Janmasthami

Janmashtami
On the eighth day of the black half of Bhadra (August - September) was born Shri Krishna, the eighth Avatar or incarnation of Vishnu. Therefore, this day is well known as Janmastami or Krishna-Janmashtami. This auspicious day of birth of Krishna, the direct manifestation of Vishnu himself is celebrated in all parts of India with clat and great enthusiasm. In the Bhagvad Gita Krishna declares: "All this universe has been created by me; all things exist in me", and Arjuna addresses him as "the super universal spirit, the supreme dwelling, the eternal person, divine prior to the Gods, unborn omnipresent". His life is celebrated in great detail in the Puranas like Harvamsha and Shrimad Bhagvatam. The circumstances in which he was born were quite peculiar and mysterious. He incarnated himself primarily to destroy evil and wickedness and to establish Dharma.

Celebration

Janmashtami celebrations start right from the early morning with the bath in the sacred waters and prayers etc., but the climax reaches in the midnight with the rising moon, which marks the divine birth. On this auspicious day, strict fast is kept and broken only after the birth of Krishna at midnight. The temples and homes are decorated, scene-depicting Krishna's birth and his childhood pranks, etc., are staged with models both living and inanimate. Child Krishna's image is put into a richly decorated swing and rocked with a tender care all the day by the devotees. At night after birth, a small image of toddling Krishna is bathed in Charnamrita, amidst chanting of hymns, blaring of the conches, ringing of the bells and joyous shouting of "victory of Krishna".

In Braja Mandala, especially Gokula and Mathura, this festival is celebrated with great possible religious fervor and enthusiasm and the special deliberations of the day are relayed on the air. People from distant places congregate to Mathura and Vrindavan on this day to participate in the festival. The piety and fast observed on this day ensure birth of many good sons, and salvation after the death. Reading and recitation of the Bhagvatam and Geet Govindam are most recommended on this day.

Legends of Janmasthami

The demon king Kansa was a great and dreaded tyrant, but he loved his sister Devaki, and at her marriage with Vasudeva, he, out of great affection, drove their marriage chariot. Then, all of a sudden an oracle told him that eighth born of Devaki shall be the cause of his doom and death. At this he would have killed her then and there, but for the intervention of Vasudeva and their promise to give him over each and every child born to them. They kept their promise, and Kansa killed all of their seven children one after the other to a great suffering and grief of the couple. They were kept in the prison under strict watch and in chains and locks.

So Krishna was born as their eighth son in the prison cell. But it so happened, with divine grace, that the guards fell asleep, their chains loosened and locks and the gates of the prison cell opened. Vasudeva took the child Krishna to Nanda's house in Gokula and exchanged him for a baby girl born there to Yasoda. When Kana heard of the birth of girl child, he at once rushed to prison cell, and lifted the female child high, catching it by the feet and was about to dash her against the rock. When it slipped from Kansa's grip and assuming the beautiful form of the Divine Mother vanishing saying, "Wretch! The destroyer is flourishing in Gokula". There was a great joy and rejoicing in Gokula at the birth of a son to king Nanda and queen Yashoda. Yashoda was quite unaware of the exchange that had taken place during the night.
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Holi

Holika
The ‘Holi’ festival is a very fun-filled and popular occasion in the northern part of India. It is an occasion when people smear each other with bright colored powders, which are known as Gulal, and colored water. This festival is celebrated around early March each year. It can be said that ‘Holi’ festival is called a bright festival as a wide range of bright colors is used during it. The people believe that the bright colors represent energy, life, and joy.


Legends of Holi

There was once a demon king by the name of Hiranyakashyap who won over the kingdom of earth. He was so egoistic that he commanded everybody in his kingdom to worship only him. But to his great disappointment, his son, Prahlad became an ardent devotee of Lord Naarayana and refused to worship his father. Hiranyakashyap tried several ways to kill his son Prahlad but Lord Vishnu saved him every time. Finally, he asked his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap. For, Hiranyakashyap knew that Holika had a boon, whereby, she could enter the fire unscathed. Treacherously, Holika coaxed young Prahlad to sit in her lap and she herself took her seat in a blazing fire. The legend has it that Holika had to pay the price of her sinister desire by her life. Holika was not aware that the boon worked only when she entered the fire alone.

Prahlad, who kept chanting the name of Lord Naarayana all this while, came out unharmed, as the lord blessed him for his extreme devotion.& Thus, Holi derives its name from Holika. And, is celebrated as a festival of victory of good over evil. Holi is also celebrated as the triumph of a devotee. As the legend depicts that anybody, howsoever strong, cannot harm a true devotee. And, those who dare torture a true devotee of god shall be reduced to ashes.

Celebrations

To start off the festival, preparations are usually made on the eve of Holi: huge bonfires are burnt as a symbol of its representation. These fires are created to ward off evil spirits around the place. 'Holi' is grandly celebrated in villages around Mathura, the place where Krishna is said to be born. Before the start of the festival, shops are busy selling ‘Gulal,’ the colored powders, and it is no surprise that the shops are flooded with festive shoppers. In preparation for the festival, new clothes are also bought for the family: it is a tradition for mothers to buy new clothes for their married daughters. On ‘Holi’, mothers let their children go out on the streets to indulge in the splashing of colors. Men like to wear white ‘Kurtas’ while ladies prefer to wear white saris, or ‘Salwar Khameez,’ on 'Holi'. One thing that is very attractive about this festival is the spirit of the people who celebrate the occasion. Whether they are young or old, all the people are lost in the joyful occasion, having fun throwing colors at each other. Even water balloons would be thrown at each other. When they splash colored water on passer-bys, it is common for the passer-bys to get involved in the color riots themselves. Even kids love this festival, as they enjoy being drenched in colored water. On this happy occasion, dances and folk songs are also important features in the festival.
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Diwali

Happy Diwali
The word Diwali is the abstraction of the Sanskrit word Deepavali - Deepen meaning light and Avali, meaning a row. On the Hindu calendar, Diwali is celebrated for the five days from the 13th day of the dark half of the lunar month Ashvina to the second day of the light half of Karttika. On the English calendar, Dipawali falls in the months of October or November, and always on a new moon day. Diwali is celebrated with a variety of rituals, which depend in large part on one's location, but they center on the lighting of candles, electric lights and fireworks.


Celebration

Diwali or more aptly Deepawali is very enthusiastically celebrated for five continuous days and each day has its significance with a number of myths, legends and beliefs. The First day is called Dhanteras which falls on the thirteenth day of the month of Aasho. The word Dhan means wealth. Believing this day to be auspicious, women purchase some gold or silver or at least one or two new utensils. The Second day is called Narkachaturdashi or Choti Diwali which falls on the fourteenth day of the month of Aasho. This day therefore is dedicated to lights and prayers heralding a future full of joy and laughter. The Third day of the festival of Diwali is the most important day of Lakshmi-Puja which is entirely devoted to the propitiation of Goddess Lakshmi. On this very day sun enters his second course and passes Libra which is represented by the balance or scale. Hence, this design of Libra is believed to have suggested the balancing of account books and their closing. Despite the fact that this day falls on an amavasya day it is regarded as the most auspicious. The fourth day is padwa. Govardhan-Puja is also performed in the North on this day. The Fifth and final day of Diwali Festival is known by the name of Bhayya-Duj. As the legend goes Yamraj, the God of Death visited his sister Yami on this particular day. She put the auspicious tilak on his forehead, garlanded him and fed him with special dishes and while parting Yamraj gave her a special gift as a token of his love. That day Yamraj announced that anyone who receives tilak from his sister will never be thrown. Since then, this day is being observed as a symbol of love between sisters and brothers.


Rituals and Legends of Diwali


The ?row of lights? for which the festival is named are lit on the new-moon night to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. But in Bengal, it is the goddess Kali who is so honored, and in North India the festival also celebrates the return of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, and Hanuman to the city of Ayodhya, where Rama's rule of righteousness was inaugurated.
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Ganesh Chaturthi

Ganesh Chaturthi or Ganesh Utsav or the birthday of Ganesha (the elephant-headed God of Wisdom and Prosperity) falls on the fourth day of the Hindu month of Bhadrapada (around August-September). It is celebrated all across India and is the biggest festival in Maharashtra. Ganesha is India’s cutest god. He has the head of an elephant on which is perched a dainty tiara, four podgy hands joined to a sizeable belly with each hand holding its own symbolic object. One has a trishul, or a trident, the second, an ankush, or goad made from his very own broken tooth, the third hand elegantly holds a lotus and the fourth a rosary (which is sometimes replaced by modaks – his favourite sweet). Ganesha is famous not only for being a trickster and for his sense of humour, but equally for his wisdom. He is the son of Shiva (Destroyer in the Hindu Holy Trinity of Creator-Preserver-Destroyer) and Parvati (Shiva’s consort) .

Celebration



Although the Ganesha Chaturthi festival falls in the month of Bhado (August-September) but the preparations for the celebrations starts well in advance. Beautiful idols of Lord Ganesha, small and large, are made. The spirituality and enthusiasm dominates the entire atmosphere. Ganesh Puja : On the festive day these idols are placed in the house holds and public mandaps. Then the ritual of the Pranapratishhtha Pooja is performed to invoke the holy presence of Lord Ganesha into the idol followed by the worship with sixteen modes of showing honor, known as Shhodashopachara. Offering of Durva (grass) blades and modaka, a delicacy prepared from rice flour, jaggery, and coconut, is an important part of the Ganesha Chaturthi puja. Ganesha is also offered red flowers, and anointed with a red chandan. For next 10 days, the Ganesha temples, each house hold and large mandaps are swayed away by the name of their most loved God Ganesha. On 11th day, the procession ceremony of the immersion of the image/idol in a water body is performed to see-off the lord and praying him to take away all misfortunes and come again next year.

Rituals and Legends of Ganesh Chaturthi


The puja of Lord Ganesh or Ganesha on the Ganesha Chaturathi day is to be performed at noon. A clay image of the God, painted beautifully, is installed on a raised platform. After the usual preliminary rituals, the Pranapratishhtha must be done with the appropriate mantras. This Pranapratishhtha is done for the purpose of invoking the presence of Lord Ganesha into the image. This is followed by the worship with sixteen modes of showing honor, known as Shhodashopachara.

Offering of Durva (grass) blades and modaka, a delicacy prepared from rice flour, jaggery, and coconut, is an important part of the Ganesh Chaturathi puja. Ganesha is also offered red flowers, and anointed with a red chandana. The immersion of the image in a body of water is ceremonially performed at the end of the chaturathi vrata.

According to Hindu mythological scriptures Lord Ganesha was formed by Goddess Parvati, wife of Lord Shiva. It is said that one day Parvati formed a sculpture from the paste that she used on her body before taking bath. She infused life in that figure and ordered him to guard the entrance of her bathroom. God Shiva returned and stopped at the entrance of his house by that boy. In extreme rage Shiva struck off the boy’s head. This incident filled Parvati in utter grief and requested Shiva to return her son. Then Shiva fixed the head of an elephant and restored life onto the body of that boy. Lord Shiva named this boy as ‘Ganpati’ Gan means (hosts) & Pati means (Chief) and blessed that Ganpati would be worshipped before every new venture.
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Maha Shivratri

Mahashivaratri Festival or the ‘The Night of Shiva’ is celebrated with devotion and religious fervor in honor of Lord Shiva, one of the deities of Hindu Trinity. Shivaratri falls on the moonless 14th night of the new moon in the Hindu month of Phalgun, which corresponds to the month of February - March in English Calendar. Celebrating the festival of Shivaratri devotees observe day and night fast and perform ritual worship of Shiva Lingam to appease Lord Shiva.

Legends of Mahashivratri

There are various interesting legends related to the festival of Maha Shivaratri. According to one of the most popular legends, Shivaratri marks the wedding day of Lord Shiva and Parvati. Some believe that it was on the auspicious night of Shivaratri that Lord Shiva performed the ‘Tandava’, the dance of the primal creation, preservation and destruction. Another popular Shivratri legend stated in Linga Purana states that it was on Shivaratri that Lord Shiva manifested himself in the form of a Linga. Hence the day is considered to be extremely auspicious by Shiva devotees and they celebrate it as Mahashivaratri - the grand night of Shiva .

Ritual & Celebrations

Various traditions and customs related to Shivaratri Festival are dutifully followed by the worshippers of Lord Shiva. Devotees observe strict fast in honor of Shiva, though many go on a diet of fruits and milk some do not consume even a drop of water. Devotees strongly believe that sincere worship of Lord Shiva on the auspicious day of Shivaratri, absolves a person of sins and liberates him from the cycle of birth and death. Shivaratri is considered especially auspicious for women. While married women pray for the well being of their husbands unmarried women pray for a husband like Lord Shiva, who is regarded as the ideal husband.

To mark the Shivratri festival, devotees wake up early and take a ritual bath, preferably in river Ganga. After wearing fresh new clothes devotees visit the nearest Shiva temple to give ritual bath to the Shiva Lingum with milk, honey, water etc.

On Shivaratri, worship of Lord Shiva continues all through the day and night. Every three hours priests perform ritual pooja of Shivalingam by bathing it with milk, yoghurt, honey, ghee, sugar and water amidst the chanting of “Om Namah Shivaya’ and ringing of temple bells. Nightlong vigil or jaagran is also observed in Shiva temples where large number of devotees spend the night singing hymns and devotional songs in praise of Lord Shiva. It is only on the following morning that devotee break their fast by partaking prasad offered to the deity.

Devotees of Lord Shiva observe the Shivaratri Festival by following the prescribed rituals with sincerity and devotion. All through the day, devotees abstain from eating food and break their fast only the next morning, after the nightlong worship. Ritual baths of Shivalinga in the numerous Shiva temples by Shiva worshipper, mainly women, is another significant feature of Shivratri customs and traditions. Devotees strongly believe that ritual worship of Lord Shiva on the auspicious day of Shivaratri absolves them of past sins and they are blessed with Moksha.

Ram Navami

The festival of Ram Navami is the celebration of birthday of the Hindu God, Shri Ram. Shri Ram was the seventh incarnation (Avatar) of Lord Vishnu and born in Ayodha, an ancient Indian city. Rama Navami is celebrated on the ninth day of Hindu month of Chaitra (April). Ram Navami marks the end of nine day long festival called Chaitra Navratri or Vasanta Navratri. On this auspicious day devotees observes fasting, visits temples to offer special prayers, takes religious processions and the special readings of Ramayana are also hold.

Celebration

Ram Navami is celebrated with religious fervour. On this day, people observe a fast. Many devotees fast for nine days. In all the Ram mandirs, Aarti and Pooja are performed during the noon hours, the time of Lord Rama's birth. At the end of the rites and rituals, which includes abhishek of Lord Rama and Shiva and chanting of Bhajans, the priest performs the peace chant with sprinkling of consecrated water. Prasad of sweets and fruits is given to people attending the pooja. Many devotees stay awake on the previous night, in anticipation of Lord Ram's birth. A havan is performed and they sing devotional songs in praise of Lord Ram and rock his image in cradles to celebrate his birth.

On Ram Navami day, all the Ram temples are beautifully decorated. the idols of Lord Ram, his wife Sita and his brother Lakshman are adorned with new clothes, jewellery and flowers. Devotees visit various Ram mandirs and offer sweets, flowers and fruits. Selected chapters on Ramlila of Ramayan are read, the most popular version being Tulsidas's Ramacharitmanas. A huge fair is held in Ayodhya on Ram Navami day, where thousands of devotees gather to celebrate this festival. Pondicherry is another place where many pilgrims visit the Ram temples. Processions accompanied by splendid floats of Rama, his wife Sita, his brother Lakshman and his monkey-general, Hanuman are carried out with great zest.

Legends of Ram Navami

Lord Vishnu took the seventh avatar as Lord Ram to destroy the demon King Ravana. Ravana was very powerful and his tyranny knew no bounds. Sages were not able to perform their rituals under his reign. So, to destroy Ravana, Lord Vishnu took his seven avtaar as the son of Kaushalya, the first queen of king Dasharath. The king had two other queens, Kaikeyi and Sumitra and three children from them - Bharat, Lakshman and Shatrughna.

In course of time, Ram married Sita. Dasharath planned to declare Ram as the crown prince of Koshal. Being the eldest son and rightful heir to his father, he stepped down for his step-brother, Bharat, Kaikeyi's son, to please his foster-mother. He was banished to the forest for 14 long years. His wife Sita and brother Lakshman followed with him during the banishment period. In the forest, Sita was abducted by Ravana, which resulted in a great war between Ram and Ravana. At the end, aided by a band of monkeys, the most loyal of whom is Lord Hanuman, Ram, killed Ravana. Ram completed his period of exile and came back to Ayodhya to rule the kingdom. Ram’s life, as described in Ramayana, sets an example of a dutiful virtuous life for an Indian. The legend is cited to prove how Lord Rama always lived a life of righteousness (dharma). Lord Rama is known as Maryaada Purushottam. His life exemplifies the ideal son, ideal husband and ideal ruler. Lord Ram was the true embodiment of humanity. Ram Navami is a therefore a special reminder of the noble ideals for which Lord Ram stood.

Raksha Bandan

Raksha Bandhan Festival – Rakhi or Raksha bandhan festival is one of the most important festivals of India and celebrated with lots of jubilance by Hindus. Raksha bandhan festival is associated with the very special relationship between brothers and sisters, on this day sisters tie a rakhi or decorative thread on the wrist of their brothers and in return brothers pledges to protect their sisters when the need arises. Marked by rakhi tying and traditional pooja ceremony, the festival of Raksha bandhan in India reinforces the protective bond and firms the loving fraternal relationship between brother & sister. Sisters wait throughout the year for this special day that lets them to express their unconditional feelings of affection and care to their brothers.

Celebration

The festival of Rakhi in India is celebrated every year on the full Moon Day of Shraavana (July-August) Month. Rakhi festival in India that symbolizes the sweet bonding between brothers and sisters is a very significant occasion and is awaited with great zeal. To celebrate the Raksha bandhan festival, the preparations start well in advance. The families and the markets as well starts making their best efforts to make the joyous festivities of Rakshabandhan so special. On the festive day everyone gets ready very early to celebrate the occasion. After praying to God, the sisters perform the aarti of their brothers and put 'tika' and 'chawal' on their forehead, praying for their well being. Sisters tie a Rakhi thread on the wrist of brother and brothers pledges to take care of her, in any condition.

Legends of Raksha Bandan

The festival nurtures a rich heritage of legendary traditions, some rooted back to the ages of the great epics. In the Hindu tradition the Rakshaa has indeed assumed all aspects of protection of the forces of righteousness from the forces of evil.According to the Mahabharata, Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pancha Pandyava (the five brothers belonging to the family of king Pandu), asked Sri Krishna, an incarnation of lord Vishnu, how best he could guard himself against impending evils and catastrophes in the coming year. Krishna advised him to observe the Rakshaa Ceremony. He also narrated an old incident to show how potent the Rakshaa is. It went like this.Once, Indra, the king of heaven was confronted by the demon king - the Daitya-raaja - in a long-drawn battle. At one stage, the Daitya-raaja got better of Indra and drove him into wilderness. Indra, humbled and crest-fallen, sought the advice of Brihaspati, the Guru of Gods. The Guru told him to bide his time, prepare himself and then take on the mighty demon. He also indicated that the auspicious moment for sallying forth was the Shraavana Poornima. On that day, Shachee Devi, the wife of Indra, accompanied by Brihaspati tied Raakhi around Indra's right-wrist. Indra then advanced against the Daitya-raaja, vanquished him and reestablished his sovereignty.This is how Raksha Bandhan came into being in the ages of old Hindu mythology and has transcended into the modern ages acquiring more of new and modified customs with itself. The oldest story may have roots in the days when devas (gods) and asuras (non-gods) were engaged in a fierce struggle to dominate the creation. Indra, the king of devas, was defeated several times. Indrani, his consort, then did penance and prepared a bond of protection which she tied on the wrist of Indra. With the help of its power he defeated the asuras.

Another mythological story tells how Bali, the ruler of the earth, had to give away his whole empire to God Vishnu who appeared to him as a dwarf. Raksha Bandhan is believed to mark that event as well.

In the Hindu tradition the Rakshaa has indeed assumed all aspects of protection of the forces of righteousness from the forces of evil. Once, Yudhishthira asked Sri Krishna how best he could guard himself against impending evils and catastrophes in the coming year. Krishna advised him to observe the Rakshaa Ceremony. He also narrated an old incident to show how potent the Rakshaa is.