There are many holidays and festivals in India. I will discuss the four important holidays of Holi, Diwali, Dussera, and Basanto commemorate.
Holi: The Fire Festival
The Hindu Fire Festival, called Holi or Basaat is celebrated in India on the fifteenth day of the Light Half of the Moon, in the Hindu month of Phalguna (March). Holi is a spring festival for Hindus. It is celebrated before the monsoon, the great rainstorms which come each year.
Holi is a joyous holiday and is celebrated by Hindus of all ages. Boys and girls squirt water pistols, sometimes large pumps filled with saffron or red-colored water. The Hindus favorite colors are red, crimson and saffron.
In Bengal, the Holi festival is associated with the life of Krishna, a Hindu god. In Bengal the colored powders are used without the water, for the fun. Before indulging in a feast in honor of Holi, the children change out of their sporty clothes that are covered in red and put on fresh, clean garments. It is customary to exchange gifts in honor of this spring festival.
Diwali: The Festival of Lights
The Hindu New Year, Diwali, is celebrated on the last night of autumn, in October or November. It is a holiday which is celebrated throughout India. It comes at the end of the monsoon rains, when the weather is nice and mild, and lasts for five days.
For this holiday, daughters return to their parents’ homes, houses are cleared, walls are decorated with designs drawn in white rice flour water and then colored. Business account books are closed and new ones are opened ceremoniously, new clothes are worn and friends are entertained. Before the festival, special food is prepared to be offered in the Hindu temples.
In preparation and in honor of this festival of lights clay saucers are filled with mustard oil and floating cotton wicks, giving a soft, glowing light to the homes. These lights are called chirags, and are placed on the window sills and rooftops of houses; along the roads, and on the banks of rivers and streams.
Women and girls who live in the sacred city of Banares, take their chirags to the banks of the Ganges River. They quietly light them and put them in the river to float along the water. They hope for their clay boats to float to the other side with the wicks still lit. If they remain lit, it is a sign of good luck.
The reason for the lights is to direct Lakshmi; goddess of prosperity to every home. There are a few versions of the origin of this festival. In the northern part of India, it is associated with the autumn season and the harvest. They believe that Lakshmi returns to the plains and lowlands every autumn, after her stay in high country during the summer months. She visits people's homes on that night and needs the light to guide her way. By assuring that she reaches their homes they are assuring that their blessings will be great and meaningful.
Dussera: The Victories of Rama
During the ten day Festival of the Divine Mother a pageant is presented in every city, town or village throughout northern India.
The pageant is presented for two hours each day, ten days in a row. This annual pageant is called Ram Lila, based on the famous and sacred Hindu epic Ramayana, which consists of 24,000 stanzas.
The Ram Lila shows some happening of the great epic that are well known to all Hindus, adults and children. Every year the people in India gather in the market places and watch the Ram Lila with excitement as if they are seeing it for the first time. Towns compete to see who will put on a richer display of costumes and better music.
The pageant's story concerns mainly the events in the wars between Rama, the seventh incarnation of the Lord Vishnu, the Preserver, and Ravan, the cruel demon with ten faces and twenty hands, who threatened to conquer the earth below and the gods in heaven. Rama's forces were under the command of General Hanuman, a monkey. Hanuman led great victories over enemies of mankind and gods. The most exciting part of the pageant is a battle scene with Hanuman.
The ten day pageant ends with the death of Ravana, who is burned in effigy. An image of the dead demon is made of bamboo and colored paper, and is placed on a platform and blown up with fireworks. The audience stamps their feet and this symbolizes victory for Rama over Ravana; good over evil.
Basanta: The First Day of Spring
On the first day of spring, in the Muslim calendar, Basanta is celebrated. Basanta, which in Sanskrit means yellow, is the sacred color of India and is the symbol of spring. On this festival everyone wears yellow on parts of their clothing.
Hindu poets of ancient days wrote poems about spring. Many of them were to Basanta, and in some way connected the arrival of spring with Saraswati, Brahma's wife, the goddess of the sixty-four arts and sciences.
On this holiday, the family fasts until noon and then they go to a field for a picnic lunch and enjoy the outdoors. Offering of white mango bloom or any white flower is brought for Saraswati.
This begins the season when boys and their fathers like to fly their flat tailless kites made of colored tissue paper and bamboo.
1. Millen, Nina, Children's Festivals From Many Lands. New York: Friendship Press, 1964.
2. Dobler, Lavinia, Customs and Holidays Around the World. New York: Fleet Publishing Co. , 1962.
3. Gaer, Joseph, Holidays Around the World. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1953.
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