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Exploring festivals and celebrations in Hinduism – Significance and  Rituals

Exploring festivals and celebrations in Hinduism - Significance and Rituals

Every minute is a gift from the divine, every day is special and promises a fresh start. Hindus revere this thought, seers have sung lores about this, vedas have highlighted the significance and glories of human birth and provided guidelines to living each day. Days become more special due to memories in history which have been significant due to the birth of a reformer, a saint, or some great event that occurred, which generations later people remember and take inspiration from. These auspicious days become a reason for celebration and become festive in nature. Festivals in Hindu Dharma consist of all of the above phenomena and additionally some marked days with a regional significance, maybe related to seasonal changes, some family or community related joyous occasions, some local historical events worth celebrating.
Being vast, diverse and multicultural, but yet with a unison thread that weaves all together and brings out the beautiful country that is Bharat, let us explore the significance and rituals around some of the festivals and auspicious days in our Hindu Dharma.
Festivals are meant to bring people together. One cannot celebrate anything alone. Some festivals have the only goal of getting the village together, families together under one roof. It was designed with an inbuilt therapy for the modern day pathetic symptoms like stress, loneliness and its related illnesses. As mentioned at the opening of this blog, each day can have some significant background, but a few per week, or a handful every month for sure are worth mentioning.
Deepawali, meaning row of lights, is the most widely celebrated pan-world festival. Its origins are from the historical epics (itihasas) – Ramayana and Mahabharata. Reenacting the occurrences from the epics, it basically signifies winning over ignorance and darkness by adding light and in turn spreading happiness. Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya, where loved ones waited for him after his long exile of 14 years, they cheered him for his victory over the evil Ravana, and brightened the path with lights. This ritual is followed even today, the message of spreading the light and abolishing darkness and ignorance has become universal. In some regions Deepawali is noted by prayers to Krishna, slayer of Narakasura, and a ceremonial bath with herbs and oil massage is a must. Again rituals like these are regional but gaining popularity.
Another related festival is the Navaratri, that occurs just before Deepawali and the stories are connected. The war with Ravana and eradicating the ten headed egoistic evil, is embedded as a ritual by burning effigies of Ravana and thus the name “Dusshera’. Its popularity is regional but grand. Another parallel encounter quoted in the puranas is the slaying of the magician demon Mahishasura by Goddess Durga, and is celebrated with different pomp and traditions in different regions. This is one of the very few festivals that lasts more than a week and boosts activities in the community.
Just as birthdays are the most favorite party themes among family and friends, so has it been considering festivals. Favorite Gods or Ishta devatas are the center of celebrations like Ganesh Chaturti, Krishna Janmashhtami, Ram Navami, Hanuman Jayanti etc. They mark the birth or the appearance as an avatara (reformer) and the qualities that these Gods portray are revered and celebrated on these special occasions. In the same categories are the births of saints, social reformers, devotional gurus, scholars etc who are cherished and celebrated every year, their works promoted and successfully carried on for centuries.
In addition, being in sync with nature and its powerful influence on mankind, with due respects many festivals are owing to the celestial bodies around earth, its influences on earth’s climate, vegetation and environment. Sankranti, Varsh pratipada, Holi, vasantha panchami and hundreds of smaller regional festivals exist signifying our gratitude and reverence to the natural elements.
Developing the habit of celebrating with some rituals like pooja, arathi, specified kind of sweet delicacies made, some critical arrangements done at home and surroundings all have evolved greatly. It is expected that the end result is devotion and self upliftment. But no matter how trends change, the celebrations have been consistent and a sense of bonding in the community and the enthusiasm to start afresh each year have been observed. In foreign land, I have observed some adaptations that have been inevitable. The true Hindu anywhere in the world strives to celebrate his favorite festivals. Rituals have undergone healthy changes too, and what is relevant has survived successfully.
Current generation are the “globally aware” omnipresent youth who want to be scientific as well. Faith followed by reasoning is their trend. Is that sufficient for the sustenance of our traditions? Something that needs deep divers.
I highly encourage readers to explore, what changes you have seen considering the festivals celebrated in your areas, what is that which connects you to the society, what is your contribution, and how do you plan to keep the tradition alive.
My name is Sabitha Hebbar, I live in southern california. I have been in this country for 30 years, worked in preschool as a Montessori trained teacher in the past for more than a decade. My family consists of my husband and two sons and a daughter-in-law. I’ve also had experience in teaching Dharma and Heritage to children in HSS shakhas for 15 years. I have a passion for cultural studies and follow a religious path.


Amit Mishra

Member of the Board of Directors, Aum Education Society of America.

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