Holy Days and Celebrations
Celebrations take place to mark historic or mythological events. Some are seasonal and some are meant to enhance human relationships.
Diwali is the most popular Hindu festival and occurs at the start of winter. It celebrates the return of Rama to his kingdom after fourteen years in exile. On the night of his return, there was no moonlight, so the people of the kingdom lit lots of small lamps to welcome him back. This is why Diwali is called the ‘festival of lights’. Symbolically this implies moving from darkness to light or from ignorance to knowledge. People light lots of small lamps around the home. A worship ceremony dedicated to the Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, may be carried out in the home with the family. Money is given to charity, and gifts are exchanged, followed by a lavish feast. This is also a time when business people carry out a ritual called Chopra Pujan or ‘worshipping the books’ as a way of paying respect to their trade. This is the time of year to inculcate wealth and auspiciousness into our daily lives.
Holi is another popular festival. It heralds the arrival of spring. The narrative that goes with this festival is that on this day, Vishnu saved a child devotee called Prahlad from being burnt alive by an evil demoness called Holika. This is where the word Holi comes from. Traditionally a bonfire is lit in order to remember this event, and foodstuffs such as grains, coconuts and dates are offered to the fire. Children especially are taken to the bonfire to receive the blessings of Vishnu, in the same way that Prahlad did. Holi celebrates the arrival of spring. People throw coloured powder and water at each other to celebrate the arrival of colour on the landscape.
Navaratri is also a major Hindu festival which takes place over nine nights. According to mythology the Mother Goddess fought an evil demon for nine nights, and finally claimed victory on the tenth day, called Vijaya Dashami. People gather together for folk dances over these nine days, and a special worship is performed on the tenth day. Fruit and cooked food are offered to the Mother Goddess and then distributed and shared by all as a way of receiving her blessings. Many people carry out a fast during Navaratri. It is a time to celebrate the victory of good over evil, and is a time to inculcate strength, or Shakti. Strength is a quality particularly associated with the Mother Goddess.
Festivals act to remind individuals of higher, spiritual ideals. They give people the opportunity to perform good deeds such as donating to charity and exercise disciplines such as fasting. They also give the individual the chance to meet members of their family and the community, promoting a shared sense of identity.