Pongal is one of the major festivals for Tamils and often referred to as “thamizhar thirunaaL”. At the beginning of the tamil month “thai” it is celebrated for three days: first day devoted to getting rid of old things (Bhogi), second day involves main Pongal celebrations followed by Maattu Pongal on the third day. Many extend these to a fourth day called “kannip pongal” or “kaaNum pongal” when youngers go around and seek the blessings of the elders. On Bhogi day, a bon fire is lit with all the agricultural and household wastes.
On the Pongal day, Sun makes its moves towards north/enters Makara raasi (the zodiac sign of Capricorn the goat) and marks the beginning of Uttaraayana punyakaalam. Traditionally, this period is considered an auspicious time and the veteran Bhishma of Mahabharata chose to die during this period. After he fell to the arrows of Arjuna Bhishma used his boon to choose the time of his death. He waited on a bed of arrows to depart from this world only during this period. It is believed that those who die in this period have no rebirth.
To farmers Pongal marks the beginning of the harvesting season. People take oil bath early in the morning and wear new clothes. Sweet pongal and special sweets are prepared for the occasion. Freshly cut Sugarcane is used for decoratation and later consumption by all.
Mattu Pongal is a celebration by the agrarian community that thankfully acknowledges the participation of the animals mainly bulls in ploughing the fields and assisting the farmers in raising a good crop. The animals are decorated and are included in some races, both to entertain and to boost their endurance capacity. The festival is known as “Jallikattu”. These races include cock fights, bull fights and ram fights. “Thiruvalluvar Day” is celebrated on this Mattu Pongal day when Tamilnadu Govt announces awards for best tamil literary works.
Kartikeya, the son of Shiva and Parvati is worshipped in Tamil Nadu on Thai Pusam. Special Poojas and festivities take place on this Poosam day in the Murugan Temples of Palani, Thiruttani,… and also at the Vandiyur Mariamman Temple (near Madurai). Many temples have the boat festival (theppa utsavam) on this day when the Lord would be coming out over a float on the temple pond. As a mark of dedication and respect, people engage in “fire walk”- walk over a path of burning coal. They exit the path miraculously without being scorched, signifying KartikeyaÕs everlasting protection. A webpage on thaipoosam
Celebrated on the Makam day in the tamil month of Maasi. On this day, the deities are taken around in procession to the nearby rivers/tanks/sea for bath. It is an important festival day for Lord Muruga. Once in 12 years, the Maham festival is celebrated in a grand manner (known as Mahamaham) in Kumbakonam.
Maha Sivarathri is a festival day devoted to Lord Siva, celebrated on the amavaasai day in the month of Maasi. Sivaratri also signifies the end of winter and the arrival of spring. Unlike each Hindu festival which begins with the ritualistic worship of the presiding deity followed by a feast, Sivaratri differs in that one dedicates the entire day of twenty-four hours to the worship of Lord Siva. In the evening people generally go to a nearby temple where in the company of many others they listen to recitals of the legends and their meanings. They do not sleep that night, but remain awake. The worship continues throughout the night either by way of chanting the Rudram, singing in eulogy of Lord Siva or/and listening to religious discourses interpreting the legends associated with the festival. Mahasivarathri is celebrated in a grand scale in the temples of Madurai and Rameswaram. In the rituals, leaves of a forest tree Bilva (Aegle marmelos/wood apple) are traditionally used in the services.
UGADI, TELUGU NEW YEAR’S DAY
It is believed that the creator of the Hindu pantheon Lord Brahma started creation on this Ugadi day. Indian Mathematician Bhaskaracharya’s calculations proclaimed the Ugadi day from the sunrise on as the beginning of the new year, new month and new day. Special dishes are prepared for the occasion: Mixed rice made with a specially made spiced Tamarind Paste (known as Puliyotharai /pulihora/puliogure in Tamilnadu, Andhra pradesh and Karnataka). As with the Pongal day for Tamils, Ugadi day celebrations are marked by literary discussions, poetry recitations (kavi sammelanam) and recognition of authors of literary works through awards.
SRI RAMA NAVAMI
Sri Rama Navami as a festival marks the birth of Lord Rama but is celebrated and worshipped in the form of re-creating the wedding between Lord Rama and Sita by the Hindus seeking well being of all people. Such community celebrations are held in not only Rama temples but also in many other temples too. Usually such ritualistic wedding celebration in homes is quite uncommon. The ritual of Rama’s wedding is concluded with prasadam of ‘vada pappu’ (soaked lentil) and panakam (sherbat made of jaggery dissolved in water to which pepper powder and cardamom powder are added).
Panguni Uthiram is celebrated as the Wedding day for the Gods/Celestial couples in all temples of Tamilnadu. It is celebrated over a 10-day period in many Murugan Temples. Inscriptions indicate existence of these celebrations as early as that of the Chola King Rajaraja Chola.
TAMIL NEW YEAR DAY
As the name indicates, this day marks the beginning of the Tamil New Year (and the tamil month Chithirai). · Baisakhi The Hindu Solar New Year Day. People bathe in rivers and go to temples to offer puja (worship). Baisakhi is of special significance to the Sikhs. On this day in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh organised them into the ‘Khalsa’, brotherhood of man. In Punjab, farmers start harvesting on this day with great fanfare. Villagers perform the ‘Bhangra’ folk-dance.
The pournami day in the tamil month of Chitrai is celebrated in a grand manner for nearly a week (“chithirath thiruvizha”) in Madurai Temples. Located 21 kms northwest of Madurai is a Vishnu temple called Azhagar Temple. Here ‘Vishnu’ presides as Meenakshi’s brother ‘Kallazhagar’. During the Chitrai festival when the celestial marriage of Meenakshi to Sundareswarar is celebrated, Azhagar travels to Madurai. A gold processional icon called the Sundararajar is carried by devotees in procession from Azhagar Kovil to Madurai for wedding ritual. Hundreds of special Mandapas are erected all along the route to Madurai to welcome Kallazhagar. According to the Legend, Kallazhagar arrived late for the marriage of his sister Meenakshi. Taking note that the marriage has already taken place, he plunges into the river Vaigai and walks through to nearby Vandiyur. Adults and children join together in spraying water at Lord Kallazhagar as he walks towards the river bank of Vaigai in total disappointment. The whole city of Madurai takes on a festive mood for this whole week. In Srivilliputhur, Chaitrotsavam festival takes place for 9 days. On the day of chitra pournami Andal in Sesha Vahanam and Rangamannar in Kudurai Vahanam stop near a stream on the way to Thiruvannamalai where the “Vayyali” function takes place.
The pournami day of the tamil month Vaikasi is celebrated in grand manner in Murugan Temples (Palani, Thiruchendoor,…) when large number of people go to the temple carrying “Kavadi”. Valli Kalyanam is celebrated in Murugan Temples on Vaikaasi Visaakam day. Vaikasi Visakam also marks the birthday of Alwar Saint Nammalwar and this is celebrated in Kancheepuram Varadaraja Perumal Temple as “Garuda utcavam”. Lord Varadaraja is taken in a Garuda vahana to Nammalwar sannadhi for blessing of the latter.
AADI PANDIGAI / AADI PERUKKU
Celebrated on the 18th day of the tamil month Aadi in Kaveri River basin districts of Tanjore and Trichi when the water level in the river rises significantly high. Prayers are made and offerings given to Goddess Kaveri deities made out of clays.
AADI AMAAVAASAI / AADI POORNAM
Andal, the incarnation of Mother Earth, Bhoodevi, is one of the twelve Alwars, great devotees of Vishnu. “Aadi Pooram” and “Aani Thirumanjanam” are important festivals to Andal.
KRISHNA JAYANTHI / GOGULASHTAMI
The birth of Lord Krishna, the incarnation of Vishnu in the Dwapar Yuga, is celebrated all over India as Krishna Janmashtami. This day is marked by religious festivity and devotion. Lord Krishna or “He who is all-attractive”, descended on this earth to subdue the rakshasas ruthlessly and save mankind from all evils. He is regarded as the epitome of transcendental qualities which made him the most loved one.
The modern day festivity recreates the birth of the Lord. It is celebrated with utmost gaiety and fervor in Mathura and Brindavan. The towns are colorfully decorated wearing a festive look. The main temple at Mathura and Brindavan are bedecked with flowers and Lord Krishna is clothed in jewellery. The rituals begin ahead of time in the evening and culminate at midnight, the time of Krishna’s birth. A crawling image of Krishna is cradled amidst singing of bhajans and chantings of Hare Rama Hare Krishna.
In South India, Janmashtami or Gokulashtami, as it is called, is celebrated with prayers, devotional renditions and offering of fruits and special prasadams to Lord Krishna. People usually observe fast on this day. In the houses, mango leaves are tied to the doorways to mark the auspicious occasion. Colorful floral designs are drawn on the front yard. Inside the house, a small woodden mandapam is erected and decorated with flowers and plantain leaves. An icon of a crawling Krishna in a silver cradle or leaf is placed in the mandapam. In some houses, a typical setting of Gokulam is arranged with mud images of Devaki, Vasudeva with little Krishna perched in a basketon his head, a cow, besides other things related to Krishna’s legends. Small foot marks produced by impressions with rice powder mixed with water are believed to symbolically recreate the coming of Krishna into peoples’ homes.
The birth anniversary of Lord Krishna, the incarnation of Vishnu and the author of the Bhagavad Gita (Song Celestial), is observed all over. It is celebrated with special eclat at Mathura and Brindavan where Lord Krishna spent his childhood. Night-long prayers are offered and religious hymns are sung in temples. Scenes are enacted from Lord Krishna’s early life.
Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati is widely worshipped as the munificent god of wisdom. Ganesh Chaturthi is a festival in his honour and is celebrated in the states of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Ganesha (also called Ganapati /Vighneshvara or Vighnahartaa) is the Lord of and destroyer of obstacles. People mostly worship Him asking for siddhi, success in undertakings, and buddhi, intelligence. He is worshipped before any venture is started. He is also the God of education, knowledge and wisdom, literature, and the fine arts. Throughout India the festival is celebrated with much enthusiasm and devotion, even lasting for nearly 10 days in Maharashtra and Andhra pradesh. During long periods of anti-British rule protests and freedom struggle of the 19th Century, more and more people become unduly religious, particularly in Maharashtra. This lead to development of religious events such as Ganesha Chaturthi as a major community event. To appreciate this occasion, one must go to Mumbai where preparations begin months in advance. Images of Ganesha are installed within homes as well as in places of assembly. Elaborate arrangements are made for lighting and decoration and Ganesha is fervently worshipped for about 7-10 days. On the day of the Chaturthi, i.e. the last of the days dedicated to the elephant-headed god, thousands of processions converge on the beaches of Mumbai to immerse the holy idols in the sea. This immersion is accompanied by drum beats, devotional songs and dancing.
DASARA / NAVARATHI, SARASWATHI POOJA, VIJAYA DHASAMI
This is among the most auspicious days in the Hindu calendar and comes as the finale of the nine-day festival, Navaraatri. this festival of victory is preceded by worship of Saraswati the Goddess of Learning and of Durgaa the Goddess of Strength. Grand processions of all Gods and goddesses are taken out in every town and village on this day, signifying the victory of the forces of righteousness over those of wickedness. Vijaya Dashami is preceded by the Aayudha Pooja on the Mahaanavami day, when not only the weapons are worshipped by the warriors, but the blacksmith, the potter, the carpenter, the tailor, the mason, the typist, the musician, the artist and every type of technical worker – worships his instruments and tools. Buses, trucks and huge machines in factories are all decorated and worshipped
DUSSEHRA AND DURGA PUJA
Among the most popular of all festivals, it symbolises the triumph of good over evil. Every region observes this 10-day festival in a special way. In the North, ‘Ram Lila’ recitations and music recall the life of the legendary hero, Rama. Large fire cracker–stuffed effigies of Ravana, symbolising evil, explode to the cheers of thousands of spectators. In Kulu against the backdrop of snow-covered mountains, villagers dressed in their colourful best assemble to take out processions of local deities accompanied by music on pipes and drums. In Karnataka, Dussehra is celebrated with magnificent pomp and pageantry. In Bengal and the East, it is called ‘Durga Puja’. Images of Goddess Durga are worshipped for four days and, on the last day, taken out in a procession and immersed in a river or the sea.
VIJAYADASHMI OR DUSSERA
Vijayadashmi or Dussera, the day of victory, after nine days of battle is celebrated by all Hindu families. Dussera is one of the four auspicious days of the year. On the same day, Rama, an avatar of Vishnu fought Ravana, a ten headed demon and restored dharma (righteousness ) on earth. In rural India, children returned to school on Vijayadashmi which is also dedicated to Saraswati. On this day their teachers would draw the symbol of Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning on their slates. On Vijayadashmi, people worship weapons, tools and implements of their trade. In the second half of Ashwin, Diwali lights up the sky, the festival of lights that celebrates the return of Rama and his coronation in Ayodhya. People light lamps and adorn doorways with flower garlands to welcome Rama, Sita and Lakshmana home after fourteen years of exile. Dhanteras follows Diwali when wealth in worshipped. Narakchaturdashi is a festival that honours the heroic Krishna who rescued 16,000 princesses from Naraka’s bondage.
DEEPAVALI / DIWALI
Deepavali, the festival of lights, comes close on the heels of Dasara. It is a festival that marks the victory of good over evil. Deepavali means a “row of lights”, and it brings along with it glowing happiness and the touch of sparklers all around. In India, Deepavali is synonymous with the nightly bursting of fire- crackers and the beautiful decoration of the houses with earthenware lamps which is a feast for the eyes. In Sri Lanka, Deepavali celebrations begin at dawn as early as around three in the morning. The family members are given an oil massage, followed by aarti and then the children burst crackers to mark the joyous day. New clothes and exchange of gifts goes without saying. On Deepavali day, everywhere in India, at dusk when darkness unfolds itself, you can see a spectacular illumination of tiny flickering lamps adorning in rows – at homes, buildings and streets. And watch out as you look up to the sky ! Hundreds of fire crackers can be seen glowing and then bursting as though it was a battle of glows and sparks in the skies. Deepavali is incomplete without the multi-colored and noisy fire crackers. From simple colored sparklers, pencils, flower pots, ground chakras (wheels), Vishnu chakras, rockets to the long ladi / garland crackers, you have a wide range to choose from.
The festival of lights is one of the most beautiful of Indian festivals. It comes 21 days after Dussehra and celebrates the return of Rama to Ayodhya after his 14-year exile. Countless flickering oil lamps and lights are lit in houses all over the country making it a night of enchantment. Worship of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and fireworks and festivities are an essential part of the occasion.
Ekaadasi, the 11th day of the lunar fortnight is auspicious to Vishnu. Vaikunta Ekaadasi, falling in December- January, is celebrated as a special festival when the “gates of Heaven” ceremoniously open for devotees to enter.
Full moon in the month of Phalgun (late February or early March). This is pre-eminently the spring festival of Bharat. The trees are smiling with their sprout of tender leaves and blooming flowers. With the harvest having been completed and the winter also just ended, it is pre-eminently a festival of mirth and merriment. Gulal (colored powder) is sprinkled on each other by elders and children, men and women, rich and poor alike. All superficial social barriers are pulled down by the all-round gaiety and laughter. The most boisterous of all Hindu festivals, observed all over the North. It heralds the end of winter. Men, women and children revel in throwing coloured powder and squirting coloured water on each other. Greetings and sweets are exchanged.
Kerala’s most popular festival, celebrated with great enthusiasm, it is primarily a harvest festival. The most exciting part of the festival is the snake-boat race held at several places in the palm-fringed lagoons. Onam festivities honor the ancient Asura king Mahabali. According to legend, the gods were jealous of the king and sent him into exile in the nether world, permitting him to return to his people only once each year, during Onam. An over-the-top welcome is prepared in every town. Dances and songs proclaim the munificent reign of the king, and elaborate carpets of flowers and colored powder are laid out on floors and streets.
TRICHUR POORNAM FESTIVAL
The incomparable festival of festivals, held every year in April- May in the cultural capital of Kerala is to be celebrated on 25th and 26th of April this year. Spectacular pageant of fully caparisoned elephants, sonorous percussion, ensembles like Panchavadyam and Pandimelom and scintillating fireworks are the main features of Pooram.
The poornima or the full moon in the month of Vaishak is an auspicious day when one of the Dasaavataras the Buddha avatar came into being. The poornima is significant for more reasons than one in the life of the Buddha. There are at least five reasons for this. The first concerns his birth. He was born to serve a mission, a “Karana purusha or janma”. It was a full-moon day when Prince Siddhartha (the name means one whose purpose has been achieved) was born under the shade of a flowering Sal tree, in the beautiful grove of Lumbini in present-day Nepal. He was born to Suddhodana, the ruler of Kapilavastu, on the Nepalese frontier, and his queen Mahamaya, the princess of Koliyas. Lumbini or Rummindei, the name by which it is now known, is 100 miles north of Varanasi and within sight of snow-capped Himalayas. The prince’s family name was Gotama. Buddhists from all over the world converge on Bodhgaya and Sarnath to commemorate the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death. Sarnath has a colorful fair and procession of relics, at a temple on the site where the Buddha preached his first sermon. Buddhists in Sri Lanka celebrate this festival.
The holy month of Ramzan is very auspicious to the Muslims the world over. It is believed that God will shower His blessings on those who pray to God whole heartedly, with complete devotion, surrendering themselves totally to His will. It is believed that the holy Quran, the holy book of Muslims, came into existence during this month. Prophet Mohammad who compiled this was an illiterate person. But he was chosen by God to be His messenger. Whenever any problem arose, He would get “Vahi” (inspiration from God). He would become red and would speak out spontaneously. All these utterings were jotted down by His disciples and during this month they were compiled in the form of the holy Quran. It is a message from God to the mankind. This is the holy month of Ramadan, the month of fasting. Soum (fasting) is called Rozah in Urdu. Fast is observed for the entire month (Lunar) of Ramadan every year by the followers of Islam. Fasting through out the month of Ramzan is compulsory for all Muslims. But exceptions are made in the case of the sick and the travelling.
Celebrates the end of Ramzan, the Muslim month of fasting. It is an occasion of feasting and rejoicing. The faithful gather in mosques to pray; friends and relatives meet to exchange greetings.
Bakrid, the festival of sacrifice is an important celebration, which falls on the last month of the Islamic Calendar. The Muslims traditionally offer the sacrifice of goats/sheep/camels as part of the festival. Bakrid, also known as Id-Ul-Zuha coincides with the Haj pilgrimage at Mecca. The significance of the festival is the commemoration of the ordeals of Prophet Ibrahim. According to popular belief, Prophet Ibrahim was put to a tough test by Allah to prove his faith. He was asked to sacrifice his son Ismail and without any hesitation Prophet Ibrahim blindfolded himself and made the offering on the Mount of Mina near Mecca. When Prophet Ibrahim opened his eyes, he was astonished to find a goat lying upon the altar and his son Ismail standing in front of him. Ever since, faithfuls of Islam the world over offer sacrifices on the festival day.
Muharram is about the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (Raji An) and his family by laying down their lives at Karbala (in present day Iraq) for the protection of democracy. Their selfless sacrifice, service to humanity and protection of their religious order resulted in their giving up their own lives. Remembering him and following the path shown by him is the greatest tribute that humanity can pay him. This in fact is the greatest message of Muharram. Commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the holy Prophet Mohammed, and observed by the Shi’ite Muslims, who take out processions of colourfully decorated ‘Tazias’, which are paper and bamboo replicas of the martyr’s tomb at Karbala in Iraq. The processions are specially impressive at Lucknow. In parts of the South, tiger dancers–men painted over with stripes and wearing tiger masks–lead the procession.
Milad-un-nabi marks the birth of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). It is believed that Muhammad (PBUH) was sent by God as the last messenger for the renaissance of Islam.
Services and recitals of religious music are held in hundreds of churches all over India and Sri Lanka.
The Christian belief in the resurrection of Christ is celebrated with enthusiasm by the members of the community. Processions are taken out in some parts of the country.
Born nearly two thousand years ago, Christians believe Him to be the Son of God. Whether Jesus was really born on December 25th, no one can say for certain. It was chosen because it already was a holiday in ancient times -a pagan feast. But pagans did not believe in Jesus. Around the third century there was an attempt to fix the day of His birth by tying it to a festival of the Nativity kept in Rome in the time of Bishop Telesphorus (between A.D. 127 and 139). Some Christmas observances of the Roman Church are said to be of Bishop Telesphorus’ appointment. There was also a story of Christians being massacred in the catacombs on the day of the Nativity between A.D. 161 and 180 but the exact year, again is not known. In A.D. 300, a similar event is said to have taken place at Nicomedia in the reign of Diocletian. Neither of these stories seem reliable as a measure of the day Christ was born.
It was believed the Nativity took place, indeed, on the 25th of the month; but which month was uncertain and every month at one time or another has been assigned. During the time of Clement of Alexandria (before 220) five dates in three different months of the Egyptian year were said to be the Nativity. One of those corresponds to the December 25th date. During the third century, it was a common belief that Christ was born on the winter solstice based on an interpetation of some prophetic scriptures and an idea that the Annunciation and the Crucifixion both occured on the same day – March 25th. Another third century set of writings, The Apostolic Constitutions, indicate the Apostles ordained that the feast be kept on the 25th day of the ninth month which, at that time meant December. The works of John Selden, published in 1661, suggested that in the early Christian ages the winter solstice fell on the 8th of the Kalends of January, that is, December 25th, though not accepted universally by modern day students who put the day between the end of July and the end of October.
The Roman Church finally fixed December 25th as the birthday of Jesus Christ after the great persecution that took place around A.D. 310; which connects the visitation of the wise men from the East, being celebrated twelve days later. Though questioned for several generations by the Eastern Church, the Roman day became universal in the fifth century.