Also Read: National Festivals of India – Part 1
Shivratri , a Sanskrit phrase, literally means the Night of Shiva and, as one of the most important national festivals, is observed for one day one night. Shivratri is believed to be the night when the Lord Shiva performed the Tandava Nritya (the Cosmic Dance).
This particular day that generally falls in February or March is determined by following the Vedic Calendar System. It is mentioned in the Puranas that during the Samudra Manthan, the great mythical churning of the ocean, a pot containing poison, that was enough to destroy the entire world, emerged from the ocean.
Lord Shiva, in order to avoid, the impending tragedy, drank the deadly poison; however, he instead of Swallowing the poison, held it in his throat that turned his throat blue and since then he came to be known also as Nilkantha (the blue-throated one). Thus, Shivaratri is celebrated as the event in which Lord Shiva saved the world.
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Ganesh Chaturthi, a ten-day long festival that falls sometimes in August and September, is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Ganesha all over India, but with the greatest fervor in Maharashtra. Beautiful and different types of idols of Lord Ganesha are worshipped in homes, and offering of Lord Ganesha favorite foods are made during this festival that is one among the most popular national festivals. The principal features of this festival are classical dance recitals, music performances, poetry recitations, and folk dances.
In public places also huge idols, some of them are more than 20 feet high, are installed which are on the concluding day of the ten-day long festival taken in a grand procession and immersed in the Sea, or rivers or ponds.
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Among the national festivals, Onam is the main festival of Kerala; it generally falls in the month of August or September that basically depend on the position of stars.
As the story goes by the legend, a king named Mahabali, long ago, ruled this region what is now known as Kerala. He was a wise and kind king and his reign was considered as a golden era, in which joy and prosperity overflowed.
Mahabali’s popularity grew to such proportions that the Gods became very jealous of him and asked Lord Vishnu to help them. Lord Vishnu, after disguising himself as a Brahmin Boy called Vamana, visited the court of Mahabali and requested as much land as he could cover with three steps. Mahabali immediately agreed to Vamana’s request. Vamana, then growing his size to immense proportion, measured the Heavens with one foot and with the next, the Earth. As no land was left for the third step, Mahabali humbly offered his head and placed Vamana’s foot on it; although, he was pushed down to the nether world, he was granted a boon that he could visit his subjects once every year. Onam is a festival of celebration of his visit once in a year to his subjects.
In order to welcome Bahubali’s visit, in front of every house, a flower carpet called “Pookalam” is laid. Followed by a lavish feast, traditional rituals are performed. It is also a season of many cultural events, sports and carnivals.
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This festival is celebrated thrice in a year and has its name listed in the list of national festivals of India, although it is a chief festival of Assam. Hills and Valleys of Assam come alive with the sound of Bihu thrice a year. Bihu, the festival that marks the change of season, is followed both by prayer and great rejoicing. This festival goes beyond all religious and class barriers as it brings people from all sections of society together in a free and a joyous manner.
The Assamese celebrate not one but three Bihus:
- Bohag Bihu is celebrated in Mid April
- Magh Bihu is observed in mid-January
- Kati Bihu is held in mid-October.
These three Bihus are connected with the spring, winter and summer seasons respectively.
Although a well-known festival among the national festivals of India, Lohri is the main festival of Punjab. In Punjab wheat, the main winter crop is sworn in October and harvested in March or April. In January, usually, the fields start promising of a golden harvest and farmers celebrated this rest period before the cutting and gathering the crops with a joyous festival called Lohri.
On Lohri day, after setting of the sun, huge bonfires are lit and people circling the bonfire throw in putted rice and sing popular songs. After offerings to the bonfire, the time for the lovely and vigorous Bhangra dances, performed by menfolk, comes.
Not very much known among the national festivals, Gangaur is one of the most important festivals in Rajasthan; all over the State it is celebrated in one form or other.
‘Gan’ is another name for Lord Shiva and gaur or gauri stands for his wife Godess Parvati; and from these two words the name Gangaur has been created. The festival celebrates the union of the two- Shiva and Parvati- and is a symbol of married joy.
As the winter ends and spring begins in March or April Gangaur is celebrated in which devotees mostly women, apply mehndi on the palms of their hands. A procession accompanied by town bands, of colourful images of Gauri, beautifully dressed and bejeweled is taken out.
Watch out for interesting information about Asia and International Festivals in our next meeting on Sunday.
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