(Reflections on a variety of topics, personal to religious to politics to philosophy)
Author: Dr. Venugopal Menon
Was born and raised in a loving family in pre-independent India, became a doctor, served Indian army, got married, then came over to America with wife and a daughter, established as a successful Allergist, raised a family of three children, was involved in many social establishments, retired, and wrote memoirs, 'My Mother Called Me Unni, A Doctor's Tale of Migration'.
Our past, the unaccompanied baggage appended to our conscience, often comes prowling on us uninvited and unanticipated. It stays obscure as if seen through a hazy rearview mirror; distant, indistinct, doubtful, and almost impersonal. Many years of life along with all its trimmings, meshed like a canopy of fluffy clouds, embrace us and engulf our minds with vague judgments and no clear beginning or end. The sensation is often pleasing, at times poignant but mostly ambiguous and even daunting to an extent. If we attempt to gather them, sort them, and pack them to be bequeathed and passed on to posterity is akin to getting our dreams recorded onto a reproducible device; impractical, impossible. But the urge to assemble and bestow them on to the descendants who inherit the process could be an impending sword suspended over our scruples. And often, there is no holding back; it demands to be dropped. The need seeps in as an imminent thirst that needs to be quenched. Often it feels like a certain commitment that beckons our conscience to oblige. It is arduous and grueling to condense the experiences of a long lifetime, rusted and knotted 298 from aimless storage. Yet there is an element of joy along with relief waiting to be earned if we can have it dispersed and released. And irrespective of the results, it insists to be expressed before embarking on our next step, if there is any such a step. I am not sure; but was there a beginning to this journey or was it just a continuation, perhaps with a change of role and a different setting? Happenings in life seem to be imposed on us like an allotment from the available options. Do we have any say at all in the choices or it appears to be that way, just to entice and distract us, and finally trap us in the process? Even if one is not quite comfortable with the chore, it may eventually end up as a consolation, if we make an honest attempt to do it without resistance, conscionably and honestly. In making such a statement, rather a ‘closing statement’, shall we follow certain traditional guidelines, if there are any such customary measures? Whatever options we choose, the intent shall be to remain truthful, as dictated and guided by one’s own integrity and a cultivated sense of morality. An appropriate gesture would be to take an account of what we had and what we did; what we hoped and what we gained; what we aimed and what we earned; how we gave and were given. Declare with honesty and available accuracy our passage through the different stages of life; from childhood to sunset, education through professional times, and about our performance in relationships and dealing with obligations. Make an earnest attempt to tabulate our efforts and tally them with our expectations against end results. Indulge and scan our own prospectus of life with a purpose, to reach back and pull out from the remnants that our failing memory has stacked on its shelves. The measure is all subjective as it applies just to our conscience and to let us move on with the least burden as we can. The purpose, the intent in attempting to venture into such an effort is to let the future benefit in ways which it can from the performance of the predecessors. In doing so would be to guide them to improve upon our acts and thus let them avoid repetition of mistakes that we made in our lives. Such a feat must only be presented with the ultimate benefit of the followers gaining from it, in ways similar to improving the quality of a product or the performance in a multitude of arenas. As we do it, we should not lose focus on the reality that life from one generation to the next and the circumstances to deal with shall be entirely different, yet the basic precepts remaining similar. It takes a certain attitude, a certain humility, a stance attained through living, of being comfortable with and complacent about divulging our past; a sincere and honest declaration about our nature, our ability, and especially about our limitations and blunders. Through that submission comes a revelation that establishes and reiterates the modesty that we have earned through all the years of living. That ability may be the greatest asset that we have created as we lived. It certainly 299 would be greater than all the wealth we may have amassed, than all the pleasures we may have enjoyed. The exercise may take us farther into fulfillment and may endow us with revelations that we never considered possible. It must be a process to surrender our self-esteem and exchange it for an immense realization, to free ourselves of all the inhibitions and boundaries that held us captive all along. It is the permit that may release us to soar to altitudes we are capable of ascending and enjoy the freedom that our persona could carry us. For now, we have legitimately earned that status and thus a chance to grab rapture without the fear of being judged; that judgment is for ourselves to execute, and thus the judgment being irrelevant. One might wonder and hesitate, to what benefit such an exploit should be undertaken, risking a certain image, perhaps a façade we have tried to build around all our life. It should precisely be our purpose to honorably dismantle such a robe and shed the entire load if we have been dragging that burden all along so that we earn the privilege of respite. Most of us should have a conviction, rather a confirmed assumption that to be born as a human is the most profound gift which a soul can be wrapped up with; and the most appropriate way, the most honorable way to repay that gesture is to make the best out of that donation. To live a life worthy of that magnificent bequest, to utilize the attributes of human life to its fullest, does not dawn on many of us until it is too late; or circumstances mercilessly create a mutiny to deny us of that opportunity. But to most, such a possibility is available and is absolutely possible, if we are guided correctly and are persuaded with good examples by others ahead of us. Scholars have classified the nature of human behavior as a spread of three types, each of us exhibiting a varied blend of any and all three. These are ones with goodness, balance, and harmony; another with passion, restlessness, and activity; and a third with dullness, inertia, and laziness. It is our upbringing that can significantly make an impact on instilling such traits in our behavior and it is for us to make a conscious effort to cultivate the best of these traits as we proceed in life. An ideal blueprint of the philosophy that we should aspire shall be to impart our full potential in any endeavor that we are involved in, to explicitly avoid being critical of others, and be patient and content with whoever we are and whatever we have. Our happiness and contentment are totally based on how we train our attitude towards and acceptance of others since the performance of others will be entirely beyond our control. If we have not been able to develop such a philosophy in life, it is never too late to make an attempt and cultivate the discipline to steer ourselves in that direction. It will also be a noble endeavor to positively try and impart such qualities to those who we are obliged to or are responsible for. Evaluation of how much we succeeded is simple. If we can do some introspection of our performance and do it truthfully, we can come up with some conclusive answers. Have we utilized the basic tenets of human potential to enrich our lives? Have we attempted to impart the best in us and applied it to what is expected of us and to those who counted on us? Can we justify our efforts that we have invested in our involvements to be the best that we were capable of? Are we convinced that we have paid the most we could to the ones who gave their best to us? Were we able to do justice to the gift of life endowed on us in carrying out what it was potentially capable of? If our conscience can live with the answers, then we may have done what we could as human beings. Perhaps the most legitimate yardstick to appraise the performance of life may be to reflect on the products we have created and nurtured; our children. As much as it is unfair to judge someone on something almost beyond their ability to control, as many subjective measures influence the final outcome of those creations, in reality, these are the most relevant indicators which can be applied as practical parameters. As much as one may justifiably be blamed for the blemishes in their progeny, it is appropriate to confer the compliments to the parents whose children exhibit values of merit and dignity. If I were asked to comment on the influence of my parents on my value system, I would give all the credit to them for anything and everything that are venerable in me, while I would blame a host of other factors responsible for all the negatives in my personal. It should be comforting to view the brightness as we glance back over our shoulders from the shadows that have consumed us; a distant past almost setting beyond our reaches, yet soothing and consoling to our senses. The times that linger in our memory when the abundance of love showered upon us and prompted us to be special! The sense of being singular inspired us with the motivation to excel, to exceed the expectations of the loved ones, that certain commitment propelling us to reach beyond the abilities we had. Looking back, we feel convinced that how one is brought up, how much confidence and love they were fortunate to have, the expectation they felt growing up, and the inspiration that was imparted in them are what decide how that someone is eventually going to grow up. The pride, the value system, the commitment, and the compassion as they grow up are planted as little seeds into their tiny psyche at a very early age. That element may be the essential impetus that protects them, the drive that propels them to stay focused all their life. On the contrary, the struggles of childhood, the strained relationships with parents and others, lacking friendship, murky environment, and all the negatives that imposed on us can suffocate and strangle our incentives. This may be the time to unravel our past and make an assessment as to how such influence played in our lives; and consequently and distinctly more importantly, how we could help our followers benefit from our input. If we are able to phase out and vanish into our next with just one deed of goodness, just one act of righteousness, it would be to contribute the experiences of our life to the advantage of the future. If the lessons that we learned can benefit the ones who follow, it will be meaningful, momentous, and worthy of all our efforts, submissions, and sacrifice. (December 2008)
Sunrise from our living room is stunningly serene when the settings are precise, as the golden glow of dawn designs a silhouette behind the temple’s majestic tower, and its landscape is reflected in the still waters of our pastoral pond. My prevalent mood often persuades me to ponder over the solar star’s set journey for the day, equating a parallel with my own eight decades of expedition in life. The early rays of the baby sun offering assurance, changing to an imposing dominance of the scorching noon, as he gets mellowed into a soothing angle in the evening, and finally fading in a faint dissolution, align very much with the style and substance of my mundane modus called living. As my mind meanders through my life’s passage, from childhood to its present waning strides, a certain consoling calm embraces me offering solace and a sense of pacifying dignity. Glancing back into the long stretch of life that I have traveled, its terrains and fluctuating climates, its varied rides, and the experience that I have amassed through the sheer process of living linger as vague, vast, and illusory, and yet reassuringly rewarding anecdotes. Taking periodic stock of life is essential for re-evaluation and revision. In hindsight, such earlier assessments should have been elemental, at least in my case, that could have adjusted my course, while keeping in mind that after all, life may be ‘pre-destined’. Identifying the ‘real self, of what we are and who we are, as well as accepting the reality with security and confidence, is fundamental to contentment. Attempting to create a false façade to project an image that doesn’t belong to us could be a burden to maintain while acting out without restraints is equally insensitive at the opposite extreme. To accomplish a balance of finding self-assurance and amicable alignment with others, is the essence of establishing a ‘harmonious ideal of living’. And while it is my understanding of what meditation can offer us, such a state of mind can easily be attainable through periodic contemplation and deliberation, by reaching into and taming our inner self. I am fortunate to have a loving family, delightful friends and a contented life all along. Retiring after forty years of comfortable medical practice, I continue to be active in a variety of involvements and maintaining decent physical and cerebral health. I am eternally grateful to the generosity of that Higher Authority for being merciful, and blessing me with such a life. Basically, I am an optimist, preferring to dream on happy narratives. But what lies ahead is reality, obscure yet assured. If the mind is tempted to drag us in the direction of premonition, it would be harmful and futile. It is best not to take the ride of ‘how long is the stay, how hard is the journey, and what mode would be the exit’! But most concerningly, how much would I entangle others in the process? I try to be rationally disciplined with food, exercise, avoiding excesses, and adhering to my physicians’ advices, staying engaged within my convenient reach. But our information has limitations, our control has constraints, and the future is an instinctively unfamiliar conjecture. Beyond all our observation and adherence to known disciplines, there are missing links, several of which remain outside our comprehension, even imagination. As science is constantly expanding with new evidence, correcting the old ones, we need to remain humble ‘to know’, that ‘we don’t know it all’. As we lose our dear ones, acquaintances and contemporaries who enjoyed ‘perfect health’ due to reasons beyond reasoning, the hypothesis of the ‘missing link element’ gets more convincing and credible as we age. It is hard to be prepared for how others accept us or approach our old age; how seniors are acknowledged is up to the attitude of those they deal with. Our image may stretch from a ‘decent and respectable elder’ to that ‘grouchy, grubby goat’. It all depends up to an extent on how we behave with others. Practicing patience, acceptance, adjustment, accommodation and appreciation could go a long way as against expectation, assertion, compulsion, objection, or aggression. But once senility sets in, brain cells have plans of their own, and to many, that may be an opportunity to be who they really are. Memories of childhood have remained the best treasures in my vault of perceptual possessions. Those savings shine brighter when the rest of me is declining and come to my salvage, as and when I get distraught or disillusioned. There are also sporadic guilt-trips that interrupt my strands of peace, scraping my conscience with bouts of ‘I shouldn’t haves’, ‘I could haves’ and ‘why did I’s’, creating hiccups in an otherwise tranquil setting. But with concerted effort and introspection, one could and must settle such conflicts applying our set codes of morality, resolving issues paying a penance, engaging with those we may have harmed or finding ways of clemency exercising our own conscience as mediators. Old age depletes us of our authority, almost at every level, in every sphere which matters. To minimize the trauma that is bound to follow, adapt to acquire traits that may help – such as being docile, humble, grateful, contented, and calm. Attempt practicing ‘like and love’ without conditions. Humility is not a weakness of submission, but an undeniable strength of assurance. And in old age, humility shall shelter us from humiliation. I am not sure if anyone benefits from listening to another’s life. But if I were to leave just one advice as an old man who has lived a long life, it is – “Refresh your mind from all undesirable attentions, about people, past or the uncertain future; keep a smile deep in your heart of all the good things that came your way”.
Musings of an octogenarian, a Kerala Hindu migrant.
Sunrise from our living room is stunningly serene when the settings are precise, as the golden glow of dawn designs a silhouette behind Sri Meenakshi Temple’s majestic tower, and the landscape is reflected in the still waters of our pastoral pond. Brooding over the solar star’s set journey for the day, I am often tempted to equate it with my own eight decades of expedition in life; his early rays offering assurance, changing to an imposing dominance of the youthful noon, as he gets mellowed into a soothing angle in the evening, and finally fading in a tranquil dissolution, aligning very much with the style and substance of my mundane modus of living. Often I am tempted to contemplate offering gratitude to that Higher Power, the ‘whomever it may concern’, for allowing me the privilege of being here, with the utilization of time, space and resources on this planet.
If we follow Sanatana Dharma, a human life is the highest in creation with its Karma- guided discriminatory faculties, rationality, and moral conscience. We need to be humbled by being its recipients and such awareness must obligate us to maximize our presence in return of that favor. And the least of that reciprocation is an attempt to live within the edicts of a Dharmic life.
We, the Hindus of Kerala are a uniquely blessed, endowed group of occupants of this planet, being awarded the exclusivity of an enviable blend of superlative distinctions that are nobler beyond our creative conjectures. The ultimate of His creations, the human life; in the land of virtuosity, the Bharat Bhoomi; born as a Hindu, delegated with its profound principles; in God’s own country, Kerala, the serenely stunning sliver of green paradise. We are inimitable. Failing to savor that reality and not be exalted by its excellence, would be our misfortune.
Shifting our attention to a rather unsettling scenario, those of us who chose to leave, often carry a ‘burden’, regardless of how we choose to regard it, that we abandoned our pristine home to an entirely different nation, leaving our ‘mother’ and favoring to latch on to someone else’s. Irrespective of the reasons, and irrelevant to what we gained, we walked away from centuries-old habitat and habits of our ancestors with its traditions, customs and everything pristine that belonged to it. The more I ponder over it, there is remnant guilt still nagging my conscience. Even the setting Texas sun seems to chide me, as he exits for his next dawn on the other side, the side I abandoned.
When I left India half a century ago, I was young, immature, ignorant, and just ambitious. And, I had a bundle of responsibilities. There was also a certain arrogance of youthful optimism, with an amalgam of assurance and anxiety offering an erroneous backdrop. The only target was professional success, motivated by hope and need, along with a willingness to handle and overcome all the oncoming challenges. The demands of the new home were overwhelming; getting adapted to the new ways of listening, speaking, moving, dressing, eating, behaving and learning every bit to survive. Before the internet days, the world was vast, distant, its habits diverse, its ways quite unfamiliar. Life had only room to adjust, not even to appraise. But we did; not just adapted, but competed, succeeded, slowly excelled and assuredly established.
It took a while to feel settled, comfortable and in control, before the dire realization dawned on me, as to many of us. An apprehension beyond the physical, economic and emotional comforts was a vacuum that needed to be responded to and replenished. The missing element was an intimate part of our identity, that was as imperative as our shadows. Our religious exclusivity. It is what had given us the personality, an authority, and the essentially vital correlation between self and everything else that it related to. It bestows on us the spatial, social, functional, and philosophic perspectives setting us apart from the rest and endorsing the uniqueness that is distinctive of our innate self. And when many of us collectively feel such commonalities, it generates group identity and similarity in belonging; and yes, a shared longing that is aligned with it.
With that uniqueness, our obligations as immigrants were felt as two-fold; to follow the precepts of our faith and habits of our heritage, as well as excel in our allocated professions and blend with the social requirements at our new domicile. Looking back, we excelled on both counts, perhaps just because of our insightful upbringing. We were reared and nurtured instilling certain distinct values and ethical principles. It is a comforting thought, a glaring, proud revelation.
We, the Pravasi Hindus felt our religious needs from the moment we established our base here. Hailing from different parts of India, we got connected, discussed, explored, founded and expanded. Gradually from poojas and prayers done at homes and community gatherings, we organized functional groups, educating our youth, celebrating our fond events, moving on to building temples, supportive establishments, and expanding our manifold activities. We have connected with similar groups between cities, states and nationally, we have created entities to protect and preserve our essential interests, we have succeeded in establishing Hindu faith as the fourth largest religious group in the USA, and we have been enormously involved in supporting the Hindu causes back in India. The prodigious and laudable role that KHNA has been undertaking, is common knowledge. Much more is required on an ongoing basis and hopefully the rising demands are being handled efficiently.
On a parallel with our achievements in our adopted land, an alarmingly dismal scenario has been gradually, yet steadily engulfing our mother land, in Kerala. Hinduism in the Communist state, as a practicing faith has been facing assault from every imaginable angle, that it is plummeting towards the fate of Kashmir in the imminent future. Reports are pouring in as the Hindu count is steadily dipping in the census, our economic, political, cultural, emotional and every existential aspect of clout, fading fast. We seem to blame others for all our ills, pointing fingers on everything else but missing the real reason, our own abject apathy. The whole onus falls on us and our lack of pride, of ownership, the fundamental passion required to protect and preserve our profound faith and everything else that are very elemental to our heritage. Perhaps we have given up hope and are awaiting the impending doom, being evasive, indifferent or even accepting. I am sure KHNA is aware of it. Let us not brush it aside as just another Aesop’s fables. Each and every Hindu anywhere in the world has a huge stake in it, and it is imperative that we take all the measures, to reverse our vanishing presence in Kerala. As much as we have excelled in our own personal way or are thriving as a flourishing community in a faraway land, if our fundamentals are eroded back in our homeland where our ancestors protected our precious faith, we remain a failed group. I am looking forward to some productive discussions about the subject during our conference, that would establish concrete measures to help reverse the debacle and reestablish what our grandparents had proudly bequeathed us. Let me attempt to end with a positive note. Immersed in my reveries, I couldn’t imagine if it’s the same America of the cowboys that I arrived half a century ago, celebrating the Kerala Global Hindu extravaganza with all its nostalgic trimmings of Thalappoli, Chendamelam, Mohiniyattam and the like! Did Parasurama reappear with his second reclamation, raising our favorite green slice of God’s own country in the American savanna? Or KHNA really managed to accomplish such a feat by some hypnotic reverse osmosis? It feels like magic, or even a boon granted due my ardent penance. But the transformation that has happened here, bridging the gaps between continents and cultures, attitudes and acceptance, is way beyond my wildest dreams when I landed here in the sixties. And for now, I can relax with a sigh of relief and a smile of reprieve – yes, we have managed to put our acts together.
Human life is a mercy gift through the generosity of the Creator. Yet the ungrateful and arrogant recipients often flaunt it as they are the exclusive authorities. And from time to time, they get teased, tested, and eventually taught a lesson by the Originator. The ongoing tirade using a minuscule microbe, is one of such naughty taunts, to alert, and to adjust.
In eight decades of my life, there has never been an entity that has engaged the attention of human beings as much as the Pandemic Covid-19. The global depression of the thirties, WW II and other wars, Hiroshima bombing, India’s Independence, 9/11, epidemics and tsunamis – the list is endless, but the ongoing escapades by the Corona Ribo Nucleic Acid have overwhelmingly incarcerated life on every imaginable facet.
There is a story from the archives of Treta-Yuga in the verses of Yoga-Vasishta, the philosophical discourse of Sage Vasishta to Prince Rama, distraught by human suffering and disdain for the world.
It is the narrative of demoness Karkati, a Rakshasi who lived in the northern slopes of Himalayas. ‘Vulcan-eyed, collyrium dark’, mountain-sized Karkati had a ravenous appetite and set out to consume all the people to quench her hunger. But as she realized that they are protected by the gods, she performed severe penance to Lord Brahma, who appeared before her. She expressed her desire to transform into a ‘Jeeva-suchika’, a living needle, that can pierce the bodies of people and consume them. Brahma granted her the wish and she was transformed into VishUcikA and penetrated her victims, subjecting them to terrible pain and diseases of the heart, lungs, and other organs. She even entered virtuous people and harming them regardless, and rejoicing in their sorrows, cruelty being her true nature. She was still restless, hungry for more, and started her penance again. Brahma was not happy and admonished her, warning her not to attack the righteous ones, and inflict only the wicked and sinful. She was instructed that in case of entry into Saguna (good) people, to rescue them chanting the following Mantra. If the story of Karkati aligns with that of Covid-19, ‘devout chanting’ of the Mantra, in conjunction with any medicinal treatment may be beneficial.
“Oh Vishnu Sakti, prostrations to you; please come here, take her, take her (Visoochika); burn her, burn her; kill her, kill her; cook her, cook her; churn her, churn her; destroy her, destroy her; drive her, drive her; Oh Visoochika, go away to the Himalayas; or to the sphere of the moon”. The microbe Covid has mercilessly encroached on humanity, entangling every facet of life like a jagged pretzel, with normalcy being postponed as a mirage in the mist. Globally, over 200 million have been infected, with the death toll reaching the 5 million mark as new strains are finding fresh masses as victims. Though vaccinations offer the only hope to contain the pandemic, fear, superstitions, anti-propaganda, lack of funds, politics, stupidity and a myriad of factors keep herd immunity, an unattainable goal.
Scientists worldwide are reporting new discoveries, opposing theories and conflicting guidance confusing the populace, as hospitals fill up, healthcare straining to their seams and families keep losing dear ones. Politicians dabble with own agendas, even capitalizing from its fall-outs, businesses folding or reaping, people losing jobs and possessions, disrupted schooling playing havoc with young minds, and every social fabric falling prey to the pandemic.
Perhaps the sane way to comprehend the cataclysm is through a philosophical approach. If one can conceptualize the entire existence as a balancing act, with its multitude of components having to align, and with an imaginary manager manipulating its equilibrium, the faraway galaxies to the tiniest bit in a living cell would have to be disciplined to behave. From the implosion of the black holes to the invasion by an RNA, from asteroids to eclipses, from quarks to tachyons, or from nucleolus to mitochondria, all would be austerely dictated by that authority and adjusted to disruptions, irrespective of how they happen. Ironically, the highest of His creations, the intelligent human species, are the culprits responsible for assaulting our planet earth, the most. The furies of nature like hurricanes, floods, forest fires or microbic invasions are all but tools of adjustments that bring balance, until He decides to dismantle and recreate.
That Highest Authority is the indomitable Entity that is in control of it all. For ones who believe in that Entity, there is peace, and comfort. And the contentment comes from a conviction that a speck of that Entity resides within each of us; the individual being part of that Absolute.
“The British historian Michael Woods, in the introduction to his BBC special, “Story of India”, described India this way: “India is the oldest, the most colorful and the most influential civilization in the world”. It is also probably the most multi-racial, multi-cultural, multilingual, and multi-religious country in the world. It is thus not surprising that many a colorful festival also sprang up in India. In this essay, the author Dr.Venugopal Menon has tried to group the festivals according to their importance to the various religious groups, as well as those celebrations that are of particular importance to the states and regions of India. We have provided an interactive map of India, with the intent of taking a visitor through a virtual tour of India to experience the various festivals of the different regions and states. Just come with us by clicking on a state and enjoy learning about India’s colorful festivals! We, the editorial staff of indiancentury.com truly appreciate the Herculean efforts of Dr.Venugopal in constructing this pearl for our website ”
Considering the enormity of the information of relevance to this manuscript, it is felt prudent to first consider the more significant and popular festivals that are celebrated by many parts of the country throughout the year, some being regional to selected states or religious denominations and others justifying national appeal and observance.
Perhaps the most major festival of all, Deepavali, the Festival of Lights (deepam=lamp or light), Diwali, as it is popularly called, is celebrated during Karthik falling during October or November, after the conclusion of the harvest, during new moon that is deemed the darkest night in Hindu calendar. It is one festival that is observed throughout India, each state having its significance and patterns of festivities. As one could expect, in the various regions of the country, there are many legends relating to Divali.
The overall symbolic significance of Diwali is the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil. It is one celebration and affection, of family gatherings, exchange of gifts, of joy and merriment.
Regional traditions relate Diwali to Goddess Lakshmi, Lord Rama, Vishnu, Kali, Durga, Ganesha, Hanuman, and other deities, based on legends and local beliefs. In preparation for the festivities, there would be renovations, cleaning, decorations, observed equally by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and some Buddhists, but essentially it is one of an overall sense of goodness, camaraderie, and affection.
In Eastern India, people keep their doors open with lighted lamps, welcoming Goddess Lakshmi into their homes. In Bengal, it is overnight Kali puja, with a grand celebration at Kalighat and Dakshineshwar temple in Kolkata, while in Odisha, people worship the ancestors, burning jute sticks, seeking their blessings.
In Western India, Diwali is a grand event, with a display of Diyas, lamps, and firecrackers. In Maharashtra, the festivities span for 4-5 days, with traditional treats of food ‘Faral’, a wide array of snacks prepared at home being offered to guests, neighbors, and even strangers. In Gujarat, Dhanteras or Diyas are lit in honor of Lakshmi and Dhanvantari, and buying gold and silver is considered auspicious during the time. In Northern India, people observe Diwali as the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya, after his exile for fourteen years and killing the demon Ravana. Welcoming Rama, Sita, and brother Lakshmana, people light lamps in every household. In the state of Punjab, the Sikhs celebrate at their Gurudwaras, while the Hindus worship Goddess Lakshmi. In Uttar Pradesh, celebrations take place on the banks of the holy river Ganga, floating lighted earthen lamps on the water, while the priests chant prayers. In Southern India, it is celebrated as ‘Naraka Chaturdasi’, the victory of Sri Krishna over demon Narakasura. People bathe in oil, eat sweets and display lamps, and visit the temples. In Karnataka, the event often lasts two days, as Krishna Chaturdasi and Bali Padyami, reciting stories of King Bali. In Tamil Nadu, people wake up early, take oil baths infused with betel leaves, and fragrant pepper, and consume Deepavali Lehyam before they feast. In Andhra, people chant prayers and seek blessings from Satyabhama, and celebrate with family gatherings.
(The extensive, epigraphic, historic, astrological, and religious details of Diwali are beyond the scope of this article)
Holi: (End of February to early March)
A national ceremonial event, perhaps as popular as Diwali, is Holi, the Festival of Colors, also known as the Festival of Love, and the Festival of Spring. In contrast to Diwali, Holi falls on a full moon day in the month of Phalgun, towards the end of February to the beginning of March, as the winter gives way to spring and the harvest season. Holi is a cheerful and euphoric celebration, an exuberant ritual when people smear and drench each other with bright colors, promoting harmony between different groups and social classes, in an expression of unity and fellowship. Traditionally, the colors are washable, plant-derived products, but lately commercial pigments have been used. There is a joyous and festive atmosphere of meeting one another, of blossoming love, of play and laugh, ‘forget and forgive’, and repairing broken relationships.
Holi has Hindu mythological mentions as a celebration of the victory of Lord Vishnu over demon Hiranyakashipu, who had gained boon that no human or animal can kill him, during day or night, inside or outside of any building. His pious son Prahalad, a devotee of Vishnu challenged his father, who threatened to kill him, when God Vishnu incarnated as Narasimha, a human-lion form from inside a metallic pillar, during the twilight hours between day and night and killed the demon on the steps of the entryway, quelling his boon. In some parts, Holi is also a symbolic observance of the eternal, divine love of Krishna and Radha, the celestial couple. Another legend is about Shiva burning into ashes the god of love Kāma.
Originating in India, the event has spread beyond its borders with religious connotations, to many countries around the world, and is enjoyed as a colorful and gleeful version along with the sentiments of western Valentine’s Day. It is even mentioned during the Mughal times and was participated in by all castes, throwing the colors at the Emperor. Holi is also very popular with Sikhs, Jains, and some Buddhists. Anyone and everyone, friends and strangers, man, woman or child, rich and poor, engage in frolic and fun, singing, laughing, dancing on the streets and parks, sharing delicacies, food, and drinks.
As vast and varied a country that India is, with its diverse spread of cultural characteristics, Holi also assumes different regional styles, but with the ‘commonality of colors’. In Assam, it is Phakuwa or Doul Jatra, with burning clay huts and singing devotional bhajans of Lord Krishna. In Bihar, they light bonfires, the eldest member taking the initiative. In Goa, it is called Ukkuli in Konkani; in Gujarat, the two-day festival has people offering coconut and corn to the fire, and the color-sprinkling termed ‘Dhuleti’; in Karnataka, children collect wood prior to the day and burn it on ‘Kamadahana’ night; in Maharashtra, it is ‘Shimga’, lasting almost a week, burning fire, eating the delicacy of Puran Boli, symbolically eliminating the evil; in Manipur Holi merges with the festival of ‘Yaosang’, with folk dance wearing white and yellow turbans, and culminating in cultural activities at the Krishna temple; in Odisha, it is ‘Dola’, where icons of ‘Jagannath’ replace Krishna and Radha; in Punjab, the eight days preceding Holi are known as ‘Luhatak’, the Lubana community heaping cow dung cakes and burning fire; in Telengana Holi is called ‘Kama Purnima’ and other names, the festival lasting for up to ten days; while Uttar Pradesh, a rather conservative state, celebrates it on a major scale with youth mingling freely with colors, food, dancing around bonfires, even using Bhang (cannabis) in Laddoos adding to the revelry.
Holi was described by some foreigner as if a massive color palette fell on earth from the hand of the Almighty, the atmosphere is painted with red, pink, yellow, blue, and green, and people soaked in colored water, running around, laughing loudly, shouting, and throwing mud on each other. It is a war where a water gun is your weapon, colored water is your bullet, and colored powder is your smokescreen. If you are a foreigner, locals tell you not to go out on this day. If you are unable to control your curiosity, they will have no mercy on you.
Navaratri, Durga Pooja, Dussehra:
Perhaps no other country in the world can claim the distinction of an adjective, ‘Differences are our Similarity’, like India. As much as we have an assortment of diverse terrains, climates, languages, religions, cultures, and customs, they are like pearls on a necklace, distinct yet connected, savoring similar sentiments through adapted sensations.
The different manifestations of Goddess have symbolic representations of their functionality, the masculine aspect representing the matter, and the feminine aspect the energy. Saraswathi is considered the consort of Brahma, Lakshmi of Vishnu, and Parvathi that of Shiva, each complimenting their roles, wisdom and knowledge with creation, wealth with protection and preservation, and energy with creative destruction, respectively. The Goddess is Durga for her followers.
The nine-day festival of Navaratri is celebrating and honoring goddess Saraswathi in most parts of the country, while in some others, it is the triumph of Rama and his ardent monkey devotee Hanuman over Ravana, as eastern India observes it as the victory of Durga over demon Mahishasura. The nine representations of the goddess are described as Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kaalratri, Mahagauri, and Siddhidhatri. The festival is celebrated in the bright half of the Hindu calendar month Ashvin, which typically falls in the Gregorian months of September and October.
Dussehra is another version of the same festival in the Kulu valley of Himachal Pradesh, Mysore in Karnataka, Kota in Rajasthan, Bastar in Chhatisgarh, and Almora in Uttarkhand.
The devotees who follow Goddess Saraswathi dedicate the nine days for learning, for re-energizing the knowledge, for initiating children to education at her ‘Sannidhi’ (altar) on the ninth day. The eighth day is Durgashtami, praying to Durga, the ninth is Mahanavami and the tenth day is Vijaya Dashami, also Dussehra for those who observe it.
Those who follow the tradition of Saraswathi Pooja, ask the children to submit their books and learning materials in the prayer room in front of Saraswathi, Goddess of knowledge, for the last three days and be engaged in prayers to her than studying (children love these days) and get Her blessings on the tenth day, rejuvenating their prowess for another year. For the students of arts or music or dance, this is also the time for re-initiating and emphasizing their commitment to the respective art forms. Coincidentally for the warrior class engaged in martial arts or weaponry, Navaratri is the time for Ayudha pooja, sanctifying their ‘weapons’.
Extensive music performances and dance recitals are conducted throughout the nine days, usually in the temple premises, as teachers bring in their students and engage in offering their talents to get divine blessings for the artists.
Dussehra or Vijayadashami signifies the victory of good over evil, Rama over Ravana or Durga over Mahishasura. In some places, huge effigies of the demon Ravana are burned, parades are organized and various folk-arts are performed.
And as with any festival, there is feasting following the poojas, with various customs and varieties of foods are prepared in different parts of the country.
A fascinating and proud reality of the ancient Indian tradition is the nation’s culture of assigning a Goddess in charge of education, of learning, of expertise, of scholarship, of arts whether it is fine arts or martial arts, and fundamental philosophy of establishing knowledge as a priority, as the foundation of a people, of a culture. UNESCO has inscribed this Hindu tradition of festive performance arts as one of the “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” in 2008.
Ganesh Chathurthi (Ganesh Festival):
Most of the festivals of India can be traced to its ancient civilization and linkage to its Hindu traditions, except for the few specific ones that are observed by the other faiths. Essentially being a tolerant society, almost all the traditional festivals are mutually shared by people of other faiths, and celebrated as social events, except for their intimate religious observations.
Ganesh or Vinayaka Chathurthi is an auspicious, popular festival, celebrating the birth of the beloved elephant-headed god, Lord Ganesha. Some people consider the event as the arrival of Lord Ganesha to earth from Kailash, the abode of God Siva and Parvathi, the parents of Ganesha. It is believed that praying to Ganesha enables the devotees to fulfil their wishes and as a penance setting them free of sins, and leading them on the path to knowledge and wisdom. The celebration is for ten days, in the Bhadra month of the Hindu calendar, that falls during August-September. Ganesha is considered the God of knowledge, wisdom, sciences, and prosperity. And almost every Hindu function commences with prayers to Lord Ganesha for His benevolence in blessing the event, removing any obstacles, preventing mishaps, and allowing successful completion. Hindus all over the world celebrate Ganesh Chathurthi, but it is most popular in Maharashtra, along with Goa, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Gujarat, and Tamil Nadu.
Historically, the festival is believed to be initiated during the time of king Shivaji in the 17th century, but Shri Bal Gangadhar Tilak, popularly known as Lokmanya Tilak from Pune in Maharashtra, changed it from a private celebration to a grand public event in 1893. This was during India’s freedom struggle with the British, when people from all sections of the society and castes came together, championing it as a means to circumvent the colonial British government’s ban on Hindu gatherings in 1892.
Clay idols of different poses and sizes of Ganesha are made and installed in ‘pandals’ at home, temples, or specially created venues, decorated with flower garlands and illuminations. Participants are engaged in chanting Vedic hymns and prayers, reading texts, fasting, and offering prasad (God’s food). Ganesha’s favorite item is Modakam, made with rice flour, jaggery, coconut, ghee, and some condiments, while several other delicacies like Pooran Boli and Karanji are prepared for friends and relatives.
On the tenth and final day, the idol is carried in a public procession, with joyous celebration, music, group chanting, and dancing, to a nearby river or lake or sea and the idol is immersed in the water, in the ceremony if ‘Visarjan’. Symbolically it signifies the cycle of birth and death and epitomizes the reality that nothing is permanent, reverting to the elements. The ocean or body of water represents the infinite (God), and the idol is seeking salvation, thus conveying the Hindu concept of the immortal soul leaving the mortal body to surrender and blend with the Absolute.
Another extensively observed event covering many states of India is the celebration of the birth of Lord Krishna, perhaps the most favorite of Hindu Gods. He was born on the star Ashtami (the eighth day) of the dark fortnight of the month of Bhadrapada (August-September), and hence in some areas, it is Ashtami Rohini, while Sri Krishna being raised in the place Gokulam, the name Gokulashtami has also been used.
The legend of Sri Krishna, as the ‘Avatar’ or incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is perhaps the most acclaimed by the Hindus, especially the ones following the Vaishnava tradition. The circumstances of his birth, his interesting childhood escapades, the miracles surrounding his life, his role in the epic Mahabharatha, and eventually his spiritual discourse guiding the completely bewildered Arjuna, the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ (song of God) convey many aspects of the essence of Hindu philosophy. Sri Krishna’s arrival was to free the earth from despair from tyranny and evil happenings. His tyrant uncle Kamsa held his parents caged and was killing all their newborn babies since the prophecy had predicted his death by his nephew. As the divine baby was born, his father was miraculously allowed to shift the baby to the nearby village of Gokulam. That divine birth is what is being celebrated as Janmashtami.
Lord Krishna is revered for his love, compassion, playfulness, and wisdom and his exhortations on how to live based on dutiful principles. The flute-playing, cowherd God is associated with arts, music, and dance. The essence of his teaching to Arjuna through the most revered text of Hinduism, the ‘Bhagavad Gita’, is to fulfil one’s duty, upholding moral righteousness, concentrating on it as an ethical commitment to God and not on its fruits. The philosophical tenets of Bhagavad Gita, profoundly dictate elaborate guidance on every aspect of virtuous living with integrity and goodness, with the ultimate objective of upholding ‘Dharma’.
The main festival is celebrated in Mathura, where Krishna was born, and in Vrindavan where he grew up, as Hindus all over the world participate in huge celebrations, reliving and rejoicing Krishna’s birth. As in every Hindu religious observation, there is fasting, singing praying together, doing poojas, and dancing to bhajans in praise of God. The festivities are continued through the night, as Krishna was born at midnight, and celebrations follow through the next day. Major Krishna temples organize recitation of ‘Bhagavatha Purana’ and ‘Bhagavad Gita’, and dance dramas or Rasa Leela, especially popular in the Northern states of India, like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Manipur, and Assam, even though the event is very popular all over India. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) celebrates the event on a grand scale all over the world where they have units.
Parents dress up children as Krishna and Gopis, ad let them participate in singing and dancing and playing scenes from Krishna’s childhood. Dahi Handi festival is one such that involves hanging an earthen pot filled with dahi (yogurt) or any milk-based delicacy, favorites of Krishna, at a convenient height slightly beyond reach, and teams of boys and girls compete to break the pot and drink the contents. Stealing butter from neighboring homes was Krishna’s favorite frolic, which earned him a pet name, ‘butter thief’, ‘Makhan-chor’ or translated in the local languages of the various states.
(February/March) Mahasivaratri is in honor of God Siva, as Janmashtami is for Krishna. The day is of most significance to those following Shaivism tradition. According to Sadguru, it is a significant annual event especially for people on a spiritual pursuit. To those who are in family situations, it is the anniversary of Siva and Parvathy’s wedding, and for those with worldly ambitions, it is one to pray for fulfilling their such desires. For the ascetics, it is a day to be like Mount Kailash, to become still and stoic. In the yogic traditions, Lord Shiva is not worshipped as a God, but the primordial Guru, from where the wisdom of yoga originated. After many millennia of meditation, one day he became still, all the movements came to a stop, and the night of that enormous stillness became Mahasivaratri.
But legends apart, in the yogic traditions, Sivaratri offers possibilities to the spiritual seeker. Modern science has come to an understanding that all we know as life, as matter and existence, like cosmos and galaxies, are all manifestations of one energy. This is the same experiential reality of a realized yogi. It is believed that Mahasivaratri is the one night that offers a person the experience of that reality.
Shivaratri is the darkest day of every month, and celebrating Mahasivaratri is ‘celebrating darkness’. The word ‘Shiva’ means ‘that which is not, but ‘that which is, being existence and creation. Based on one’s vision, one may see the little things of creation or may experience the vast emptiness as the biggest presence of existence. The reality that the millions of galaxies are just a speck in comparison to the unbounded emptiness, the enormous vastness that is being referred to as ‘Siva’ or ‘Shiva’, the ‘Mahadeva.’ HE is the omnipresent, all-pervading, darkness or emptiness, the nothingness, the Absolute Reality.
Mahasivaratri, literally meaning ‘the great night of Shiva’, falls on the lunar month’s 13th night/14th day of Krishna Paksha, during February/March. It is observed by fasting, praying to Lord Shiva, chanting mantras, meditating on ethics and virtues, engaging in charities, and offering forgiveness. Most devotees visit temples and participate in offering ‘abhishekam’ by pouring sanctified water or milk on the Shiva Lingam, and some continue praying and singing through the night, chanting ‘Om Namah Shivaya’, or reciting Rudram or Shiva Chalisa. According to Shaivism legends, this is the night Lord Shiva performs the Cosmic dance of creation, preservation, and destruction.
Mahasivaratri is celebrated on a huge scale in Tamil Nadu, Varanasi in UP, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Kashmir, Kerala, Central India, Punjab West Bengal, Odisha, and throughout other parts of the country. In Nepal, it is widely celebrated in temples, especially in the Pasupathinath temple. They celebrate Mahasivaratri as the Nepali Army Day, amid a spectacular ceremony held at the Army Pavilion, Tundikhel, and declare it as a national holiday. The Hindus in Pakistan, celebrate it as a three-day festival in their Umarkot Shiva temple, attended by about 250,000 people and the expenses borne by the Pakistan Hindu Panchayat.
Also need to mention about ‘Pradosha’, a bimonthly occasion on the 13th day of every fortnight, worshipping Lord Shiva with Abhishekam and Naivedyam, devotees wearing Rudraksha and observing ‘vrata’ or fasting.
All said about Mahasivaratri, whether it is a ‘festival’ by definition or purely a religious event, is for the enquirers to decide.
Ram Navami is the day when Sri Rama, the seventh Avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu was born. The day is celebrated extensively in most places of India and abroad, by people who are devotees of Sri Rama. He was the son of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya and his queen Kausalya, born on Navami, the ninth day of the lunar cycle, in the month of Chaitra, (March – April) during Thretha Yuga, as per the Hindu calculations, perhaps ten thousand years ago by Georgian calendars. The legend of Ramayana is one of the most celebrated epic stories of Sri Rama’s life, narrated by the sage Valmiki, along with Sri Krishna’s life as depicted in the other epic Mahabharatha, by sage Vyasa, both texts belonging to the Smriti lines of Hindu scriptures.
As every Avatar is believed to happen when there is a moral decline in the universe, and the Almighty sends His agents to correct the decadence and re-establish righteousness and virtues on earth, the story of Sri Rama is praised and revered as a model of perfect human living. The main objective of Rama’s life was to kill the demon king Ravana of Sri Lanka. Sri Rama was sent on exile to the forest for fourteen years accompanied by his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana, from where Ravana in disguise, abducts Sita, and Rama with the help of the monkey army and its leader Hanuman defeats and kills Ravana and returns to Ayodhya where he rules for several years.
Like Janmashtami, Sri Rama Navami is also observed by praying to God, arranging several kinds of festivities in the temples and homes, celebrating His life, reading Ramayana and enacting his stories, singing compositions of poet Thyagaraja and Bhadrachala Ramdas praising Sri Rama, feasting and being engaged in charitable offerings. The major celebrations are in his birthplace Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, which is declared as Ram Janmabhumi, a most revered place for Hindus. For political reference, this is the disputed place where the Muslims had erected their mosque Babri Masjid after demolishing the old temple, and recently the Supreme Court ordered the land to be given back to build a Hindu temple.
In Karnataka, Ramanavami is celebrated all over by distributing free food and panaka (a drink of Jaggery and melon), organizing classical music festivals. In the eastern states of Odisha, West Bengal, and Jharkhand, the Jagannath temples celebrate the event, especially by the Vaishnava communities. Similar festivities are conducted in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, and Indian descendants in various countries like South Africa, Caribbean Islands, and Fiji, follow the traditions.
(January 14 or 15)
Makar Sankranthi, or ‘Uttarayan’, is celebrated every year in January (14 or 15) to mark the winter solstice, signifying the northward movement of the sun, entering the zodiac sign of Capricorn, as the winter ends and days begin to get longer. The practice was supposed to have been established during the time of Aryabhata. The day is dedicated to the god sun, Surya, the significance traceable to the Vedic texts, especially referring to Gayathri Mantra, perhaps the most sacred hymn for Hindus, found in Rigveda, the holy scripture, that is chanted daily by many people. The Mantra is believed to keep our intellects sharp, help in education and bring on overall well-being. The meaning of the Gayatri mantra is as follows: “We contemplate the glory of the light that illuminates the three worlds: dense, subtle and causal, of that life-giving power, love, radiant enlightenment, and the divine grace of universal intelligence. We pray for that divine light to illuminate our minds.”
In Sanskrit, Sankranthi means ‘transmigration of the Sun from one Rashi, constellation of the zodiac in Indian astrology, to the next. It is one of the most auspicious days for the Hindus, marking the end of the harsh winter and the beginning of the harvest season. The day is regarded as important for spiritual practices, beginning with a dip in the holy rivers like Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Krishna, and Kaveri, believed to result in the absolution of past sins. People pray to the sun for prosperity and success and for sustaining life.
Poojas are done at home using flowers, coconut, lamps, holy water from Ganga, and, betel nuts and leaves, akshata – a mix of turmeric powder and rice powder, and a mix of sesame seeds and jaggery offered as ‘prsadam’ (God’s food). Gifts and delicacies are offered to family, friends, and poor people, symbolically bringing people together and be at peace despite any differences.
Each state of India celebrates the event in its traditions, may even have a different name. In Maharashtra, they fly kites, it is Pedda Panduga in Andhra, Makara Sankranthi in Karnataka, and Maharashtra, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Magh Bihu in Assam, Megha Mela in parts of central and north India, and Makara Vilakku in Kerala.
Kumbh Mela, also called Kumbha Mela, is a Hindu religious festival in India, that is celebrated four times over the course of 12 years, the site of the observance rotating between four pilgrimage places on four sacred rivers—at Haridwaron theGanges River, at Ujjainon the Shipra, at Nashikon theGodavari, and at Prayagraj, at theconfluence of the Ganga, the Jamuna, and the mythical river Sarasvati. Each site’s celebration is based on a distinct set of astrological positions of the Sun, the Moon, and Jupiter, the holiest time occurring at the exact moment when these positions are fully occupied. The Kumbh Mela at Prayag every 12 tears, in particular, attracts millions of pilgrims. In addition, a Great Kumbh Mela festival is held every 144 years at Prayag, most recently in 2001. The Kumbh Mela lasts several weeks and is one of the largest festivals in the world, attracting more than 200 million people in 2019, including 50 million on the festival’s most auspicious day. (courtesy – Encyclopaedia Britannica)
The latest one in Haridwar, UP, that concluded in April 2021 has been one of great, global scrutiny and controversy, as the government allowed millions of people to congregate during the pandemic Covid-19 crisis, and perhaps causing the rapid spread of the virus, favoring Hindu beliefs over safety.
The festival credits Adi Sankara, the 8th-century saint as its initiator, the observance being a penance or atonement, Prayaschita, that the ritual dip in the sacred waters of Ganges, Ma Ganga, would absolve the seekers of all the sins. It is also a celebration of the community commerce with numerous fairs, education, religious discourses, mass feeding of the monks and the poor, and entertainment. The event is timed, based on the Hindu lunisolar calendar and the relative positions of the planet, especially Jupiter, the sun, and the moon. Similar events of dipping in sacred rivers around the country have been observed as Magha-Mela or Makar-Mela, each attracting millions of religious pilgrims, and considered as the ‘world’s largest peaceful gatherings. Kumbh means, clay pot symbolizing the womb, and Mela is for gatherings, the event representing fertility, and generative power of human beings, sustaining life. Many believe that the pilgrimage at the sacred junction of rivers Ganga, Yamuna, and the mythical Saraswati may have originated in the mythology of ‘Samudra Manthan’, the churning of the oceans, mentioned in Vedic texts. It is also mentioned in the Pali canons of Buddhism, wherein the Buddha states that bathing in rivers cannot wash away one’s sins.
One of the key features of Kumbha Mela has been the camping and processions of sadhus or monks from Hindu and Sikh traditions. Many have reported roots in the Naga traditions, the akharas, going to war without clothes. The fair also attracts many loner monks who do not belong to any akharas.
Organizing such a mammoth assembly of people, providing safe stay, food, water, sanitation, health care, policing, and disaster management, is a very daunting task. The government with Seva volunteers, set up committees, involve several Indian and outside agencies, including US-based CDC, and provide efficient, safe, and convenient arrangements for the millions of attendees. In 2021, because of Covid, the Mela was limited to 30 days instead of the usual 4 months, but apparently, the majority of the attendees were tested positive after the event, because of the reportedly ‘irresponsible and incomprehensible’ attitude of the Ministry of Health and higher up governmental authorities.
Traditionally on Amavasya or New moon day – the most cherished day – the pilgrims take the dip and join a celebratory procession, with banners, flags, elephants and horses, musicians and monks including many naked ones smearing bhasmam (ashes). There would be spiritual discourses along with celebratory feasts of vegetarian food, while some pilgrims observe fast, and perform various forms of traditional and cultural activities representing different parts of India. The event is globally covered by mass media from National Geographic to Wall Street and hundreds of others.
Rakshabandhan, a Hindu tradition, is an annual rite of sisters tying a string, an amulet, called Rakhi around the wrist of their brothers, symbolically guarding them, undertaking responsibility, an affectionate bonding, and offering care. The event is observed in August, the last day of the Hindu lunar calendar month of Shraavana. Raksha Bandhan in Sanskrit translates into a ‘bond of protection, an intimate and sincere expression of sibling love. The sister-brother festival, presumably has origins in folk culture, following an old custom of exogamy, especially in northern Indian villages, where parents do not visit daughters in their husbands’ homes, and during this annual ceremony of Rakhi tying, these married women visit their parents, brothers, and folks in their homes. Occasionally, the brothers travel to their sisters and bring them to their parents’ homes.
The custom is prevalent in northern, central, and western India, Nepal, and scattered overseas communities of Indians. As mentioned in Hindu texts, a similar custom of the priests tying Raksha prevailed in the olden times, as Lord Krishna describes to Yudhishtira about the ritual of a priest tying it on his wrist on a full moon day. In some modern societies, even non-relatives but friends practice such a tradition across caste and class lines and between Hindus and Muslims. The names and customs also vary between regions.
On a specific day, sisters and brothers wear new clothes and observe the ceremony in front of parents and grandparents. Lamps are lit, prayers are performed for mutual well-being, sisters apply ‘tilak’ on brothers’ foreheads and tie the string around their wrists. The brother offers gifts to the sister as a gesture of affection and offer of protection.
All the above festivals are connected essentially to Hindu traditions considering the religion’s ancient heritage and a substantial majority of the country following the faith. But India is a pluralistic country with the representation of almost all world religions, and since Hinduism respects and accommodates every faith, the festivals of other faiths are equally celebrated throughout the country.
Sikhism is the world’s fifth-largest gest religion, a monotheistic faith founded by Gurus Nanak in the 15th century and with about 2.5 million followers. Their doctrines include equality of humans, moral character, generosity, humility, and self-reliance. The sacred book of Sikhs is the Adi Granth, the First Book, also called Granth Sahib, composed of six gurus. One most important name of God for the Sikhs is Waheguru, the Wonderful God, without gender but being addressed as Father. The 5 Ks associated with the Sikhs is Kesh (uncut hair), Kara (a steel bracelet), Kangha (a wooden comb), Kachera (cotton shirts), and Kirpan (steel sword).
Some of the major festivals celebrated by the Sikhs are Baisakhi, Guru Nanak Jayanti, Maghi, and Holla Mohalla.
(January 13 or 14)
The Sikhs celebrate Baisakhi, (also pronounced Vaisakhi) along with the Hindus, on the first day of the month Vaisakham, the Solar new year, usually falling on January 13 or 14. It was initiated as a major Sikh festival by Guru Gobind Singh to commemorate the foundation of the Sikh community in 1699, known as the Khalsa. Guru Gobind Singh was coronated as the tenth Sikh after the ninth Guru Teg Bahadur Singh was persecuted and executed by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, for refusing to be converted to Islam.
In 1699, on Baisakhi, Sikhs from all over Punjab gathered together to celebrate the local harvest festival. Amrit Sanskar, the rite of initiation into the Khalsa, often occurs on Baisakhi, very early in the morning. It involves five men, Panj Piare, ‘Five Beloved Ones’, initiating the candidates with sweetened water (Amrit) and the candidates commit themselves to observe a daily discipline, along with the pain kakke of five Ks.
For 48 hours, there occurs continuous reading (Akhand path) of the whole Guru Granth Sahib, followed by a procession remembering courage, unity, and strength of the Sikhs. There would be team sports, Bhangra dancing, fairs, exhibitions, and of course, feasting.
Guru Nanak Jayanti Also known as Gurpurab is the most important festival for the followers of the Sikh religion, that celebrates the birth anniversary of their first Guru, Guru Nanak Dev. It is on the day of Karthik Poornima, the fifteenth day of the month Karthik, as per the Hindu calendar, that usually falls in November.
Guru Nanak was born on April 15, 1469, at Rai Bhoi Ki, near Lahore, which is in present-day Pakistan. He is the spiritual leader and founder of the Sikh religion and completed writing 974 hymns of the Guru Granth Sahib. The main verses elaborate that the creator of the universe is one, and preaches the followers to offer selfless service to humanity, irrespective of the differences, and advocating social justice for all. The celebrations start in Gurudwaras, two days before the day of Jayanti. There is a 48 hour non-stop recitation of Guru Granth Sahib, called Akhand path. A procession called Nagakirthan is organized, led by five men, holding the Sikh triangular flag, the Nishan Sahib. The holy book is placed in a palanquin during the procession, people singing hymns in groups, playing musical instruments, and displaying martial arts skills. Langar, originally a Persian word, translated as ‘an alms-house’, a place for the poor and needy, and where free food is provided for all irrespective of their religion, class, or gender, welcoming them all as the Guru’s guests. In recent times, Gurudwaras, provide food and shelter to the needy. Guru Nanak Jayanti is celebrated as a public holiday in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, and West Bengal.
Maghi and Lohri
(January 13) Maghi is the occasion when the Sikhs recall and respect the sacrifice of forty Sikhs, who fought for Guru Gobind Singh. It is on the first day of the month of Magh, usually, January 13, the same as Makar Sankranti that the Hindus celebrate. On the eve of Maghi, is the festival of Lohri when Hindus celebrate with bonfires to greet the birth of sons. For Sikhs, Maghi is the festival of Muktsar, a district town in Punjab, in commemoration of the heroic fight of the Chali Mukte, the Forty Liberated Ones, who laid down their lives warding off an attack by an imperial Mughal army. The Sikhs recite their holy Guru Granth Sahib and observe the religious rituals in Gurudwaras. The largest congregation is at Mukstar in Punjab, where Mela Maghi fairs are organized and pilgrims take a holy dip in the sacred waters of Sarovar and visit many shrines. A mahala, or big march from the main shrine to Gurudwara Tibbi Sahib, sacred Guru Gobind Singh, concludes the three-day celebration.
Maghi is celebrated by people eating kheer, an old dish of rice cooked with sugarcane juice, mixed with red-chili mixed yogurt. In some parts, kichdi made with lentils, raw sugarcane, and jaggery is served. Hola Mohalla (March)
Often just known as Hola, this Sikh festival takes place on the first of the lunar month Chet, which is in March. This is a tradition established by Guru Gobind Singh, following the Hindu tradition of Holi, but assuming more of a masculine nature for the Sikhs.
‘Mohalla’ has roots in Arabic, hal meaning ‘alighting or descending’, which in Punjabi, implies an organized procession like an army column. Unlike Holi, the Sikhs demonstrate their martial arts skills in simulated battles. Hola Mohalla stands for mock fights, in which processions like in the army, accompanied by war drums, standard-bearers proceed to a given spot or move from one gurudwara to another. Guru Gobind Singh organized the first festival in February 1701.
The historic townships of Anandpur Sahib and Kiratpur Sahib in the Ropa district of Punjab have been where Hola Mohalla has been hosted since 1701. The military exercise used to be staged on the bed of the river Charan Ganga with the backdrop of the famous Hindu temple of Mata Naina Devi in Shivaliks. Recently the government of India has accorded it the status of a national festival. During the grand festival, there would be mock battles, displays of weapons, followed by kirtan, singing, and poetry competitions. There would be daring feats, tent pegging, bareback horse-riding, and other shows of bravery. Every Sikh function has the langars preparing traditional meals of wheat flour, rice, vegetables, milk, and sugar, provided by the villagers.
Jainism is one of the world’s oldest continuously practiced religions. Its ancient Indian tradition can be traced to twenty-four spiritual leaders or Thirthankaras, the earliest ones from time immemorial, the 23rd one Parshvanantha, whom the historians date to 8th century BC and the 24th Thirthankara, Mahavira around 600 BC.
Jain dharma or principles are ahimsa (non-violence), anekantavada (many-sidedness), aparigraha (non-attachment), asceticism (abstinence from sensual pleasures), and believes that the function of the soul is to help one another. The Jain ethics are five; non-violence, truth, not stealing, celibacy and non-possessiveness.
Their practice of non-violence towards all living beings has led to the Jain culture of vegetarianism, fasting for prescribed periods (upavasa, Tapasya, vrata) during many auspicious festivals, meditation, and many rituals. Of the 24 Tirthankaras, the Jains worship predominantly four: Mahavira, Parshvantha, Neminata, and Rishabhanantha.
Jainism has a very rich life of rituals and festivals, with significant meaning for the benefit of the participants. Their rituals are woven into their pious life, like spreading the grain for the birds, filtering the water, the practice of equanimity and repentance for any harm caused. The principal festivals that people of the Jain faith celebrate are, Paryushan, Mahavir Jayanti, Mahamastakabhisheka, Diwali, Bhai Beej, Jnan Panchami, Karthik Poornima, and Maun Ekadashi.
The Paryusana Parva is the most important festival for the Jains. It is celebrated from the 12th day of the waning moon in the lunisolar month of Bhadrapada, typically during August/September. During the eight days, Jains fast and pray, emphasizing their five vows, making an active effort to stop cruelty to all forms of life.
The last day is focused on prayer and meditation sessions known as Samvatsari. This is the time for atonement, granting forgiveness to others, seeking clemency from others. The literal meaning of Paryushana is ‘abiding’ or ‘coming together. During these days, the spiritual preceptors read out and explain the Kalpasutra, the sacred scripture of the Jains, as the members listen to it, overwhelmed with emotions.
Also called Mahavir Janma Kalyanak, is one of the most important festivals of Jainism that celebrates the birth anniversary of the 24th Thirthankara Mahavir, who played a significant role in preaching Jainism. It is celebrated on the 13th day of the lunisolar month of Chaitra that falls in March/April. The festivities include visiting Jain temples, pilgrimages to the shrines, reading scriptures, and processions of Mahavira by the Jain community. Mahavira was born in 599 BCE, to his mother Trishala, and at the time of his birth, the surroundings became peaceful and serene, even the Gods offering reverence to the Thirthankara. He was given the name Vardhaman. At the age of 30, he left earthly pursuits and began meditating under an Ashoka tree for 12 years, following which, he was enlightened. Mahavira travelled across the country, preaching Dharma, non-violence, moral and ethical values, and honesty, and conveying lessons to eliminate superstitions. The event celebrating Mahavir’s birthday takes place in temples of Pawapuri in Bihar, Girnar and Palitana in Gujarat, and Parasnath temple in Kolkata. There would be lectures spreading the goodness of Jain doctrine along with feasting with customary food and serving the needy.
The ‘Grand Consecration’ refers to the abhisheka, anointment of the Jain images, held on a large scale. The most famous of such consecrations is at Sravanabelagola in Karnataka, of the Bahubali Gommateshwara statue. This important festival is held once every 12 years, as an integral part of the ancient and composite Jain tradition. The festival is held in veneration of the 58 ft monolithic statue of Siddha Bahubali, in a posture of meditation, accessible through a flight of 700 steps. The first event started in 981 CE and the next one, the 89th, should be in 2030. Bhagwan Bahubali is the son of Rishabhananda, the first of the Tirthankaras, who is worshipped for his living with exceptional qualities. The process involves pouring purified water and sandalwood paste, carried in 1008 prepared vessels or kalasas. The statue is also bathed with milk, sugarcane juice, saffron paste, turmeric, and vermillion. Offerings are made of petals, gold and silver coins, and precious stones. Similar anointments of Jain images take place at Jain temples all over India.
Diwali has a special significance in Jain tradition, marking the anniversary of Nirvana, or the final release or liberation of Mahavira’s soul, the 24th and last Thirthankara, being celebrated like the Hindu festival of Diwali. The Jain’s light lamps symbolize keeping the light of Lord Mahavira’s knowledge alive. It is assumed that the Lord discarded the body of bondage of all karmas and attained mukthi or deliverance. Participants observe fast especially on the 14th day (Chaturdashi) and new moon day and listen to the Uttaradhyayan Sutra, which contains the final message of Mahavir. There is singing of hymns and recitation of bhajans as well as participating in charitable feasting, and sweets are distributed along with gifts.
Bhai Dooj This is the festival days of honoring brothers (Bhai). When Raja Nandivardhan, the brother of Bhagwan Mahavir was in sorrow and on account of the latter’s nirvana (attainment of Mukti), his sister, Sudarshana took him to her house and comforted him. This happened on the second day of the fortnight of the waxing moon, in Kartik.
This day is observed as Bhai Beej. This festival is like Raksha Bandhan. On the day of Rakshabandhan, the sister goes to the brother and ties the Raksha; but on this day, the sister invites her brother to her house to felicitate him.
Jnan (Gyan) Panchami
This is the holy day for acquiring knowledge, the name given to the celebration that takes place on the 5th day of the fortnight of the waxing moon in Kartik (the 5th day after Diwali). This day has been assigned for the worship of pure knowledge; and on this day, there is fasting, devavandan, offering veneration to Gods, and meditation. Moreover, the books preserved in the religious libraries are cleansed and worshiped.
Kartik Poornima On the full moon day of Kartika, the Chaturmas (the holy four months) begins as Ashadh Chaturdashi comes to an end. After this, the Jain Sadhus and Sadhvis begin their wandering Padyatra, traveling on foot. A pilgrimage to Shatrunjay – Palitana on this day is considered to be of great importance. Thousands of Jains go on pilgrimages on this day.
(December) The holy day for observing silence, Maun Ekadashi falls on the 11th day of the fortnight of the waxing moon in the month of Margashirsha, in December. This is an important day for Jains on which they observe total silence-Maun and carry out austerities as Paushadh vrat, fasting, worshipping of gods, meditation, etc. This is the day on which the great events relating to the one hundred and fifty Jineswaras are celebrated through holy recitation. The story of Suvrat Shresthi is connected with this day.
Buddhism is the fourth popular faith in the world behind Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, with about 490 million (7%) followers. It was founded by Siddhartha Gautama (“the Buddha”) more than 2,500 years ago in India. Gautama was born as a prince in the present day Nepal (which was a part of India at the Buddha’s time; he was raised and lived his entire life in North-eastern India, mostly in the present-day Bihar state), but was moved by the suffering around and walked away from the lavish life, and attained Enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree. His spiritual teachings gathered a large following and thus the religion of Buddhism was born. Its practice has historically been most prominent in East and Southeast Asia, like China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Tibet, but its influence is growing in the West.
Many Buddhist ideas and philosophies overlap with those of other faiths. The Buddha ignored the concept of God, afterlife, and creation theories, embracing instead, its main tenets based on dukkha (suffering), its truth, its causes, its elimination, and the path leading to its elimination. Buddha’s teachings of the virtues of wisdom, kindness, patience, generosity, and compassion are collectively known as ‘Dharma’.
There are three forms based on different interpretations of Buddha: Theravada Buddhism, in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, Mahayana Buddhism in China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam, and Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, Bhutan, and northern India.
His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, is a simple Buddhist monk, the spiritual leader of Tibet. The Dalai Lamas are believed to be incarnations of the previous ones, realized beings inspired to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of humanity. But after China invaded Tibet, and following the brutal suppression of Tibet by communist China, His Holiness was forced into exile, and India welcomed him and settled him in Dharmasala of Northern India.
Buddhist practice considers many festivals and celebrations as part of their culture. There are variations of religious and social events developed from different countries that follow Buddhism and are also based on their observance of Mahayana (M), Theravada (Th), or Tibetan (T)versions of Buddhism.
Buddhist New Year
(First full moon day in April or January. Please check below for details)
In countries following Theravada Buddhism, Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and Laos, the new year is celebrated for three days from the first full moon day in April. In Mahayana countries, the new year starts on the first full moon day in January. However, the Buddhist New Year depends on the country of origin or ethnic background of the people. As, for example, the Chinese, Koreans, and Vietnamese celebrate in late January or early February according to the lunar calendar, whilst the Tibetans usually celebrate about one month later.
(First full moon day in May) Otherwise known as Visakha Puja the “Buddha Day”, traditionally, is Buddha’s Birthday. Vesak is the major Buddhist festival of the year as it celebrates the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha on the one day, the first full moon day in May, except in a leap year when the festival is held in June. This celebration is called Vesak being the name of the month in the Indian calendar.
Magha Puja Day
(Full moon day of March) Magha Puja Day, or the Fourfold Assembly or “Sangha Day” takes place on the full moon day of the third lunar month (March). This holy day is observed to commemorate an important event in the life of the Buddha. The event occurred early in the Buddha’s teaching life. After the first Rains Retreat (Vassa) at the Deer Park at Sarnath, the Buddha went to Rajagraha city where 1250 Arahats, (enlightened saints) were the Buddha’s disciples, had returned from their wanderings to pay respect to the Buddha. The assembly is called the Fourfold Assembly because it consisted of four factors: (1) All 1250 were Arahats; (2) All of them were ordained by the Buddha himself; (3) They assembled by themselves without any prior call; (4) It was the full moon day of Magha month (March).
Asalha Puja Day
(Full moon day of July) Asalha Puja (“Dhamma Day”) is to pay homage to the Buddha on the full moon day of the 8th lunar month (July). It commemorates the Buddha’s first teaching: the turning of the wheel of the Dhamma, or Dharma, the ‘cosmic law and order’, to the five ascetics at the Deer Park (Sarnath) near Varanasi city, India. Kondanna, the senior ascetic attained the first level of enlightenment here.
(Thailand, middle of April)
This Thai Buddhist festival goes on for several days during the middle of April. People clean their houses and wash their clothes and enjoy sprinkling perfumed water on the monks, novices and, other people for at least two or three days. They gather around the riverbank, carrying fish in jars to put into the water, that the ponds dry out and the fish would die if not rescued. People go to the beach or river bank with jars or buckets of water and splash each other.
(First to the fifteenth day of July) Ulambana or the Ancestor Day is celebrated throughout the Mahayana tradition from the first to the fifteenth days of the eighth lunar month. It is believed that the gates of Hell are opened on the first day and the ghosts may visit the world for fifteen days. Food offerings are made during this time to relieve the sufferings of these ghosts. On the fifteenth day, Ulambana, people visit cemeteries to make offerings to the departed ancestors.
Many Theravadins from Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand also observe this festival. Ulambana is also a Japanese Buddhist festival known as Obon, beginning on the thirteenth of July and lasting for three days, which celebrates the reunion of family ancestors with the living.
About 60,000 Parsis or Zoroastrians live in India. They arrived from Persia (modern-day Iran) to escape religious persecution by the Muslim majority, between the 8th and 10th centuries CE. They live mostly around Mumbai and a few live in Karnataka. They believe in one God, Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord), who is compassionate, omniscient, and the creator of the universe. They have a flair for commerce and are wealthy from businesses and trades, charitable and law-abiding people, and one of the finest communities in India.
Some of the Parsi festivals are Jashans, Mehragan, Tiregan, Sadeh, Abanagan, Adargan, Farwardgan, and Gahambars. Most of these festivals are celebrated as austere events without any pomp and glory in their temple or at homes.
These are six seasonal festivals, each for five days and commemorating the sanctity of universal creations of God, namely the earth, water, plants, animals, and humans, reciting scriptures and people coming together and enjoying a feast.
There are monthly festivals celebrated in honor of the divine entities, to whom a day of the month and a month of the year are dedicated. These are the Jashn days.
Farwardgan is dedicated to the guardian angels, Tiregan to the rains, Abanagan to the waters, Adargan to the fire, Mehregan in honor of Mithra, Sadeh being similar to Sankranthi.
Nouruz is the most important festival for the Parsis; it falls on March 21. The day is celebrated as a mark of respect for the Creator, the birth of the spiritual and material world, the elements of earth, that are believed to be an extension of the Creator. The Zoroastrians visit the temple on that day, offer prayers, meet relatives and friends and spend the evening in Jashn.
Thanksgiving is a ceremony of blessings, performed outside the premises of a temple, in a clean place with priests conducting the ceremony. The purpose is to enhance the purity and integrity of the visible and invisible worlds and to bring good tidings to the people.
This is the birth anniversary of Zoroaster which falls on the 6th day in the first month the of Parsi calendar, around August/September.
Christian Festivals in India
There is general scholarly consensus that St. Thomas the Apostle came to the Malabar coast of India, in AD 52 and by the 6th century, Christianity was established in the country. Initially, they used Syriac liturgies and by the 15th century, several western Christian denominations like Latin Catholics and Protestants were living in different parts of the country. Many Christian schools, hospitals, and primary care centers were created through Roman Catholic missions.
India, the land of vibrant culture and ethnicity is a secular nation, people following different religions coexisting in harmony. All the important festivals of the religions are celebrated with equal pomp and gaiety. Although Hindus predominate the total population of the country, about 2.5 % of people follow Christianity. They celebrate Christian festivals including Christmas, Easter, and Good Friday with great enthusiasm and fanfare. Friends and acquaintances following religions other than Christianity also eagerly take part in the celebrations of the Christian festivals, which speaks volumes for the unity in diversity in India.
India has a system of a limited number of restricted holidays that gives individuals the flexibility to take time off to celebrate a holiday within India’s vast religious and cultural society. Since there are many religions and traditions in India, such an option allows each group to choose their holidays.
Millions of Indian Christians celebrate Christmas in a most traditional way and with enthusiasm and vigor. There are several beautiful churches throughout the country. Christians attend the Midnight masses, with the churches remaining open through the night and people come with family and friends, often non-Christians. The state of Kerala has the largest number of Christians in India and celebrates Jesus Christ’s birthday most gloriously, and as one of the most popular festivals of Kerala. Homes and churches are decorated, star lamps are mounted on the trees, Christmas trees are set up, non-Christians are invited, greeting cards are sent, friends participate in feasts and in exchanging gifts. Carols are arranged and groups of singers march through the streets.
Easter and Good Friday
In India, as elsewhere Easter is celebrated and begins with Lent and culminates with Easter Sunday. Easter is the most festive event of the Christians celebrated all over the world. It falls on a Sunday. It signifies the remembrance of Jesus Christ resurrecting from death after his crucifixion as we’ve all read in the bible.
The Good Friday in commemoration of the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Cavalry. It is also known as Holy Friday or Great Friday. The worshippers gather in the church, they are read Gospels from the Bible to remember and relive the days of Jesus. Christians of all denominations participate in their groups, observe fasting and other traditions including eating meat during the time.
Most Christians in India are in Kerala, Goa, the states of Bombay, and the North-Eastern areas. Good Friday is a day of sadness and mourning, and the services happen in the afternoon. India is diverse with sets of people and their traditions, but everyone is involved with everyone else, people of all religions join Easter celebrations along with their neighbors and friends.
Easter is celebrated in the joy of Jesus being resurrected after the gruesome crucifixion and sacrifice for his people. The devotees believe that he fought with death, defeated it, and rose to glory. It happened on Sunday as Easter is celebrated. In Kerala, after Sunday morning mass, people eat meat, consume alcohol, and celebrate the merry occasion. In Tamil Nadu, special masses are held, in North-East states, Christians celebrate by singing folk songs, have Easter sermons, sunrise service, and even baptisms and egg hunting.
Islam isthe second-largest religion inIndia, with 14.2% of the country’s population, with approximately 172.2 million people; India has the second-largest Muslim population, after Indonesia. The majority of Indian Muslims belong to theSunni sect of Islam while the Shia form a sizeable minority. The religion arrived in India along with Arab coastal trade through the western shoreline, sometime around d 636 CE to 643 AD.
The first mosques were built in Gujarat, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. Afterward, the Arabs conquered Sindh in the 7th century and parts of north India in the 12th century, as the Mughal Empire ruled most of South Asia. The peak of Islamic rule under Aurangzeb’s reign and sharia happened after the establishment of the Fatwah Alamgiri, and later on by Tipu Sultan in Mysore and Nizams in Hyderabad. Alongside forced conversions, there has been integration between Hindus and Muslims and the Muslims played an ongoing, major role in the economics, politics, and culture of India.
The important Muslim festivals that are celebrated in India, include Ramzan (Ramadan), Muharram, Id-e-Milad, and Bakr-Id. The celebrations of the auspicious occasions are marked by special prayers offered in mosques, fasting, feasting, and exchange of wishes.
Observed by Muslims the world over, Ramzan falls on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, (April) with the focus on fasting along with prayer and reflection. The fasting commemorates the month when the teachings of the Holy Quran were first revealed to Prophet Muhammed on Laylat-al-Qadr (the night when the Holy Quran first came from heaven to earth). Sawm (fasting), one of Islam’s five pillars, is practiced during the month from sunrise to sunset. Ramadan is observed for 29-30 days from the first sighting of the crescent moon to the other.
Fasting is obligatory for adult Muslims who are not ill or otherwise compromised. The predawn meal is Suhur and the nightly feast is Iftar. It is not just fasting, but refraining from alcohol, tobacco, sexual relations, and other sinful activities are to be refrained from along with being engaged in charitable endeavors. The spiritual rewards of fasting during Ramadan are multiple; ‘When Ramadan arrives, the gates of Paradise open and the gates of hell are locked up and devils are put in chains. In some Muslim countries, eating during daylight hours in public places is considered a crime. In some communist countries, fasting is restricted or even banned.
Charitable giving is part of Ramadan. Zakat, translated as ‘the poor-rate’, is the fixed percentage of income a believer is supposed to give to the poor, an obligatory practice and a pillar of Islam. Muslims believe that good deeds are rewarded more during Ramadan than any other time.
In some Islamic cultures, lights are strung up in public squares and streets, a tradition believed to have originated during the Fatimid Caliphate, where the rule was acclaimed by people holding lanterns. Common greetings during Ramadan include ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ and ‘Ramadan Kareem’ meaning has a blessed or generous Ramadan.
Muharram marks the start of the Islamic New Year and is one of the most important months for Muslims, second only to Ramadan. It begins after the sighting of the first crescent of the new moon on the final day of the Islamic calendar, which usually falls around the August/ September months but migrates through the solar Georgian calendar.
Muharram is a month of remembrance. Ashura refers to the tenth of Muharram in Arabic, and is the time of ‘mourning’. The historical significance of Muharram is that it is in remembrance of the days when the grandson of Muhammad, Husayn ibn Ali, his family, and 72 followers was deprived of water and was killed by the army of Yazid I at the battle of Karbala. The surviving members were imprisoned in Damascus.
Muharram is observed by Sunni Muslims by reading scriptures related to the holy month, fasting on the 9th and 10th days, showing gratitude to Allah, remembering the battle of Karbala, and participating in certain Shia-led events to bring the sects together. The Shiites observe it by refraining from public display of happiness, even eating meat, wearing new clothes, or getting married; other observations are, dressing in black, attending public lectures, reciting spiritual poems, and walking in processions showing grief. Charitable activities are common to all.
Also known as Eid Milad-Un-Nabi is a festival celebrated to commemorate the birth of Prophet Muhammad, who is believed to be the messenger of God in Islam. Its origin dates back to the 8th century when Muhammad’s house was transformed into a house of prayer by Al-Khayzuran. Devotees light lamps, decorate their homes, observe night-long prayer meetings, feast and meet family members and engage in charitable giving.
Id-ul-Zuha, Eid-al-Ad, ha, or Bakr-Id is an Islamic festival celebrated worldwide. It honors the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismael as an act of obedience to the command of God. As per Genesis 22.2, the Jewish and Christians believe that Abraham took his son Isaac to sacrifice. It is believed that before Isaac was sacrificed, Allah provided a lamb in sacrifice. The practice is controversial as it invokes suffering of life. The custom is for the family to consume only one-third of the meat and distribute the rest to the poor. The event lasts four days, and in the Islamic lunar calendar, it shifts every year.
Id in Arabic is a festival or celebration. Devotees offer prayers in congregations at the mosque, after sunrise. They wear their finest clothes on the day, and after the conclusion of the prayers and sermon, Muslims embrace each other and exchange greetings, give gifts and invite one another.
Judaism is one of the earliest foreign religions to arrive in India in recorded history. One of the religious minorities Jews have lived in India peacefully and in harmony without any anti-Semitism unlike in many parts of the world. Their ancestors came to India reportedly during the time of Judah, r as descendants of Israel’s Ten Lost Tribes. After the creation of Israel in 1948, most Jews have migrated back to Israel, and perhaps only a few hundred remain now. There were about seven Jewish groups in different parts of India like Kochi, Chennai, Nagercoil, Goa, Telugu areas, and others.
The Jews in India observe the Jewish festivals in their limited ways.
The Jewish New Year meaning ‘head of the year’, often called the day of remembrance or Judgment, falls during September. This is the time each Jew reviews his relationship with God. The custom is to blow a ram’s horn (shofar), calling for spiritual awakening associated with the revelation to Moses. There are services in synagogues, and delicacies are served, bread and fruits, dipped in honey are customary, and a special blessing is recited.
Yom Kippur is to effect individual and collective purification by the practice of forgiveness of the sins by others and by sincere repentance of one’s own sin against God. It is observed in September, beginning eight days after Rosh Hashanah, with 25 hours of intense praying, meditating, mostly in synagogues, wearing white with no make-up, or perfumes, fasting, giving for charity, and performing a mitzvah. Mitzvah stands for any good deed performed in following the divine commandment given in the Torah and offering gifts. Attending Yizkor by visiting the graves of dead relatives, is one of the best things to do on Yom Kippur.
(Late November to late December)
This is the Jewish festival commemorating the recovery of Jerusalem and the subsequent rededication of the Second Temple. It is also the Festival of Lights, observed for eight nights from late November to late December. The candles of a unique candelabrum with nine branches, called the menorah (or Hanukkah) are lighted one each night, the last one on the final night. Attendees sing Hanukkah songs, play dreidel, eat oil-based foods, and dairy. Hanukkah is celebrated around the time of Christmas.
State-wise Festivals of India
Many of the major festivals celebrated on an- Indian basis, on large scale, and involved by many states have been already narrated. But being a land of diversification, India observes its traditions in a vast array of cultural and social celebrations, every state having its unique characteristics and expression in the form of festivals. Some of the important and popular ones are being included in the next session. Festivals in India are celebrated season-wise and state-wise. The relevance of festivals in India may be to honor a deity at a particular temple, celebrate the agriculture cycle, or a cultural event, and each of it would have a flavor and ethos that signifies the persona of that particular state celebrating the event. The state/regional festivals will be listed below, in alphabetical order of the states of India.
As one of the most significant states in India both culturally and mythologically, Andhra Pradesh is also one of the most visited Indian states because of its large spectrum of cultures and festivals. Thousands of pilgrims visit Tirumala Venkateswara Temple, one of the most popular in India and the shrine of Lord Vishnu, situated on a hilltop.
Widely celebrated as New Year’s Day, in April, is also known as Gudi Padwa, the festival is one of fun, lights, new clothes, delicious sweets, followed by special prayers. Garlands of banana leaves are made and hung on the door. In Hyderabad and Vijayawada, this is very popular.
This Buddhist, three-day festival in December, is organized by the Tourism Department of the state government, in the region of Hyderabad and Nagarjunasagar. Buddhism was prevalent in the state in the distant past and the memory is commemorated yearly.
A vastly celebrated festival at the most popular Tirupati temple, in November, lasting nine days, it is widely believed that Lord Brahma started it. Several rituals are followed during the festive days, and on the last day, a huge crowd gathers to witness the
procession of Lord Venkateswara.
(February or March)
Dedicated to Hyderabad’s Arts and Crafts, this is a most celebrated, five-day event. The state hosts various cultural programs like dances and poetry sessions. Held in February or March, this is quite a vibrant event exhibiting arts, cuisine, and culture with local fairs, and unique items like Hyderabadi pearls are available for purchase.
The north-eastern Indian state Arunachal Pradesh is known for its pristine beauty and the lush green forests. The state is also known as the Land of the Rising Sun with a lot of activities to do like river rafting, paragliding, etc.
Siang River Festival:
One of the most popular festivals, it is held to celebrate communal harmony and to attract tourism. It offers many adventure and fun activities like elephant race, boat race, river rafting, food festivals, folk dances, cultural shows, hot air balloon and paragliding, and exhibitions.
Pangsau Pass Winter Festival:
The modern-day winter festival is celebrated in Nampong in January. It is a three-day festival, people displaying their extravagant ethnicity, perform folk dances, and sing folk songs. There are also handicrafts exhibitions. People from Myanmar join the festival.
Celebrated during the monsoon, this is a ten-day agriculture festival by the Adi community. On the first day a bison are slaughtered, the meat distributed and a grand feast is arranged. On the final day, the village people uproot the weak plants as an act done in the hope of driving away insects and worms.
This is the festival of the Monpa tribe to welcome a new year. Monpa is the dominating tribe of Tawang and West Kemang district; therefore, one can consider Losar as a major festival here. Tawang is amongst the most popular tourist attractions in North East India and visiting it during the festival is indeed the ideal time. The festival falls usually in February or in early March and lasts for about 8 to 15 days during which homes are cleaned, prayers are offered, religious flags are hoisted atop each house, holy scriptures are read and lamps with butter are lit in all the houses. The local deity is also worshipped by the Monpas for the welfare of society and the people. Losar is also the time to relish the taste of locally made drinks and savor the traditional cuisine.
This north-eastern state is south of the Himalayas, bordering Bhutan, Tripura, and Bangladesh. It is well known for its tea and silk and wildlife especially the one-horned rhinos and Asian elephants, and its abundant rainfall, feeding the Brahmaputra river.
This is a set of three important Assamese festivals —Rongali or Bohag Bihu observed in April, Kongali or Kati Bihu observed in October, and Bhogali or Magh Bihu observed in January. The Rongali Bihu is the most important of the three, celebrating spring festival, with an impact on agriculture and crops. There is feasting, music, and dancing. Some hang brass, silver, and copper pots on poles in front of their house, children wearing flower garlands and greeting passers-by. The origin of Bihu can be traced to a mix of cultures of Austro-Asiatic, Tibeto-Burman, and Indo-Aryans.
An annual Hindu Mela is celebrated at the Kamakhya temple during the monsoon season when the sun transits to the zodiac of Mithuna and Brahmaputra is in spate. It is associated with the Tantric Shakti cult prevalent in eastern parts of India. Temple remains closed for three days since it is believed that the deity is having her menstruation, after which she is bathed and rituals are performed. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, even foreigners come from many areas to receive the blessings.
The Baishagu Festival is celebrated with great excitement in the state of Assam; it is popular for its multitude of colors and high spirits. Baishagu is usually celebrated by the tribe of Boro Kacharis and is the most awaited festival of the Boros. Several programs are scheduled, with the worship of the cow, the young people bowing down to their parents and elders, Lord Shiva being worshipped with chicken and rice beer, and people joining in the Baishagu dance. It is the celebration of the arrival of spring in April.
This eastern state is the third most populous state in India and as “Magadha”, this area of India had been noteworthy as the seat of learning and culture, even in antiquity. It was the capital of both the Maurya and the Gupta dynasties. It was also the place where the Buddha meditated and became enlightened and thus, it was also the place of birth of the Buddhist religion. This is also the state wherein a place called Vaishali the democratic system of government was first practiced; this predated the Greek experiment by several centuries!
The one festival that is uniquely associated with Bihar, is the festival of Chhath. It is an ancient Vedic festival, historically native to the Indian subcontinent; it is dedicated to Surya, the solar deity, thanking him for the bounties of life. The worship is also made to Chhathi Maiya, the mother goddess. The rituals are vigorous and observed for four days, including holy bathing, fasting, and abstaining from drinking water, standing in water for long periods, and offering prasad to the rising sun. Environmentalists claim the festival to be the most eco-friendly and transcends the caste system that emerged in the post-Vedic period. It has received a special significance as a folk festival.
Bihula is a well-known festival of eastern Bihar and is famous in the district of Bhagalpur. This Puja is also known as Bishari Puja. Bihula Festival is observed every year during the month of August. The devotees of Bhagalpur pray to Goddess Mansa for the welfare of their families. The Bihula Festival patronizes the brilliant Manjusha art which stands on par with the other well-known folk arts of Bihar like the Jadopetiya of Santhal Parganas, and the Madhubani paintings of Mithilanchal.
This, the smallest Indian state on the southwestern coast in the Konkan region, stands separated from the Deccan highlands by the Western Ghats. It still exhibits the influence of the Portuguese, who landed there in the 15th century and established it as the overseas territory of the Portuguese empire. It was annexed to India in 1961. The majority of people speak Konkani. Goa is famous for its beaches, nightlife, and rich flora and fauna.
Carnival in Goa:
(The day before Ash Wednesday)
Also called Carnaval or Intruz, or Mardi Gras, Carnival is the largest in India and one of the few traditional Catholic celebrations in Asia. The carnival was resurrected from a minor street celebration in 1965 by a Goan musician Timoteo Fernandes and since then has turned into a major tourist attraction. It dates back to the introduction of Roman Catholic traditions during the Portuguese conquest of Goa. Today, the urban parade includes floats from local villages, commercial entities, and cultural events. The carnival starts on Fat Saturday and concludes on Fat Tuesday, before Ash Wednesday. In Panjim, the capital of Goa, it is complemented by ‘Grape Escapade’, a local wine festival, and dance at Samba Square in the Garden of Garcia da Orta. The parade is headed by King Momo, Mr. Sixtus Eric Dias from Candolim (in 2021). The procession would have horse-drawn carriages, balloons, decorated bullock carts and elaborate floats, dancing groups, revelers wearing masks, music and sports competitions, food, and drinking.
The home state of Mahatma Gandhi Ji, Vallabhai Patel, and Narendra Modi, with areas from the ancient Indus Valley Civilization, is on the west coast of India, with claims to Lothal being the world’s first seaport, and being the home for the only wild population of Asiatic lions. The early history of Gujarat reflects the illustrious and imperial grandeur of Chandragupta Maurya, Emperor Ashoka, and the Maratha Empire.
People of Gujarat are enthusiastic and amiable, embracing different faiths and cultures, and noted for their acumen in business and finances. The fairs and festivals showcase their vibrancy and diversity.
International Kite Festival: This is regarded as one of the biggest festivals celebrated. Months before the festival, homes in Gujarat begin to manufacture kites for the festival. The festival of Uttarayan marks the day when winter begins to turn into summer, according to the Indian calendar. It is the sign for farmers that the sun is back and that harvest season is approaching, which is called Makara Sankranti/Mahasankranti.
This day is considered one of the most important harvest days in India, as it marks the termination of the winter season and the beginning of a new harvest season. Many cities in Gujarat organize kite competitions between their citizens where the people compete with one another. In this region of Gujarat and of many other states, Uttarayan is such a huge celebration that it has become a public holiday in India lasting for two days. During the festival, local food such as Undhiyu (a mixed vegetable including yam and beans), Chikki(sesame seed brittle), and Jalebiis served to the crowds. Days before the festival, the market is filled with participants buying their supplies. In 2012, the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat mentioned that the International Kite Festival in Gujarat was attempting to enter the Guinness World Records book due to the participation of 42 countries in it that year.
This is a cultural and artistic festival organized by the Gujarat Tourism Department every year. The festival exhibits traditional art forms of India and celebrates the uniqueness and diversity of the Kutch district highlighting the cultural splendor of Gujarat. The Rann Utsav has a variety of programs like cultural
and folk dances, craftsmanship, music, carnival processions, pageantry, etc.
People from various parts of the country gather during the festivities to celebrate the splendid ‘White Desert’ and the spirit and warmth of the people of Kutch. Many cultural activities and programs are organized during the Utsav that engages every visitor. There is a splendid display of the arts and crafts of the region. The most captivating experience is the showcase of different art forms, dances, and music during the chilling winters under the full moon. Visitors can enjoy living in tents, sit by the evening bonfires, watch artisans work, dance with local folk dancers and enjoy camel safaris
‘Snow-Laden Province’ or ‘Lap of Ice’ is a state in the northern part of India. Situated in the Western Himalayas, it is one of the eleven mountain states and is characterized by an extreme landscape featuring several peaks and extensive river systems. The state shares an international border to the east with the Tibet Autonomous Region in China. Himachal Pradesh is also known as ‘Dev Bhoomi’ or ‘Land of Gods and Goddesses’. Host to the Dalai Lama, Himachal Pradesh has a strong Tibetan presence.
This is reflected in its Buddhist temples and monasteries, as well as its vibrant Tibetan New Year celebrations. The region is also well known for its trekking, climbing, and skiing areas. Around 90% of the state’s population lives in rural areas. The hilly state is almost universally electrified with 99.5% of the households having electricity as of 2016. According to a survey of CMS – India Corruption Study 2017, Himachal Pradesh is India’s least corrupt state.
Apart from the fairs and festivals that are celebrated all over India, several other fairs and festivals are highlights of Himachal Pradesh. These festivals are the time for the Himachalis to adorn colorful dresses and accessories and get mixed up with the rest of their kins.
Gochi festival is organized to celebrate the birth of a male child. Also called Gotsi, the festival is celebrated in February, in the Bhaga Valley of the state. This is observed in the houses of those people who welcomed new members in their families in the form of sons during the previous year.
A day before the festival, the villagepriest invokes a prayer to the local deity by holding a bow and arrow. Then he visits every home in the village where a male child was born the previous year. All the people of the village assemble on the morning of the festival. The entire festival is accompanied by the beats of drums known as Lohar. People dress up in their best attires and drink Chaang, a special wine. The festival ends with their dancing to the beat of drums and throwing snowballs at each other.
Haryana is a Northern Indian state surrounding New Delhi on 3 sides. The Yamuna River runs along its eastern border with Uttar Pradesh. Shared with Punjab, the state capital Chandigarh is known for its modern buildings and grid-like street plan designed by Swiss architect, Le Corbusier. The state has a thriving economy, are a leading financial hub of the country, the highest per capita income, and home to major fortune 500 companies and IT industries.
Haryana has its traditional folk music, dance and folk theater, and ancestral worship, and arts such as Phulkari and Shisha embroidery. Desi Haryanvi folk music is a form exclusive to the state and is used for celebrating community functions.
This is a snake worship festival, observed in Haryana, during August-September. Generally worshipped as a demi-god, Goga is believed to protect his followers from snake bites and other types and forms of evils. He is particularly popular amongst the followers of the Naga cult. Initially a deity in Rajasthan, records suggest that Goga is being worshipped from the 17th century in Western Himalayas—probably because of migration from Rajasthan. Goga enjoys unbridled popularity amongst farmers as snakebite incidents and deaths are a frequent occurrence in agricultural farmlands. Amongst Muslims, he is considered to be a peer (saint) who has the power to eliminate the effects of Zahar (poison).
The highlight of the celebration is the Gugga Mela. Bamboo sticks with peacock feathers and a blue flag with colored threads are used as the medium of celebration. The fans carry out a procession on the ninth day along with beating drums across the village. Reverence is offered in the form of “Churma” and “Sevian” by the saints.
This is credited as the world’s largest International crafts fair. It is a bonanza of vivid art, craft, music and dance, colorful ambiance, ethnic cuisines, and an immersive cultural ethos – a spectacle that is waiting to blow your mind yet again! Occupying a place of pride on the international tourist calendar since 1987, the fair observes more than a million visitors every year, thousands of them being foreign tourists. Getting more and more attractive, fun, and consumer-friendly each year, the Surajkund Mela is not just the best platform for the skilled craftsmen and artisans of India and other SAARC nations to show their talent, but also a wonderful opportunity for the public to learn about their vibrant culture and get to respect the age-old craft that is better than any machine products.
Jammu and Kashmir
This was a state of India from 1954 to 2019, constituting the southern and south-eastern portions of the larger Kashmirregion, which has been the subject of disputes between India, Pakistan, and China since the mid-20th century. The underlying regions of this state were parts of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, whose western districts, now known as Azad Kashmir, and northern territories, now known as Gilgit-Baltistan, are administered by Pakistan. The Aksai Chin region in the east, bordering Tibet, has been under Chinese control since 1962. After the Government of India repealed the special status accorded to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian constitution in 2019, the Parliament of India passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, which contained provisions that dissolved the state and reorganized it into two union territories – Jammu and Kashmirin the west and Ladakh in the east, with effect from 31 October 2019. At the time of its dissolution, Jammu and Kashmir was the only state in India with a Muslim-majority population.
Kashmir is known as the paradise on Earth and rightly so. It has its charm in the enchanting valley views and green nature, but its festivals add an extra flavor to the beauty of the state. People try to forget all the communal tensions that exist and celebrate the festivities together in peace. This exquisitely defines the beauty of this holy land.
In India, festivals are celebrated more than in any other country in the world. And every festival is celebrated with great zeal and zest, fancy feasting, and incredible merry-making. Every religion has its hundred festivals and every state another hundred which makes this land holy, sacred, and culturally rich.
Bahu Mela is one of the best Hindu festivals of Jammu; it is an astounding celebration held in the Bahu Fort of the region. The mela is stacked with fun, skip, and jubilance, with lights embellishing the whole place, illuminating the entire atmosphere. One can witness the marvellous traditions of the community of Jammu, from the way they dress up, to partaking in the tasty food present all through this celebration. This mela is a great opportunity to witness the vitality with which festivities are welcomed in Jammu. All participants wear their most splendid gatherings, and occupants exchange favors as a sign of worship and warmth towards one another.
(February) Eid Ul Fitr is celebrated on the last day of a month-long fasting in Ramzan or Ramadan. Namaz is offered six times on this day and fast is broken with feasting. Exchange of sweets and wearing new clothes, meeting relatives, and sharing wishes complete this peaceful festival. Eid ul Azha or Bakra Eid is celebrated in the second half of the year when a goat, camel, or sheep is sacrificed in every Muslim Household. It takes its origin from their principle of Kurbani or Sacrifice. The Urs or Ziarats is an important festival in Kashmir which witnesses participation from Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs. It is a huge inter-communal celebration and is celebrated many times in a year.
This festival is celebrated on the death anniversaries of eminent Muslim saints like Meesha Sahib, Batamol Sahib, and Bahauddin. Often bad weather is faced on the day of Urs celebrations, despite which a huge celebration is marked by people from all religions.
Tulip Festival: (May)
With hundreds of Tulip Gardens in all of Kashmir, the state flourishes with Tulips during the spring season. With the largest Tulip Garden in Asia in its bounty, Srinagar plays host to the great Tulip Festival every year. The festival boasts of the variety of Tulips garnered here. During the springs, the sight of the tulips in any of these gardens is a sight to behold, undoubtedly a mesmerizing and breath-taking sight, especially for a non-Kashmiri.
Tulip Festival takes place at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden in Srinagar, Kashmir. The festival features a showcase of local handicrafts, luscious cuisine, cultural programs, and of course, Tulips!
Originally known as the princely State of Mysore, Karnataka was formed on 1st November 1956 and is located in the South-Western region of India. It is just another paradise where the Western Ghats directly plunge into the Arabian sea.
Karnataka is also one of the oldest regions of India where its age-old culture, conservative traditions, and orthodox heritage are kept preserved. The spread of its tourist attractions galore, from the majestic hill stations like Kodagu (Coorg -the Scotland of India), its national parks or Jog Falls, its archaeological sites of Hampi or Sravanabelagola, Chamundeswari Hills, Mysore palace or Brindavan gardens, the list goes on. Its capital city of Bangalore is called the Silicon Valley of India, Mysore being famous for its silk and sandalwood, while the state has earned its name through its culinary delights of Bisi Bele Bhath and Mysore masala dosa.
As with the states’ age-old culture, Karnataka is famous for its several festivals throughout the year. The Kambala Festival, Hampi Festival, Pattadakal Festival, Makar Sankranti, Ganesh Chathurthi, and several others, some of which have been already included elsewhere in this article.
(November to March)
This is an annual buffalo race held for two days, organized in southern Karnataka and Udipi districts by the farming communities. More than a hundred buffaloes are specially groomed, decorated, and exhibited before the festivals and are made to race on tracks in the paddy fields and guided by the farmers. Kamba means muddy and kala means field. The event has become an organized rural sport, with elaborate planning and scheduling as the competition is held in many places. There are many types of Kambalas and the winning buffaloes are rewarded. In recent years, there have been protests from animal lovers and cases have been filed and fought even in the Supreme court.
The Vijaya Utsav, more commonly known as the Hampi Utsav, is a cultural extravaganza, held during the first week of November, for 3 days. The celebrations are usually packed with a grand finale pomp procession, fireworks, dance puppet shows, and music shows. The festival is a celebration of the cultural richness of the region. Recently, a lot of adventure sports have been included in the schedule like rural sports, water sports, and rock climbing. Entry is free and the state sponsors all programs. An otherwise low profile town, the festival makes it a center of attraction for thousands of tourists who visit every year to experience the festivities.
Since the Vijayanagar reign, the festival has been a part of the life of Hampi’s locals. With a colorful and lively ambiance, the festival is conducive to an overflow of happiness and joy. The festival is celebrated in the ruins of the ancient city of Hampi. The region relives the past of the Vijayanagar Empire and its ancient and medieval grandeur during these three days of celebration.
Onam is the most popular annual festival celebrated in thestateof Kerala. It is a harvest festivalcelebrated byMalayalis, during the dates based on the Panchangam(Almanac) and falls on thestar Thiruvonamin themonth Chingam of Malayalam calendar, which in theGregorian calendaroverlaps with August–September. According to legends,the Onam is celebrated to commemorate the visit of Mahabali, the demon Kingwho was sent out to the ‘netherworld’ by the fifth incarnation of Vishnu, Vamana,but who was allowed to come and see his citizens once a year. Onam is a major annual event for Malayali people in and outside ofKerala.It is a harvest festival, one of three major Hindu celebrations in Kerala, alongwith VishuandThiruvathira. Onam celebrations include Vallam Kali (boatraces), Pulikali (tiger dances), Pookkalam(flower Rangoli), Onam Kali, andseveral other celebrations. It is New Year’s day for Malayalis.
There is also sumptuous feasting, (Onam Sadya) and family gatherings, as people of Kerala recreate the utopian life that was enjoyed during Mahabali’s rule.
Onam is the official state festival of Kerala with public holidays and is also celebrated by the Malayali diaspora around the world. Though its origins are often attributed to aspects in Hindu mythology, Onam is celebrated as a cultural festival across all communities in Kerala, and nowadays, is participated by all with great enthusiasm.
Any mention of Onam would not be complete without mentioning its 8 century-old, traditional boat festival, the world-famous ‘Vallam Kali’. This extremely competitive canoe race, in which any ‘Chundan Vallams’ participate, each 100-120 feet long with 64-128 paddlers, is a major tourist attraction. The Nehru Trophy race near Alapuzha, Kerala, and Arnamula Boat races are the most popular races.
On the first day of Medam, coinciding with mid-April, the event symbolizes the auspicious ‘Vishukkani’, ‘first viewing’ of Lord Vishnu’s decorated image, with lighted lamps, along with gold, silver, a mirror, and harvest materials, making it a sumptuous viewing representing the whole of the coming year. The golden yellow flower, Kani Konna, Indian laburnum, adorns the setting, as the family members experience the togetherness, the eldest member offering coins to the younger members (Vishu Kaineettam), fireworks are displayed, all wearing new clothes, visiting temples and enjoying a sumptuous feast afterwards.
(December/January) Thiruvathira Festival falls on star Thiruvathira in the Malayalam month of Dhanu (December-January) that has been celebrated on this day for more than 1500 years. In Kerala, Thiruvathira is an important traditional festival celebrated by the Namboothiri, Kshatriya, and Nair communities of Kerala. It is largely a festival for women, who fast and pray to have good husbands and for their well-being. The first Thiruvathira of a newly-wed woman is her poothiruvathira.
The typical meal avoids rice but includes cooked broken wheat, Thiruvathira puzhukku, a delightful mix of tuber vegetables cooked with a thick paste of freshly ground coconut. The dessert is koova payasam, a sweet dish made of arrowroot powder, jaggery, and coconut milk. The women in groups dance to the tune of typical Thiruvathira songs and dance (Thiruvathira Kali or Kaikottikkali) all night, taking bath early in the morning as they sing certain songs mostly relating to the God of Love, accompanied by the rhythmic sound produced by splashing water with their palms. Oonjalattom, swinging on an oonjal (swing) is an item of amusement on this occasion. The event spreads the message of joy and also illustrates the emotions of a married woman towards her beloved and the unmarried woman longing for one.
From prehistoric times, Malayalee women enjoyed an enviable position in the society, and she was practically the mistress of her house (Matrilineal system). The elevated position she occupied at home and in the society had distinguished her from her neighbors and influenced her status to a considerable extent in the social structure, customs, and religious practices of the people, a parallel of which can hardly be found in any section of the Indian Society, or for that matter, anywhere else in the world.
Ladakh is a region administered by Indiaas aunion territory, and constitutes a part of the larger Kashmir region, which has been the subject of dispute between India, Pakistan, and Chinasince 1947. It was established on 31 October 2019, following the passage of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act. Ladakh is bordered by the Tibet Autonomous Region to the east, the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh to the south, both the Indian-administered union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, and the Pakistan-administered Gilgit-Baltistan to the west, and the southwest corner of Xinjiang across the Karakoram Pass in the far north. Ladakh gained importance from its strategic location at the crossroads of important trade routes, but as the Chinese authorities closed the borders between Tibet Autonomous Region and Ladakh in the 1960s, international trade dwindled. Since 1974, the Government of India has successfully encouraged tourism in Ladakh. As Ladakh is a part of the strategically important Kashmir region, theIndian military maintains a strong presence in the region. The largest town in Ladakh is Leh, followed by Kargil, each of which headquarters a district. The main religious groups in the region are Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Hindus, and others. Ladakh is one of the most sparsely populated regions in India. As its culture and history are closely related to that of Tibet, it is known as the “Little Tibet”. There are several festivals celebrated in Ladakh like the Hemis Festival, Losar Festival, Sindhu Darshan, Phyang Tsedup Festival, Dosmoche Festival, Saka Dawa Festival, Tak Tok Festival, Matho Nagrang Festival, Ladakh Festival and many more.
Hemis Festival:(June-July) Marking the birth of Guru Padmasambhava, Hemis Festival is not only one of the most important Buddhist celebrations in Ladakh but is also the most popular festival amongst tourists. Held in one of the most-visited monasteries in Ladakh, Hemis Gompa, the festival is a two-day event that is celebrated on the 10th day of the fifth month of the Tibetan Calendar, which is the month of June/July in the Gregorian Calendar.
On this popular festival in Ladakh, Cham Dance and other traditional dances are performed in Hemis Monastery on the beats of drums and cymbal on the tunes of long-pipe Tibetan music instruments. On both days, giant thangkas (Buddhist paintings) are unfurled for the public. IEvery12th year, the largest thangka in Ladakh is unfurled in Hemis on the first day of the festival for the public to see.
Sindhu Darshan is a three-day festival organized on the full moon night in June on the banks of the river and commemorates the river Indus as a symbol of communal harmony and unity in India. Promoting tourism in Ladakh is also referred to as a proud salute to the brave soldiers who have been fighting bravely for the safety of the country. Local artists from all over the country perform unique dance performances and people from different religions, castes and religions become a part of this festival. The most distinct part is that people bring water from their own and immerse it in the Sindhu River. On the first day of the festival, a reception for all the participants takes place, organized on the banks of river Sindhu at Shey. Prayers are also offered on the banks of the rivers by the 50 senior lamas who reside here. A bonfire also takes place at night. On the second day, a cultural program and sightseeing trip is organized, which is further followed by a Puja. The third day is usually packed with many tourists as some grand celebration takes place on this day.
As the word means, it is a state in central India. The region was ruled by many dynasties, including the Mughals, afterward the Maratha empire dominating during the 18th century. After the Anglo-Maratha wars, in the 19th century, the region was divided into several princely states under the British. The state is backward, stricken with poverty, substantial discrimination of scheduled communities, and female foeticides. It is noted for its classical and folk music with the legendary Tansen and Baiju Bawra hailing from there, along with its legendary modern-day singers Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar. The state also is noted for the largest reserves of diamond and copper in India.
(January 26) The five-day spectacular show of folk dance and music, the Lokrang festival is one of the most famous that is celebrated in Bhopal. ‘Lok’ meaning people and ‘Rang’, color, this is a colorful melange of arts, commencing on the Republic Day of India, January 26, every year. This is an extravagant exhibition of vibrant culture, ancient art forms, and melodious music from every part of the country and the globe, making it a must-do in Madhya Pradesh. India being a country with many culturally diverse states, the organizing committee of this festival decides to showcase the diversity of a particular part of a theme of the country each year. It could be the ‘Ramayni’ dedicated to theatrical presentations of the Gond tribe, or of the heritage of Indian culture ‘Dharodar’ with music and dance, or the artists from outside India showing their talents in ‘Deshantar’, or the display of handicrafts in the ‘Aakar’ show, a show of the toddlers, ‘Ullas’, or one of delicacies and cuisines, ‘Swad’ or a book fair, ‘Lokwarta’.
The profound idea of the festival is to revive and revitalize the Indian culture with all its splendor and re-energize its people to appreciate its proud legacy that has been destroyed by 200 years of British domination and dissipation of our heritage.
Khajuraho Dance Festival:
Organized by the Madhya Pradesh Kala Parishad, this is a one-week festival of classical dances held annually beside the Khajuraho temples in central India. The festival is conducted in February from the 20th to the 26th. This festival highlights the richness of the Indian classical dance styles such as Kathak, Bharathanatyam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, and Kathakali with performances of some of the best exponents in each field. Modern Indian dance has been added recently. The dances are performed in an open-air auditorium, usually in front of the Chitragupta Temple dedicated to Surya (the Sun God) and the Vishvanatha Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, belonging to the western group.
The second most populous state in the western, Deccan peninsula, with the capital Mumbai (old Bombay), this prosperous state plays a significant role in the industrialized, economic and socio-political aspects of India. Maratha empire, with the legendary Shivaji, was perhaps the most counter-power to the British, with Chalukya, Chola, Yadava, and Sultanate names connected to its history. The freedom struggle of India always respectfully recognizes the names like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Govind Ranade, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and Dadabhai Naoroji.
The state has four UNESCO World Heritage sites, Ajanta, Ellora, and Elephanta caves, Shivaji Maharaja (Victoria) Terminus, which make it one of the most popular tourist destinations. Their Warli paintings, Kolhapuri chappals, Lavani folk songs, Pav Bhaji and Puran Boli, are recognized names. In addition to the festivals listed as mainstream Indian, the following may be of interest to some.
This is a spring-time festival that marks the traditional new year for MarathiandKonkaniHindus along with other fellow Hindus. It is celebrated in and near Maharashtra and Goa on the first day of the Chaitra month to mark the beginning of the New year according to the lunisolarHindu calendar. The festival is observed with colorful floor decorations calledrangoli, a special Gudhi flag garlanded with flowers, mango, and neem leaves, topped with upturned silver or copper vessels, street processions, dancing, and festive foods. The Sindhi community celebrates this day as Cheti Chand as their new year and is observed as the emergence day of Lord Jhulelal.
This is a day of traditional worship of snakes(Nagas) observed by Hindus throughout India, Nepal, and other countries where Hinduadherents live. The worship is offered on the fifth day of the bright half of the lunar month of Shravana(July/August), according to the Hindu calendar. As part of the festivities, a Naga or serpent deity made of silver, stone, wood, or a painting of snakes is given a reverential bath with milk, and their blessings are sought for the welfare of the family. Live snakes, especially cobras, are also worshipped on this day, with offerings of milk and generally with the assistance of a snake charmer. The event has reference to the narration of sage Vaisampayana, about the attempt of King Janamejaya to decimate all snakes and avenge the death of his father Parikshit by the deadly bite of Takshaka, the king of snakes. Sage Astika interfered and the sacrifice was stopped, the day is celebrated as Naga Panchami.
This state in north-eastern India has about 3 million inhabitants, including the Meitei, Meitei Pangals, Naga tribes, Kuki/Zo tribes, and other communities. Manipur connects India to Central and Southeast Asia, China, Siberia, and such cultures, practicing a variety of religions, has an agrarian economy, and is home to the famous Manipuri dance. The secular theater is mostly confined to non-religious themes, Shumang Lila and Phampak Lila being the popular themes, performed in the center of the arena on a simple stage.
This is a five-day festival in the spring (February-March), starting on a full moon day. It is an indigenous tradition of the Meitei people. Considered the most important festival in Manipur, it has some similarities to Holi, another festival with stress on colors. The event starts after sunset, the children visiting homes asking for money (like Halloween), bands playing kirtans in temples, people splashing water at each other and sports competitions organized.
This state in Northeast India was formed in 1972 by joining some districts in Assam, the name meaning ‘abode of the clouds. The capital of Meghalaya is Shillong. The British nicknamed it the “Scotland of the East”. Like Kerala, Meghalaya has historically followed a matrilineal system where the lineage and inheritance are traced through women; the youngest daughter inherits all wealth and she also takes care of her parents.
The state is the wettest region of India, and 70 percent of the state is forested. Meghalaya has predominantly an agrarian economy with a significant commercial forestry industry.
Meghalaya state is famous for its five days long festival in November, to appease the powerful goddess Ka Blei Sybshar, for the prosperity of the people. The Ka Pomblang dance is of the Khasi tribes, in the cultural center of the Khasi hills. The priest performs a ceremony, offering oblation to God and offers a cock as sacrifice, as well as offerings to the ancestors. Unmarried girls dressed up in exotic costumes perform dances, men participating with swords and playing drums and pipes.
Another north-eastern state, ‘land of the Mizos’, is in the old-Assam region. About 95% of the population descends from a diverse tribal origin, but with a Christian majority. A highly literate, agrarian community, with horticulture and bamboo products bringing in high revenue. The culture has changed since Christianity came in the 1890s.
Chapchar Kut Festival:
Celebrated during March after completion of the arduous task of jhum operation, or jungle clearing and burning the remnants. The festival may have started about 1450-1700 AD in a village called Suaipui when the hunters came back to the village, often empty-handed and the village chief proposed a feast with rice beer, and meat. People dance, perform skills, play musical instruments, hoping to bring camaraderie to the community.
The other two festivals in Mizoram are Mim Kut and Pawl Kut revived in the last century.
This mountainous north-eastern state was formed in 1963; it has experienced insurgency and inter-ethnic conflicts, leading to limited economic development and the only state with a population decline. It is home to about 16 tribes, the majority being the Nagas, their ancestors perhaps migrating from China. The state has a Christian majority and a high literacy rate. Rice, millet, maize, pulses, sugarcane, potato, coffee, and cardamom are the cultivated crops, along with bamboo weaving and wood carving as its crafts. The name may have a Burmese origin Na-Ka meaning ‘people with earrings’, or perhaps, from the Sanskrit word ‘naga’ the serpents. There are numerous festivals related to their many tribes, but the following maybe some of the most popular.
Launched by the government in December 2000 to encourage inter-tribal interaction and to promote the cultural heritage of the state. The Festival showcases a mélange of cultural displays under one roof, held at Naga Heritage Village, Kisama, and named after the hornbill bird, that is mentioned in their folklores. The week-long festival unites Nagaland to enjoy the colorful performances, crafts, sports, food fairs, games, and ceremonies, as well as displaying their paintings, wood carvings, and sculptures.
The festival highlights the exhibition and sale of arts and crafts, food stalls, herbal medicine stalls, cultural medley – songs and dances, fashion shows, traditional archery, Naga wrestling, indigenous games, and musical concerts. Additional attractions include the Konyak fire eating demonstration, literature Festival, film Fest, and several other interesting items.
Locally known as Phousanyi, a ‘purification festival’, Sekrenyl is an annual ten-day event of Angami Nagas, the objective being to cleanse the body and soul, to bring forth unity, and to initiate young ones to adulthood, and celebrated by both Kruna and Christian Angamis. There are many rituals involved in the event. Starting with ‘Kezie’, people sprinkling rice water gathered in leaves, men
performing ablutions and adorning new shawls, followed by singing and dancing and feasting, young people with shaven heads participate in the revelry. It is followed by hunting, pulling down an old gate, as the villagers start exchanging visits, offering greetings, and restarting another year.
Is located in eastern India, with about 300 miles of coastline along the Bay of Bengal, and is mentioned as Utkala in the Indian National Anthem. This ancient kingdom of Kalinga, invaded and defeated by Maurya emperor Ashoka in the Kalinga war, was established as Orissa province in 1936 by the British. The state is famous for its heritage sites, beaches, pilgrimage places like Puri and Jagannath, and other tourist attractions, along with its culinary traditions, and Odissi dance.
The Festival of Chariot, of Shri Jagannath, is celebrated every year at Puri, the temple town in Odisha, on the second day of the waxing cycle of the moon, in Ashadh Masa (July). The presiding deities of the Jagannath Temple, Lord Jagannath, with the celestial wheel- Sudarshana Chakra are removed from the temple in a ceremonial procession to their chariots. The huge, colourfully decorated chariots are drawn by multitudes of devotees on the grand avenue to the Gundicha Temple two miles away to the North. On their way back, the three deities stop for a while near the Mausi Maa Temple (Aunt’s abode) and have an offering of the Poda Pitha, which is a special type of pancake supposed to be the Lord’s favorite. After a stay for seven days, the deities return to their abodes.
This is a three-day-long festival of womanhood celebrated, in mid-June, the first day called Pahili Raja,the second day is Mithuna Sankranti, and the third day is Bhu daaha or Basi Raja. The final fourth day is called Vasumati snana, in which the ladies bathe with turmeric paste and adorn with flower, sindoor, etc. All types of seasonal fruits are offered to mother Bhumi (Mother Earth). During these three days, women and girls take a rest from work and wear new Saree, Alata, and ornaments. Just as the earth prepares itself to quench its thirst by the incoming rain, the unmarried girls of the family are groomed for impending matrimony through this festival. They pass these three days in joyous festivity and observe customs like eating only uncooked and nourishing food especially Poda Pitha, do not take bath or take salt, do not walk barefoot, and vow to give birth to healthy children in the future. The most vivid and enjoyable memories one has of the Raja gaiety are the rope swings on big banyan trees and the lyrical folk songs that one listens from the nubile beauty enjoying the atmosphere.
According to popular belief, as women menstruate, which is a sign of fertility, so also Mother Earth menstruates. So all three days of the festival are considered to be the menstruating period of Mother Earth. As a mark of respect towards the Earth during her menstruation days, all agricultural work comes to a standstill during these days. The young men of the village keep themselves busy in various types of country games, the most favorite being ‘Kabadi’.
The ‘Land of Five Rivers’, Punjab is in northern India. It is bordered by aprovince of Pakistan, again named Punjab, to the west. The main ethnic group is the Punjabis, Sikhs, and Hindus being the dominant religions. The name Punjab is derived from the five tributary rivers of the Indus River,Sutlej, Ravi, Beas, Chenab, and Jhelum. The Indus Valley Civilization flourished in this region in antiquity, before recorded history until their decline around 1900 BCE, and was enriched during the height of the Vedic period. The region formed the frontier of initial empires during antiquity includingAlexander’s regime and Maurya empires.
About 75% of Sikhs live in Punjab. They are industrious people, engaged in agriculture, sports, and armed forces, being 15% of the Indian army, including some of the most elite divisions, are comprised of Sikhs. They have an exclusive, cultural tradition with Bhangra music, poetry, cuisine, wedding rituals, folklore, and festivals.
Bhangra dance began as a folk dance conducted by Punjabifarmers to celebrate the coming of the harvest season. The specific moves of Bhangra reflect how villagers farmed their land. This hybrid dance became Bhangra. The folk dance has been popularized in the western world by Punjabisin England, Canada, and the USA where competitions are held. It is seen in the West as an expression of South Asian culture as a whole. Today, Bhangra dance survives in different forms and styles all over the globe – including pop music, filmsoundtracks, collegiate competitions, and cultural shows.
Celebrated in January, by Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims, Lohri is the arrival of longer days after the winter solstice. The significance and legends about the Lohri festival are many and these link the festival to the Punjab region. It is observed the night before Makar Sankranti, also known as Maghi, and according to the solar part of the lunisolar Vikrami calendar, and typically falls about the same date every year (January 13). Lohri is an official holiday in Punjab, the Jammu region of Jammu and Kashmir, and Himachal Pradesh. The festival is celebrated in Delhi and Haryana but is not a gazetted holiday.
The festival is celebrated by lighting bonfires, eating festive food, dancing and collecting gifts, singing and dancing form an intrinsic part of the celebrations. People wear their brightest clothes and this festival provides the opportunity to interact with family and friends.
‘The Land of Kings’ as Rajasthan means, it is the largest Indian state by area, located on the northwest side of the nation. Thar desert occupies a wide area and borders Pakistan. Major features include the ruins of Indus Valley Civilization, the Dilwara temples, a Jain temple in its hill station Mount Abu and Keolaedo, a world heritage site for its birdlife. Its Ranthambore national park is home to three tiger reserves. The Rajputs, famous for their warfare and chivalry, put up resistance to the Islamic invasions for centuries. Emperor Vikramaditya, Maharana Pratap, and Rana Amar Singh are noted names in the annals of Indian history. It is culturally rich and varied with its ancient Indian traditions; Classical music and dance, its cuisine, colorful arts, handicraft, wood furniture, carpets, pottery, and the like.
It is one of the most important festivals, falling after Holi, in March-April, and is celebrated for 18 days in honor of Goddess Parvathi mostly by the womenfolk of Rajasthan. Images of the goddess are made of clay or painted wood, the married ladies and unmarried girls applying mehndi, the red, vegetable dye on their hands, participating and honoring Parvathi/Gauri, and finally submerging the images in water. The festival in Jaipur is most famous all over the world. There are processions with palanquins, chariots, bullock carts, and folk artists; A sweet dish called ghewar is characteristic of the festival. Udaipur has a dedicated ghat named after the festival situated on the waterfront of Lake Pichola, the prime location for the festival. The festival is also the consequent celebration of the harvest.
Desert Festival of Jaisalmer:
Happening during February, in the Thar desert, this festival is an expressive way to indulge in the glorious heritage of Rajasthan. There is an abundance of celebrations with vibrant puppet shows, folk music and dance, camel races, camel polo matches, tug of war, juggling events, turban tying, and the longest mustache competition. Participants wear colorful traditional attires and display the best of Rajasthani folk culture and traditions.
This north-eastern, least populous, and smallest state borders China, Bhutan, and Nepal, as also is close to the Siliguri Corridor near Bangladesh. It is host to Kanchenjunga, the highest peak in India, as well as 35% of it is covered by the Khangchendzonga National park, a UNESCO Heritage Site. It was a princely state ruled by a king until 1973 when the Indian army had to interfere against an anti-royalist group and Sikkim joined India as its 22nd state. A most environmentally conscious state, it is also the highest producer of cardamom.
Sikkim’s majority Nepalese celebrate all Hindu festivals, while the major festivals are Buddhist celebrations, and the Muslims do so with Muharram and Eid ul-Fitr.
(February or March) The Tibetan New Year is celebrated by Sikkim as a Buddhist festival, that falls in February or March. Losar predates Buddhism and has its roots in a winter incense-burning custom of the Bon religion. During the ninth Tibetan king’s rule, it was merged with the harvest festival.
During the celebration, people go to a local spring to perform a ritual of gratitude and make offerings to the nagas. The event is a gesture of relating to the elements of nature, originated by sages, the concept being the sacred connection of the internal and external elements. The celebrations last 15 days, with Chinese, Tibetans, Mongols, and Indian traditions having influences.
One of the most famous festivals of Sikkim, this is an event of Mahayana Buddhism, commemorating Lord Buddha’s birth, his attainment of enlightenment, and salvation from the corporeal world. This provides a visual treat of various religious ceremonies and street processions of the Buddhist culture.
Tamil Nadu is a state in southern India, with the Bay of Bengal on the east, mountain ranges on the west and north, with the gulf of Mannar, and the Arabian Sea on the south, separating it from Sri Lanka. They were ruled by the Chera, Chola, and Pandya regimes, and then under the British Colonial rule until Independence. Modern-day Tamil Nadu was formed in 1956 after reorganization as a linguistic state. Its economy is the second-largest in India, and the state is one of the most industrialized. Tamil is its language, which is considered the longest surviving classical language of the world, and archeologically, it is one of the longest continuous habitations in the Indian peninsula. They were engaged in trades and commerce of spices, pearls, and silk with the Romans, China, and other nations. The Tamils are also noted for epics like Chilappatikaram and Thirukkural, covering all aspects of life.
Known for its rich traditions of literature, art, music, and dance, the state continues to flourish. Bharata Natyam, the South Indian classical music and Tanjavur paintings are globally famous.
Coinciding with Makara Sankranti elsewhere, this is a four-day harvest festival, in mid-January. The event starts with cleaning up, destroying old clothes, followed by the main day of Surya Pongal on the second day, and Mattu Pongal on the third, offering gratitude to the cattle. The following day is Jallikattu, a bull-taming contest, and the final day, Kaanum Pongal, meaning ‘to view’.
Tamils celebrate several other festivals (described earlier) like Deepavali, Ayudha Pooja, Saraswathi Pooja (Dasara), Sri Krishna Jayanthi, Vinayaka Chathurthi, along with the other religious festivals like Christmas and Muharram.
The event is celebrated in several places all over the world organizing classical music events where hundreds of professionals to students in music performance, reciting the saint’s compositions
This is Telugu state created from parts of Andhra Pradesh in 2014, from ongoing protests from a section of the people who demanded and agitated such independence. Hyderabad, its capital and cultural heart used to be ruled by the Nizam until 1956. The state has a mixture of Persian traditions from the Mughals who ruled, along with that of south India.
A Telangana traditional Hindu festival centered on the Goddess Mahakali, with origins traced to the 18th century. This festival is celebrated annually in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, as well as in other parts of the state. It is celebrated in the month of Ashada Masam, which is around July and/or August. The name Bonam is from the Sanskrit word Bhojanam, meaning a feast. Women prepare rice cooked with milk and jaggery in an earthen pot adorned with neem leaves, turmeric, and vermillion. It is believed that Goddess Mahakali makes her annual visit to her parental home during this time.
Dedicated to Goddess Parvathi, Gauri Devi, and celebrated for nine days during Navarathri, this festival is to herald the abundance offered by nature. Bathukamma means ‘festival of life’ when the goddess is felicitated with traditional celebrations.
This the third smallest, another north-eastern state, that has tropical Savanna climate, agriculture, and handicrafts of bamboo and cane, but has remained poor despite high literacy, and has a composite culture of Indian and ethnic groups. The name is linked to the presiding deity Tripura Sundari, at Udaipur. Wildlife and bird sanctuaries and national parks of the state are protected under law. Music and dance are an integral part of its culture.
The most popular festival, in Tripura, is the worship of the fourteen gods of Tripura and is celebrated in the month of July-August. It ends with sacrifices of cattle to the Earth God. Kharchi means ‘earth’, and the event is in praise of the earth. All the rituals are of tribal origin, meant to wash out sins, performed for seven days at the local temple, and including the sacrifice of goats and pigeons along with other offerings.
On November 9, 2000, the state of Uttaranchal—the 27th state of India—was carved out of Uttar Pradesh, and in January 2007 the new state changed its name to Uttarakhand, meaning “northern region,” which was the traditional name for the area. The area is known for its pilgrimage sites, with the sacred Ganga river and its spiritual gatherings, Rishikesh as a Yoga center, and the wildlife shelters of Bengal tigers. The state is also famous for its literary traditions, its ornate temples, wood carving, Pahari and Gangra painting, handicrafts Uttarkhand cuisine, and dances and music.
Haridwar Kumbh Mela:
One of the major Hindu pilgrimages, Haridwar Kumbh Mela, takes place in Uttarakhand. Haridwar is one of the four places in India where this mela is organized and most recently hosted the Purna Kumbh Mela from Makar Sankrantito Vaishakh Purnima Snan, dipping in the sacred waters. Hundreds of foreigners join Indian pilgrims in the festival, which is considered the largest religious gathering in the world.
The world’s most populous county subdivision with the most population in India, UP is the area of Triveni, the sacred confluence of three rivers, Ganga, Yamuna, and mythical river Saraswati. In 2000, a new state Uttaranchal (now Uttarkhand) was carved out of this state. It is a state with many heritage sites, pilgrimage centers, historical and tourist destinations. Place of creation of many Vedic texts, renowned for its Hindi language writers and poets, folklores, and often referred to as the Hindi heartland. Its music traditions are several; Sohar, Kajari, Gazal, Thumri, Qawwali, Rasiya depicting the divine love of Krishna and Radha and others. The famous Kathak dance hails from UP.
Diwali, Rama Navami, Kumbh Mela, and Holi are celebrated on a grand scale in the state.
Held annually in Shilpgram near the eastern gate of Taj Mahal, Taj Mahotsav is a colorful display of the culture of the Braj area. This ten-day-long carnival, a vibrant platform displaying India’s rich arts, crafts, cultures, cuisines, dance, and music. Taj Mahal is the most beautiful, historic place in the country, is the appropriate site to exhibit the diverse riches of Incredible India.
The festival also invokes the memories of the old Mughal era and also the Navabi style of the 18th and 19th centuries. About 400 artisans from different parts of India assemble there grabbing the opportunity to display their talents and India’s panoramic cultural contributions to the world.
The river Ganga has been a sacred river for Hindus for ages. She is considered the Goddess ‘who washes away the sins’ and millions come to take a holy bath in her. They put forward flowers and floating oil or ghee lamps and save the holy waters for making use of it in a variety of Hindu rituals.
The festival Ganga Mahotsav is five days long and sends a message to all about the spiritual and religious beliefs and culture of Varanasi city. It is believed that Ganga nourishes the Varanasi civilization fa or long and it has been of great religious importance to Hindu society. Pilgrims celebrate the event by performing Indian classical style music and dance. Many luminaries irrespective of their religious beliefs participate and perform at the Ganga Mahotsav.
A state in the eastern region, along the Bay of Bengal and bordering Bangladesh, West Bengal was part of many empires like the Mauryans, the Goudas, and the Guptas. The region has been a hotbed of the Indian Independence movement and has remained one of India’s artistic and intellectual centers. Following widespread religious conflicts between Hindus and Muslims, the state was partitioned in 1947 as Hindu-dominated West Bengal being part of India and East Bengal with a Muslim majority as part of Pakistan. The Bengali language is renowned for its rich literary heritage, the tradition of poetry, folk arts, and for its illustrious people like Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Satyajit Ray, and several others.
There is a saying in Bengal that it has ‘thirteen festivals in twelve months. The state’s biggest festival of Durga Puja, or Kali Puja, Holi, and others have been covered earlier.
Pahela Baishakh traces its roots back to Mughal rule in this region and also the proclamation of tax collection reforms of Akbar. The festival is celebrated with processions, fairs, and family time. The traditional greeting for Bengalis in the new year is “Shubho Noboborsho” which is literally “Happy New Year”. The festive Mangal Shobhajatra is organized in Bangladesh. In 2016,UNESCO declared this festivity organized by the Faculty of Fine ArtsUnder the diversity of Dhaka, as a cultural heritage of humanity.
(September 16 or 19)
This is a day of celebration for Vishwakarma, a Hindu god, the divine architect. He is considered the creator of the world. He constructed the holy city of Dwarka where Krishna ruled, the Maya Sabha of the Pandavas, and was the creator of many fabulous weapons for the gods. He is also called the divine carpenter, is mentioned in the Rig Veda, and is credited with Sthapatya Veda, the science of mechanics and architecture. It is generally celebrated every year on September 16 or 19, which is on the last day of the Indian Bhado month, in the Solar calendar. The festival is observed primarily in factories and industrial areas, often on the shop floor. As a mark of reverence, the day of worship is marked by the engineering and architecturalcommunity, by the artisans, craftsmen, mechanics, smiths, welders, industrial workers, factory workers and others. They pray for a better future, safe working conditions and, above all, success in their respective fields. Workers also pray for the smooth functioning of various machines.
The above article on ‘The Festivals of India’, is my humble attempt to assemble information on the topic for inclusion in www.indiancentury.com, a website created to offer ‘an adequate understanding about India and the enormous contributions ancient Indians had made to world culture’. The concept of such a website is the brainchild of Dr. P. K. Raghuprasad, a physician with a vast array of interests and phenomenal understanding in a variety of fields. It is as per the instructions of Dr. Raghu, my friend, that I have ventured into gathering information on the subject, the festivals of India. I soon realized that I have undertaken a task way beyond my expertise and more elaborate than my anticipated assumptions. Easily the most ‘elaborate and diverse’ country on our planet earth, India should be a most mesmerizing experience to anyone who is genuinely interested in understanding it. As extravagant as it is in every aspect of its existence, its festivals are numerous, equally kaleidoscopic and representative of its underlying ethos.
The information that I have attempted to collate in this narrative is collected from numerous resources published by extensive research by qualified individuals. As much as I have tried to acknowledge my gratitude to each of them by including the sources as references, any omissions are deeply regretted. As I offer my humble gratitude to each of them who have provided the information, I hope that the readers would benefit from their efforts and enjoy their findings.
(Courtesy: World religions, India Tourism, India-tours, Tour my India, Travel Triangle, Hello travel, Incredible India, Times of India, India Today, Deccan Herald, Deccan Chronicle, Dreamtimes, The Hans India, Destimap, Steam it, Cadburygifting.in, Wikipedia, Seniority Live Evergreen, Meruka India Tourism, Sadguru’s lectures, Encyclopedia Britannica, BBC Bitesize, All About Sikhs – your Gateway to Sikhism, Sikhiwiki, Jainworld, Jainism world resource center, The Buddhist Society, Buddhanet, Hindu Website/Zoroastrianism, Gradeup, Byjus, TravelTriangle, Ideal Leisure Holidays, State of Kerala.in, Adotrip, Everybody Wiki, Taj Mahotsav org, Varanasi.org, Desicomments.com, Navrang India, Tour My India, Pinterest, Tusharupsc, Holidify.com, wikiwand, Heritage institute, All India Roundup, Blazonsart.
Courtesy: Pixabay.com, istock photos, Shutterfly- for the pictures)
Dr. Jay K. Raman’s autobiography, ‘From the Land of Spice to the Land of Oil’ is an outstanding creation that merits accolades in several genres. Personal narratives are seldom received well by the mainstream unless they are from established names or the coverage justifies engaging themes and unique rendering. ‘Spice and Oil’, fulfills the role beyond those objectives and offers the patrons a sumptuous treat, lavishly presenting them with descriptions that are inspiring and educational. It is seldom that we come across a biographical treatise that has kaleidoscopically recounted an array of topics of such empirical relevance that the consumers can intimately align with. The author has cleverly inserted his life stories within the framework of their geographic and historic placements, weaving them through their regional, socio-cultural, political, and religious perspectives, and extensively quoting from appropriate references. The narrative is offered with measures of his philosophy and subtle sense of humor added as its intrinsic icing. His coverage of Kerala, from its evolution from Parasurama to Pinarayi, its transitions through the kingdoms of Chera, Chola, and Pandya, the various skirmishes between its people, its political reorientations and social adaptations, are bound to capture the interest of the readers for the pure academic information loaded through its pages. His chronicling of the state from the times of Chinese commerce, the effect of Buddhism on its culture, as in ‘Saranam Ayyappa’, Adi Sankara’s unification of Hindus through Advaidic Vedanta philosophy, the communal adaptations from Namboodiris to the untouchables, the uniqueness of Nair community and its Matrilineal customs, and several such are preciously endearing accounts that are phenomenally scholastic and animating. Kerala’s celebrated martial arts, ‘Kalari Payattu’ from its origin to the present exhibition status, is presented with all its splendor that I have never found anywhere else. The book enumerates historical accounts around the globe from the colonial domination of the British dynasty, decimating India’s millennia-old ethnic heritage and plundering its treasures, the tragic details of our partition with Pakistan, to an eye-witness narrative about the Arabs and particulars of the region, to Chinese revolutions, the battles of Alamo in Texas to the present-day politics and several such titbits with authority and deference that they deserve. ‘From The Land of Spice to The Land of Oil’, is an illuminative chronicle of an Indian physician’s life, narrated in an inimitably honest style, and presented with the historic, cultural, and social settings as relevant to his work. It is an engrossing story stretching from his upbringing in Kerala, India, his parents struggling to raise virtuous children through the economic lean times of the era, his time as a medical student and a devoted doctor, serving the army, his interesting transit through the Middle East, and eventually arriving in the USA where he settles down as a successful surgeon. The last few sections have been deftly devoted to his parents, children, professional life, healthcare, his extensive travelogues, charitable ventures, and concluding with his commanding and provoking opinions on a variety of universal issues. The author’s language is simple, expressions lucid, style easy-flowing, details appealing, and the contents delivered with alacrity, humility, and humor. He doesn’t mince words or shies away from saying what he believes in, yet he presents them with honesty and no trace of vanity that the readers would enjoy the book for its integrity and convictions. One could draw a parallel of the writer’s mettle as an adept story-teller, like the proverbial Sanjaya of Mahabharata delineating the incidents of Kurukshetra war to the blind king Dhritharashtra. As he repeatedly admits his success as the blessings of God, his story is an obvious example of hard work, ambition, dedication, commitment, diligence, sincerity, and in his case an exceptionally brilliant ‘breed’. Dr. Raman’s life has been a dutiful model in every role; as a son, student, husband, father, surgeon, friend, and community leader, serving as an ideal for others to emulate. The book emphatically declares a reality, pertinent for the present times and place we live in. America may be a land of opportunity, but it is the kind of intelligent and diligent immigrants like Jay Raman who substantially and continually contribute to enriching this country with the knowledge they bring in, and the commitment they devote to their adopted land. Irrespective of where they come from or the color of their skin or the accent they speak, their contribution must be acknowledged, appreciated, and encouraged. Having written my own memoirs, reading many others, and critiquing a few, I am delighted to endorse this book for the abundance of its contents and eloquence of its conveyance. The publication merits being on the best-seller list.
Obit: Dr. Bas Nair (C. K. Bhaskar) By Arun Venugopal
Dr. Bas Nair (C.K. Bhaskar), a renowned cricketer for the Indian national team who went on to pursue an illustrious career in medicine and served on the 294 organizing committee for the 1993 AKMG Convention in Houston, passed away at his home in Houston, Saturday night at the age of 79. He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Chandni; his daughters Rita Nair, Tanya Nair Cocchia, and Sonya Nair Cranford and his sons-in-law Dominic Cocchia and Johnathan Cranford. For the last seven years, Dr. Nair lived with cancer, but as his daughter, Tanya described, he remained unrelenting in his pursuit of all that mattered to him: travel, music, good meals, and time with the people he loved and cared for. “Up until two days before, he was still managing some patients,” she said. The Kerala Cricket Association mourned Nair’s passing on Facebook, acknowledging him as “the first International Cricketer from Kerala, who had played for India in the Unofficial Test Series against Ceylon in 1964 under the Captaincy of the Nawab of Pataudi,” and in First-Class matches. As one fan remarked, “He was Kerala’s hero.” He was born in 1941 to Gopalan Nair and Ammu Kutty Amma. Even as a teenager entering medical school, Bhaskaran Nair was something of a legend. “‘C.K. Bhaskar is here. C.K. Bhaskar is here!’” recalled his friend, Dr. Venugopal K. Menon, echoing the excitement of students at Thiruvanthapuram Medical College in the late 1950s. At the time, he had gained fame as a young cricket player. But an embarrassing moment about his athletic abilities left a profound mark on him. “I was a final-year at Thiruvanthapuram Medical College when he joined,” said Menon. “Everyone knew him as the hero cricket player. When he was in the third year or so he played for India. Coming back to the class he was expecting a huge welcome. As the class started, [Principal of the College] Dr. M. Thangavelu entered and called out Bhaskaran’s name. He stood up, expecting accolades. But the sir told him, as a medical student you learn medicine, or can choose to play cricket, but not both together. Bhaskar felt bad but he took it as a challenge; went to the UK, got his MRCP, to Canada, and got FRCP, and into the USA and got the boards. When he met Dr. Thangavelu many years later, he thanked him for that awkward day.” His niece, Dr. Anjana Rajan, described him as a “master diagnostician.” “Recently I texted him from the E.R. after my son hurt his arm,” said Rajan, who is Director of Behavioral Health at Tufts University School of Medicine. “The E.R. physician misdiagnosed my son with ‘nursemaid elbow’ after he fell off a swing at the playground and we were discharged. Bas Uncle called me 295 immediately and said ‘Go back,’ [that] there’s no way that’s the diagnosis because I wasn’t swinging him around by his arms. He told me it was a lateral epicondyle fracture. He had not even physically seen my son as we live in Boston. Just heard my description of the events. He made me go back and insist on a full set of X-rays and scans and indeed it was exactly that.” In addition to his diagnostic abilities, Rajan said she was struck by his bedside manner as he treated her 5-year-old son. “I feel like very few people ‘get’ children. But he always treated him like a person first and not just a child. Always kneels down to talk to him and looks him in the eyes. Right up until the end he was always respectful to Niam in addition to being loving. We let my son know he passed away today and he was sobbing. He asked how old does he have to be to go to heaven to see him again.” Somehow, Nair found the time to have both a family and a thriving career while committing himself fully to his various passions. He ran marathons. He was a gifted public speaker. He played tabla and would unhesitatingly sing to a friend on their birthday or serenade a young newlywed couple with an old Bollywood ballad. He collected art — including works by Salvador Dali and Frederic Remington — and he obsessively followed sports. This included personally attending each Olympic Games from Munich (1972) to Rio de Janeiro (2016). “Every single one,” said Tanya He even, remarkably, obtained a patent: his invention, ‘Artificial wind producing flagpole assembly,’ (U.S. Patent 7,017,510) was intended to remedy the embarrassing condition of a limp flag, drooping feebly from its flagpole. His longtime friend, Dr. Jay K. Raman (aka Jay Mohan), who regularly gathered for dinner with Nair, put it this way: “Bhaskar is a person of unlimited energy.” “Is,” he said, retaining the present tense to describe his dear friend. Tanya described her father as ‘larger than life,’ and took some comfort in the fact that he was surrounded by family in his final weeks, and that he continued to crack jokes, to the point that his hospice worker questioned whether he was in fact sick. “He was basically like, ‘I’m not afraid of death, and you shouldn’t be afraid.’ He had that mentality. ‘I’ve had a very full life; I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to.’” There was little that could deter him, even in the throes of illness, she said. Three days before he died, as he sat in his bed, he asked for his tabla to be brought to him. “We were all just sitting around, watching him play,” she said. “It was really remarkable. And it was just such a beautiful time, too.”
— Arun Venugopal is a journalist and the son of Dr. Venugopal Menon and will dearly miss Dr. Nair, aka Bhaskar Uncle
With the advent of the rain-drenched month of Karkkidakam (mid-July to mid-August), the state of Kerala gets serenely devotional. This is the month when pious Hindus recite Ramayanam, the month being designated as ‘Ramayana Maasam’. Ancient scholars looked at this month as the time of passage of Lord 292 Rama. Another understanding applicable to the month is that ‘Ra’ or darkness gets ‘maayanam’ or wiped off. So, it is Rama’s Ayanam (journey) or Maayanam (wiping out) of Ra (darkness) that it signifies . Ayanam or the journey of the Lord begins in the first canto or Baalakaandam of the Epic Ramayanam and does not even stop after the Lord’s coronation, but only in the Uttarakaandam (last chapter) when He gets immersed along with his close disciples in the blue waves of the river Sarayu. With that, His purpose of incarnation is completed as ‘Thretha Yuga’ comes to an end. (According to Hindu concepts, one day of Brahma comprises of four Yugas; Satya, Dwaapara, Thretha and Kali. We are into about 5000 years of Kali Yuga) Karkkidakam is the last month of Malayalam year, a season when rain and darkness engulf nature, along with unemployment and halted cultivation. It is usually a ‘dark’ time for people. Perhaps for that reason, it is also called ‘Panja Karkkidakam’, the pauper month. During such depressing months only divine thoughts can keep our minds calm, when even the most principled person with the noblest of mind-set gets gloomy and depressed. Lord Sri Rama is the incarnation of Thretha Yuga, noted for his ultimate love and compassion. In his life He is God coming to earth as a human being to annihilate demons Ravana and Kumbhakarna. He is above emotions, staying calm when his father wishes for his coronation, or when his aunt orders him to the jungle. Even when he exiles his wife Sita as per the wishes of his citizens, he does not show any emotions. No other great scriptures describe such kindness, respect and love like Sri Rama. All Keralites, irrespective of age start reading Ramayana on the first day of Karkkidakam at the entrance hall of the house in front of a lighted traditional lamp, Nilavilakku. The dark, dreary twilight of the Karkkidakam month will get brightened as we recite the serene poetry of Ramayanam. The firm association of Ramayanam and Karkkidakam is thus established. The most important canto of Ramayanam is the Sundara Kaandam. It narrates the valiant trip of Hanuman, the ultimate devotee of Sri Rama across the ocean to Sri Lanka in search of Sita, meeting with her and exchanging the ring that Rama has given her with her hair ornament and then burns down a major portion of Ravana’s palace. The canto is believed to relieve sorrow and obstacles in life, and bring in prosperity. It is mentioned that the sacred verses are even capable of dousing the fury of gods and goddesses. As per astrology, Karkkidakam is the fourth of the twelve months of the year, starting from Medam. It symbolizes motherhood, family unity and traditions. Sri Rama was born on star Punartham in the month of Karkkidakam. It is also the month which opens the door to prosperity of the month, Chingam. After working hard for eleven months, people take rest during the dark and rainy month of Karkkidakam, building their energy and enthusiasm to resume work in the New Year. Karkkidakam is also believed to be the month of our departed ancestors, ‘Karanavers’ of many generations. The full moon day of Karkkidakam (Karkkidaka Vaavu), is the day we observe penance, offering respect to the ancestors. Doing such ‘Kriyas’, we believe in an objective, remembering those who gave us birth and our bodies out of theirs, thus paying respect and showing gratitude for their generosity. It is also a process by which we teach our children and future generations of a culture remembering ancestors, offering them respect and getting their blessings. It is when we pray that our children will live along principles of Dharma, that of honesty, fairness, law and order. Each generation has to live along such paths of Dharma in order to expect their children to follow the same principles and pass on such traditions to their children. This is the essence of the principles of ‘Kriyas’ as we offer our deference to our ancestors Let us use the month of Karkkidakam to re-establish and solidify relationships, to forgive and forget, and to respectfully reminisce our ancestors through the reading of the sacred text of Ramayana.
Whenever I am in India, almost on a daily basis, I make it a point to visit my sister Ammini who lives about a mile away from my home. And often I choose to walk the distance. Not only that it gives me an opportunity to feel one with the surroundings, the effort offers me a perspective analysis of the enormous transformation that my hometown has gone through. The walk often carries me through seven decades in time, from the placid and rustic memories of the past to the raucous and boisterous cacophony of modernity. The idyllic village atmosphere that has been preciously protected in the crevices of my mind often gets disturbed competing with the present, harsh reality of clusters of concrete monuments, blaring noise, and choking smoke. As the speeding buses and honking autos race by me with utter abandon, I virtually succeed in escaping into my own imaginary settings of the green expanse of luscious paddy fields and clayish walking bunds that divided them. The acres of coconut palms, bushy trees, and vegetable gardens have been replaced by stacks of ugly cement tenements and shacks selling commodities. The scattered homes and occasional huts vanished to accommodate the skyscrapers and massive industrial complexes. Only the sky has remained the same. I search in vain for my familiar puddles, mounds of pebbles, and routine ditches that used to be signposts along my path from my father’s home to that of my mother. The single rail line that used to drag an occasional train has been multiplied several times hauling a variety of electric coaches to numerous destinations. A 291 double lane concrete bridge built overhead the railroad tracks has made it convenient for vehicles and pedestrians to cross without waiting for the trains. The handful of pedestrians who frequented the narrow sandy walkways have politely disappeared that many thousands of impatient humans can find their hungry goals in a hurry. The sprawling metropolis has mercilessly bulldozed the once upon a polite and placid land of mine to accommodate the growing needs of the faceless, soulless crowd and mutilated the sanctity of the place. Though I find it hard to precisely identify the many familiar locations of my several childhood connections, the events and the individuals remain transfixed as inseparable images in my mind. And as I walk through those spaces, the experiences glide in and weave back imposing themselves into the presence, crafting an illusional uncertainty. The best I can explain it would be a fusion of the dimensions of time and space, perhaps a scientific impossibility, but certainly within the realms of the faculties of the mind. The landscapes have no semblance of the past, but I still sense the ever bachelor shopkeeper Raman standing at his front door and watching the street, the barber Kuttan agreeing to report soon for my father’s haircut, or the graceful Velama greeting me with her charming smile. I still shudder as I walk through the old vicinity of the house of Ramakrishna Pillai, a gregarious old man with his long white beard and big belly that many years later, Sant Claus reminded me of. One of his sons along with his friends was arrested and put in jail for seven years for raping two nuns, the story making a huge scandal and totally shaming the respectable family. Ramakrishna Pillai never came out of the house. As I walk over the tall bridge, I think of the tall Tresa teacher and all her lanky family members who lived in a house on the side of the perpetual puddle (we called it valiya vellam – big water). When it rained, the puddle swelled deep and we could not walk through without wetting our clothes. As is said, change is the only dependable constant. Yet thoughts can sieve through transcending time and the accompanying changes and grab on to the saved old splendors. As we attempt to balance between our inner thoughts and their external expression, our conscience is often caught in a quandary of doing total justice to both. The closer the two can be and the lesser the modification is forced upon, life can be peaceful and serene.
Human existence is the ultimate Divine endowment, the mind being its celestial connection to cosmic authority. The physical body is the absolute expression and its biologic functioning an undeniable extension of the astounding energy that we call life. The role of mind and spirituality in dealing with health and illness is akin to that of electricity illuminating a city. The ones who treat can only heal when they realize that critical reality. Even though there is no universal definition for spirituality, almost all cultures and religions relate to the presence of a ‘living consciousness’, a spirit within every human being that is relevant to life within or beyond the celestial system. In a larger concept of ‘being’ and a broader realm of existence, it relates to the meaning of life, a soul beyond the physical body, an inter- connection between different beings and them with the Reality at large. In Hindu perception, spirituality covers the philosophy of Dharma, Karma, cycles of birth and death and the ultimate salvation (Moksha). Brilliant observations and inferences of the several genius philosophers and thinkers have educated us the many basic facts of life through recorded history. As we remain mesmerized by their wisdom and acknowledge their teachings with humility and gratitude, we also develop a certain sense of submission to an inconceivable authority that transcends beyond the reach of human comprehension, making our understanding more pristine and sublime. And such reflective experiences enrich our attitude and mold our minds through assimilation of a certain ‘obscure yet palpable element of spirituality’. As much as we can attribute all our materialistic developments to the courtesy of scientific inventions, when dealing with matters of life and that of mind, we are enforced to transcend our sphere of perception to a much loftier realm. Once we accept an entity that we call ‘soul’ and its nature as 288 justified and explained in our scriptures, we may become more at ease accepting a spiritual dominion beyond our reach. It is common knowledge that we have not even scratched the surface of that metaphysical plane, nor perhaps we never will. It is encouraging that modern science is gradually and graciously accepting an intellect beyond their grasp, even granting it to be a concession, facilitating an amicable synchronization between ‘science’ and ‘spirituality’. If human life and perhaps its soul is the ultimate entity in the ever evolving process of creation and evolution, it behooves us to imagine that there may be a vested purpose, a designated destiny, an imaginative intent, established, structured and manipulated by an Ultimate Reality which will always remain inconceivable to the miniscule ability and grasp of human intellect. At the same time, if the wealth of knowledge amassed by the spiritual minds can accommodate and take advantage of the scientific information accumulated through the human socio- cultural enhancement, this global human family of ours stands to benefit immensely. As we approach the subject of healthcare, a common and widespread perception is that of the biologic well-being of an individual, relating to the best possible working of the body under normal environmental conditions. Any disturbance or imbalance to such status of ‘health’ due to internal or external reasons would result in illness and when such cannot be mitigated by treatment or adjustments within the body itself, it will lead to death. Many of the old-world countries especially India and other Eastern concepts of health have always emphasized the role of the mind, its importance and of spirituality in the maintenance of a robust status of physical welfare. Western, ‘modern’ medicine for centuries hardly considered such philosophy as of any significance. Perhaps because of the systematic methodology of Allopathy that established its dominance and universal popularity through fundamental and corroborative research data before incorporating a certain modality of treatment, mind and its function was not recognized as crucial in the physiology and pathology of the body. Mind, consciousness, feelings and spiritual attitude not being measurable entities were often excluded as important in a person’s health and well-being. And as the west controlled governing most of the planet, the knowledge and wisdom of the rest of the old-world was pushed aside and often into oblivion. At least until very recently. Fortunately for all concerned, and due to a variety of reasons like technology helping to link distant continents and their wealth of knowledge, universal migration of people along with tolerant, unprejudiced acceptance of information have come to the benefit of improved healthcare. Thus the perception that spirituality occupies an integral aspect of human health has been established and is steadily gaining recognition. The dangers of drug-induced complications, the overuse, abuse and mixing of several drugs leading to unwarranted, iatrogenic manifestations have guided the caregivers to exploring safer means of management and harmless alternatives. Perhaps deviating from the subject but nevertheless of grave implications are the overwhelming chemical, nuclear, and several such sinister environmental dangers that impose threatening consequences on human cells leading to diseases. A spiritual approach and modification to adapt and combat such challenges are distinctly bound to enhance the existing health status. The incorporation of ‘Alternative Medicine’ as an accepted mode of treatment in the maintenance of health, prevention of diseases and treatment of many illnesses is a welcome addition. The introduction of Ayurvedic practices, the flourishing commercial popularity of yoga, the launching of even an International Yoga Day, understanding that prayer has a distinct role in the mental status of humans and consequently on physical health, institution of meditation as an essential addition and an acknowledged assumption of mind control are ample evidence of the universal approval of spirituality’s unquestionable significance in human functionality. It is established and accepted in the modern scientific field that there is a distinct interaction between the functions of the body and mind, that spiritual and religious commitments do influence our health, and that nature and God, health, illness, treatment and spirituality are all indisputably intermingled. In a holistic approach to health that is essentially based on the fundamental inclusion of the tenets of spirituality, the emphasis is on a balanced physical and spiritual well-being in which environmental factors, nutritional observance, as well as cultivating balanced physical, mental and spiritual disciplines are essential. To attain such an optimal global status it is imperative that we incorporate and integrate all the modern scientific understanding and the age-old wisdom that can adequately nurture the needs of the body and mind. Until recent times, practitioners of modern science often ignored the religious beliefs and spiritual practices of patients, considering them as inconsequential or superstitious in the healing process. The Institute of Spirituality and Health at the Texas Medical Center, established in 1954, recently commemorating its sixty years of growth, is a glorious example of pride and commitment in its meritorious service with its motto of ‘Faith and Meaning Impact Health and Healing’. Its challenge was to envision and build a religious program at the Texas Medical Center. In 2003, projecting a broader perspective, the name was changed to The Institute of Spirituality and Health. Its fundamental philosophy is based on the proof from research that a strong and consistent spiritual outlook is correlated with various measures of health and healing from physiological measures, to recovery time, and even to longevity. The institute has succeeded in its endeavors to initiate and continue to expand on 290 its efforts to educate the healthcare providers to instil and incorporate the element of spirituality in providing service. I have been very fortunate to be invited to serve on its board. And as we gain more information through advancement of scientific knowledge and as ongoing research illuminates intricate interaction between the fluctuations of the mind and its influence on bodily functions, maintenance of health and optimal standard of living are bound to improve. There is also huge potential from the developing fields of Behavioral sciences, Cybernetics, Molecular Genetics, Neuropsychic sciences, cell biology and possibly several more that are not even in the conceptual horizon at present. In summary, we are at the threshold of a momentous and promising breakthrough in our healthcare concept, of maintaining an optimum milieu of life, preventing diseases and treating illnesses incorporating the millennia old wisdom of our forefathers, that spirituality is essential and of supreme importance to tame the mind, and that the mind has an essential role to keep the body functioning at its best.