Important Festivals

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

Janmastami celebrations at a temple in the UK.

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
  • nature.
  • 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

Ratha Yatra, originally from Puri and now celebrated annually in London and in other cities worldwide

There are three main types of festivals:

  1. Celebrating a significant event in the life of a deity e.g. Janmashtami is Krishna’s birthday.
  2. Celebrating a significant event in the life of a holy person e.g. the birthday of a particular guru.
  3. 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.

Related Stories
Sarasvati PujaJanuary SarasvatiSaraswati curses Brahma
Maha Shiva Ratri Feb/MarchShivaStories of Shiva
Holi MarchVishnu (Narasimha)Prahlad and Narasimha (and Holika)
Rama NavamiMar/April Rama Ramayana, especially Rama’s birth
Hanuman JayantiAprilHanumanRamayana, especially later episodes
RathaYatraJune/JulyJagannathaThe Proud Merchant
Raksha BandhanaAugustIndra wears a rakhi
JanmashtamiAug/SeptKrishnaKrishna’s birth and childhood
Ganesh ChaturthiAug/SeptGaneshHow Ganesh received his head
Navaratri/Durga Puja Sept/OctShakti, Parvati Durga kills Mahisha, and others
Dussehra OctoberRamaRamayana
Diwali*Oct/NovLakshmi/RamaStories 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).

Scriptural Quote

“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.”

Bhagavat Purana


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.

Dipika Patel