Diwali: India’s biggest festival celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and global citizens

Round golden tray with lit candles

Diya lamps and candles lit for Diwali. Photo courtesy of Pexels

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 7: The festival of lights launches from India today and crosses the globe, in the ancient 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. (Note: Dates and spellings of Diwali vary by country and region. In some regions—such as Texas, U.S., Auckland, New Zealand and Manchester, England—festivals are already taking place.)

Extra! FeedTheSpirit columnist Bobbie Lewis adds more about Diwali—plus a delicious recipe!

PREPARATIONS AND CELEBRATIONS

Man in white Indian tunic making circle of light with sparkler firecracker

Happy Diwali! Photo by Varun Khurana, courtesy of Flickr

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, 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.

In the two days prior to Diwali, celebrants wrap up their shopping, bake sweets and bathe with fragrant oils. 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, and families gather for a feast of sweets and desserts. Tonight, the diyas will 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: THE SOUL

Several Hindu schools of philosophy teach the existence of something beyond the physical body and mind: something pure and infinite, known as atman. Diwali revels in the victory of good over evil, in the deeper meaning of higher knowledge dissipating ignorance and hope prevailing over despair. When truth is realized, 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 IndiaHinduJainSikh

Dussehra: Hindus celebrate feminism, harvest, goodness at end of Navaratri

Tall colorful effigies in night with crowd

One hundred-foot Ravana effigies, on the 10th night of Dussehra in New Delhi. Photo by Kaniths, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 19: The festival of Navaratri culminates in the most celebrated holiday of all nine nights: Dasara (spellings vary). From the Sanskrit words for “remover of bad fate,” today’s Dussehra brings towering effigies to the streets of India, along with a host of ancient rituals and marked traditions. Many Hindus recognize the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana, a demon, during an epic battle over Rama’s wife, Sita. It’s believed that Ravana had 10 heads, and thus, 10 unfavorable qualities are rid from households with elaborate Yanga performances today; the unfavorable qualities include lust, anger, delusion, greed and jealousy.

Did you know? Feminism shines in the victory of Goddess Durga over demons, thereby continuing the female-centered rituals of Navaratri. In rural areas of India and Nepal, it’s recognized that harvest season begins today; the Mother Goddess is worshipped, and farmers ask for fertility in their soil.

Dasara man India dressed up

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

In many parts of India, towering effigies of Ravana and his brothers are filled with firecrackers and exploded. Citizens cheer at the blast and dance, sing and feast. The burning effigies are also seen as a cleansing ritual, as they encourage onlookers to burn inner evil and follow the path of righteousness. In northern India, a chariot holding devotees costumed as Lord Rama and Sita rolls down the streets; in southern India, homes are decorated with lamps and flowers.

Did you know? Dussehra is also known as Vijayadashami, the celebration of yet another victory involving goodness over evil: Goddess Durga’s defeat of the demon Mahisasura. According to this legend, Mother Goddess Shakti incarnated in the form of Goddess Durga.

Given the day’s auspiciousness, many Hindu (and non-Hindu) children begin their formal education today. Some devotees purchase new work tools—whether books, computers or farming equipment—and still others pay respect to elders and request their blessings. Families and friends gather for parties and feasting.

Across India, gratitude is expressed for the end of a scorching summer season and the approach of cooler days.

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHindu

Ganesh Chaturthi: Hindus celebrate Ganesha with vibrant colors, figures & treats

Pink elephant statue close-up with bangles and jewels and paint

Lord Ganesha. Photo by Kaushal Jangid, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 13: The sight of thousands of colorful, detailed elephant-type figures and the scent of sweet modak treats signal that Ganesha Chaturthi has arrived in India!

Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the grandest, most beloved and longest festivals of India, and the Hindu god Ganesha is honored during this time, known also as Vinayaka Chaturthi. For 10 days—until Anant Chaturdashi—many Jain, Christian and Muslim families across India join Hindus in celebrating the event. Images of Ganesha are temporarily installed in public pandals (shrines) and in homes, and worshipped for several days, until they are taken to a local body of water and immersed.

Did you know? Lord Ganesha is believed to be the giver of fortune and one who can remove all obstacles to success.

Months before Ganesh Chaturthi, artists mold models of the elephant-god. Figures may range in size from less than one inch to almost 100 feet, most of them made of clay, Plaster-of-Paris, papier-mache or organic materials. In many areas of India, artists and industries earn a considerable portion of their yearly income preparing for Ganesh Chaturthi. Some regions host fairs, concerts, skits and dancing during the festival. Where an image of Ganesh is installed, the surrounding area is decorated with floral garlands, lights and more. Priests chant mantras to invoke Ganesha’s presence into the statues.

From a Hindu scholar: Hindu scholar, writer and activist Padma Kuppa writes a guest column in FeedTheSpirit this week, sharing her perspective on the holiday. And, Padma includes a delicious, traditional recipe as well. She includes in this column additional links to learn more about the holiday and its beloved foods.

GANESH: CLAY & PLASTER, FROM INDIA TO THE UK—AND BEYOND

Though clay models used to be the primary material of Ganesh figures, demand and price led to the use of Plaster-of-Paris, which is not biodegradable. When Plaster-of-Paris Ganesh statues were immersed into water—also covered in chemical paints that contain heavy metals—water pollution began threatening the environment and statues began washing up onto sandy beaches. In response, green initiatives have been launched across India. In Goa, the sale of Ganesh figures made of PoP was banned and a return to traditional clay or reusable figures is growing in popularity. In some areas, pools are set up for the safe immersion of statues.

Tens of thousands of Hindus in the UK publicly observe Ganesh Chaturthi, from Paris to London and beyond. In the U.S., temples and associations mark the festival, and the Philadelphia Ganesh Festival (PGF) is the largest Hindu festival in North America. Ganesha is also celebrated across Canada, in Malaysia and Singapore and in Indian populations around the world.

NEWS UPDATES: Get all the latest news on Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations with an article from The Hindu; a footage video from the Times of India; and a recipe from the Mumbai Mirror.

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHindu

Paryushan Parva: Jains fast, observe 10 key virtues during forgiveness festival

A temple against changing sky colors

A Jain temple in India. Photo courtesy of pxhere.

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 7 to MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 24: Forgiveness plays a central role in many world religions, but for Jains, it’s the focus of the most important festival of the year: Paryushan Parva.

Observed by Shvetambar Jains for eight days (Sept. 7-14, this year) and by Digambar Jains for 10 (Sept. 15-24, this year), Paryushan Parva means daily fasting, inner reflection and confession. (For Digambar Jains, the festival is also sometimes known as Das Lakshana.) In India, monks and nuns take up residence in Jain centers during this period, providing guidance to the laity; the custom is now practiced in the United States, too.

Each evening of Paryushan, the laity gather for prayer, meditation and readings from holy texts. The end of Paryushan brings the grand day when forgiveness is requested from all living beings, and Jains forgive one another in full. It’s believed that all negative karmic matter attached to the soul is overpowered when total forgiveness is asked, resulting in renewal and self-purification.

Did you know? Many Jains fast during Paryushan Parva. Some drink only between sunrise and sunset; others consume only water. At the end of the festival period, any who have fasted are fed by friends and loved ones.

Though known by several different names, Paryushan Parva unites Jains through 10 key virtues: kshama (forgiveness); mardav (humility); arjav (straightforwardness); sauch (contentedness); satya (truth); samyam (control over senses); tappa (austerity); tyaga (renunciation); akinchan (lack of attachment); brahmacharya (celibacy). Together, the 10 virtues represent the ideal characteristics of the soul; by achieving the supreme virtues, the soul has a chance at salvation. Only through these virtues may people realize the sublime trio: “the True, the Good and the Beautiful.” Evil is eradicated, and eternal bliss is realized.

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaJain

Holi: Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and revelers worldwide welcome spring in vibrant color

Colored powders in air, crowd below

Holi festival in Spanish Fork, Utah, at the Sri Radha Krishna Temple. Photo by Steven Gerner, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, MARCH 2: Shouts ring through the streets as colored powders fill the air: It’s Holi!

In India today and around the globe, the thrilling Hindu festival of Holi is in full swing. Termed the “Festival of Colours,” Holi calls all participants to set aside castes and manners for the day so that young and old, rich and poor, men and women can all gather to welcome the joy of spring.

HOLI EVE: HOLIKA DAHAN

Holi unofficially begins on Holi eve, in a ritual of burning bonfires to commemorate the legend of Prahlad. According to legend, Prahad miraculously escaped a fire when the Demoness Holika carried him in; Hindus believe Prahlad emerged with not even a scratch, due to his devotion to the deity Vishnu. The scores of Holika bonfires serve as reminder of the victory of good over evil and, in some regions, effigies of the demoness are burnt in the fires.

Songs are sung in high pitch around the bonfire, accompanied by traditional dances. After a frivolous night, celebrants wake early the next morning for a day of carefree fun.

KRISHNA AND HOLI, LOVE AND SPRINGTIME

Hand with colored powder

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Krishna is the primary deity worshipped during the festival of Holi: The divine love of Radha for Krishna makes Holi a festival of love. Various legends explain the link between the child Krishna and Holi’s many colors, as winter’s neutrality makes way for the colorful essence of spring during this beloved holiday.

A demand for organic, healthy Holi colors has spurred a new trend in recent years, and more companies and organizations are working with recycled flowers, vegetables and natural powders. Long ago, Holi’s powders were made with clay, flowers and dried vegetables, but in recent decades, synthetic powders (that contain lead, asbestos and other toxic substances) were used, as they were widely available and inexpensive. Though convenient to buy, the synthetic powders have caused widespread environmental and health concern. Regulations are still underway, but experts anticipate that the demands of young generations will someday be satisfied with a healthier, “greener” Holi.

KING OF HOLI: In Barsana, in India, courting takes on a new twist as men sing provocative songs to women and the women literally beat the men away with sticks (don’t worry—the men carry shields to protect themselves). In Western India, pots of buttermilk are hung high above the streets in symbolism of the pranks of Lord Krishna, and crowds of boys compete to build human pyramids and reach the top pot. The boy who reaches the pot is crowned King of Holi.

SIKHS & HOLA MOHALLA

Sikhs turn to a different festival during the time of Holi: Hola Mohalla, literally translated into “mock fight.” In 1699 CE, the 10th Sikh guru Gobind Singh inaugurated the Khalsa, a group of men who had shown immense bravery and selflessness. These saint-soldiers pledged loyalty to the poor and oppressed, vowing to defend wherever injustice was present. Two years later, Guru Gobind Singh instituted a day of mock battles and poetry contests, to demonstrate the skills and values of the Khalsa and to inspire other Sikhs. Today, these events have evolved into Hola Mohalla, a week-long festival replete with music, military processions and kirtans. Food is voluntarily prepared and large groups of Sikhs eat in communion. The largest annual Hola Mohalla festival is held at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab, although many gurdwaras worldwide hold their own versions of the events at Anandpur.

The Nihangs, bearing the symbol of the Khalsa, often display their skills at Hola Mohalla and are distinct for their blue robes, large turbans, swords, all-steel bracelets and uncut hair. During Hola Mohalla, Nihangs display a mastery of horsemanship, war-like sports and use of arms. Guru Gobind Singh instructed Sikhs to obey the highest ethical standards and to always be prepared to fight tyranny.

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaSikh

Maha Shivaratri: Hindus fast, hold vigils and worship for the ‘Great Night of Shiva’

Icebreaker!

If you know someone from the Hindu tradition, perhaps at work or in your neighborhood, use this icebreaker: Do you celebrate Maha Shivaratri? How does your family mark the occasion?

 

Statue of blue Lord Shiva with one leg up under umbrella in middle of buildings

A figure of Lord Shiva. Photo by Rashi, courtesy of Skitterphoto

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 13: Fasting and worship, temple visitations and ritual baths for Lord Shiva are followed by a nighttime vigil on Maha Shivaratri, a holiday observed across India and by Hindus around the world. On Maha Shivaratri, many Hindus believe that Lord Shiva performed the Tandava—the cosmic dance of creation, preservation and destruction. Lord Shiva, a member of the Hindu Trinity, is associated with several legends and renowned as the model of an ideal husband.

LEGENDS, RITUALS—AND LORD SHIVA’S FAVORITE DAY

Hindus in India, Nepal, Trinidad and Tobago and other parts of the world share stories as well as traditions on this renowned holiday. 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. 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.

Did you know? Maha Shivaratri means “the Great Night of Shiva.”

As a time for “overcoming darkness and ignorance” devotees begin Maha Shivaratri early in the day. After a a ritual bath, many Hindus visit a temple, where they pray, make offerings, chant prayers 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 they contemplate virtues such as forgiveness, honesty and self-discipline. As evening falls, worship to Lord Shiva continues, and hymns and devotional songs are sung to Shiva throughout the night.

A NEWSWORTHY TEMPLE: A Shiva destination that comprises 15 temples is being hailed as a “photographer’s delight” by one visitor, in a recent article in Telangana Today. On Maha Shivaratri, the typically quiet temple complex becomes a destination of much celebration, as Hindus from around the district arrive to worship Lord Shiva.

 

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHindu

Krishna Janmashtami: Pyramids, chanting, fasting commence in India

Hindus in colorful celebration

A Krishna Janmashtami program. Courtesy of Vimeo. (Click on the photo to view a video of the program.)

MONDAY, AUGUST 14 and TUESDAY, AUGUST 15 (date varies by country): 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 countless characteristics: according to ancient texts, he is a mischievous and fun-loving child, a romantic lover and an empathetic friend. Worshippers relate to one or more aspects of Krishna’s personality, and legend has it that the deity reciprocates devotions in ways unique for each devotee.

Fast fact: Scriptural details and astrological calculations place Krishna’s birth on July 18, 3228 BCE.

On Krishna Janmashtami, 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.

DAHI HANDI, BUTTERMILK & KRISHNA

Human pyramid at nighttime

A Dahi Handi human pyramid. Photo by Ramnath Bhat, courtesy of Flickr

Across India, Krishna’s janmashtami 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 compete in Dahi Handi, in impersonation of a favorite pasttime 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.

NEWS: DAHI HANDI PYRAMID RESTRICTIONS IMPACT 2017 FESTIVITIES

The famed Dahi Handi pyramids, formed by young people in efforts to break a hung pot and earn prize money, now face restrictions as the Bombay High Court banned entrants under the age of 18 and limiting the height of the human pyramids to 20 feet last year.

Now named a “dangerous performance,” the long-standing tradition of Krishna Janmashtami causes injuries that are often fatal, as pyramids may reach up to nine stories tall with no means of assistance in the occurrence of falls. (The Hindu reported; The Indian Express has updated on the story, this year.) Still, officials voice uncertainty in verifying the age of Dahi Handi participants, as well as in the heights of the pyramids amid the excitement of the crowded festivities.

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHindu