High Days and Holidays

By Naravane, Vishwanath S. | UNESCO Courier, February 1989 | Go to article overview

High Days and Holidays


Naravane, Vishwanath S., UNESCO Courier


VISITORS who come to India with the notion that the Indian outlook on life is austere and pessimistic are surprised to see the zest for life which Indians display. This enthusiasm is seen In a vivid and picturesque fight during the fairs and festivals that have been held since remote Antiquity.

Festivals afford glimpses of the continuity and diversity of Indian life. People of different regions, speaking different languages, can be seen wearing a variety of costumes. There are farmers and aristocrats, mendicants and astrologers, poets, reachers and wandering singers. There is colur and pageantry, faith and devotion. And, amidst all this diversity, we feel the living presence of India.

Most of the festivals have a strong religious bnis. There are discourses, hymns, chants, and readings from scriptures. Many festivals are associated with specific deities. Rama Navami (March or April), Shiva Ratri (February or March) and Krishna Janmashtami (August) are celebrated in honour of Rama, Shiva and Krishna respectively. The festival of the goddess Durga comes in October, while Sarasvati, goddess of learning and the arts, is worshipped in early spring.

The Indian calendar is lunar. Special sanctity attaches to festivals held on nights of full moon or new moon. Apart from the moon, other phenomena of Nature ar commemorated with affection and reverence. A day is set aside for expressing gratitude to the banyan tree, another is devoted to the nagas (serpents). Seasons are welcomed with festivities. Vasant Panchmi (early February) is the festival of spring. The autumn is greeted on the brightest moonlit night of the year, Sharad Purnima (usually in late October). Many fairs and festivals are held on the banks of sacred rivers. At the confluence of the Ganges and the Yamuna rivers at Allahabad, a festival is held throughout the month of Magba (JanuaryFebruary). Every twelfth year, this religious fair is known as the Khumba Mela. During the Kumbha, sometimes more than five million people come to bathe at the holy confluence on the day of amavasya (new moon).

The most important Muslim festival is Id al-Fitr, at the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan. People wear new clothes and offer special prayers at mosques.This is followed by a feast. The Parsi new year (Nauroz) and the Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter, are celebrated with great enthusiasm. The birthdays of Buddha, Mahavira and Guru Nanak (founders of Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism respectively) are national holidays. …

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