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FESTIVALS OF INDIA
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Festivals of India: Republic Day is one of the most important national events that is celebrated on January 26th every year in India. On this day in 1950 the constitution of India came into force and India became a truly Sovereign, Democratic and Republic state. The Indian people proclaimed the guidelines on which the freedom of spirit, rule of law and fundamental principles of governance are based. In New Delhi and in provincial capitals there are parades to mark the occasion. The parade in New Delhi is the most elaborate one. It starts from Vijay Chowk (Victory Square) near the Prime Minister’s office and continues on the Raj Path, the tree lined avenue from President’s mansion to India Gate. The President of India takes the salute on this day. Apart from military forces there are very beautiful cultural dances and floats that participate in this parade in New Delhi. The official buildings of the Indian government are illuminated in the night for this festival.
Independence Day is the other most important national celebration in India. Viscount Lord Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy and Governor-General of India declared on June 3, 1947 the intention of the British government to grant independence to India.
At the hour of midnight on August 15, 1947 Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru declared India an independent nation with the following historic speech: “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity. At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her success and her failures. Through good and ill fortune alike she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again. The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future? Freedom and power bring responsibility. The responsibility rests upon this Assembly, a sovereign body representing the sovereign people of India. Before the birth of freedom we have endured all the pains of labor and our hearts are heavy with the memory of this sorrow. Some of those pains continue even now. Nevertheless, the past is over and it is the future that beckons to us now. That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we may fulfill the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over. And so we have to labor and to work, and work hard, to give reality to our dreams. Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all the nations and peoples are too closely knit together today for any one of them to imagine that it can live apart Peace has been said to be indivisible; so is freedom, so is prosperity now, and so also is disaster in this One World that can no longer be split into isolated fragments. To the people of India, whose representatives we are, we make an appeal to join us with faith and confidence in this great adventure. This is no time for petty and destructive criticism, no time for ill-will or blaming others. We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell. The appointed day has come-the day appointed by destiny-and India stands forth again, after long slumber and struggle, awake, vital, free and independent. The past clings on to us still in some measure and we have to do much before we redeem the pledges we have so often taken. Yet the turning-point is past, and history begins anew for us, the history which we shall live and act and others will write about. It is a fateful moment for us in India, for all Asia and for the world. A new star rises, the star of freedom in the East, a new hope comes into being, a vision long cherished materializes. May the star never set and that hope never be betrayed! We rejoice in that freedom, even though clouds surround us, and many of our people are sorrow stricken and difficult problems encompass us. But freedom brings responsibilities and burdens and we have to face them in the spirit of a free and disciplined people. On this day our first thoughts go to the architect of this freedom, the Father of our Nation [Gandhi], who, embodying the old spirit of India, held aloft the torch of freedom and lighted up the darkness that surrounded us. We have often been unworthy followers of his and have strayed from his message, but not only we but succeeding generations will remember this message and bear the imprint in their hearts of this great son of India, magnificent in his faith and strength and courage and humility. We shall never allow that torch of freedom to be blown out, however high the wind or stormy the tempest. Our next thoughts must be of the unknown volunteers and soldiers of freedom who, without praise or reward, have served India even unto death. We think also of our brothers and sisters who have been cut off from us by political boundaries and who unhappily cannot share at present in the freedom that has come. They are of us and will remain of us whatever may happen, and we shall be sharers in their good [or] ill fortune alike. The future beckons to us. Whither do we go and what shall be our Endeavour? To bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India; to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman. We have hard work ahead. There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make all the people of India what destiny intended them to be. We are citizens of a great country on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to that high standard. All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action. To the nations and peoples of the world we send greetings and pledge ourselves to cooperate with them in furthering peace, freedom and democracy. And to India, our much-loved motherland, the ancient, the eternal and the ever-new, we pay our reverent homage and we bind ourselves afresh to her service. Jai Hind.
Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated with great fanfare in the state of Maharashtra. In Mumbai there are massive scale celebration for 10 days from Bhadrapad Shudh Chaturthi to the Ananta Chaturdashi. On the 11th day the gigantic idols of Lord Ganesh are taken from the temporary temples constructed in tents to be immersed in a river or the ocean. The immersing symbolizes the ritual farewell to Lord Ganesh on his journey to Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva & goddess Parvati, his parents. The immersing also represents the removal of all obstacles and misfortunes in human life. The crowds in the procession chant: Ganapati Bappa Morya, Purchya Varshi Laukariya! (O father Ganesh, return early next year). Before the idol is immersed offerings of coconuts, flowers and camphor are made. Durga Puja is a festival especially popular in the east Indian State of Bengal and generally very popular in Bengali communities settled all over India. During the Navdurga or Navratri the goddess is worshiped as Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati all forms of the consort of Lord Shiva. Huge idols of the goddess are ceremoniously installed in temples and in various residential areas. On the ninth day the idols are taken in a procession for immersing in a river.
Vijayadashami or Dasehra festival marks the victory of Lord Ram over the demon Ravana. It is celebrated on the 10th day of the moon cycle. The festival is preceded by the nine days of fasting called Navdurga. In north India there are enactments of Ramayan Epic during this period. In Mysore in Karanataka State there is a very elaborate procession with beautifully decorated elephants every year. Deepavali or Diwali Festival is the most popular celebration among the followers of Hindu, Jain and Sikh religions in northern India and among these communities around the world. Deepavali literally means a row of lights. In Nepal this festival is called Tihar or Swanti. The Newar Buddhists of Nepal also celebrate this festival. In northern India the Hindus pray to Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth, Saraswati, the Goddess of Knowledge and Ganesh, the remover of obstacles in life. Deepavali is celebrated on the Amavasya or the ‘no moon’ day of the Hindu calendar. It marks the return of the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Ram, his wife Sita and his brother, Lakshman to their capital in Ayodhya after 14 years of exile. Some Hindu communities in southern India celebrate this festival one day earlier because they believe that Lord Rama passed through their region before he reached his kingdom of Ayodhya. All houses and business establishments are cleaned and freshly painted. In the evening oil lamps used to be burnt inside and outside the houses but in modern India electric illuminations are used. After the religious celebrations the children burn fire crackers. The day is preceded by Dhanatrayodashi that is popularly called Dhan Teras. On this day it is considered auspicious to buy a metal object. Most families buy a utensil, the rich people buy jewelry. The day after Deepavali is celebrated as Annakut day when families cook delicacies made with as many different vegetables as possible. The vegetable vendors sell a very large variety of vegetables on this occasion. In the evening Goverdhan Puja or the prayer of Goverdhan mountain is celebrated to commemorate the victory of Lord Krishna over Indra, the God of Rains. The Jain religion followers believe that on this day Vardhaman Mahavir, the 24th Tirthankar or teacher of Jain religion achieved Nirwana. The Sikh religion followers celebrate this festival especially in Punjab to mark the day as Bandhi Chorh Divas. On this day the Mughal Emperor Jahangir granted freedom to the Sikh Guru Hargobind Singh and 52 other Hindu Rajas (kings) from their imprisonment in Gwalior Fort in central India.
Holi is the enthusiastic of all Hindu festivals in India. In the early pre-dawn hours of the day of the Holi festival, a bonfire is lit usually in a town or village square. The people bring sheaths of wheat and barley etc. to roast in the fire and then distribute the same to members of the family to eat. As the daylight emerges people start throwing dry and wet paint (mostly red) on each other. On the Holi day no one is supposed to have an enemy. All people greet each other by saying “Holi Mubarak” or Holi Greetings and embracing each other in the streets. In the afternoon people gather in gardens to hear humorous poems that have satirical references to important political and other leaders. The festival is celebrated in central and northern India generally but it is most popular in Braj region of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Bhayia Dooj is a festival that is celebrated one day after Deepavali when sisters mark the foreheads of their brothers and the brothers offer gifts to their sisters.
Raksha Bandhan is a similar celebration to the Bhayia Dooj but at Raksha Bandhan the sisters tie decorative bands on the wrists of their brothers and the brothers promise to protect them. The brothers also give gifts to the sisters after receiving the wrist bands.
Krishna Janmashtami is the celebration of the birth of Lord Krishna that is especially celebrated with scenes of the birth place of Lord Krishna in the Braj Region. This is the area surrounding Mathura, Vrindavan and Agra in Uttar Pradesh and Bharatpur in Rajasthan. The festival usually falls in the month of August.
Id-ul-Zuha (Bakr-Id) is an Islamic festival that is celebrated all over India by the Muslims. Bakr means sheep in Arabic. It is believed that Prophet Hazrat Ibrahim was asked by God to sacrifice the person dearest to him. The prophet decided to sacrifice his own son, Ismail, to follow divine instructions. At the moment the prophet lifted the sword the prophet was instructed that it was a test of his faith and he could sacrifice a sheep instead. The prophet sacrificed the sheep at a place called Mina that is near Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The day also marks the end of the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca. Haj is one of the five important actions that all Muslims should strive to fulfill. Muslims dress in festive attire and go to the Mosque for the special Id-Namaaz (Id prayers). After the prayers they exchange greetings by hugging each other and saying “Id Mubarak” to each other. Special delicacies are prepared with the sacrificial sheep meat and distributed among family, friends and also given to the poor and needy.
Id-ul-Fitr is an Islamic festival that is celebrated all over India by the Muslims to mark the end of Ramdan, the month of fasting. The actual date of Id-ul-Fitr depends on the sighting of the new moon locally. The day starts with people going to the Idgah mosque for prayers. After the prayers families and friends meet and greet each other and exchange gifts. In India this Id festival is also called ‘Meethi’ or sweet Id.
Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar. The festival of Muharram starts with the 1st day of this month and ends on the 10th day of the month. During this month Hazrat Imam Husain, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad was on a journey in Iraq when he and his companions were ambushed by Yazid, the local ruler. After the demise of Hazrat Ali, the fourth Imam who was also the son-in-law of the prophet there was a dispute about the succession. Hazrat Imam Husain and his companions were deprived of food and water for many days and finally they were murdered. The 10th day marks the day of the martyrdom of the prophet’s grandson and his companions. The Shia community in India celebrates this festival is with great fervor especially in cities where Shia community is large like Lucknow, Hyderabad, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. The Shia community members meet in Majlis (meeting) dressed in black to signify the mourning. Prose and poetry describing the dreadful events at Karbala are narrated for nine days in great detail. On the tenth day large processions are formed in which men inflict wounds on their own bodies to feel the pain suffered by Hazrat Imam Husain. In these processions replicas of the mausoleum of Hazrat Imam Husain are carried and the mourners chant ‘Ya Husain’. These replicas of the mausoleum are called ‘Tazias’ and these are kept during the year in special buildings called Imambaras. A white horse precedes this procession to commemorate the empty mount of the grandson of the prophet after his martyrdom.
Barah Wafat – the birth and demise day celebration of the prophet of Islam is celebrated in Muslim communities all over India. Prophet Mohammed was born in 571 A.D on April12th, in Mecca in Arabia. Circa 610 AD, Prophet is said to have gained revelations from Allah through the angel Gabriel that he was His Messenger. In 622 AD Prophet Mohammed along with his followers went to Medina. The festival of Eid-e-Miladulnabi or Barah Wafat literally means the twelfth day. The celebrations of this day are subdued because the day commemorates the birth and also the demise of Prophet Mohammed. Bara Wafat falls on the twelfth day of the third month Rabi-ul-Awwal. Barah or twelve stands for the twelve days of the Prophets sickness. The day is marked by holding religious discourses, reading the Holy book of Quran and giving alms to the poor. Learned men and scholars give sermons on the life and teachings of Prophet Mohammed and inspire people to follow the path of good life as shown in Quran. Hence, the festival gives a chance to people to introspect their deeds and try to behave in a manner that is better for one self and for the community as a whole. In the Shia communities in India ‘Marsiyas’ or elegies are recited to commemorate the last twelve days of the life of the Prophet. This is also a time when the people are reminded about distributing alms to the needy. Families invite relatives and dear friends for feasts. Some mosques are illuminated in the night for this celebration. In some mosques, however, a ‘sandal rite’ ceremony is performed over the symbolic foot prints of the Prophet engraved in a stone. A stone imitation of buraq the horse on which Prophet Mohammed is said to have ascended to his heavenly abode is placed near the foot prints and anointed with sandal paste or scented powder. Besides, the house and casket containing this are elaborately decorated.
Buddha Jayanti or Buddha Purnima is celebrated as the birthday of the founder of the Buddhist religion. It usually falls in April or May months corresponding to the Hindu lunar calendar of Vaisakh. Siddhartha Gautam Buddha was born at a place that is now famous as Lumbini in Nepal near the Indian border. His mother was going from the house of her husband to the house of her parents, when she delivered Siddhartha in an orchard. Buddha grew up at the house of his parents in Kapilvastu.
Mahavir Jayanti celebrates the birth of the twenty-fourth and last teacher (Tirthankar) of the Jain religion. His name was Vardhaman and he was born on the 13th day of the rising moon in the month of Chaitra in 599 or 615 BCE. This date coincides with the months of March or April of the Gregorian calendar. There are two different birth years followed by the different sects of the Jain religion. Vardhaman Mahavir was born in Kaudinyapura that is on the outskirts of present day city of Vaisali in the eastern State of Bihar in India.
Guru Nanak Jayanti is the most important celebration of the Sikh religion. It marks the birth of the founder and first Guru of the Sikh faith in 1469 CE in the village of Tolevandi that is about 30 miles from Lahore in present day Pakistan. He was born during the period of the month when the moon is full in the Hindu lunar calendar month of Kartik. The day is also known as Kartik Purnima or the full moon night in the month of Kartik. On this day the Sikh religion followers visit the Gurudwaras (temples) and huge ‘Langar’ or communal kitchens are set up to distribute food to everyone irrespective of their faith. Nine more Gurus followed Guru Nanak as head of the Sikh religion. The 10th and last Guru Gobind Singh abolished the succession process and instead placed their holy book on the throne of the Sikh Guru. The holy book is thereafter referred as the Guru Granth Sahab.
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