Each festival pertains to different occasions, some welcome the seasons of the year, the harvest, the rains, or the full moon.
Others celebrate religious occasions, the birthdays of divine beings and saints, or the advent of the New Year. A number of these festivals are common to most parts of India.
However, they may be called by different names in various parts of the country or may be celebrated in a different fashion. Some of the festivals celebrated all over India are mentioned below:
Buddha Jayanti (April/May):
Buddha Jayanti is also known as Buddha Purnima is the most sacred festivals of Buddhist. It is the birth anniversary of Lord Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.
It falls on the full moon of the fourth lunar month (month of Vaisakhi) i.e. April or May. This day commemorates three important events of Buddha’s life,
(i) Birth of Siddhartha, later known as Buddha.
(ii) Enlightment i.e. attainment of supreme wisdom by Buddha.
(iii) Attainment of Nirvana by Buddha.
This day is observed by people of all faiths.
Festival is celebrated in the month of October or November. It falls on the new moon night, approximately one day after the festival of Diwali.
The name Bhai Dooj, with ‘bhai’ meaning brother and ‘dooj’ meaning the second day after the new moon (the day of the festival), literally means, the day of the brother. Bhai Dooj is also known as the festival of Tikka.
The festival of Bhai Dooj signifies the bond of love between a brother and a sister. The sister applies tilak (saffron and vermilion) on the forehead of her brother, performs aarti and offers sweets. In return, the brother blesses her and gives her nice presents.
There are a number of legends associated with the festival of Bhai Dooj. One of the legends has it that Yamraj, the God of death, visited his sister Yamuna on the day of Bhai Dooj.
She adorned his forehead with the auspicious tilak (saffron and vermilion), garlanded him and fed him with special dishes and sweets.
At the time of leaving, Yamraj gave her a special gift as a token of his adoration and in return, she also gifted him a present that was made by her.
On that day Yamraj announced that anyone who receives tilak from his sister would never be thrown into hell. From that day onwards, Bhai Dooj is celebrated and is also known by the name of ‘Yama Dwitiya’.
Another legend goes that Lord Krishna went to his sister, Subhadra’s house, after annihilating Narakasura demon. She welcomed him with aarti (lamp), flowers and sweets.
Thereafter, she put the Tikka, holy protective tilak, on his forehead. From that day onwards, the festival of Tikka is celebrated as a mark of affection between brothers and sisters.
Following these legends, it has become the tradition that it is the brother, who goes to his sister’s house to celebrate Bhai Dooj and not the other way around.
An important festival of Christian is celebrated on 25th December all over the world, to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Christmas originates from the word Cristes maesse, or ‘Christ’s Mass’. The first Christmas is estimated to be around 336 CE in Rome.
Christmas celebrations begin with a midnight mass, which is considered to be an essential part of the celebrations, it is followed by merrymaking.
People sing carols in the glory of the Lord during Christmas. They go from door-to-door preaching the message of love and brotherhood.
St. Benedict alias Santa Claue, is a legendary Chubby Oldie figure, clad in red and white dress, who rides the reindeer and forms a significant part of the celebrations especially for children.
He loves kids and gets chocolates, gifts and other desired goodies for them, which, he apparently places in their stockings at night.
Deepawali or Diwali, is a festival of lights symbolising the victory of righteousness and the lifting of spiritual darkness is celebrated on the 15th day of Kartika (October/November). It is one of the most popular festivals in the Hindu calendar.
The festival commemorates Lord Rama’s return to his kingdom Ayodhya after completing his 14-year exile.
Prayers are also offered to Lakshmi (consort of Vishnu), the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity.
In West Bengal, this festival is celebrated as Kali Puja. In the South, Diwali festival often commemorates the conquering of the Asura Naraka, a powerful king of Assam, who imprisoned thousands of inhabitants.
It was Krishna, who was finally able to subdue Naraka and free the prisoners. Another story of king Bali is attached to the Diwali festival in South India.
According to the Hindu mythology, King Bali, a benevolent demon king was shrewdly done away with, by Lord Vishnu (in the guise of dwarf mendicant Vamana).
Dussehra is a very popular Hindu festival, which marks the defeat of Ravana by Lord Rama. Dussehra also symbolises the triumph of warrior Goddess Durga over the buffalo demon Mahishasura.
It symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. It is a 10 day festival of which first nine nights (Navaratri) is dedicated to a different aspect of the war Goddess Durga, who was also invoked for help by Rama against Ravana.
It is celebrated with great fanfare in most parts of North India, Mysore and in the form of Durga Puja in West Bengal.
The ‘Ramlila’, an enactment of the life of Lord Rama, is held during the nine days preceding Dussehra.
On the tenth day (Dussehra or Vijay Dasami), larger than life effigies of Ravana, his son and brother – Meghnadh and Kumbhakarna-are set tn fire.
In burning the effigies the people are asked to burn the evil within them, and thus follow the path of truth and goodness, bearing in mind the instance of Ravana, who despite all his might and majesty was destroyed for his evil ways.
The Christian belief that on this day, Jesus Christ resurrected and ascended into heaven. Processions are taken out in many parts of the world.
Easter eggs and Easter bunnies are major attractions during Easter, the festival of rejuvenation of life and living.
Good Friday (March/April):
Good Friday is really a misnomer in that it was a “bad” Friday-the crucifixion day of Jesus.
It is observed by Christians as the day on which Jesus laid down his life for the good of humanity. Services and recitals of religious music are held in the churches.
Ganesh Chaturthi (Aug/Sept.) :
Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated on the birthday of Lord Ganesh (Ganesha), the god of wisdom and prosperity on the fourth day of the moons bright fortnight, or period from new moon in the lunar month of Bhadrapada.
The festival is celebrated with special enthusiasm in Maharashtra, where it lasts for more than 10 days.
The birth anniversaries of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of the Sikh faith and the tenth (last) Guru i.e. Gobind Singh are celebrated as Gurupurb with great enthusiasm by the Sikhs.
Guru Nanak was born in 1469 at Talwandi, near Lahore. He established a faith based on a single God (the eternal truth).
The festive event of Guru Nanak Jayanti includes the three-days Akhand Path, during which, the ‘Guru Granth Sahib’, the holy book of the Sikhs is read out from the beginning to the end without a break.
On the day of the main event, the ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ is ornamented with flowers, and carried on a float in a proper procession that is headed by five armed guards, representatives of the ‘Panj Pyaras,’ who carry the Nishan Sahibs or the Sikh flag epitomising their faith.
Religious hymns from the ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ are sung throughout the procession, marking a special feature of the event. The procession finally leads to a Gurudwara, where the gathered devotees get together for a community lunch (Langar).
The festival of colour and joy is celebrated in spring in Northern parts of India. There are many legends concerning the origin of this festival.
One of the popular is related to Prahlad, the god-fearing son of a wicked demon king Hiran Kashyap.
Prahlad infuriated his father by praying to Lord Vishnu, who was considered an enemy by Hiran Kashyap.
The latter made several attempts to stop his son from worshipping Lords Vishnu but when all his attempts failed, Kashyap tried to kill his son. Lord Vishnu saved Prahlad each time.
Finally, the king ordered his sister Holika, to kill his son. Holika, who was immune to fire, captured Prahlad and entered a fire to kill the prince.
However, Prahlad was saved by the god and Holika was burnt to ashes. The good triumphed over evil.
Hoilka Dahan is celebrated with making of a bonfire, the night before Holi is celebrated to symbolize the death of the evil.
The festival is celebrated with colours, with bright coloured powders known as Gulal. and coloured water.
The people believe that the bright colours represent energy, life, and joy. Feelings are expressed by the medium of colours. People splash the colours on each other and visit homes of friends and family to celebrate this festival.
Coming with the new moon, this festival marks the end of Ramzan, the 9th month of the Muslims year, during which, the holy ‘Quran’ was revealed to the Prophet Mohammad.
On Id prayers are said between the early morning and the noon prayers. After the prayers people, greet each other.
Special delicacies that include ‘Seviyan’, vermicelli’s sweet preparation, ‘Sheer Korma’ and other dishes are prepared to celebrate this occasion.
It commemorates the ordeal of Hajrat Ibrahim, who was put to terrible test by god. It is celebrated on the 10th day of Zillijja month, when goats and sheeps are sacrificed by the Muslims and prayers are offered.
It is a festival of great rejoices, special prayers and exchange of greetings and gifts mark the festival.
It is called Id-ul-Adha in Arabic and Bakr-Id in the Indian subcontinent, because of the tradition of sacrificing a goat or ‘bakr’ in Urdu. The word ‘id’ derived from the Arabic ‘iwd’ means ‘festival’ and ‘zuha’ comes from ‘uzhaiyya’, which translates to ‘sacrifice’.
According to Islamic belief, to test Ibrahim, Allah commanded him to sacrifice his son Ismail.
He agreed to do it but found his paternal feelings hard to suppress. So he blindfolded himself before putting Ismail on the altar at the mount of Mina near Mecca.
When, he removed his bandage after performing the act, he saw his son standing in front of him, alive. On the altar lay a slaughtered lamb.
The festival also marks the completion of Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia).
The 12th day of Muslim month Rabi-ul-Awwal (the third month) is sacred to Muslims. The day commemorates the birth and also the death of Prophet Mohammad. It is also known as Id-e-Miladulnabi.
Barawafat stands for the twelfth day and Barah or twelve, stands for the twelve days of the Prophets sickness.
The day is marked by holding religious discourses, reading the Holy Quran and giving alms to the poor.
Lord Vishnu is invoked in his human incarnation as Krishna on his birth anniversary in the festival of Janmashtami.
The festival is celebrated with great devotion on the eighth day of the dark fortnight in the month of Sravana (July-August) in India.
According to Hindu mythology, Krishna was born to destroy Mathura’s demon King Kansa, brother of his virtuous mother, Devaki.
Men and women fast and pray on the occasion of Janmashtami. Temples and homes are beautifully decorated and lighted.
The temples of Vrindavan, in Uttar Pradesh witness an extravagant and colourful celebration on this occasion.
‘Raslila’ is performed to recreate incidents from the life of Krishna and to commemorate his love for Radha. This festival is also known as Krishnashtami or Gokulashtami.
In Maharashtra, Janmashtami witnesses the exuberant enactment of Krishna’s childhood endeavours to steal butter and curd from earthern pots beyond his reach.
A matka or pot containing these is suspended high above the ground and groups of young men and children form human pyramids to try and reach the pot and eventually break it.
Karwa Chowth or Karwa Chauth festival:
Is celebrated mostly by the Hindu married women (suhagins) in the Northern and Western states of India like Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Gujarat and some parts of Uttar Pradesh.
Karwa Chauth Festival is the most significant occasion that strengthens the sacred marital bond between husband and wife.
The married women observe it in the month of Kartik (Oct./Nov.) to seek the blessings of God for a long life for their husbands.
Without eating or drinking anything married women ends their day long fast after watching the moon in night and having food from their husbands.
The first ten days of Muharram, the first month of the Muslim year, are dedicated to the mourning and remembrance of Hazrat Imam Hussain, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, who was killed on the 10th day of Muharram, 61 A.H. while fighting the forces of Yazid at Karbala. It is celebrated by Shias.
Profusely decorated taziyas (bamboo and paper replicas of the martyr’s tomb), embellished with gilt and mica are carried out in a procession and mourners beat their breasts lamenting and grieving over the murder, accompanied by drum beats.
Wrestlers and dancers enact scenes depicting the battle at Karbala and at each step young men beat their breasts crying ‘Husain! Husain!’ in collective sorrow.
It is celebrated by the Parsi community and dates back to the time of Persian ruler Jamshed.
A worship at the fire temple is followed by visits to friends and relatives were greetings are exchanged.
Naag Panchami (July/Aug):
A festival of snakes, is a unique festival dedicated to honour the Serpent God or Naag. It is associated with the great serpant Adisesha i.e., thousand-headed snake (Ananta or Sesha) on whom Vishnu is believed to recline during the intervals between the dissolution of one universe and the creation of another.
Falling on the fifth day of Sravan in July/August, of the lunar fortnight, snakes are offered milk.
Raksha Bandhan (July./Aug.):
It is celebrated as a mark of love of a brother for his sister, on the full-moon day of the Hindu month of Sravana (July/August).
On this day, sisters tie rakhi on the wrists of their brothers to protect them against evil influences, and pray for their long life and happiness. They in turn, give a gift, which is a promise that they will protect their sisters from any harm. The festival is mostly celebrated in North India.
As per Hindu mythology, in ‘Mahabharata’, the great Indian epic, Draupadi, wife of the Pandavas had torn the corner of her sari to prevent Lord Krishna’s wrist from bleeding (he had inadvertently hurt himself).
Thus, a bond, that of brother and sister developed between them, and he promised to protect her.
It is also a great sacred verse of unity, acting as a symbol of life’s advancement and a leading messenger of togetherness.
Raksha means protection, and in some places in medieval India, where women felt unsafe, they tie Rakhi on the wrist of men, regarding them as brothers.
In this way, Rakhi strengthens the bond of love between brothers and sisters, and revives the emotional bonding. Brahmins change their sacred thread (janoi) on this day, and dedicate themselves once again to the study of the scriptures.
The birth anniversary of Lord Rama, the son of king Dashrath is celebrated on the ninth day after the new moon in Sukla Paksha (the waxing moon)in the Hindu month of Chaitra March/ April.
Lord Rama is remembered for his prosperous and righteous reign. He is considered to be an avatar or reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, who came down to earth to battle the invincible Ravana (demon king) in human form.
On this day, devotees crowd the temples and sing devotional bhajans in praise of Rama. Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama is the focus of great celebrations of Ramnavami festival.
Rathayatras or the chariot processions of Rama, his wife Sita, brother Lakshmana and devotee Hanuman, are taken out from many temples. The worship of Goddess Durga is also performed in the same period.
Shivaratri or Maha Shivaratri:
Literally means ‘the night of Shiva’ is celebrated on the 14th day of the dark half of ‘Margasirsa’ (February-March).
This is a festival observed in honour of Lord Shiva and it is believed that on this day, Lord Shiva was married to Parvati.
The ceremonies take place chiefly at night. Anyone worshiping shiva on this occasion is believed to be released from the cycle of birth and rebirth. It has special significance in Kashmir, where it lasts for 15 days.
Mainly a North Indian spring festival falls on the fifth day of Magh (Jan – Feb) Sukla or the bright of lunar.
Saraswati, the consort of Lord Brahma and the Goddess of Wisdom and Knowledge is worshipped in many parts of India. Yellow of the flowering mustard fields is considered the auspicious colour for the day.
The most significant aspect of this day is that Hindu children are taught reading and writing their first words on this day – as it is considered an auspicious day to begin a child’s education.
Paryushan Parva (Jain Festival)