Hinduism: Festivals | 10

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HINDU FESTIVALS

Hindus celebrate festivals throughout the year. There are domestic, temple, and public celebrations. The birthdays of the many deities, especially Gaṇeśa, Kṛṣṇa, and Rāma, are popular.

Hindus have a lunar calendar that is periodically adjusted to the solar year; thus, while the dates of the festivals change, they come within the span of a month.

Most festivals are marked in the lunar calendar, and many Hindus know whether the divine birthdays occur on the waxing or waning moon cycles.

Festivals can be local or pan-Indian. Holi and Onam are examples of regional festivals:

Holi, a spring festival celebrated in some parts of Northern India with bonfires and an exuberant throwing of coloured powder on friends and crowds, commemorates various events narrated in the Purāṇas.

In the state of Kerala, Onam is celebrated in August and September;
the 5th incarnation of Vishnu as a dwarf-Brahman is remembered in that festival.

Other festivals, such as Navarātri and Dīpāvalī (known as Divālī in some areas), are more or less pan-Hindu festivals:

The festival of Navarātri (a word meaning “nine nights”) lasts for 9 nights and 10 days. It is celebrated by Hindus all over India, but in different ways and for different reasons. The festival begins on the new moon that occurs between 15 September and 14 October.

In Southern India Navarātri is dedicated to the goddesses Sarasvatī, Lakshmi, and Pārvatī, and in Northern India it commemorates the battle between the prince Rāma and the demon-king Rāvaṇa.

In the region of Tamil Nadu, Navarātri is largely a festival for women:

A room is set apart and filled with exquisite dolls for the play of the goddesses. Elaborate tableaux are set up depicting epic and Purāṇic scenes:

Every evening women and children dressed in bright silks visit one another, admire the kolu (display of dolls), play musical instruments, and sing songs, usually in praise of one of the goddesses.

Some Hindus believe that the goddess Durgā killed the buffalo-demon Mahiṣa during these 9-10 days. Hindus in the state of West Bengal call this festival Durgā Puja. They make sumptuous statues of Durga and worship her.

In the state of Gujarat the Navarātri celebration includes performing 2 traditional dances at night:

garbha, a circular dance in which a sacred lamp is kept in the centre as a manifestation of the goddess, and dandiya, a dance with sticks, reminiscent of the dance that Kṛṣṇa is said to have done with the cowherd girls.

The last 2 days of Navarātri are called Ayudha Puja (veneration of weapons and machines). Hindus acknowledge the importance of all vehicles and many other instruments that day.

On the 9th day of the festival the goddess Sarasvatī, the patron of learning and music, is worshiped. People place musical instruments, writing implements, and textbooks in front of her and the display of dolls, to be blessed by her for the rest of the year.

The next day is the victorious 10th day (Vijaya Daśamī), dedicated to Lakṣmī. People start new ventures, account books, and learning on that day.

Dīpāvalī (literally “necklace of lamps”), one of the most popular Hindu festivals, occurs on the new moon between 15 October and 14 November:

Seen as the beginning of a New Year in some parts of India, it is celebrated by decorating houses with lights, setting off firecrackers, and wearing new clothes.

As with Navarātri, Hindus celebrate Dīpāvalī for many reasons:

In Southern India it is believed that on that day at dawn, Kṛṣṇa killed the demon Nārakāsura, thus insuring a victory of light over darkness. Fireworks are used in celebrations all over India.

In North India Rāma’s return to the city of Ayodhyā and his coronation are celebrated on Dīpāvalī.