Maha Shivaratri: Hindus honor marriage, linga of Lord Shiva

Young man and older man walking and holding hands while holding colorful Hindu decorations

Hindu devotees carry decorations on an annual pilgrimage to a Maha Shivaratri festival. Photo by ILRI, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 24: A day of fasting and worship is followed by a nighttime vigil for Lord Shiva, on the Hindu holiday of Maha Shivaratri. Lord Shiva is associated with several legends and renowned as the model of an ideal husband. On Maha Shivaratri, many Hindus believe that Lord Shiva performed the Tandava—the cosmic dance of creation, preservation and destruction.

After a full day of visiting temples, performing ritual baths for figures of Lord Shiva and fasting, Hindus begin a vigil that lasts the entire night.

LORD SHIVA: MARRIAGE AND LINGA

Many stories are shared as this holiday is celebrated by Hindus in India, Nepal, Trinidad, Tobago and other parts of the world. According to one legend, Lord Shiva and his consort, Parvati, were married on this day. As the marriage of Lord Shiva and Parvatai is regarded as ideal, married women pray for the well being of their husbands and single women pray that they will find a husband like Shiva.

In another traditional story, Lord Shiva manifested in the form of a Linga on Maha Shivaratri, and thus the day is regarded as extremely auspicious.

In the news: Rhode Island’s first Hindu temple—acquired in building last October—will be home to Maha Shivaratri celebrations this year. Read the story here.

RITUALS AND CUSTOMS

After waking early for a ritual bath, Hindus begin the day by visiting the temple. At the temple, Hindus pray, make offerings and bathe figures of Shiva in milk, honey or water. Many devotees either fast or partake in only milk and fruit throughout the day. As evening falls, the worship continues, and hymns and devotional songs are sung to Shiva throughout the night. It’s believed that sincere worship of Lord Shiva on Maha Shivaratri—Lord Shiva’s favorite day—will bring absolution of sins, neutrality of the mind and assistance in liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth.

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Categories: Hindu

Diwali: Hindus, Sikhs and Jains light up the nights, rejoice in truth and goodness

Variety of colors in design on floor with candle in the middle

Photo by Nimish Gogri, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 30: The worldwide festival of lights launches from India today, in the ancient Hindu celebration of Diwali. In recognition of the triumph of light over darkness, Diwali bears great significance for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs alike. As awareness of Indian culture spreads, major celebrations now are hosted around the world. And, please note: Dates and spellings of Diwali vary by country and region.

Preparations for Diwali begin weeks in advance, so a flurry of pre-Diwali activity can be seen in most cities of India. In a shopping extravaganza comparable to the Western Christmas season, gold jewelry, fine clothing, sweet treats and household goods fly off racks in marketplaces across India. At home, surfaces are scrubbed clean, women and children decorate entrances with Rangoli and men string strands of lights. Official celebrations begin two days before Diwali, and end two days after Diwali—spanning a total of five days. During this five-day period, the old year closes and a new year is rung in.

Hands with tatooed henna holding lit diya lamp in semi-darkness

Hands holding a diya lamp for Diwali. Photo by Shrinivasa Sharma, courtesy of Flickr

Did you know? Diwali is derived from the Sanskrit fusion of dipa (“light,” or “lamp”) and avali (“series,” “line,” or “row”). For Diwali, rows of lamps are lit in homes and temples.

On Diwali, excitement builds as evening approaches. While donning new clothing, diyas (earthen lamps, filled with oil) are lit, prayers are offered to deities and many households welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity who is believed to roam the earth on Diwali night. The night’s extravaganza is a sky ablaze with fireworks. Families gather for a feast of sweets and desserts as the diyas remain lit through the dark hours.

The day following Diwali is Padwa, honoring the mutual love between husbands and wives. The next day, Bhai Duj, celebrates the sister-brother bond. On Bhai Duj, women and girls gather to perform puja and prayers for the well-being of their brothers, and siblings engage in gift-giving and the sharing of a meal.

ATMAN, HIGHER KNOWLEDGE

Several Hindu schools of philosophy teach the existence of something beyond the physical body and mind: something pure and infinite, known as atman. Diwali celebrates the victory of good over evil, in the deeper meaning of higher knowledge dissipating ignorance and hope prevailing over despair. When truth is realized, Hindus believe that one can see past ignorance and into the oneness of all things.

DIWALI AMONG JAINS AND SIKHS

On the night of Diwali, Jains celebrate light for yet another reason: to mark the attainment of moksha, or nirvana, by Mahavira. As the final Jain Tirthankar of this era, Mahavira’s attainment is celebrated with much fervor. It’s believed that many gods were present on the night when Mahavira reached moksha, and that their presence illuminated the darkness.

Sikhs mark the Bandi Chhor Divas on Diwali, when Guru Har Gobind Ji freed himself and the Hindu kings from Fort Gwalior and arrived at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Today, Bandi Chhor Divas is commemorated with the lighting of the Golden Temple, fireworks and more.

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHindu

Navaratri: Hindus fast, pay homage to Durga & femininity during ‘Nine Nights’

Girl with eyes closed, items on table, with hands clasped

A young girl pays respect during Navratri. Photo by Manoo Joshi, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 1: For the first time in 16 years, Hindus celebrate an exceptional religious festival for 10 days, celebrating legends and femininity during Sharad Navaratri. (English spellings vary; the name often appears without the middle “a.” Read more on the astrology of this year’s determination here.) An ancient festival that emphasizes the motherhood of the divine, Navaratri is usually observed for nine nights; this year, the Hindu calendar so falls that the festival will last an extra day, and include two weekends, as well.

Each night during Navaratri, Hindus worship a different form or characteristic of the Mother Goddess Durga, who is regarded as being manifested in cosmic energy and power. In general, Sharad Navaratri is the celebration of good over evil, though many aspects of this tradition vary by region in India and around the world.

Did you know? The key term, Navaratri, literally refers to nine nights (“nava” and “ratri”).

Woman dancing in brightly colored costume with other dancers, Indian

Dancing for Navaratri. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Navaratri in its basic form takes place five times per year, but it’s Sharad Navaratri—this festival, at the beginning of autumn—that takes precedence over any other. Sharad Navaratri culminates on a final day known as Dussehra.

Legends related to this observance differ: Some indicate that Shiva gave permission to Durga to visit her mother for nine days, while others describe Durga’s victory following a nine-day battle with the demon Mahishasura. Life-size clay figures depicting this battle are commonly seen in temples during Navaratri. But there is a universal theme to this tradition, too: All Hindus aim for purity, avoiding meat, grains and alcohol—and usually installing a household pot that is kept lit for nine days. Some devotees fast, and others consume only milk and fruit for nine days.

NIGHTTIME DANCING AND ADORNMENTS

In India, Navaratri brings out orchestras and community-wide singing; nighttime dances in the streets combine with bountiful feasts and shrines are elaborately decorated. In Saraswat Brahmin temples, statue figures are adorned with flowers, sandalwood paste and turmeric. In some regions of India, it’s believed that one should try to envision the divinity in the tools used for daily life—whether books, computers or larger instruments—and decorate them with flowers and other adornments, in hopes of both humbling themselves and bringing auspiciousness upon the items that aid them in livelihood.

NEWS: DOMINO’S GOES VEGETARIAN, INDIA REVS UP FOR FESTIVITIES

In preparation for the food restrictions of its Indian customers during Navaratri, approximately 500 Domino’s pizza outlets in 248 cities across India will go all-vegetarian during the Hindu festival, reports the Free Press Journal. That’s not all: the chain’s participating locations will also intend to feature no onions, garlic or wheat during the days and nights of Navratri, according to news reports.

Fasting is an integral part of Navratri, and this article from NDTV suggests 10 basic staples to have in the kitchen in preparation for the length of the festival.

What are the trends for Navratri 2016? Times of India offers tips and the latest news from Mumbai, including fashion trends, sought-after products and more.


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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHindu

Krishna Janmashtami: Hindus honor deity known for mischief, love & friendship

Human period reaching upward among crowd of people

A Dahi Handi pyramid for Krishna Janmashtami. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 24 (southern, eastern, western India) and THURSDAY, AUGUST 25 (northern India): Millions of Hindus worldwide revel in the spirit of Lord Krishna, fasting, chanting, indulging in sweets and celebrating for the grand festival of Krishna Janmashtami. An observance that lasts eight days in some regions, Krishna Janmashtami honors the birth of the Hindu deity Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu. To devotees, Krishna is the epitome of many characteristics: according to ancient texts, he is a mischievous and fun-loving child, a romantic lover and an empathetic friend.

Did you know? According to legend, Lord Krishna reciprocates devotions in ways unique for each devotee.

On Krishna’s birthday, events begin before sunrise and last through midnight. Public and private prayer, both in centuries-old temples and in private homes, can include chanting and singing or a more private praise. Feasts of many dishes are prepared, and dances and dramas depicting the life and ways of Krishna are watched with fanfare. Some devotees dress or decorate statues of Krishna, while others string garlands across temples.

Many Hindus fast until midnight—the official birth time of Krishna. At midnight, those at the temple watch a priest pull apart curtains to reveal a fully dressed figure of Krishna.

BY REGION & COUNTRY: KRISHNA JANMASHTAMI

Across India, Krishna’s birthday is commemorated with regional variations. In Mumbai, Pune and in other regions, boys form human pyramids in hopes of having the highest boy break an earthen pot (called a handi) filled with buttermilk, which is tied to a string strung high above the streets. If the pot is broken, buttermilk spills over the group and the boys win prize money. Various groups of boys compete in Dahi Handi, in impersonation of a favorite pastime of the child Krishna: stealing butter. Today, political figures, wealthy individuals and even Bollywood actors contribute to prize money for the Dahi Handi. In some regions of India, younger boys—typically the youngest male in a family—is dressed up like Lord Krishna on Janmashtami. Hindus across Nepal, the U.S., Caribbean and more revel in festivities for Krishna Janmashtami, offering fruit, flowers and coins to the deity and chanting together.

AT HOME: HOW TO CELEBRATE

Devotees far from a local temple can celebrate Krishna Janmashtami at home, with suggestions from Krishna.com:

  • Invite friends and family to participate in festivities
  • Decorate your home for Krisnha with garlands, clothed figures and balloons
  • Check out the webcam views at Krishna.com, which capture festivities at some major ISKCON temples
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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHindu

Raksha Bandhan: Hindu festival honors sibling love, special relationships

Woman at market in front of rows and boxes of colorfu bracelets

A woman browses a marketplace for rakhi. Photo by Vishal Dutta, courtesy of Flickr

NEWS 2016: This year, UK armed forces have celebrated Raksha Bandhan across Britain; India Times presents a list of nostalgic memories slideshow for anyone who grew up with a sibling; Amazon India delivers a heartfelt message in this year’s Raksha campaign, #DeliverTheLove; and, read all about how rakhis are helping to empower a local economy.

THURSDAY, AUGUST 18: Today’s festival of Raksha Bandhan—celebrated across India and in Hindu communities worldwide—honors the sacred bonds between brothers and sisters. Over many centuries, the rakhi (from Sanskrit, “the tie or knot of affection”) has evolved from simple, handspun threads into bangles adorned in jewels, crystals, cartoon characters and even political figures.

The simple gift expresses renewed love between siblings and sometimes between others who share a bond of brotherhood. More than a century ago, the famous Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore suggested that Muslims and Hindus exchange rakhi as signs of peace and unity as Indians.

Typically, today, women present a rakhi to men and, in return, the men promise to protect the women who offer them a bracelet. (Learn more from the Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India.) Although usually associated with Hinduism, Raksha Banhan has reached a wider cultural status—often celebrated by Jains, Sikhs and even some Muslims across India, Mauritus, parts of Nepal and Pakistan.

A DAY IN THE LIFE:
THE RITUALS OF RAKSHA BANDHAN

Weeks before the culmination of Raksha Bandhan, Indian shops offer a bright palette of threads for women making their own rakhi. Shops also are stocked with colorful premade rakhi. The bracelet may be as plain or as opulent as the woman wishes, although most are adorned with some type of decoration at the middle. Men also shop market stands, searching for a token of love for their sisterly Raksha Bandhan companion.

Interested in making your own rakhi? Find simple instructions here.

The morning of the festival, brothers and sisters greet one another in, if possible, the presence of other family members. The sister ties a rakhi on her brother’s wrist, reciting prayers for his well-being and applying a colorful tilak mark to his forehead. The brother promises, in return, to protect his sister under all circumstances—even if she is married—and the two indulge in sweet foods. The brother presents the sister with a gift, and everyone present rejoices in the gladness of family. When a brother and sister cannot be together on Raksha Bandhan, they often send each other cards and gifts for the occasion.

NEWS: INDIA TO HOST FIRST ‘INTERNATIONAL RAKSHA BANDHAN’

A first-of-its-kind International Raksha Bandhan festival will be held on August 17 in New Delhi, according to news sources. Aside from more local attendees and families, organizers are anticipating visitors from almost 40 countries to attend the festival. According to one representative, “Raksha Bandhan is a festival which can provide way for answers to many global problems.”

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Ram Navami: Hindus celebrate righteous reign of ancient king Sri Rama

Lord Rama with wife Sita

Lord Rama and his wife, Sita. Photo in public domain via YouTube

FRIDAY, APRIL 15: The story of Lord Rama has been read, recited, acted out in passion plays and reviewed by Hindus worldwide, during a period known as Ramayana Week—all leading up to today’s climactic festival, Ram Navami. (Spellings vary; Ramanavami and Ramnavami are also common spellings.) Celebrated as the birth of Lord Rama, the seventh avatar of Vishnu, Ram Navami recalls the righteous, peaceful and presperous reign of the ancient kingdom under Sri Rama. The epic Ramayana, read during Ramayana Week, tells the exciting and thrilling adventures of Rama and the widespread anticipation of the long-awaited heir of King Dasharath of Ayodhya. Many Hindus believe that listening to the story of Rama cleanses the soul.

Did you know? According to studies, some consider the birth of Rama to have been in January of 4114 BCE.

Legend has it that Rama was born at noon: Rama’s dynasty has been linked with the sun, and at noon, the sun is at its brightest. At home, Hindus set pictures of Lord Rama, his wife (Sita), Hanuman and Lakshman in places of importance; puja is performed with joy. It is common to fast from onions, wheat products and several other foods on Ramanavami, and community meals free of these foods share the gaiety of the festival. In temples, fruits and flowers, Vedic chants and mantras are offered to Sri Rama. In South India, the wedding of Rama and Sita is ceremonially recognized, while in parts of North India, chariot processions attract thousands of visitors.

Did you know? Gandhi said that Ramrajya, the peaceful reign of Lord Rama, would be the ideal state of India following independence.

AN ALTERNATE BIRTHDAY: SWAMINARAYAN JAYANTI

Elaborately decorated figure statue with red background

Swaminarayan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

While the majority of India is celebrating Sri Rama, many Hindus also recall the birthday of the founder of the Swaminarayan tradition within Hinduism. In stark contrast to the millennia-old commemorations of most Hindu deities, this jayanti marks the birth of an 18th-century figure who lived into the 19th century. Lord Swaminarayan was born in North India and traveled across the country as a social and moral reformer. Today, his devotees sing, fast and offer food at temples, with a late culmination at 10:10 p.m.—the documented time of his birth.

NEWS: RAM EVENT AIMS FOR WORLD RECORD

In India, the Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) has planned an awareness drive for HIV/AIDS to mark the centenary of a Ram Navami shobhyatra (procession). Organizers hope to inspire a record number of youths in taking an oath to prevent HIV/AIDS and spreading awareness—in a number that will break the current record for most participants in an event taking an oath for a social cause. (Read more here.) As one organizer explained in the Times of India, “Lord Hanuman is famous as a bachelor while Lord Ram as monogamist. HIV/AIDS will be eradicated if people follow the two Lords before and after marriage.”

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHindu

Ramayana Week: Epic plays begin as India prepares for Lord Rama’s birthday

Woman statue blue man Lord Rama

A woman with a figure of Lord Rama. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, APRIL 8: Hindus worldwide anticipate the birthday of Lord Rama with Ramayana Week, a period that begins today and recalls the details of Lord Rama’s heroic adventures. Through April 15 (Ramanavami, or Lord Rama’s birthday), Hindus regale the hugely popular tales of Lord Rama through non-stop recitals. The Sanskrit epic that holds these stories—the Ramayana—is studied throughout the week, as Hindus note the significance of the Ramayana and its influence on Indian life and culture. For the most observant Hindus, Ramayana Week is a time of fasting and reflection; for others, fasting is reserved just for Ramanavami.

Lord Rama’s epic was written by Valmiki, one of the first Sanskrit poets. Legend has it that Valmiki was once a robber or hunter who, upon meeting a hermit, was transformed into a virtuous being. His passionate ability to portray the life events of Lord Rama was unmatched, and he met with divine sages to learn what he should write.

The Ramayana is no longer a single text: the epic tale has branched into many versions and renditions over the centuries. The Sanskrit original is said to hold approximately 24,000 verses, and it is as complex as it is long. Yet its dramatic scope rivals the ancient Greek and Roman classics, including a climactic scene in which Rama leads an army of monkeys into battle with an army of demons.

Interested in the Ramayana? We recommend the prose text by famed Indian writer R.K. Narayan. A colleague of Graham Greene, Narayan achieved cross-over success in the West in the middle of the 20th century. In the 1970s, he published his now-classic prose version of the epic. Currently, his version is published by Penguin, titled: The Ramayana: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic.

NEWS: $50 M FILM TO TELL STORY OF RAMAYANA

The story of the Ramayana has been retold through TV series, cartoons and movies countless times, but three young filmmakers are now aiming to bring that story to a new Western audience, as they adapt the epic to English and aim their story at global viewers. (Read more in The Hindu.) News sources report that the movie will be narrated and adapted for both 3D and Imax, using current Hollywood technology for special effects and costing approximately $50 million to produce—nearly twice the amount of most Indian movies. Despite the high budget, the filmmakers cite their biggest challenge as meeting the expectations of both Indian audiences and those abroad.

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHindu