Indian Holidays and Religious Festivals
(An Explanatory Listing)
Pongal A three-day harvest festival and one of the most joyful events in the South. In Tamil Nadu, newly harvested rice is ceremonially cooked. In Karnataka, the festival is called 'Sankranti', and cows and bullocks are gaily decorated and fed on 'Pongal' ( a sweet preparation of rice). In the evening, the cattle are led out in procession to the beat of drums and music.
Republic Day January 26 marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution in 1950 and is India's National Day. Celebrations in the State capitals are colourful. The celebrations in New Delhi, a magnificent parade of the armed forces and civilians, is followed by an impressive cultural pageant and a colourful folk-dance festival.
Id-ul-Zuha: Commemorates the sacrifice of Abraham. The Muslims offer prayers all around the country.
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.
Holi 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.
Mahavir Jayanti The anniversary of the birth of Vardhamana Mahavira, the twenty-fourth Tirthankara, more than 2,500 years ago. The festival attracts pilgrims from all parts of the country to the ancient Jain shrines at Girnar and Palitana in Gujarat.
Good Friday Services and recitals of religious music are held in hundreds of churches all over India.
Easter 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.
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.
Buddha Purnima Marks the birth and enlightenment of Buddha.
Khardad Sal The birth anniversary of the Prophet Zarathustra (Zoroaster), who was born at the beginning of the first millennium BC. It is one of the most important Parsee festivals.
Janmashtami 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.
Independence Day August 15 marks the anniversary of Independence in 1947 and is celebrated with due solemnity. The national flag is hoisted and the occasion marked as a day of dedication.
Onam 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.
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.
Gandhi Jayanti October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation. Special prayers are offered at the Gandhi Samadhi at Rajghat, Delhi and celebrations are held all over the country.
Diwali 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.
Guru Nanak Jayanti Also known as 'Gurupurab', it is the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak who founded the Sikh faith. For two days and nights preceding the festival, the 'Granth Sahib' (Holy Book) is read and on the day of the festival, taken out in a grand procession. The celebrations at Amritsar are especially impressive.
Children's Day November 14, the birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru is celebrated throughout the country as Children's Day. Groups of children participate in rallies and cultural programmes.
Id-ul-Fitr 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.
Christmas Celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike with special enthusiasm. The bigger cities like Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta wear a festive look as Christmas bazaars and festivities are organised.