By Meeta Sharma
Festivals and celebrations in South Asia are celebrated with exuberance. There are many religions in each country, but the primary religions are Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism and Christianity. The following are a list of the major religious festivals that are celebrated throughout the year in South Asia. National festivals are also celebrated with great pride, such as Independence Day in each country.
Diwali is the festival of lights and is the most auspicious celebration for Hindus. Diwali is a five-day festival, beginning on the 15th day of the Hindu calendar month of Kartika (Ashwin). For Hindus, this is the beginning of the New Year and is celebrated with the lighting of clay lamps (diyas), candles and fireworks. Hindus put flowers and mango leaves on their doors and windows, make rangoli patterns in front of their houses and worship Lord Ganesha (the bringer of good fortune) and Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth and prosperity). People exchange gifts and sweets with neighbours, relatives and friends. In Canada, prayers are done at home, in the temple and friends and family get together to celebrate.
Holi, the second main festival for Hindus, is celebrated on the day after the full moon in early March every year. It is called the festival of colours. Holi is also a festival of romance, fun and enjoyment. People of all religions and castes colour each other with gulal (red, green, orange, pink and yellow powder) and other dyes. During Holi, Hindus go to the temple and worship the God Krishna. A puja (worship) tray shows devotion to the images of the Gods. After praying in the temple, everybody goes outside to light a huge bonfire. This reminds Hindus of how good always wins over evil.
There is a famous legend about Holi. According to this legend, King Hirnaya Kasyap’s wicked sister Holika tried to burn the King’s son, Prahlad (because he worshiped God, which was not allowed in this kingdom). But Prahlad was saved by God. The morning after Holi is called Dhuledi. On this day, people colour each other with gulal. Some people spray wet colours on each other, they even pour buckets full of water colours on each other. In the evening, people go to each other houses to wish them a Happy Holi (Holi Mubarak) and to eat sweets. The celebration of Holi is very fun!
Onam is the national festival of Kerala (1961) and is the most famous festival in South India. It is the Harvest Festival celebrated throughout Kerala. This 10-day festival falls in the month of Chingam. According to the Gregorian calendar, Chingam falls in the months of August and September. People of all castes and religions celebrate this festival.
According to legends this festival celebrates the return of King Mahabali, the Demon King, who once ruled the land. Special floral carpets called pookalam decorate people’s homes to welcome King Mahabali. People wear new clothing, visit temples to offer their prayers to the Gods and perform traditional dances.
Pongal is a harvest festival and is known across India by different names. It is celebrated in the month of Shravan and lasts four days. The first day is called Bhogi; throughout this day old clothes and objects are thrown out and burned to mark the beginning of new life. The second day is Perun Ponga. On this day, people worship the Sun God and his consorts, Chaya and Samgnya. People decorate their central courtyards with beautiful kolans (also known as rangoli, which is a powdered colour design) with rice flour and red clay. On the third day, Mattu Pongal, people thank animals for ploughing their lands and on the last day, Kanum Pongal, people go out to celebrate with a picnic.
Ganesh Chaturthi is the celebration of the birth of Lord Ganesha, one of the most significant Gods in the Hindu mythology. This festival is celebrated on the fourth day of Bhadarva Shukla or paksh of the Hindu calendar (August and September). Lord Ganesha is the foremost God of the Hindu phantom and is regarded as the destroyer of all problems and obstacles. During this festival, people pray and distribute sweets at temples and in their homes. Larger clay sculptures are made by professional craftsmen and are sold all over the country. This festival is the advent of other festivals that are dedicated to other Hindu Gods.
The festival of Raksha Bandhan is celebrated in the month of August on the day of the full moon, in the month of Shravan, according to Hindu mythology. Raksha Bandhan signifies the bond of protection between sisters and brothers. On this day, sisters tie silk thread on the wrists of their brothers and pray for their well being and happiness; in turn, the brothers take a pledge to protect their sisters from any obstacles in their lives. This festival is extremely unique; nowhere else in the world is a sibling relationship celebrated like this.
This festival is celebrated on the eighth day of Shravan’s full moon (Hindu calendar), which is the birthday of Lord Krishna. It is celebrates with great devotion throughout the country. Some of the famous Lord Krishna Temples are in Vrindhavan, Mathura and Dwaraka, and it is believed that Lord Krishna was born and lived in one of these places. Pictures of Lord Krishna are bathed and set where moonlight can shine on them. A conch shell is blown and devotees of Lord Krishna celebrate a newborn world by singing devotional songs and dancing with joy.
This festival is celebrated on the fourth day of the dark fortnight of Ashwin (according to Hindu calendar), also called Kartik by married women in India. A married woman who celebrates this festival by vrat or fasting is called Saubhagyavati (in a joyous and happy state of wifehood). Hindu women believe that this fast ensures the well being, prosperity and longevity of their husbands. It is imperative that married Hindu women maintain the fast throughout the whole day and then worship the karva (a clay pot filled with water and sweets). They later exchange their karvas with other married women and the elderly women in their families narrate the legend of Karva Chauth. The women then wait for the moon to rise and when the moon is sighted they offer many prayers to it. The women are then able to break the fast and the first sip of water and food that the husband offers.
Durga Puja and Dussehra
This festival starts with the Celebration of Navaratri, the Festival of Nine Nights. It is celebrated during the nine days of the Hindu month of Ashvin (Gregorian calendar: September–October). Dussehra is dedicated towards the worshiping of the mother Goddess or Shakti and her nine forms. During the first day, people sow seeds and watch them sprout. This is the most important festival in the west of Bengal and lasts for five days. The celebration starts with welcoming the Goddess Durga and ends with immersing the idols in nearby water. The first three days of this festival are dedicated to the Goddess Durga, the next three days are spent worshipping the Goddess Lakshmi and the last three days are dedicated to the Goddess Sarawati. The tenth day of Dussehra is celebrated by performances of Dandiya – Raas (colorful stick dance) by men and women. In the east, Durga Pooja is performed (prayers for the Goddess Durga).
This festival is the celebration of the birthday of Lord Rama and is celebrated in the month of Chaitra (Gregorian calendar: March or April), according to the Hindu calendar known as Ramnavami. Lord Rama was famous for his prosperous and righteous reign which was called Ramrajya (the reign of Rama). It has become symbolic of a period of peace and prosperity. This festival has specific significance in Ayodhya, Uttar-Pradesh, where Lord Rama was born.
This festival falls on the 14th day of the dark half of Magh (Gregorian calendar: March–April). Devotees fast and perform puja (worship) to please Lord Shiva or Mahadeva, one of the Gods of the Hindu trinity. In different parts of India devotees pour water from the Ganges River over stone sculptures of Lord Shiva. Unmarried girls fast and worship Lord Shiva so that they may be blessed with good husbands.
Buddha Jayanti is the birth anniversary of Lord Buddha. It is celebrated on a full moon night in Vaiskha (usually falls in April or May in the Hindu calendar). This is a very important festival in Buddhism. Buddha was born around 560 B.C.E. and died in 480 C.E. He was the greatest spiritual teacher of mankind. His teachings and message travelled very far and wide and gave birth to the Buddhism.
Bakri Id or Id-Ul-Zuha
This is one of the most celebrated festivals among Muslims. It falls on the 10th to 12th day of the Islamic month of Dhu’l Hija. The festival also coincides with the anniversary of the day when the Quran was declared complete (the Quran is the holy book of Muslims). This is the time when pilgrims undertake Haj (a trek) to Mecca and offer prayers in mosques. These special prayers take place on the three days of Id.
This festival falls on the 12th day of the Muslim calendar and is also known as Id-e-milad. The word barah means the 12 days of the Prophet Mohammad’s sickness. It is also the birth and death anniversary of Prophet Mohammed. He was born in Mecca in 570 B.C.E. and from 610 C.E., he was sent revelations from Allah (the God) through the Angel Gabriel. The Prophet spread the word amongst people and soon had a community of followers. This community of followers eventually became a widespread group of followers who are part of the Islamic faith.
This festival is celebrated on a new moon night in the ninth month of the Muslim calendar called Ramzan. Muslims fast for every day of this month. This is in complete devotion to Allah. People pray at all prescribed times, recite the Quran and celebrate nights with feasts and family. Special sweet meats and vermicelli pudding are prepared.
Guru Nanak Jayanti
This is the birthday of Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh faith. He was born in 1469 C.E.
This is a bonfire festival and is celebrated on 13 January annually. This day marks the beginning of the Sun’s journey towards uttarayan (north). It is a very famous festival in the state of Punjab.
On 25 December, people celebrate the festival of Christmas. It marks the birth of Jesus Christ. People in the Indian state of Goa (a former Portuguese colony) celebrate this day by decorating their houses with banana and mango trees instead of pine trees. They also light small oil burning lamps as Christmas decorations and fill churches with red flowers.