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Indian festivals are celebrated by varied cultures and through their special rituals add to the colours of Indian heritage.

Some festivals welcome the seasons of the year, the harvest, the rains, or the full moon. Others celebrate religious occasions, the birthdays of divine beings, saints, and gurus (revered teachers), or the advent of the New Year.

A number of these festivals are common to most parts of India. However, they may be called by different names in various parts of the country or may be celebrated in a different fashion.

The Indian calendar is a long procession of festivals, if you can find yourself in the right place at the right time, it is possible to go through your visit with a festival each day.

The harvest festivals of the south, the immersion of Ganesh in Mumbai, the rath (chariot) festival of Puri, snake-boat races in Kerala, Republic Day Parade in Delhi — all have their unique rituals, colour and fervour. Every region, every religion has something to celebrate.

Many festivals celebrate the various harvests; commemorate great historical figures and events, while many express devotion to the deities of different religions.

Every celebration centres around the rituals of prayer, seeking blessings, exchanging goodwill, decorating houses, wearing new cloths, music, dance and feasting.

In India every region and every religion has something to celebrate. The festivals reflect the vigour and life-style of its people. Vibrant colours, music and festivity make the country come alive throughout the year.

Colour, contribution, enthusiasm, prayers and rituals are the characteristics of the Festivals of India. The travellers are attracted to the scale and elaboration of the merry-making that populate the cultural scene of the country. The various festivals in the country can be categorised on the national, regional, local, religious, seasonal and social grounds.

Here is a list of 12 leading religious festivals of India:

(i) Ganesha Utsav Ganesha Utsav: This is a ten-day festival, jubilated during the bright half of Bhadrapad (August – September), celebrates the birth of Ganesha. It is featured with a grand procession of the elephant-headed god. Ganesha Chatturthi is celebrated with immense fun and entertainment in the state of Maharashtra.

(ii) Diwali, the Festival of Lights: This is one of the oldest and the most important Hindu festivals falling in the month of Kartik (October-November), which celebrates the return of Rama to Ayodhya after an exile of 14 years. Diwali or Deepawali also marks the beginning of the New Year and is celebrated with the lighting of lamps, burning of crackers. The festival of Deepawali is celebrated in almost all the parts of India.

(iii) Hanuman Jayanti, the Birth of Lord Hanuman: Celebrated mostly in North India, celebrates the birth of the monkey god, Hanuman, during Chaitra (March-April). The festival also highlights the figurative acceptance of the human race’s peaceful co-existence with nature and the worship of an animal.

(iv) Krishna Janmashtami, the Birth of Lord Krishna: Krishna Janmashtami falls during the dark fortnight in the month of Bhadra (August-September) and is celebrated to commemorate the birth of Krishna to bring an end to the injustice of Kansa. The festival is marked by fasts, prayers and the enactment of incidents from Krishna’s childhood.

(v) Shiva Ratri, the Great Night of Shiva: Jubilated on the new moon night in the month of Phalguna (February-March), this Hindu festival is committed to Lord Shiva.

(vi) Ramanavami, the Birth of Lord Rama: Holi Festival This Hindu festival goes on for nine days where it is celebrated in the bright fortnight in the month of Chaitra (March-April) and commemorates the birth of Lord Rama who took birth to annihilate the demon King Ravana.

(vii) Durga Puja, The Victory of Good over Evil: Celebrated in the month of Ashvina (September-October) in the state of West Bengal, Durga Puja is a nine-day festival (of which five days from Sashthi to Dashami are the most celebrate one in West Bengal) of the Hindus. It highlights the winning of Goddess Durga over the buffalo demon Mahishasura after a long battle, bringing forth the victory of good over evil.

(viii) Christmas, the Birth Anniversary of Jesus Christ: The most important and the most rejoiced festival of Christians is Christmas celebrated on the 25th of December. The festival marks the birth of lord Jesus and is celebrated with great enthusiasm all over the country.

(ix) Id, the Festival of the Muslim Community: The sizeable Muslim communities have their Ids in common with Muslims across the world. Idu’l Fitr, Idu’l Zuha and Id-i-Milad are the three festive occasions widely celebrated by Muslims in India.

(x) Guru Purab: The birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev – the first or the founder guru of the Sikhs, is celebrated with great fervour on the full moon day of Kartika. Guru Parab, also known as Jyototsava is one of the most sacred festivals of the Sikhs.

(xi) Navroze: A Parsi Festival: Navroze is the Parsi New Year which is celebrated on 21st March annually. It is regarded as the Parsi New Year chiefly by only a sect of Parsis viz., the Faslis. But, all Parsis participate in this festival and rejoice. Navroze is celebrated by the Muslims of Iran and by Zoroastrians all over the world.

(xii) Chanukah: The Festival that Unites Families: Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights, is celebrated in synagogues and homes in India as also round the world every year for eight days, this time from December 7 to 14. It commemorates the triumph of the Jews, under the Maccabees, over the Greek rulers — both in spiritual and physical terms.

HARVEST FESTIVALS OF INDIA

The average Indian harvest season starts from January and lasts till early March depending upon the crop. People celebrate their harvest with extensive festivities that lasts for days. Here is a list of the harvest festivals:

(i) Holi: Holi or the festival of colours is a Hindu harvest festival and lasts five days. During the festival everyone dresses up, or buys new clothes. People join in the fun of the festival by wearing old clothes as part of the celebration they throw coloured water and colourful powder at each other. Everyone whether they are family, friends or strangers get the same treatment. There are all kinds of games played and everyone is encouraged to join in. Most of the games are rough and boisterous.

They also build and light bonfires where everyone in the neighborhood is to provide fuel for the bonfire. After the flames have died down the ashes are rubbed over people’s foreheads. This is done, as it was believed to bring good luck for the year ahead.

(ii) Lohri: Lohri, is a harvest festival to worship fire. The festival is celebrated with great pomp in particularly in the norther part of India. At this time Earth starts moving towards the sun marking an auspicious period. Lohri is very important for the newly wed and the new born babies as it marks fertility. At night, people gather around the bonfire and throw puffed rice & popcorns into the flames of the bonfire. Prayers are offered to the bonfire seeking abundance & prosperity. People make merry by dancing & singing traditional folk songs.

(iii) Bhogali Bihu: Bhogali Bihu is the Assamese harvest festival, which is celebrated to mark the end of the winter paddy harvest. The festival is celebrated by people of the north-eastern state of Assam. On the night before the festival, people fast and pray, and thatched pavilions are put up around the countryside. As a sign of the festival having begun, the pavilions are set on fire at dawn. Bull fights and celebrations mark the day.

In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar it is known as Sankranti, and in Andhra Pradesh it is celebrated as Bhogi, when each household puts on display its collection of dolls.

(iv) Onam: In Kerala, the southern State of India, the harvest festival is called Onam. They clean their homes and the children go out to pick flowers and in return are bought new clothes. People go to the temple and give thanks for the harvest. Ten days of feasting, boat races, songs and dance are part of the festivals. Pookalam or floral decorations are at the entrance of each house marks each day.

(v) Pongal: Pongal is the first festival beginning off each new year in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Each day of this festival has a special significance, however, it is celebrated more grandly in the villages, while the city folk mainly celebrate on the second day only. Pongal in Tamil means “boiling over.” It is a celebration of the prosperity associated with the harvest. The festival has been in practice for some 5,000 years.

NATIONAL FESTIVALS

Apart from the religious and harvest festivals, India’s national festivals are also known for their grand and grandeur.

The National Festivals hold a very important place in the Indian culture. Though there are no rituals in these festivals, these festivals remind the Indians about the historical events of India and makes the citizens remember the glorious traditions of the past along with the freedom struggle against the Britishers.

The national festivals is observed as a compulsory holiday throughout India and all business activities are halted for a day. The three most important National Festivals of India are:

Gandhi Jayanti: On this day the country celebrates the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi popularly known as the Father of the Nation. Born on the 2nd of October 1869 at Porbandar in Gujarat. He is known for his invaluable contribution in India’s freedom struggle.

Independence Day: Fifteenth August the red-letter day in the Indian calendar is celebrated as the Independence Day of India. The date commemorates the day when India achieved freedom from the British rule in the year 1947. It has been a long journey for India 1947. After more than two hundred years of British rule, India finally won backs its freedom on August 15, 1947.

Republic Day: On January 26 every year India celebrates its Republic Day. It is one of the national holidays of India and regarded as the most important day in the Indian history as it was on this day in 1950 the constitution of India came into force and India became a truly sovereign state.