Major Hindu Festivals

Deepavali

Hanuman Jayanti

Holi

Krishna Janmashtami

Navaratri

Ramanavmi

Shivratri

Raksha Bhandan

Radhaasthmi

Karwa Chauth



DEEPAVALI

DEEPAVALI or Diwali means "a row of lights". It falls on the last two days of the dark half of Kartik (October-November). For some it is a three-day festival. It commences with the Dhan-Teras, on the 13th day of the dark half of Kartik, followed by the Narak Chaudas, the 14th day, and by Deepavali proper on the 15th day.

There are various alleged origins attributed to this festival. Some hold that they celebrate the marriage of Lakshmi with Lord Vishnu. In Bengal the festival is dedicated to the worship of Kali. It also commemorates that blessed day on which the triumphant Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana. On this day also Sri Krishna killed the demon Narakasura.

In South India people take an oil bath in the morning and wear new clothes. They partake of sweetmeats. They light fireworks which are regarded as the effigies of Narakasura who was killed on this day. They greet one another, asking, "Have you had your Ganges bath?" which actually refers to the oil bath that morning as it is regarded as purifying as a bath in the holy Ganges.

On this day Hindu merchants in North India and overseas open their new account books and pray for success and prosperity during the coming year. The homes are cleaned and decorated by day and illuminated by night with earthern oil-lamps. The best and finest illuminations are to be seen in Bombay and Amritsar. The famous Golden Temple at Amritsar is lit in the evening with thousands of lamps placed all over the steps of the big tank. Vaishnavites celebrate the Govardhan Puja and feed the poor on a large scale.

HANUMAN JAYANTI

Om Sri Hanumate Namah

Once every year , on the full-moon day of the Hindu month of Chaitra (April) at sunrise, Hanuman Jayanti is celebrated to commemorate the birth of Hanuman. Hanuman temples are among the most common public shrines found in India.

On this holy day worship Sri Hanuman. Fast on this day. Read the Sri Hanuman Chalisa. Spend the whole day in the Japa of Ram-Nam. Hanuman will be highly pleased and will bless you with success in all your undertakings.

SRI HANUMAN is worshipped all over India, either alone or together with Sri Rama. Every temple of Sri Rama has the murti or idol of Sri Hanuman. Hanuman was the Avatara of Lord Siva. He was born of the Wind-God and Anjani Devi. He is also called by the names Pavanasuta, Marutsuta, Mahavira, Bajrangabali and Pavankumar.

Hanuman was the living embodiment of the power of Ram-Nam. He was an ideal selfless worker, a true Karma Yogi who worked desirelessly. He was a great devotee and an exceptional Brahmachari or celibate. He served Sri Rama with pure love and devotion, without expecting any fruit in return. He lived only to serve Sri Rama. He was humble, brave and wise. He possessed all the divine virtues. He did what others could not do, crossing the ocean simply by uttering Ram-Nam, burning the demon-king's city of Lanka, and bringing the sanjeevini herb to restore the life of Lakshmana. He brought Sri Rama and Lakshmana from the nether world after killing Ahiravana.

Glory to Hanuman! Glory to his Lord, Sri Rama!



HOLI

IN DAYS of yore, there were communities of cannibals in India. They caused much havoc. They threatened the lives of many innocent people. One of them was Holika or Putana. She took immense delight in devouring children. Sri Krishna destroyed her and thus saved the little children. Even today, the effigy or figure of Holika is burnt in the fire. In South India, the clay figure of Cupid is burnt. This is the origin of the great festival of Holi.

It begins about ten days before the full moon of the month Phalgun (February-March), but is usually only observed for the last three or four days, terminating with the full moon. This is the spring festival of the Hindus. In the spring season all the trees are filled with sweet-smelling flowers. They all proclaim the glory and everlasting beauty of God. They inspire you with hope, joy and a new life, and stir you on to find out the creator and the indweller, who is hiding Himself in these forms.

Holi is known by the name of Kamadahana in South India, the day on which Cupid was burnt by Lord Siva.

Another legend has it that once upon a time an old woman's grandchild was to be sacrificed to a female demon named Holika. A Sadhu advised that abuse and foul language would subdue Holika. The old woman collected many children and made them abuse Holika in foul language. The demon fell dead on the ground. The children then made a bonfire of her remains.

Connected to this legend of the demon Holika is Bhakta Prahlad's devotion to Lord Narayana, and his subsequent escape from death at the hands of Holika. Prahlad's father, Hiranyakashipu, punished him in a variety of ways to change his devotional mind and make him worldly-minded. He failed in his attempts. At last he ordered his sister, Holika, who had a boon to remain unburnt even in fire, to take Prahlad on her lap and enter into the blazing flames. Holika did so. She vanished, but Prahlad remained untouched and laughing. He was not affected by the fire on account of the Grace of Lord Narayana.

This same scene is enacted every year to remind people that those who love God shall be saved, and they that torture the devotee of God shall be reduced to ashes. When Holika was burnt, people abused her and sang the glories of the Lord and of His great devotee, Prahlad. In imitation of that, people even today use abusive language, but unfortunately forget to sing the praises of the Lord and His devotee!

In North India, people play joyfully with coloured water. The uncle sprinkles coloured water on his nephew. The niece applies coloured powder on her aunt's face. Brothers and sisters and cousins play with one another.

Huge bundles of wood are gathered and burnt at night, and everywhere one hears shouts of "Holi-ho! Holi-ho!" People stand in the streets and sprinkle coloured water on any man who passes by, be he a rich man or an officer. There is no restriction on this day. It is like the April Fool's Day of the Europeans. People compose and sing special Holi songs.

On the festival day, people clean their homes, remove all dirty articles from around the house and burn them. Disease-breeding bacteria are thereby destroyed. The sanitary condition of the locality is improved. During the festival, boys dance about in the streets. People play practical jokes with passers-by. A bonfire is lit towards the conclusion of the festival. Games representing the frolics of the young Krishna take place joyously around a fire.

On the last day of Holi, people take a little fire from this bonfire to their homes. They believe that their homes will be rendered pure, and their bodies free from disease.

The religious element in the Holi festival consists of worship of Sri Krishna. In some places it is also called the Dol Yatra. The word dol literally means "a swing". An image of Sri Krishna as a babe is placed in a little swing-cradle and decorated with flowers and painted with coloured powders. The pure, innocent frolics of little Krishna with the merry milkmaids, the Gopis of Brindavan, are commemorated. Devotees chant the Name of Sri Krishna and sing Holi-songs relating to the frolics of little Krishna with the Gopis.

Holi also means "sacrifice". Burn all the impurities of the mind, such as egoism, vanity and lust, through the fire of devotion and knowledge. Ignite cosmic love, mercy, generosity, selflessness, truthfulness and purity through the fire of Yogic practice. This is the real spirit of Holi. Rise from the mire of stupidity and absurdity and dive deep into the ocean of divinity.

The call of Holi is to always keep ablaze the light of God-love shining in your heart. Inner illumination is the real Holi. The spring season is the manifestation of the Lord, according to the Bhagavad Gita. Holi is said there to be His heart.

KRISHNA JANMASHTAMI

Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya

This is the birthday of Lord Krishna, the eighth Divine Incarnation. It falls on the 8th day of the dark half of the month of Bhadrapada (August-September). This is one of the greatest of all Hindu festivals. Lord Krishna was born at midnight. A twenty-four hour fast is observed on this day, which is broken at midnight.

Temples are decorated for the occasion. Kirtans are sung, bells are rung, the conch is blown, and Sanskrit hymns are recited in praise of Lord Krishna. At Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, special spiritual gatherings are organised at this time. Pilgrims from all over India attend these festive gatherings.

Janmashtami is the joyful celebration of Lord Krishna's birth. Major celebrations of Krishna Janmashtami takes place at midnight as Krishna is said to have made his divine appearance in that hour. Fasting, bhajans, pujas and many other rituals mark Janmashtami celebrations in India.

Krishna's birthday is celebrated eight days after Raksha Bandhan in the month of Sravana and celebrations are spread over two days.

The first day is called Krishan ashtami or Gokul ashtami. The second day is known as Kaal ashtami or more popularly Janam ashtami.

For the 48 hour period Hindus are likely to forego sleep and instead sing bhajans, which are traditional Hindu songs. It is believed that Krishna was born at midnight and it is at this time that the true festivities commence. Food is prepared from milk and curds said to have been favoured by Krishna. Some Hindus choose to fast for the first day of Krishna Janmashtami, choosing only to eat after the midnight celebrations.

Dances and songs are used to venerate and remember this supreme God. Plays are also carried out re-enacting scenes from Krishna's early life. In Temples images of Krishna are bathed and placed in cradles, whilst the shankh (conch shell) is played and bells are rung. Holy mantras are also chanted to venerate Krishna.

Given the significance of Krishna in the Hindu pantheon, Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated with great importance and consideration.



NAVARATRI

SALUTATIONS to the Divine Mother, Durga, who exists in all beings in the form of intelligence, mercy, beauty, who is the consort of Lord Shiva, who creates, sustains and destroys the universe.

This festival is observed twice a year, once in the month of Chaitra and then in Aswayuja. It lasts for nine days in honour of the nine manifestations of Durga. During Navaratri (the word literally means "nine nights") devotees of Durga observe a fast. Brahmins are fed and prayers are offered for the protection of health and property.

The beginning of summer and the beginning of winter are two very important junctions of climatic and solar influence. These two periods are taken as sacred opportunities for the worship of the Divine Mother. They are indicated respectively by the Rama-Navaratri in Chaitra (April-May) and the Durga Navaratri in Aswayuja (September-October). The bodies and minds of people undergo a considerable change on account of the changes in Nature. Sri Rama is worshipped during Ramnavmi, and Mother Durga during Navaratri.

Durga Puja or Navaratri commences on the first and ends on the tenth day of the bright half of Aswayuja (September-October). It is held in commemoration of the victory of Durga over Mahishasura, the buffalo-headed demon. In Bengal Her image is worshipped for nine days and then cast into water. The tenth day is called Vijaya Dasami or Dussera (the "tenth day"). Processions with Her image are taken out along the streets of villages and cities.

RAMANAVMI

Ramnavami or the birthday of Lord Rama falls on the 9th day of the bright fortnight of the month of Chaitra (March-April).

Rama was the Lord Hari Himself, incarnate on earth for the destruction of Ravana. He was well accomplished, beautiful and endowed with royal marks. His glory and prowess were unlimited. He was peerless on earth. He was free from malice. He was gentle. He was the protector of all His people. He always addressed them in gentle words. He never used any harsh words even when somebody provoked Him. He held sway over the whole world.

The Ramnavmi celebration or the Vasanta Navaratri every year is an opportune period for us to saturate ourselves with the spirit of Lord Rama. We love and adore our ideals because we express thereby our yearning to unite with them. In our worship of God it is implied that we should be virtuous, good and perfect even as God is. Hence the wise instruction: "One should become divine in order to be able to worship God". One cannot be a real worshipper of Lord Rama unless one makes an honest attempt to grow in the virtues that the Lord represents. On the other hand, worship of Lord Rama is itself the surest means to develop such virtues.

In South India the Sri Ramnavmi Utsavam is celebrated for nine days with great fervour and devotion. Those talented in the art of story-telling narrate the thrilling episodes of the Ramayana. The Kirtanists chant the holy Name of Rama and celebrate the wedding of Rama with Sita on this great day. It is an extremely colourful ceremony, highly inspiring and instructive, too.

SALUTATIONS to Lord Rama, an Incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who is measureless, who is of the nature of pure Consciousness and bliss, who is the consort of Sita, Master of Sri Hanuman, and the Lord of the three worlds, who took His birth at His own will in order to establish righteousness, destroy the wicked and protect His devotees.



SHIVRATRI

Maha Shivratri, the night of the worship of Shiva, occurs on the 14th night of the new moon during the dark half of the month of Phalguna (Feb / March) when Hindus offer special prayer to the lord of destruction.

Here're three reasons to celebrate Shivratri:

1. The absolute formless God, Sadashiv appeared in the form of "Lingodbhav Moorti" exactly at midnight on Maha Shivratri. That is why all Shiva devotees keep vigil during the night of Shivratri and do "Shivlingam abhishekham" (coronation of the phallic idol) at midnight.

2. Lord Shiva was married to Devi Parvati on Shivratri. Remember Shiva minus Parvati is pure 'Nirgun Brahman'. With his illusive power, (Maya, Parvati) He becomes the "Sagun Brahman" for the purpose of the pious devotion of his devotees.

3. It is also believed that on Shivratri, Lord Shiva became 'Neelkantham' or the blue-throated by swallowing the deadly poison that came up during the churning of "Kshir Sagar" or the milky ocean. The poison was so deadly that even a drop in His stomach, which represents the universe, would have annihilated the entire world. Hence, He held it in His neck, which turned blue due to the effect of poison. Shivratri is therefore also a day of thanksgiving to the Lord for protecting us from annihilation.

The 14th shloka of Shivmahimna Stotra says: "O three eyed Lord, when the poison came up through the churning of the ocean by the gods and demons, they were all aghast with fear as if the untimely end of all creation was imminent. In your kindness, you drank all the poison that still makes your throat blue. O Lord, even this blue mark does but increase your glory. What is apparently a blemish becomes an ornament in one intent on ridding the world of fear."

RAKSHA BANDHAN

RAKSHA BANDHAN is called Avani Avittam in South India. This falls on the full moon day of the month of Sravan (August-September). It is an important Hindu festival. Hindus wear a new holy thread and offer libations of water to the ancient Rishis on this day.

Recitation of the Vedas on this great day is highly beneficial. This festival is also known as Upakarmam, and is specially sacred to the Brahmins, who have been invested with the sacred thread.

When a Brahmin boy is invested with this thread, symbolically his third eye, or the eye of wisdom, is opened. The holy festival of Upakarmam reminds one who wears the sacred thread of its glorious spiritual significance. Brahmins also offer libations of water to their ancestors, to whom they owe their birth; to the great Rishis, to whom they are highly indebted for their spiritual knowledge; and to the Vedas themselves. The true Hindu never forgets his benefactors!

The followers of the four different Vedas have their Upakarmam on different days.

On this day, Sachi, the consort of Indra, tied a holy thread or amulet around the wrist of Indra, when he was defeated by the demons. Then Indra, the king of gods, gained victory over the demons by the power of this protection (Raksha means "protection"). He then recovered the lost city of Amaravati.

In North India, on this day, an amulet known as a Raksha or Rakhi, is tied round the wrist of brothers by the sisters as a protection from evil during the coming year. Brahmins and Purohits similarly tie amulets round the wrists of their patrons and receive gifts. A Mantra is recited when the Rakhi or the silken thread is tied. The silken thread is charged with the power of the Mantra, which is as follows:

Yena baddho balee raajaa daanavendro mahaabalah; Tena twaam anubadhnaami rakshey maa chala maa chala.

"I am tying on your hand this Raksha, with which the most powerful and generous King Bali himself was bound. O Raksha, dont go away; dont go away."

The power of this Mantra protects the wearer from evil influences.

RADHA ASHTAMI

Sri Radhashtami is a joyous occasion observed throughout the country, especially in the North, bringing to one's hallowed memory the advent of Radha, a name familiar to every religious historian and devotee. But, there is nothing in religious history which is so little understood as the particular spiritual significance which is the theme of the observance of this sacred day, the eighth day in this bright half of the month of Bhadrapada (August-September), the birthday of Radha. The word 'Radhakrishna' is a reputed compound name, and devotees generally run into mystical contemplation and even fly into ecstasies in their moods in an attempt to understand the relationship between Sri Krishna and Radha. But, as is the case with almost everything in the world, this relationship which is deeply spiritual and mystical, is hard for the human mind to understand, because God, and everything that is connected with God, cannot become an object of human understanding. The human mind is not expected to understand God, and to 'understand' Him would be a blasphemy on the part of the human reason. As a straw would try to carry fire on its body, the intellect of man tries to apprehend the divine mysteries in creation. Devotees of Sri Krishna relate a lot about Radha, the Divine Mystery. I can call her only a Divine Mystery and there is no other designation suitable. Even today, it is a mystery, and it has remained ever a mystery, because God's relation to the world, His relation to devotees, His relation to human beings, His relation to anything, is a Divine Mystery in itself.

But the specific significance that is attached to the relationship between Sri Krishna and Radha is the supernal love that operates in this mysterious relation between God and the world. The world is ruled by love, which is the quintessence of God. The basic stuff of God's Being may be said to be Love, Joy, Delight, Bliss, Ananda. But man, being what he is, can interpret this joy or delight, this satisfaction or love, this affection or pull, only in terms of his experiences. There are only men and women in this human world, and we do not see a third thing.



KARWA CHAUTH

In principle, the fast is not to be broken until the moon is sighted at night, and an elderly woman in the house is supposed to narrate the story of Karwa Chauth before the fast is terminated. It may well be a cloudy night; the moon may not be sighted; what then? Is the married woman to forgo her food until such time as the moon appears, howsoever long or howsoever many days that may be? In urban areas, as almost all children can attest, they are sent to the roof-top to see if the moon is visible; and if it is sighted, the news spreads quickly through the neighborhood, and women are seen making their way to the rooftop, where an offering of water and flowers renders the worship complete. Gandhi has some interesting observations on the performance of the Chaturmas fast by his mother. He narrates in his autobiography (Part I, ch. 1) that, like the other children, he was eager to inform his mother of the appearance of the sun [not the moon in this case] even when it had not been sighted, as he could not bear to see his mother suffer from want of food; however, Putlibai, whose devotion and discipline were not so easily shaken, insisted that she herself had to sight the sun.

In this matter, as in many others, an extraordinary inequity obtains in the relations between men and women. It scarcely requires a feminist to point out that married Hindu men are not obliged to observe a similar fast in the interest of prolonging the prosperity, happiness, and longevity of their wives. Indeed, in many if not most Hindu households, the wife serves food to her husband and her children (if any) as she might on any other occasion, and the husband is scarcely required to forgo his customary dietary needs and pleasures. On the other hand, the nearly universal acquiescence of married Hindu women to this practice can by no means be adduced, as it often is among Hindu conservatives and alleged upholders of Hindu tradition, as an example of the fidelity and selflessness of Hindu women, the resilience of Hindu family values, and the tranquility of the Hindu home. As it behooves the patriarch to understand that a tempest might be brewing in a teapot, so the feminist may well ask if the Karwa Chauth may only be read as an unequivocal sign of women's submission. Relying on old associations between nature and woman, are we not entitled to view the Karwa Chauth as a reminder of our ecological responsibility to the earth and equally as a warning of our failure to abide by this responsibility?

Karwa Chauth is a fast undertaken by married Hindu women who offer prayers seeking the welfare, prosperity, well-being, and longevity of their husbands. It is said to have an extraordinary observance rate among married Hindu women. Following a bath early in the morning, well before dawn, the woman adorns new clothes and partakes of a meal of very select grains and fruit. For the remainder of the day, the woman is bound to abstain from food and even water, though the more strict rules of observance are not always kept. In the text-book version of this fast, various items including a karwa, an earthen pot with a spout, are collected and worship is offered to Siva and Parvati.

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