Celebration of birthdays and wedding anniversaries is not an adoption from West, but Hindu Society has already been celebrating important events concerning their ancestors as common festivals. The role models inspired succeeding generations to emulate the ideals set by them. Out of several events remembered as festivals, only a few are mentioned here.
Maha Shivaratri: This festival is observed in honor of Lord Shiva. It falls on the dark half of month February-March (Phalgun). Shiva was married to Parvati on this day. People observe a strict fast on this day. Some devotees do not take even a drop of water and keep awake all night. The Shiva Linga is worshipped throughout the night by washing it with milk, curd, honey, and rose-water. Many pilgrims flock to Shiva temples. This ‘sadhna’ for strengthening will power and self-control.
Mahavira Jayanti: The birth anniversary of Lord Mahavira, founder of Jainism is celebrated throughout in India and particularly in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Lord Mahavira was born in a princely family and was contemporary of Lord Buddha. In his teachings, he laid stress on non-violence and simplicity. Subsequently Jainism bifurcated in two branches namely Digambar and Shwetamber. They are overtly recognized by the color of their attire. Digambers wear saffron while Shwetabers dress up in whites. Lord Mahavir is also believed to have incarnated in the form of twenty-four Teerthankars. Idols of Lord Mahavira are taken out in procession on Mahavira Jayanti. Strong commitment to Ahimsa for preserving ecology is the hallmark of Jainism.
Ramnavmi: Ramnavmi is the birthday of Lord Rama, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu; and falls on the 9th day of the bright fortnight of the month of March-April (Chaitra). Temples are decorated and the image of Lord Rama is richly adorned. The holy Ramayana is read in the temples. Those talented in the art of story-telling and acting narrate the thrilling episodes of the Ramayana. The wedding of Rama with Sita is re-enacted by street theaters. It is an extremely colorful ceremony, besides performing grand worship of Lord Rama in the gorgeously decorated temples. At Ayodhya, the birthplace of Rama, a big fair is held on this day. Lord Rama and Sita are ideal couples committed to discharging their obligations.
Baisakhi: Baisakhi is the first day of the month Vaishakh, and signifies ushering of the New Year according Vikrami Calendar. It is among the few Indian festivals that have a fixed date with Christian calendar. It is on this day that Sun enters Aries (Mesha), the first sign of Zodiac. Based on the Indian solar calendar, this festival falls on April 13 every year, and on April 14 once every 36 years. The devout celebrate the Baisakhi with a dip in the holy rivers just around the break of dawn. Besides commencement of harvesting season there are multiple reasons for the popularity of this festival. Some of the historical events associated with this day are:-
- The Muslim rulers with barbaric cruelty put Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Sikh Guru and some of his followers, in to a cauldron of boiling oil resulting in their martyrdom at Lahore.
- By initiating ‘Khalsa’ into ‘Saint Soldier’ image of Hindu youth, Guru Gobind Singh combined the spirit of Karama-yoga and Bhakti-yoga in Hindu society to defend the Hindus in the face of Muslim atrocities.
- Swami Dayanand Saraswati founded Arya Samaj, which is a reformed-religious sub-group of Hindus devoted to Vedas and formless God.
Buddha Purnima: Lord Buddha is included in the incarnations of Trinity God Vishnu. The full moon night during the months of April May (Vaishakh) is more significant, since three most important events in Lord Buddha’s life are connected. His birth, enlightenment and finally death occurred on same day, although in different years. The followers take out processions on this day to commemorate the events.
Guru Purnima: The full moon day in the month of July-August (Ashad) is celebrated as Guru Purnima, to the memory of Maharishi Vedavyasa, who compiled Vedas, authored eighteen Puranas, and the Mahabharata. It is observed similar to ‘Teacher’s Day’ in the modern concept of celebrations. Reverence and offerings are made to living Gurus
Raksha Bandhan: Raksha Bandhan falls in the month of August-September (Shravana). It is something like a ‘Pledge Day’ between brothers and sisters. Brothers pledge to protect sisters against all misfortunes and offer gifts. In return, sisters tie an amulet known as a Raksha or Rakhi round the wrist of brothers as a protection from evil during the coming year. Brahmins similarly tie amulets round the wrists of their patrons and receive assurance from them regarding protection of Dharma in the society.
Janmashtami: Janmashtami falls in the month of August-September (Bhadrapada). This is celebrated to mark the birthday of Lord Krishna, the eighth Divine Incarnation. Temples are decorated for the occasion. At Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, special spiritual gatherings are organized. Pilgrims from all over India attend these festive gatherings. From the doorway to the inner meditation room of the house the floor is marked with a child’s footprints, using some flour mixed with water to create the feeling of Lord’s own Feet marks. Towards midnight, there is a grand worship of Lord Krishna.
Ganesh Chaturthi: Ganesh Chaturthi falls in August-September (Bhadrapada). Devoted Hindus in all parts of the world observe it as the birthday of Lord Ganesha, the god of wisdom. Large figures of the Deity are made and worshipped for ten days. Thereafter the same are carried in processions to be immersed in water. This festival is celebrated more zest in the state of Maharashtra and neighboring areas. Following an interesting mythological legend, devotees avoid looking at moon on this day to symbolize avoiding company of those who are evildoers.
Deepavali: The festival ‘row of lights’ falls on the last two days of the dark half of month October-November (Kartika). There are various origins attributed to this festival like the marriage of Lakshmi with Lord Vishnu, the worship of Kali, the triumphant return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana and on this day Sri Krishna killed the demon Narakasura.
On this day Hindu merchants open new account books and pray for success and prosperity during the coming year. The homes are cleaned, decorated, and are illuminated by night with earthen oil-lamps. Sweets are distributed and crackers are burst to set the mood of festivity.
Guru Nanak Jayanti: The birthday of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, is celebrated during November (Kartik) for three continuous days. The Holy Scripture Guru Granth Sahib is taken out in procession, as well as continuous recitation of the same is also done in Gurudwaras. Martial art displays are arranged. The finale of the ceremony is always followed by a free sumptuous community meal (langar).
Besides the above, there are several other saints whose birthdays are celebrated by their followers out of those Sant Ravi Das, King Ugrasen, Maharishi Valmiki, Maharana Pratap and Chhatrapati Shiva ji are more prominent.
These days some multinational corporations have been trying to infiltrate certain festivals among youth population to sell their products. Some vested interests have also been active to popularize certain festivals like Valentine Day, and New Year’s Day to promote their business products and culture at the cost of our cultural unity. Some occasions have been created to usher foreign ideologies in the name of working classes like Labor Day, Teacher’s day, Red Cross day and so on.
The festivals of the Faiths having their origin and history outside India have no relevance and are cultural aggression on our soil. A country rich in her own cultural traditions does not require importing festivals that have no relevance to our environment, culture and history.
Festivals reflect the cultural unity of India. Unfortunately some of the festivals have got distorted over a period. The distortion has eclipsed the spirit and enthusiasm. Hindu groups need to re-establish proper norms to be observed for restoring their grandeur.
Chand K Sharma
(Next: Splashes – 29/72 – Practices for Self Control)