India loves to celebrate. You could probably find a festival of some sort going on somewhere in India every day of the year! Festivals are the celebration of togetherness in India, often joining people of different traditions and religions in the spirit of mutual respect and cooperation.
There are many auspicious days in India, most of which are celebrated with great zest and full-blown sensory experiences. Some last for a day, others go on for weeks. Let’s look at a few of the main ones and ways in which we too can enjoy them.
Rakhi is a festival, meaning “a knot of protection”. On this day, sisters demonstrate their love and affection for their brother by tying a thread on his right wrist and praying for his prosperous future. In the return, the brother blesses her with good wishes and pledges to protect, and guide her for the rest of his life. Nowadays this has extended beyond family members and Rakhi threads and gifts are exchanged as a sign of friendship.
According to the Hindu mythology, it is believed that on this day, the deity Yamuna used to tie a sacred thread on her brother Yama’s (God of death) wrist. Yama was so touched by the custom that he declared, who ever got a Rakhi tied from his sister would become immortal.
On this day or any special day, tie a colored string around the wrist of those with whom you share brotherly or sisterly love.
Navaratri or the Nine Days of Mother Divine is a celebration of good over evil, which parallels our own threefold spiritual journey of preparing the way, setting our intention and living Truth.
The festival honors a mythological battle between Mother Divine and the forces of ignorance, which raged for nine days until the Light illuminated the darkness. The nine days are divided into three sets of three days each, during which we may choose to enliven different archetypal energies within us. During the first three days have the intention to remove impurities and actions that no longer serve. Put your personal life in order, clean your homes, pay the bills, etc., honor the Goddess Durga.
Now that we have cleared the path, for the second three days have the intention for abundance in your life. This can be material, physical, emotional and of course spiritual. Also express gratitude for all the blessings you are constantly receiving. During these days we honor the Goddess Lakshmi.
During the final three days our attention should be on cultivating Wisdom, Truth and Purity in our lives, through inner reflection, sacred readings and study, honoring the Goddess Saraswati. The final, tenth day is Victory Day, a time for celebration and welcoming new beginnings.
Diwali is one of the most beautiful and joyous times in the Indian calendar, filled with love, light and rejoicing. It is a festival of new beginnings, of light, abundance, fulfillment and a celebration of wisdom over ignorance, enjoyed by everyone.
Diwali marks a time for clearing out the old to make room for the new, a time for assessing our strengths and weaknesses. Homes and offices are thoroughly cleaned but it is also a time for inner reflection. Diwali is when we look into our own hearts and minds and ask, “What cleaning needs to be done here?” A time to let go of old grudges, angers and judgments, making room for compassion, forgiveness and love.
During the festival, it is customary to decorate one’s home with lights. This represents the light to dispel the darkness of ignorance and the light that shines from within our own hearts to illumine our coming year.
Diwali celebrates the return of Lord Rama from exile, when the people of his kingdom lit lamps along the road to welcome him home. Diwali is also the welcoming of Maha Lakshmi Devi, the goddess of abundance, purity, grace and beauty, who is asked to lavish Her blessings of prosperity on all aspects of our lives.
During Diwali, take some time for your own inner reflection, recognize the Divinity within and light a candle or lamp in your window to welcome new beginnings. Diwali is also a time for giving gifts, especially sweets and candies.
Also known as the festival of colors, celebrations start on the night before Holi with a bonfire, where people gather to release whatever no longer serves them, into the flames. The next morning is celebrated as a free-for-all carnival of colors, where participants chase and color each other with dry powder and colored water. Anyone and everyone is fair game, friend or stranger, rich or poor, man or woman, children and elders.
Holi signifies the arrival of spring, end of winter, and for many a day to meet others, play and laugh, forget the past, forgive and repair broken relationships
This ritual is said to be based on Krishna’s playful splashing of the milkmaids with water, but mostly it celebrates the coming of spring with all its beautiful colors and vibrant life.
Visit special friends on this day and, if you’re in India, be sure to wear your oldest clothes!
As archetypal energy, Shiva represents Pure Space, Silence and Potentiality, the core aspects of our essence. Maha Shivaratri or the “Night of Shiva” is an inner journey of meditation.
Legends says it marks the wedding day of Shiva and Parvati. Some also believe that on this night, Shiva as Nataraj performed the ‘Tandava’ dance of the primal creation, preservation and destruction. Another legend tells that it was on Shivaratri that Shiva manifested himself before Brahma and Vishnu as a column of Light with no beginning or end and was recognized as Lord of the Universe.
Shiva supposedly, is in such a good mood on this day that he will grant any wish so long as the devotee only eats fruit, drinks milk or water and stays awake all night chanting his mantras.
Many miracles are said to happen on this night. The sick can be healed, saints levitate or walk on water, some fly magically and Divine revelations are received. Married women pray to the Goddess Parvati for the well being of their husbands, while unmarried women pray for a spouse like Shiva, the ideal husband.
If you can’t stay awake all night, chant the mantra Om Namah Shivaya a few times before bed.
The relationship between a disciple and his/her Guru is very special. Guru Purnima is the day when students express their deep gratitude for the blessings they have received from their Guru and the Guru pledges his/her spiritual support for the coming year. On this day, disciples will travel from all over India to bring gifts to their Guru.
If you have a Guru or a special teacher offer your love and gratitude.
The Kumbh is the greatest congregation of human beings on the earth. Some say India is like going to another planet, the Kumbh is another universe! Great saints, gurus, sadhus, some in beautiful costumes others naked, many of whom are rarely seen outside of their forest or mountain hermitages share their blessings with millions of pilgrims over a month-long period.
In mythological times there was a great battle between the gods and the demons over ownership of the pot (Kumbh) containing Amrit, the nectar of immortality. Fortunately the gods won and the nectar was safely carried to heaven. During the struggle, four drops of nectar fell to the earth in India. Each of these four places (Allahabad, Haridwar, Nasik and Ujjain), now hosts a Kumbh every twelve years.
Huge tent cities are set up on the banks of the holy rivers to accommodate and feed up to 70 million visitors. Sacred chants and ceremonies continue round the clock and the river is said to flow with nectar, washing away lifetimes of karma for all who bathe in it.
Each January-February a smaller version (3-4 million people), Marg Mela is held in Allahabad.
If you choose to enjoy these festivals in your own home, look on the Internet under Festivals of India for upcoming dates.