravana during this time. This festival is called Dussera. The ten days represent the ten heads of Ravana, and each day is used by Hindus to get rid of bad characteristics, such as lust and jealousy. The tenth day is known as the Day of Victory.                                                                                                                        List

Raksha Bandhan is the Hindu festival that celebrates brotherhood and love. It is celebrated on the full moon in the month of Sravana in the lunar calendar.
The word Raksha means protection, whilst Bandhan is the verb to tie. Traditionally, during the festival sisters tie a rakhi, a bracelet made of interwoven red and gold threads, around their brothers' wrists to celebrate their relationship.
Women tie rakhis around the wrists of the prime minister. Rakhis are tied around the wrists of soldiers. It is believed that when a woman ties a rakhi around the hand of a man it becomes obligatory for him to honour his religious duty and protect her as her brother.

Today the festival has developed with others joining in the festivities:
Priests tie rakhis around the wrists of congregation members. Rakhis are often shared between close friends.

Traditional stories state that rakhis are blessed with sacred verses and are encompassed by them.
Sometimes rakhis are consecrated in rice and grass before they are given, and are traditionally tied by people familiar with the Vedas.
Following these customs the rakhi is believed to remove sin from one hand and provide safety to the other. The protection offered by a rakhi is believed to remain for a year.
As the rakhi is tied, a prayer is offered asking for happiness and prosperity.
Today rakhis are often decorated with multi-coloured silk thread, and often adorned with stones and beads.
Once the rakhi has been tied a mantra is chanted either in Sanskrit or Punjabi.
At the end of the ceremony the sister places a sweet in her mouth. Following this her brother gives her a small monetary gift of appreciation.
This festival has evolved over the years to encompass the importance of many people in Hindu society, yet foremost it continues to honour and uphold the relationship between a sister and brother.
It is a significant festival in the Hindu calendar, followed eight days later by Janamashtami.      List

Rama Navami celebrates the birth of Lord Rama, son of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya.Rama was an incarnation of Vishnu and the hero of the Ramayana, the Sanskrit epic of 24,000 stanzas.
A continuous recital of the book takes place for about a week prior to the celebration and on the day itself, the highlights of the story are read in the temple.

Rituals and ceremonies:
The house is thoroughly cleaned on Rama Navami and is also decorated. Offerings of fruit and flowers are placed on the family shrine and after an early bath, prayers are recited.
The youngest female member of the household leads the puja (prayers) by applying a red tilak (mark) to all the other members of the family before everyone joins together in worship.
An image or picture of baby Rama is placed in a covered cradle and at noon, the covering is removed and Prasad (special sacred food) is offered to Rama, which may then be shared amongst the congregation.
There is an element of fasting. Some people don't eat certain foods, particularly things like onions, garlic, some spices and wheat products.
The festival is a focal point for moral reflection and being especially charitable to others.
Celebrations at places associated with Sri Rama, like Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh and Ramesvaram in Tamil Nadu attract thousands of devotees.                                                                            List

Vaisakhi, as a Hindu festival, is celebrated according to the solar calendar and is marked in several different ways across the world.
Throughout India the celebrations vary. In the North of India, Vaisakhi is a time signifying the harvest, and as such is celebrated as a harvest festival. Traditionally people buy each other gifts to mark this occasion.
In the Himachal Pradesh state, Vaisakhi is celebrated as a way of honouring the Goddess Jwalamukhi (also known as Durga, Mata, Amba), and in Bihar it is celebrated by honouring Surya (the Sun-God).
Vaisakhi is also celebrated as the New Year in the South of India, and is marked by holding Pooram festivals, where processions occur to honour Lord Vishnu. In Assam, Vaisakhi is celebrated as Rangali Bihu (colours).

Vaisakhi UK: For Hindus in the UK, this means that Vaisakhi is celebrated in many diverse ways, with the method of celebration largely dependent upon a person's individual ancestry.
What is common to all Hindus is that, at the time of Vaisakhi, people will go to the temple to pay respect and seek blessings, and gifts and sweets will be exchanged between friends and family members.
Vaisakhi Melas are also held throughout the UK, where Hindus recreate the atmosphere of celebration that occurs simultaneously in India.                                                                                     List

Varsha Pratipada is the Hindu Spring New Year and it means Birth of the Year. Although some devotees celebrate this day, it is not celebrated so much in the UK.
It is the first day of Chaitra (the first month of the Hindu lunar year). It is an auspicious day and it symbolises renewal. It is a good day to start new ventures and it is also a lucky day astrologically.
Diwali, in the autumn, is also a new year but many Hindus (particularly from South India) prefer to celebrate their new year on Varsha Pratipada.
In the UK the most popular new year day is the day after Diwali.                                          List

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