HINDU FESTIVALS AND THEIR SIGNIFICANCIES – PART 2

SHRI KRISHNA JAYANTI

Vishnu, the preservative aspect of the universe and one of the Hindu Trinity, who takes birth in this mortal world of ours whenever it is overburdened with evil-doers and sinners, who by their wicked actions upset the equilibrium of the earth. One such incarnation is his birth as the son of king Vasudeva and his wife Devaki Devi of bygone ages. He was then given the name of Sri Krishna, and his story is recorded in the famous work of the Hindus known as Bhagavatam.

Born to rid the world of the wicked, he was secretly brought up by the chief of the Yadavas (cowherds) to whom he was taken as soon as he was born, since his uncle Kansa considered him as his enemy and wanted to get rid of him as soon as he was born, by putting him to death. The birthday of this marvellous child is celebrated as a festive and sacred day on the eighth day of the dark fortnight in the month of Shravana called Aadi in Tamil which corresponds to the English months of August-September.

The festive day is known by different names. Some call it Krishna Jayanti. A few call it Janma Ashtami, while a good many call it Gokula Ashtami and Shri Jayanti.

AADI KRITHIGAI

Aadi Krithigai is a day auspicious for Lord Muruga. This year it falls on July 25, Monday. Karthikeya or Muruga is the second son of Lord Shiva and Mother Parvati. Interesting and inspiring are his birth and feats, which are elaborately described in the ‘Skanda Purana’.

Muruga in Tamil means beauty. Extolled as the epitome of beauty, valour and “Gnyana” [Supreme Knowledge], Muruga is worshipped in several ways, through various rituals. In all Murugan temples, special poojas and yagnyams are conducted for Lord Muruga on Aadi Kirthigai day. In all the Aaru Padai Vedu (Six Battle Camps of Muruga) Temples, special poojas are held and devotees walk and come and offer kavadi for Muruga.

SHRI VINAYAKA CHATURTHI

Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most popular Hindu festivals. This is the birthday of Lord Ganesha. It is the day most sacred to Lord Ganesha and it falls on the 4th day of the bright fortnight of the Tamil month Aavani (August-September). Ganesh Chaturthi is a very important festival that is celebrated across India over a period of 10 days. Lord Ganesha is the elephant-headed God who is worshipped first in any prayers and before commencing any new ventures.

He is known to be the Lord of Power and Wisdom. He is the eldest son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, elder brother of Skanda or Kartikeya. He has as his vehicle a small mouse. The significance of riding on a mouse is the complete conquest over egoism He is the Lord who is believed to remove all obstacles on the path of the spiritual aspirant, and bestows upon him worldly as well as spiritual success. He is the Lord of Harmony and Peace. Worshipping Lord Ganesha during the festival will bring Good luck and Prosperity to the family.

RISHI PANCHAMI

This day is the fifth day, next day after Ganesh Chaturthi day. This is also not a festival, but a day of ‘Vrata’ to be observed by women. The idea behind observance of Vrata on this day is to express respect, gratitude and remembrance of the deeds of those ancient Rishis who devoted their life for the cause of society. If performed by women it is believed, that any ill deeds which they might have committed and the mistakes done, could be washed out by doing this Vrata. It is told to remember the Rishis like Kashyap, Atri, Bharadwaj, Vishwamitra, Gautam, Jamadagni and Vashishtha. Our Hindu culture has a rich tradition of Vedas, which is written by Rishis. Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samveda and Aharva veda, are these four Vedas. The writing work of these Vedas was in progress for nearly 500 years.

As said above, Rishi Panchami is a day of Vrata, to remember the social contribution of these great Rishis and to express gratitude. Near the North Pole there are seven ‘Nakshatras’, which are popularly known as ‘Saptarshi’. They are called so, purposely to remember the names of the Rishis permanently. This Vrata is not being observed now a days. In old days, in the Konkan region of Maharashtra, women used to perform this Vrata. In Bengal, it is not practiced at all. During the observance of this Vrata, the women should visit river or any water storage in the afternoon, take cow dung with them, clean their teeth with medicinal herbal stick, take cold-water bath. They should arrange the idol of Saptarshi on small wooden platform in the form of seven bettlenuts and perform pooja. On this day they should eat only those fruits, which grow below the earth (soil) and strictly avoid eating any eatables, which are prepared from the grains grown from the toiling of bullocks.

PURATAASHI SATURDAY

The month of Purataasi (mid September to mid October) is dedicated to the worship of Maha Vishnu (the Preserver). It is the period of the year in which we pay homage to Lord Vishnu. It was in the month of Purataasi, Lord Vishnu in the form of Shri Venkata Chala Pathi (Balaji) came to earth to guide people. Lord Vishnu is also called by several names like Emperumal, Govinda, Gopala, Venkateshwara, Hari Narayana, Balaji, Shrinivasa, Ranganatha, Ramchandra, etc

MAHALAYA AMAVASYA

The dark fortnight of Ashwayuja (September-October) is known as the Mahalaya Paksha or the fortnight specially sacred for offering oblations to the departed ancestors. The last day of this period, the new moon day, is considered as the most important day in the year for performing obsequies and rites.

The renowned hero of the Mahabharata, Karna, when he left the mortal coil, ascended to the higher worlds and the great charity he had done here was returned to him hundredfold. But, it was all gold and silver; there was no food, as he had not done any food-charity! He prayed to the god of death. So, he was sent back to earth for fourteen days, to make up for this deficiency.

For fourteen days, he fed Brahmins and the poor, and offered oblations of water. On his return to the higher regions, he had food in plenty. It is these fourteen days that are commemorated in the Mahalaya Paksha. Due to the grace of the god of death, it has been ordained that offerings made during this period benefit all the departed souls, whether they are connected to you or not.

Charity in the form of food is important during this observance. Life depends upon food. You cannot preach religion to empty stomachs. This human body is the most important vehicle for realising God. How precious must food be which keeps the body fit for Yoga! The gift of food is the greatest gift. Therefore, give food in plenty, not only during the Mahalaya fortnight but all through the year.

NAVARATRI

Navaratri or the nine nights sacred to the Mother Goddess are celebrated in the month of September / October.

It commemorates the victory of Goddess Durga over a demon, Mahishasur. Endowed with power, by the blessing of Lord Shiva the demon started destroying innocent people. The gods invoked Goddess Durga and asked for her help. The goddess, astride a lion fought with the demon and cut off his head.

It is an occasion for vibrant festivities throughout the country. During Navaratri, devotees of Goddess Durga fast and pray for health and prosperity. Different manifestations of Durga or Shakti are worshipped every night. Devotees and young enthusiasts dance the Garba or Dandiya-Raas throughout the night, in keeping with the exuberant nature of this festival.

In Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka dolls called Bommai kolu are placed and decorated. Goddesses Lakshmi, Durga and Saraswati are worshipped for three days. Gifts of coconuts, clothes and sweets are exchanged. Scenes culled from various stories in the epics and puranas are displayed. The Navaratri festival celebrations at Ahmedabad and Baroda are famous throughout Gujarat. Here the evenings and nights are occasions for the fascinating Garba dance. The women dance around an earthen lamp while singing devotional songs accompanied by rhythmic clapping of the hands. In Punjab and Maharashtra, Navaratri is a period of fasting.In Bengal, this festival is celebrated in a big way.

SARASWATI POOJA / AYUDHA POOJA

With Her grace, the mute, it is believed, have been able to speak and people have been blessed with the ability to write or compose poems. Musicians sing here and many even choose to perform here first. Instrumentalists have puja performed for their instruments here. Apart from art and culture, Goddess Saraswati also showers Her blessings for the education of children.

Notebooks, pencils and pens are kept at the Devi’s feet for blessings and then used by the students. A noticeboard asks the students to write their names, address and the roll number on a piece of paper and put it in the hundi after praying for success! The Goddess blesses them for good and positive results.

Her expression is so serene and calm even as She is majestic. She is seated on a white lotus in Padmasana, adorned by a pure white silk sari, has a book in Her lower left hand, Her lower right hand showing the chinmudra, Aksharamala in Her right upper hand, and Amrithakalasam in Her left upper hand. Both eyes are full of compassion.

The vehicle assigned to each of the three goddesses also symbolically represent their special powers. The white swan of Saraswati is symbolising Sattwa Guna (purity and discrimination).

VIJAYADASHAMI

Rama destroyed Ravana on this day and hence it is celebrated as the day of victory. Rama invoked the blessings of the divine mother, Goddess Durga, before actually going out to battle. In the Kulu valley in Himachal Pradesh, the hill-folk celebrate Dussehra with a grand mass ceremony wherein village deities are taken out in elaborate processions. The Dussehra of Mysore is also quite famous where caparisoned elephants lead a colourful procession through the gaily-decorated streets of the city.

One of the significant Hindu festivals it is celebrated with much joie de vivre in the entire country. Brilliantly decorated tableaux and processions depicting various facets of Rama’s life are taken out and scenes from his life enacted out in a popular form of drama called Ramlila. On Vijayadashami day, colossal effigies of Ravana, his brother Kumbhkarna and son Meghnath are burnt in vast open spaces by Rama (usually the actor who plays Rama in Ramlila). His consort Sita and his brother Lakshmana, who shoots arrows of fire at the effigies, which are stuffed with crackers and firework, accompany him. In burning the effigies the people are asked to burn the evil within them, and thus follow the path of virtue and goodness, bearing in mind the instance of Ravana, who despite all his might and majesty was destroyed for his evil ways.

In Tamil Nadu, Lakshmi, Goddess of wealth and prosperity, Saraswati, Goddess of learning and arts and Shakti (Durga) are worshipped. Here, as in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, families arrange dolls (Bommai Kolu) on artificially constructed steps and prepare an elaborate spread of lamps and flowers. After the Saraswati pooja on the ninth day, the whole set up is taken down on Vijayadashmi. It is an auspicious occasion for children to commence their education in classical dance and music, and to pay homage to their teachers. In northern India, Ramlila’s are popular.

In Maharashtra, Dassehra is marked for worshipping weapons and tools which support for our lifetime earnings and household, ie: Farmers worship their tools, students worship books etc

DEEPAVALI / DIWALI

The Festival of Lights This is one of the oldest Hindu festivals occuring in the month of Kartik, which commemorates the return of Rama to Ayodhya after an exile of 14 years.

It also marks the beginning of the new year and is celebrated with the lighting of lamps. Colourful rangoli adorns the doorway of homes in Diwali or Deepawali and literally, there is ‘an array of lamps’ everywhere. It is the festival of lights and is celebrated on the darkest night of Kartik. It is the most important festival in India. Originally a Hindu festival, it has now crossed the bounds of religion and is celebrated by all in India with fervor and gaiety. This day is a public holiday all over India.

Diwali is also the oldest festival in the world and is still celebrated today and is mentioned in the Ramayana.

The celebrations include the lighting of lamps and candles, and the bursting of crackers. Friends and neighbours exchange special sweets. People buy new clothes and in fact, in certain communities, it is absolutely essential to wear new clothes on this day.

Diwali in India is even better than Christmas in the West, because, Christmas is celebrated by only Christians, whereas, Diwali in India is celebrated by everyone, regardless of Religion, Caste and creed.

Therefore it is also the time when people get the festival bonus to their salaries. It marks the beginning of the new year for Hindus, especially the trader community. Preparations for the festival begin many days prior to Diwali. It is time for a thorough cleaning of the house, for the belief is that Lakshmi will enter clean and nicely decorated houses. The scientific reason is that the monsoon is a time for insects and fungus to breed. With the end of the monsoon, homes need to be cleaned and painted, and belongings aired and dried before the onset of winter.

The festival itself extends over about a week even though the most important day is the new moonday. In east Bihar and northern India, two days before Diwali is celebrated as Dhanteras in honour of Dhanvantari, the physician of the gods. He is believed to have emerged with a pot of amrita during the samudra manthan. People bathe early in the morning and observe a fast, which is broken only after sunset with sweetmeats, puri and other delicacies. On Dhanteras, new kitchen utensils are bought and kept at the place of worship. The buying of utensils, according to one theory, relates to the legend of Dhanvantari emerging from the ocean with a pot in his hand. Since he is also the physician of the gods, cleanliness and hygiene are essential to this festival. The day before Diwali is celebrated as Choti Diwali or ‘small Diwali’. It is Diwali on a smaller scale, with fewer lights lit and fewer crackers burst. The morning after Choti Diwali, the women of the house make beautiful, coloured rangoli in the doorway and courtyard. Tiny footprints made out of rice paste are a special feature of the rangolis made for Diwali. They signify the footprints of Lakshmi, as she enters the house. In Hindu homes, Diwali celebrations involve a ritual puja to Lakshmi and also to Rama in the evening. Songs in honour of the God are sung and arti is performed. Oil or ghee diyas are also lit. The God is offered kheer, batashe and khilone and various sweetmeats. After the puja, the diyas are placed in and around the house: in the doorway, near the Tulsi plant, the backyard, every room and the back and front gates. After this, crackers are burst, and people meet friends and neighbours to exchange good wishes and sweets. Since Diwali falls on the new moon night, lamps are lit to brighten this moonless night. According to a legend, Lakshmi will not enter a dark house. The lamps also welcome home the spirits of dead ancestors, who are believed to visit on this auspicious night. In addition, the light frightens away any evil spirit that might be wandering about near the house on this night.

In Orissa, lamps are lit to light up the dark path that celebrates the return of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana to Ayodhya after a 14- year exile. In modern times, ghee diyas have been replaced by wax candles and coloured electric bulbs. In many areas, there is a competition of sorts among neighbours as everyone tries to have the belief is that the crackers are an indication of the joy of the people living on the earth, making the gods aware of their plentiful state. Stillanother possible reason has amore scientific basis: the fumes produced by the crackers kill a lot of insects, found in plenty after the rains.The use of high-tech bomb crackers is fairly recent.

In West Bengal, Kali Puja is performed on Diwali as it is the legend that on this day Kali killed the wicked Raktabija. Being one of the main festivals of the trader community, markets are gaily decorated and lit up. Many safety measures and precautions are telecast on television and radio, especially for children. The fire departments are kept on the alert, and the municipal corporations of bigger cities also organise buckets and tankers of water at strategic locations. The second day after Diwali is celebrated as Bhai Duja when sisters apply tilak to their brothers and pray for their long and happy life. In all likelihood, this ritual was originally intended only for married women. Since they celebrated Diwali with their in-laws, this festival allowed them to come to their parents’ home during this auspicious time. They got some time to meet the family and to rest after the hectic activity of the preceding week. And it gave their parents an opportunity to give them gifts, an opportunity they did not often get. Nowadays however,among many communities Bhai Duja is observed by both married and unmarried sisters.

LAKSHMI KUBER POOJA

When Kubera went to Kailasa once to have a darshan of Lord Shiva, he found Him with Goddess Parvati. Kubera was stunned to see the splendour and beauty of Goddess Parvati. He felt sorry that he had not worshipped such a fine goddess for so long and one of his eyes shut itself.

Goddess Parvati got angry that Kubera was winking at Her, and looking at Her with evil intention. She made his eye burst. Kubera lost sight in one eye and was also cursed that he would always look ugly. Lord Kubera pleaded with Lord Shiva to forgive him and explained that he had not seen the Goddess with any evil intention. Lord Siva left the choice to His consort. Goddess Parvati forgave Kubera and let the eye grow back, but it was smaller than the other one.

So one eye of Kubera is smaller than the other. Kubera was rewarded by Lord Shiva with the post of being one of the guards of the eight directions – the North. The Goddess made him the lord of wealth and material.

As the God of wealth and material, his responsibilities are to distribute them while creating wealth is with Goddess Lakshmi. Kubera is mostly painted with his family and seen showering gold coins and navaratnas.

Performing pooja to Lord Kubera is believed to enrich one’s life. To have a wealthy and comfortable life, one has to perform Sri Lakshmi Kubera Pooja.Lord Balaji or Venkateshwara at Tirupati is said to have Borrowed money form Kubera for his marrige and he is still paying the interest on the loan amount. Hence it would seem that Lord Venkateshwara will be in protection during the ashadhmasa.

SKANDA SHASHTHI

Skanda Shashthi, the sixth day in the bright half of the month of Aippasi, is celebrated in Shaivite temples all over Tamilnadu, and with an extra measure of grandeur in temples dedicated to Subramanya. Skanda Shashthi commemorates the destruction of evil by the Supreme General Kartikeya, son of Lord Shiva, and is celebrated with the dramatic enactment of Soora Samhaaram. Mention must be made of the grand celebrations at Tirupparankunram, Tiruchendur and the remaining ‘Aaru Padai Veedu’ temples of Murugan.

THIRUVENNAMALAI DEEPAM

Kaarthigai Deepam is a festival of lights, celebrated in the Tamil month of Kaarthigai. It is celebrated on the full moon day of the Kaarthigai month which coincides with Krithika star. It is also considered as the extension of the Deepavali festival. In some houses, they double the number of lamps every day from the day of Deepavali and this way, they end up with a number of lamps on the day of Kaarthigai Deepam.

It is celebrated in a special manner in Thiruvannamalai. Lord Shiva asks Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu to find out the exact location of his head and his feet. Since Lord Shiva takes a gigantic form, they are not able to find out anywhere. Then Lord Shiva takes the form of a jyothi (light of fire) on the hill of Thiruvannamali. Therefore, this festival is also known as Annamalai Deepam. Here, a special torch is lighted on the zenith of the hill and the legend says that Lord Shiva’s jyoti will be visible on this day.

Lord Muruga took the form of six babies in a lake called “Saravana Poigai”. On this day, all his six forms were united by Parvati (his mother) and this way, he had six faces. Special poojas are performed to Lord Muruga.

On this day, people clean the houses. In the evening, they draw kolams (rangoli) in the front of the house and also place some lamps on it. The lamps(Agal) are placed in the pooja and lighted. Then the Deeparathana is done in which the lamps are moved to different places in the house. The lamps glow all over the streets on this day. The lamps are arranged near the doors and windows and also in the balconies. In this way, people of Tamil Nadu celebrate Kaarthigai Deepam for three days.

RAHU KETU PEYARCHI

There is a separate sanctum for the special deity Sri Rahu Bhagwan and is one among the Navagraha Stalams ( The Nine temples for the Nine Grahas or planets).There is a separate sanctum for the special deity Sri Ketu Bhagwan and is one among the Navagraha Stalams (The Nine temples for the Nine Grahas or planets).

DATTATREYA JAYANTI

In ancient times there was a very rigorously disciplined rishi called Atri. He was the mental son of Brahmadev, because he had been born from the brilliance of Brahma’s eyes. His wife was Anusuya, who was a very loyal, humble and faithful wife.In heaven, sage Narada used to tell the gods very interesting stories about Anusuya’s loyalty to her husband. This annoyed Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Parvati, who decided to lower Anusuya’s repute. They sent Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva to earth for the purpose of bringing about her disgrace.

Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva became three guests, and when Atri was not in his house, they knocked the door. Anusuya at once welcomed the guests. She got food ready for them and requested them to have a meal. Then they said that they would eat only on one condition. The strange condition was that Anusuya should serve them the food without clothes on.

Anusuya was shocked. But in a minute she thought of a solution, and by the power of her mind she turned the three guests into small babies. The babies began to cry. She kept them in a cradle and with great love she began to rock them and feed them. There was a commotion in heaven. Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati became worried. If the three great Trinities become small babies, who will take the responsibility of the universe ?

Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva asked for Anusuya’s forgiveness. The form of three babies kept a particle of their being in the house of that faithful wife and they returned to heaven. Anasuya named the three babies, Som, Datta, and Durvas. When they grew up Som went to the moon, and Durvas went to the jungle to do penance. Before leaving both of them kept their particle of being with Datta. Thus Datta became the combined avatar of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

Since he was the mental son of Maharishi Atri he became Dattatreya. There are very few temples exclusively for Lord Dattatreya and one of them is in Sengalipuram near Kumbakonam

THIS CONCLUDES THE INFORMATION ON HINDU FESTIVALS AND THEIR SIGNIFICANCIES !!!

 

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