Indian Festivals

Anthropology : Hindu Festivals and Their Significance

Hinduism is one of the most diverse religions in the world and is a result of a multitude of myths and deities. This belief in more than one god brings with it a collection of festivals. India is a land of bewildering diversity, a unique and colorful mosaic of people of various faiths. There is a festival for every reason and every season. Many festivals celebrate various harvests, commemorate great historical figures and events, or express devotion to the deities. Every celebration centers around the rituals of prayer and seeking blessings. Additionally, it involves the decoration of homes, wearing of new clothes, music, dancing, and feasting.

Festivals are an expression of the spirit of celebration. They are a cause of celebration with enthusiasm and gaiety. Furthermore, there are occasions when family and friends come together. Many of these festivals have a connection with special foods.

India is a land of festivals and fairs. Nowadays, virtually celebrating each day of the year, there are more festivals in India than anywhere else in the world. Each festival pertains to different occasions, some welcome the seasons of the year, the harvest, the rains, or the full moon. While others celebrate religious occasions, the birthdays of divine beings and saints, or the advent of the New Year. A number of these festivals are common in most parts of India. However, they may be known by different names in various parts of the country. Whereas maybe a mark in a different fashion.

Raksha Bandhan Festival

The thali( plate) of Puja at Raksha Bandhan
The thali( plate) of Puja at Raksha Bandhan

Image Credit: Jagran

This festival falls on a full moon day of the Hindu month of Sravana (July/August). Furthermore, this festival celebrates the love of a brother for his sister. On this day, sisters tie a rakhi( a red decorated thread) to the wrists of their brothers to protect them against evil influences and pray for their long life and happiness. They, in turn, give a gift which is a promise that they will protect their sisters from any harm. Rakhis symbolize sacred feelings and well wishes. While this festival is generally a cause of celebration in North India. Moreover, it has also been thrust into the world by Indians residing abroad.

Even quite recently, there were an American brother and sister who celebrated Raksha Bandhan to honor their bond. As the brother jumped in front of a ferocious dog who tried to attack his baby sister. That was a cause of quite serious facial injuries. Upon learning the meaning of this Hindu festival and what it represents, the American family honored the incident by adopting cultural influences from the Indian subcontinent.

Significantly, this occasion is a cause of celebration prominently in the northern parts of India. Additionally, a diaspora of people hailing from various states like Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and other states.

The Rakhi Ritual

Mainly, with the fast-approaching of the Raksha Bandhan festival, sisters begin buying rakhis for their brothers. These sparkly adornments are available for purchase from the market. Furthermore, sisters tend to look out for special rakhis which are available in varied forms depending on the taste level of people. They can be in the form of colorful threads, silver rakhis, bracelets, amulets, and other men’s wrist accessories for the occasion.

On the day of Raksha Bandhan, brothers and sisters wear brand new clothes, generally Indian traditional wear, to mark the occasion. Additionally, observe the festival in the presence of people’s parents, elderly, and grandparents. Mainly, the ritual involves lighting a Diya or earthen lamp which represents the fire deity. Furthermore, the process involves performing aarti. The main ritual is performing prayers for the well-being of their brothers. Also applying a “tilak” with raw rice on the forehead of their brothers. Along with this, a portion of sweet/ dessert or dry fruit is fed to the brother. And finally, the rakhi is securely placed around the wrist of the brother.

The offering of Rakhi Gifts by Brother

After the rakhi is tied around the wrist, it is now the turn of the brother to offer special rakhi return gifts to his sister. The gift could be in the form of money, a gift from an offline or online gifting store in the form of a rakhi special gift hamper, a dress, a piece of jewelry, or any other such present.

Northern India Festivities

In the northern parts of India, like the Kumaon region in Uttarkhand, the occasion is with the changing of “Janau”, a thread that is worn around the torso. The festival is not just a cause of celebration for brother and sister but to all brothers. The occasion is called by the same name. But the mode of celebration in this part of India is a bit different. Apart from this, a fair adds pizzazz to the festival in the Champawat region on this day.

Meanwhile, in the Jammu region of India. Specifically, the occasion of Raksha Bandhan is a cause of celebration in an entirely different manner. It begins with the Kite flying festival, which begins a month before the main festival with active local participation. It features people flying a wide range of kites of different shapes, colors, and designs, with special threads.

In the Rajasthani and Marwadi communities, women tie rakhi on the wrist of their brother’s wife or their sister-in-law (Bhabhi in Hindi parlance). The custom encompasses the wife of the brother, who is responsible for the well-being of their brother and being a part of the family. Her well-being is important for the whole family as well.

Interestingly, tied to a special rakhi known as Lumba Rakhi-an old trend in Gujarati, Punjabi, and other families. As mentioned above, on the occasion of Raksha, Bandhan leaped the brother-sister relationship. And is now actively in different relationships.

These colorful rakhis are now catching up with the people of entire India. And are becoming a huge rage on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan.

Raksha Bandhan in other parts of the World

Due to the huge variation in the multi-lingual culture of India, the celebration of a particular festival has taken its forms and manifestations. In the parts of West Bengal and Odisha, the occasion is known as Jhulan Purnima, where Lord Krishna and Radha are a sign of worship by people on this day. Mainly, sisters tie beautiful rakhi on the wrist of their brothers and wish for their health. Furthermore, there is a mood of cheerfulness and joy all around the cities where people from all strata of society participate in the occasion.

Further, the “Rakhi Utsava” is quite popular in Shanti Niketan, which was the institute by the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Most importantly, universal brotherhood marks the festivities.

In Maharashtra and other coastal areas, Raksha Bandhan takes the form of Naarali Poornima. The fishermen’s community throws coconuts into the sea as offerings to the sea as a sign of worship. Furthermore, people consume coconut-based sweets and dishes mark the occasion in every household.

Southern and Western India Festivities

In other southern states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the occasion is “Avani Avittam”, which falls on the full moon night during the month of Shravan. This form of the festival is mainly for all the male members of the family. Mainly, Brahmins on this day take a dip in the water and ask for atonement for all their past sins. After the conclusion of the ritual, the holy thread or the “January” that is worn across the body switches with a new thread. They also make resolutions about performing good deeds during this “thread-changing” ceremony.

In the western states, like Gujarat, the festival of “Pavitropana”  alongside the occasion of Raksha Bandhan. Interestingly, women worship Lord Shiva by pouring water and placing offerings on the Shivlinga. They visit the temples on this day and ask forgiveness for their past sins.

Central India Festivities

In Central India, the occasion is known as “Kajari Purnima”,  a festival for farmers and mothers. On this day, farmers worship their land, whereas mothers perform a special pooja with their sons. The celebration for the event starts a week before the main occasion. The wives of the farmers go to their fields and collect some soil from their fields into leaves. Furthermore, barley seeds are strewn and kept in a clean portion of the house. After the completion of 7 days, the put is taken out. Additionally, women pray for the longevity of their sons, after submerging the seeds in a river or lake.

Deepawali Festival

Diyas( Earthern Lamps) with Flowers
Diyas( Earthern Lamps) with Flowers

Image Source:

Deepawali or Diwali is a festival of lights symbolizing the victory of righteousness and the lifting of spiritual darkness. The word ‘Deepawali’ literally means rows of diyas (clay lamps). This is one of the most popular festivals in the Hindu calendar. It falls on the 15th day of Kartika (October/November). This festival commemorates Lord Rama’s return to his kingdom Ayodhya after completing his 14-year exile. ( Reference The Hindu Epic Ramayana)

The most beautiful of all Indian festivals, Diwali is a celebration of lights. Mainly, the streets with rows of clay lamps, illuminate homes with colors and candles. The new clothes, spectacular firecrackers, and a variety of sweets in the company of family and friends mark the occasion. All this illumination and fireworks, joy and festivity, signify the victory of divine forces over those of wicked.

The Goddess Lakshmi (consort of Vishnu), who is the symbol of wealth and prosperity is a sign of commemoration on this day. In West Bengal, this festival is known as Kali Puja, and Kali, Shiva’s consort, is a deity on the occasion of Diwali.

In the South, the Deepawali festival often commemorates the conquering of the Asura Naraka, a powerful king of Assam, who imprisoned thousands of inhabitants. It was Krishna who was finally able to subdue Naraka and free the prisoners. Furthermore, to commemorate this event, people in Peninsular India wake before sunrise and make imitation blood by mixing kumkum or vermillion with oil. After crushing underfoot a bitter fruit as a symbol of the demon, they apply the ‘blood’ triumphantly on their foreheads. They then have ritual oil baths, anointing themselves with sandalwood paste. Subsequently, people visit temples for prayers. After that, family breakfasts of fruits and a variety of sweets.

South India Diwali Festival

The story of King Bali lies centerstage to the Diwali festivities in South India.

According to Hindu mythology, King Bali was a benevolent demon king. He was so powerful that he became a threat to the power of celestial deities and their respective kingdoms. Consequently, Lord Vishnu came as the dwarf mendicant Vamana, to dilute Bali’s power. Whereas Vamana shrewdly asked the king for land that would cover three steps as he was walking. The king happily grants this gift to Vamana. However, having tricked Bali, Vishnu reveals himself in the full glory of his godhood.

He covers heaven in his first step and the earth in his second. Mainly, realizing that he was against the mighty Vishnu, Bali surrenders and offers his head, inviting Vishnu to step on it. Vishnu pushes him into the nether world with his foot. In return, Vishnu gives him the lamp of knowledge to light up the dark underworld. He also gave him a blessing that he would return to his people once a year to light millions of lamps from this one lamp. So that in the dark new moonlight of Diwali, to dispel the blinding darkness of ignorance, greed, jealousy, lust, anger, ego, and laziness. And to radiate knowledge, wisdom, and friendship would prevail. Each year on the day of Diwali even today, one lamp lights another, and like a flame burning steadily on a windless night, brings a message of peace and harmony to the world.

Ganesh Chaturthi

Ganesh Idol
Ganesh Idol

Image Source: Jagran

Ganesh Chaturthi, Hinduism, a 10-day festival marking the birth of the elephant-headed deity Ganesha, the god of prosperity and wisdom. It begins on the fourth day (Chaturthi) of the month of Bhadrapada (August–September), the sixth month of the Hindu calendar.

At the start of the festival, idols of Ganesha are placed on platforms in homes or elaborately adorned outdoor tents. The worship begins with the pranapratishtha, a ritual of invoking life in the idols, followed by shhodashopachara, or the 16 ways of paying tribute. Amid the chanting of Vedic hymns from religious texts like the Ganesh Upanishad, the idols are anointed with red sandalwood paste and yellow and red flowers. Ganesha also offers coconut, jaggery, and 21 modaks (sweet dumplings), considered to be Ganesha’s favorite food.

After the festival, the idols are carried to local rivers generally, but nowadays, eco-friendly idols and practices are in use. This ritual is proceeded with huge processions by drumbeats, devotional singing, and dancing. There they are immersed, a ritual symbolizing Ganesha’s homeward journey to Mount Kailas—the abode of his parents, Shiva and Parvati.

Significance of Festivals in Society

Culture is known for its festivals. Festivals are not just celebrations or parties. They are the rhythm or pulses of culture and society. From the vast processions of  Ganesh Chaturthi to the celebration of Diwali worldwide, or celebrating the bond between a brother and sister. The festivals of India in the Hindu faith are endless in number that honor traditions, foster a familial bond, and prov, ide people with an appreciation for life. Let me know in the comment section below which Hindu festivals intrigued you and what festivals you celebrate?

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