The following are some festivals commonly celebrated in India.
This holiday falls on the fourteenth of January, or on the first day of the month of Pausha. The date is always the same according to the solar calendar because the holiday is about the sun; it celebrates a successful harvest and involves doing puja to the sun in gratitude for its role in making the crops grow.
Literally "The night of Shiva," this is said to be the day when Lord Shiva appeared on earth in the form of the linga (a column of light). It occurs in the lunar month of Phalguna (February-March). Shivaratri is marked by fasting and staying awake all night, as well as abhishekham and other forms of prayer.
Considered the birthday of Lord Rama, this holiday occurs in the lunar month of Chaitra (late March to early April). People will sing Bhajans (songs in praise of Lord Rama) and chant mantras and pray to Lord Rama. In some parts of India, celebrants will recite the entire Ramayana on this day and the festival will go on for nine days.
Celebrated in the lunar month of Asadha (late June to early July), Gurupurnima is said to be the birthday of the sage Vyasa, organizer of the Vedas and author of the Mahabharata. On this day, participants express their gratitude and respect for their teachers, often by doing a puja at the feet of the guru.
Celebrated in the lunar month of Vaishakha (late April to early May), this day is believed to be the birth of the great Hindu teacher Adi Shankara (also called Shankaracharya). He adopted the life of a monk at a young age and traveled all over India, answering people's questions and correcting their misapprehensions about Hindu philosophy, and establishing four learning centers. Those centers (mathas) are located in Badrinath, Shringeri, Puri and Dwaraka, which are in the north, south, east and west of India respectively.
This holiday is considered the birthday of Lord Krishna, an avatar of Lord Vishnu. It occurs in the lunar month of Bhadrapada (August-September) The story is that Lord Krishna was born at midnight to Devaki and Vasudeva and spent his life preserving dharma, in addition to giving the world the Bhagavad-Gita. On this day, pujas are performed and people will often use rice flour paste to create small footprints on the floors of their homes, signifying Lord Krishna's entrance. The celebration ends with an arati at midnight.
This is said to be the birthday of Lord Ganesha, remover of obstacles. It is celebrated in late August or early September, in the lunar month of Bhadrapada. Participants keep a clay statue of Lord Ganesha in their homes, fast and pray during the day and break the fast at night with plenty of sweets. In some parts of India the festival continues for ten days. At the end of the festival, the clay Ganeshas are immersed in a river or ocean, depending on one's location.
This festival is celebrated in late September to early October, in the lunar month of Ashvina. "Navaratri" translates to "nine nights," as that is the length of the holiday. According to legend, the festival celebrates the goddess Durga's victory over the demon Mahishasura, and some other stories say that it is also the day of Lord Rama's victory over the Ravana. Both of these victories are said to occur on the tenth day, known as Vijayadashami or Dasara. Generally, the first three days of Navaratri are dedicated to the goddess Durga, the next three to Lakshmi and the last three to Saraswati. The tenth day is considered a good time to begin studying something new, or reaffirm one's commitment to one's craft or learning. In South India, celebrants will often decorate a stepped altar with dolls and statues and other images during this holiday, and friends and relatives will be invited to view this.
Deepawali, also known as Diwali, is the Hindu festival of lights and celebrates the triumph of light over ignorance represented by darkness. On this day, Lord Krishna is believed to have destroyed the demon Narakasura, Lord Rama is said to have returned from exile to Ayodhya and the goddess Lakshmi is believed to have appeared during the churning of the milky ocean. It is celebrated in the lunar month of Karthika, at the end of October or the beginning of November.
On this day, people light up their houses with lamps and celebrate with fireworks and sweets. Traditionally people wear new clothes and businessmen often start new account books and everyone seeks the blessings of Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and prosperity.
- Purna Vidya, Vedic heritage teaching programme, published by Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Coimbatore, India.
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