Hinduism almost certainly has a longer list of festivals than any other religious tradition, and there are considerable regional and denominational variations. Twelve of the more popular and widely celebrated events are listed below.
Purposes of Festivals
Festivals are generally times for celebration and remembrance. Other purposes are:
- To create a special atmosphere, diverting the mind from worldly concerns and joyfully focusing on spiritual matters.
- To invoke the soul’s natural qualities by creating an environment replete with auspiciousness and the abundant gifts of
- To give people spiritual impetus and inspiration, which helps them perform their daily duties.
- To dovetail the natural tendency for celebration with spiritual goals.
- To forge a healthy sense of belonging by peacefully bringing together individuals, families and communities.
Main Practices during Festivals
- Fasting and feasting
- Distribution of food (especially prasad)
- Giving in charity (to temples, saints, the poor, etc)
- Visiting the temple
- Visiting relatives
- Glorification of God (kirtan, bhajan, story recitals, dance, drama)
- Manufacture and worship of temporary deities
- Taking temple deities in procession
- Wearing new clothes
- Decorating houses, streets and temples with fruits, flowers, leaves and banana leaves
Types of Festivals
There are three main types of festivals:
- Celebrating a significant event in the life of a deity e.g. Janmashtami is Krishna’s birthday.
- Celebrating a significant event in the life of a holy person e.g. the birthday of a particular guru.
- Seasonal festivities or customs, e.g. spring festivals like Holi.
Festivals in the first category have become more universal and widely celebrated; the most important ones are Indian public holidays. Festivals in the third category are often exclusively regional, or regional variations of broader festivals e.g. Pongal in Tamil Nadu, which marks Makara Sankranti. Others, such as Holi, are celebrated internationally. Special days within the second category are often relevant only to a particular group (sampradaya) for whom the particular saint has significant relevance.
Twelve Important Festivals
The following is a list of twelve main festivals along with their corresponding deities and any related stories.
|Sarasvati Puja||January||Sarasvati||Saraswati curses Brahma|
|Maha Shiva Ratri||Feb/March||Shiva||Stories of Shiva|
|Holi||March||Vishnu (Narasimha)||Prahlad and Narasimha (and Holika)|
|Rama Navami||Mar/April||Rama||Ramayana, especially Rama’s birth|
|Hanuman Jayanti||April||Hanuman||Ramayana, especially later episodes|
|RathaYatra||June/July||Jagannatha||The Proud Merchant|
|Raksha Bandhana||August||–||Indra wears a rakhi|
|Janmashtami||Aug/Sept||Krishna||Krishna’s birth and childhood|
|Ganesh Chaturthi||Aug/Sept||Ganesh||How Ganesh received his head|
|Navaratri/Durga Puja||Sept/Oct||Shakti, Parvati||Durga kills Mahisha, and others|
|Diwali*||Oct/Nov||Lakshmi/Rama||Stories of Lakshmi/Ramayana|
* Diwali usually spans five days and for many Hindus is the NewYear It includes a number of festivals, which some consider special days in their own right.These include (1) Govardhana Puja (worship of the sacred hill lifted by Krishna), (2) Annakuta (the offering of grains), (3) Go-puja (worship of the cow), and (4) Bratra-Dvitiya (sister’s day).
“Utsava means ‘pleasure.’ Whenever some function takes place to express happiness, it is called utsava. Utsava, the expression of complete happiness, is always present in the Vaikunthalokas, the abode of the Lord.”
My favourite festival is Janmashtami, because there are pizza tents with chips and because it’s Lord Krishna’s birthday.
Sachin Kumar (aged 11)
I like Navaratri the best because of all the dancing. My second favourite is Raksha Bandhan, when I tie a rakhi on my brother’s wrist.