The Festivals of India: India is a colorful cultural country inhabited by millions of peoples. There are many festivals celebrated throughout the year. There are the introduction of only few of the  important festivals.

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Diwali (Deepavali): Diwali is the festival of lights that is celebrated by the Hindus throughout the country with religious fervor. It is celebrated 21 days after Dussehra; it marks the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after his 14 years exile. In this festival houses are well lit with clay lamps and Lakshmi -the goddess of wealth and prosperity is worshipped. People wear new apparel, consume a rich and sumptuous feast and burst crackers. On Diwali day, delicious sweets are prepared and exchanged among friends and relatives.

Dussehra / Vijaya Dashmi: Place: Dussehra falls in the month of October. Dussehra literally means that which takes away ten sins. It is a Hindu festival that is celebrated all over India to mark the victory of good over the evil when wicked Ravana was killed by Lord Rama in a fierce battle. The ‘Ramlila’ – an enactment of the life of Lord Rama, is held during the nine days preceding Dussehra. On the tenth day, larger than life effigies of Ravana, his son and brother -Meghnath and Kumbhakarna, are set alight. In West Bengal, puja pandals have beautifully decorated images of the goddess Durga and people gather here in large numbers to enjoy the festivities. In Gujarat, the exuberant Navaratri celebrations include dancing the lively ‘garba’ and ‘dandiya ras’ dances. In Himachal Pradesh, a week -long fair in the hill town of Kullu, is a part of the Dussehra celebrations. From the little temples in the hills, deities are brought in procession to the ‘maidan’ in Kullu, to pay homage to the reigning deity, Raghunathji. Mysore, the city of palaces in Karnataka celebrates the ten-day Dussehra in a royal style. The Mysore Palace is illuminated with a myriad lights. Majestic processions, a torch light parade and dance and musical events enliven the tranquil city.

Christmas: Christmas, the birth anniversary of Jesus Christ, is celebrated by Christians all over India with great fervor and enthusiasm. People decorate their houses; erect Christmas trees with branches hung with gifts and decorations. The people decorate the Christmas tree, hang stars and illuminate them. The celebrations starts on 24th evening with carol singing and the Santa Claus visiting houses. On the Christmas day, people enjoy a sumptuous Christmas lunch. Christmas cakes and wine are served to visitors and exchanged as gifts among friends and relatives.

Mahavir Jayanthi: It is a Jain festival celebrating the birth anniversary of lord Mahavir. The birth anniversary of the 24th and the last Tirthankara of the Jains, Vardhman Mahavir, the founder of Jainism, are celebrated by the Jain community in the month of March.  Born a prince in 599 BC, Mahavir renounced worldly life at the age of 30 and undertook austere penance until he achieved realization. He spread the message of salvation to the world and had many followers. Mahavir preached non-violence, prohibited any kind of killing and taught his followers to seek salvation through penance and abstinence. They are also advised to donate money, clothes and grain to the poor. On Mahavir Jayanthi, Jain temples are decorated with flags. In the morning the idol of Mahavira is given a ceremonial bath called the ‘abhishek’. It is then placed in a cradle and carried in a procession around the neighborhood. People meditate and offer prayers.

Ganesh (Vinayaka Chaturthi) : Ganesh or Vinayaka Chaturthi is dedicated to Lord Ganesh (son of Shiva), the elephant -headed god of all good beginnings and success. The festival celebrated as the birth day of Lord Ganesha, is a ten day long event held annually in South India especially in Maharashtra with great fervour and enthusiasm. Ganapati an important deity of the Hindus has different names and manifestations. He is the God of knowledge; wisdom and the ‘remover of Obstacles’ hence called ‘Vigneswar’. He is invoked at the beginning of every major venture.

Raksha Bandhan : Sravani is an ancient Vedic festival traditionally associated with the Brahmins on which day they change their sacred thread. Both Raksha Bandhan and Sravani are celebrated on the full moon day of the month of Shravan (August). Raksha Bandhan or Rakhi the more popular of the two festivals is a Hindu sister’s day when brothers and sisters reaffirm their bonds of affections. Sisters tie colorful threads or rakhis on their brother’s wrists. The brothers in turn promise to protect their sisters and give them gifts. If a girl who is a total stranger ties this chord on the wrist of a young man, from then onwards the two regard each other as brother and sister.

Vasant Panchami: Vasant Panchami is the ‘Spring Festival’ in North India falling on the 5th day of Phalguna. This day is specially dedicated to Saraswathi the goddess of learning, wisdom, fine arts and refinement. It is the ceremonial welcome to spring when first change in the departing winter is noticed. On this day, people colourfully attired, especially in bright shades of yellow, dance and sing and make merry. Yellow color signifies maturity and ripeness-a glow of all that is auspicious to a Hindu mindset. A grand puja is held for goddess Saraswati, the goddess of creativity who is the wife of Brahma, the source of creation. Following the pooja, the members of the household assemble on the rooftop to enjoy kite flying. Hindus all over the world celebrate this festival with great enthusiasm.

Holi: Holi, the festival of colors is the liveliest of all Hindu festivals. It is observed all over North India, which falls on the full moon day in the month of Phalgun (March). It heralds the end of the winter and the beginning of the spring and marks the rekindling of the spirit of life. It is a festival of joy when all is forgiven and it is a time to break free from the shackles of conventions. The night before full moon, crowds of people gather together and light huge bonfires to burn the residual dried leaves and twigs of the winter. People throw colored powders at each other and make merry. People, young and old are drenched with colors being poured from atop the houses, bursting balloons, or long pistons. Singing and dancing add to the gaiety of the occasion. In Mathura the small towns of ‘Braj Bhoomi (Land of Lord Sri Krishna) celebrates the joyful rasaleela of Krishna and gopis during Holi.  Especially famous is the Lathmaar Holi of Barsana and Nandgaon. In Anandpur Sahib (Punjab), Sikhs celebrate a special festival ‘Hola Mohalla’ on the day after Holi. It marks a display of ancient martial arts and mock battles.

Id-ul-Zuha (Bakrid): This is a Muslim festival of sacrifice; Id-ul-Zuha (Arabic) or Bakrid in India is celebrated all over the country. On this day Muslims sacrifice a goat to commemorate the sacrifice of Prophet Ibrahim, who willingly agreed to kill his son at the behest of God. According to Islamic belief, to test Ibrahim’s faith, Allah commanded him to sacrifice his son Ismail. He agreed to do it but found his paternal feelings hard to suppress. So he blind – folded himself before putting Ismail on the altar at the mount of Mina near Mecca. When he removed his bandage after performing the act, he saw his son standing in front of him, alive. On the altar lay a slaughtered lamb. This festival coincides with the Haj pilgrimage in Mecca. Prayers are offered in the mosques and the sacrificial meat is then distributed after the Id prayers. Special delicacies are prepared and served among family and friends on the occasion.

Ramnavami : Ramnavami, the birthday of Lord Rama, the celebrated hero of the famous epic, ‘Ramayana’, is enthusiastically celebrated all over India. Lord Vishnu is worshipped in his human incarnation as Rama, the divine ruler of Ayodhya. Celebrations begin with a prayer to the Sun early in the morning. At midday, when Lord Rama is supposed to have been born, a special prayer is performed. Temples of Rama are decorated, religious discourses are held and Ram Katha is read and the Ramayana is recited for ten days. Devotees fast, offer fruits and floral tributes to the Gods, sing devotional songs in praise of Rama and rock images of him in a cradle to celebrate his birth. Rathyatras or chariot processions of Rama, his wife Seeta, brother Lakshmana and devotee Hanuman are held from many temples.  Several devotees dressed up in ancient costumes as Rama’s soldiers accompany the chariot. People gather in thousands on the banks of the sacred river Sarayu in the temple town of Ayodhya for a dip. Ayodhya is the birthplace of Lord Rama is the focus of great celebrations. Devotees throng the temples of Ayodhya and Pondicherry, two places closely connected with the events of the Ramayana to participate in the Ramnavami festivities.

Janmashtami : The birth anniversary of Lord Krishna, the incarnation of Vishnu is celebrated with great fervour all over India especially at Mathura and Brindavan where Lord Krishna spent his childhood. Temples and homes are beautifully decorated and lit. People fast all day and eat only after the midnight birth ceremony. Nightlong prayers are offered and religious hymns are sung in temples. The priests chant holy mantras and bathe the idol with Gangajal, milk, ghee, oil, and honey pouring all these from a conch shell. Only after the ceremony is over, the devotees break their daylong fast. Scenes are enacted from Lord Krishna’s early life. In Maharashtra, earthen pots of curd and butter are hung up over the streets. Young men enacting an episode from Krishna’s childhood form human pyramids by climbing on each other’s shoulders and try to break these pots. Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, has about 400 temples dedicated to him. The main celebrations are held at the Dwarkadhish temple or Jagat Mandir, Banke Bihari, Rangaji, Shri Krishna Balram temple and Gopinath temple. Particularly, in the Dwarakashish temple, the festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm. The deity is anointed with a particular colour. A crawling image of Krishna is cradled amidst singing of bhajans and chantings of  ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’.

Guru Purnima: Guru Purnima is a special day celebrated on the full moon day to pay homage to all teachers. It dates back to the time of ‘gurukuls’ or ‘ashrams’ of ancient India where students used to get their education. The students used to worship their Gurus, seek their blessings and give ‘gurudakshina’ i.e fees or presents according to their means and capacity. Indian culture places ‘Gurus’ who impart knowledge, in par with the Gods. Gudi

Padwa or Ugadi: This festival marks the beginning of New Year in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and parts of Karnataka. This festival is known as Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra and Ugadi in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. It has become a custom to hold Kavi Sammelans (Poetry recitals) this day. Gudi Padva is considered one of the four most auspicious days in the year when people start new ventures. It is believed that Lord Brahma created the world on this day and so he is worshipped specially at this time. People prepare for the New Year by cleaning and washing their houses and buying new clothes. On the festival day they decorate their houses with mango leaves and ‘rangoli’ designs. In Maharashtra, it is reminiscent of the valiant Marathas returning home from their successful expeditions of war. They honor their favorite leader, Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. A gudi (banner) with a swastika -marked metal pot and silk cloth is raised to announce victory and joy.

Buddha Purnima: Buddha Purnima or Buddha Jayanti, the birth anniversary of lord Buddha is the most important festival of the Buddhists that is celebrated with religious  enthusiasm. This festival falls on full moon day in the month of April. It was on this same day that Buddha got enlightenment and also attained Nirvana or salvation. So, the Buddhists consider the day to be more auspicious than any other day of the year. It is also believed that Yashodara, Gautam’s wife, his charioteer Channa and even his horse Kantaka were born on the same day. On this day the followers of Buddha bathe and wear only white clothes. They gather in their Viharas for worship and give alms to monks. Prayers, sermons, and non-stop recitation of Buddhist scriptures resonate in monasteries and viharas. Bodh Gaya in Bihar and Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh are the main centers of celebration of this festival. Besides these two, areas with large Buddhist population like Ladakh, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh also celebrate this festival with great devotion and enthusiasm.

Shivratri: It is celebrated all over the country. It is observed on the 13th night of the new moon during the dark half of the month of Phalguna. This is the night, when Lord Shiva danced the ‘Tandava’-his cosmic dance. Many pilgrims flock to the places where there are Shiva temples. Devotees of Shiva observe a strict fast on this day and maintain a long vigil during the night. Some devotees do not even take a drop of water. In temples, bells ring, sacred texts are chanted and traditional offerings of leaves and milk are made to the Shiv lingam, the phallic symbol of the god. The major Shaivite temples at Varanasi, Kalahasti (Andhra Pradesh), and Chidambaram (Tamil Nadu) are noted for their special celebrations.

Muharram: This Muslim festival of mourning is observed in the first month of the Hijra year, Muharram. The festival commemorates the martyrdom of the prophet Mohammed’s grandson- Hazrat Imam Hussein.  It is celebrated with great fervor by the Muslims especially the Shia community. Hazrat Hussain was the second son of Fatimah, the prophet Muhammad’s daughter. He was brutally murdered with his whole family and followers by the wicked, Yazid, a Muslim ruler at Karbala in Mecca. This dispute was result of a disagreement among Muslims on the question of succession after the demise of Hazrat Ali, the fourth caliph. Tazias, glittering replicas of the Martyr’s tomb, are carried in procession through the streets. The Tazias of Lucknow and Hyderabad are noted  for their  splendour. The Muslims observe fasts; offer prayers recites  ‘fatihas’ in homage to the martyrs who fought bravely for preserving their faith. In places like Lucknow, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, grand scale processions are held.  People beat their chest in mourning to the tune of beating drums and chants ‘Ya Hussain’.

Durga Puja: Durga puja is performed during the nine days of Navaratri. It is celebrated all over India in the month of November with great zeal especially in the eastern part of India West Bengal. In West Bengal, it is celebrated in most households apart from the gaily-decorated puja mandaps that are erected in almost every locality. The puja pandals have beautifully decorated images of the goddess Durga and community pujas are organised. People gather here in large numbers to enjoy the festivities. Families visit each other to share feasts. In north India, it is characterized by fasts and solemnity, in western India, it is marked by gaiety and the traditional and garba dances, and in the south, pujas are offered separately for three days to each of the three goddesses, Durga, Saraswati and Lakshmi. In some parts of India, the first three of the nine days of Navratri are devoted for worshipping Durga (Goddess of valor), next three days for Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth) and the last three days for Saraswati (Goddess of Knowledge)

Navaratri : Navaratri is the longest Hindu festival celebrated all over India for nine consecutive nights in praise of Lord Rama (Hero of the Epic Ramayana) and Goddess Durga from September end to early October. Continuous chanting from the great epic ‘Ramayana’, along with evening performances from the episodes of his life are held for nine days. On the 10th day falls Vijayadashami or Dussehra. Navaratri is a combination of many concepts, with the common theme of the victory of good over evil. One concept is that Vijayadashami or Dusshera is celebrated on the day Rama kills Ravana in the Rama Ravana war. The most joyous celebration of Navaratri is seen in Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Bengal. In Gujarat, every night people gather in courtyards to dance the Garba and Dandiya Raas, a community dance in which men and women dressed in festive clothes dancing in pairs with Dandiya or painted wooden sticks.

Ramzan (Id -Ul-Fitr): Ramzan or Id -Ul-Fitr is a Musilm festival celebrated at the end of the Ramadan, the ninth lunar month of the Islamic Calendar, the day following the appearance of the new moon. The holy month of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, is very auspicious to the Muslims the world over. Ramzan means the ‘festival of breaking the fast’. It is an occasion of feasting and rejoicing. In the morning of Ramzan, people break their fast by having dates or any other fruit, dress well and gather in mosques to pray. Family get-togethers and feasts are the major highlights of the celebrations. Friends and relatives meet to exchange greetings ‘Id Mubarak’ and prayers.  The family elders, conveying their blessings, give ‘Idi’ or presents of money to the youngsters. Special delicacies are prepared, like Seviyan and ‘Shir Korma’ a dish with milk and dates.

Makara Sankranti : Makara Sankranti is celebrated in the month of Magh and is a harvest festival. It is a celebration of spring on the occasion of the ‘ascent’ of the sun to the north (Uttarayana). In Maharashtra, Karnataka as well as parts of Andhra, Makara Sankranti is a day of good will and friendship. People exchange pieces of sugar cane, molasses, and pieces of dry coconut, peanuts and fried gram as a symbol of the need to be generous and kind to everyone. In the north, during makara sankranti it is considered particularly auspicious to bathe at the confluence of the rivers Ganga and Jamuna in Allahabad, known as Prayag and also in Ganga Sagar where the Ganga river confluences with the Bay of Bengal. The festival starts with bathing in the ponds or rivers and offering water to the Sun God (Surya) and giving alms to the poor. Melas (fairs) on Makar Sankrant day are held in different places, usually near temples or water source. In many cities of the north India observe kite-flying competitions on this day near riverbanks, ponds and in big fields. In Tamil nadu, Makara Sankranti is celebrated as Pongal and in Punjab as Lohri.