Deepavali or Diwali


Deepavali or Diwali is celebrated with much gusto here in India. Fireworks (or firecrackers as they are known here) are set off everywhere by everyone. I imagine it’s what a battlefield would sound like. The booms and bangs are loud and relentless as people celebrate. Businesses are also booming at this time of year.

When is it?



Deepavali falls on the darkest moonless night of Amavasya on the fifteenth day of the month of Kartik. In 2017 this is 19th October. Deepavali begins from the the thirteenth day of Kartik, known as Dhanteras. In south India the fourteenth day is celebrated as Narka Chaturdashi. It’s called Choti Diwali by children.

What is it?



In Hindi Deepavali means ‘row of lamps’ and it is for this reason that the festival is known as the festival of light. It is celebrated by Hindus the world over and markets the beginning of the new year in North India.

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How is it celebrated?



There are a LOT of fireworks! There are also oil lamps, candles and tea lights placed at the entrance of houses and also inside. Coloured lights decorate homes and streets. There are lots of sweets and chocolates, big feasts and much celebrating. Gifts and cards are exchanged and more money is supposed to come to people. (It is traditional for every worker to receive a months salary as a bonus at Deepavali). In fact the celebrations are very similar to Christian Christmas celebrations but here people also buy new utensils, metal objects and ‘holy’ items during this period. The belief is that these things will wards off ill health and evil for a whole year.

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Dasara or Dussehra 

Festival display in Spar

What is it?



It is a festival that celebrates the conquer of good over evil. In north India it is celebrated as ‘Navratri’and is observed in the nine days preceding Dussehra. It is also known as Durga Pooja, Vijayadashmi and Dasahara.

In Karnataka it means the start of 2 weeks of celebrations in Mysore ending with a great elephant parade. 

When is it?

It is on the 10th day in the bright half (Shukla Paksha) in the month of Ashwin. Ashwin is the seventh month in the Hindu calendar starting on 17th September and ending on 16th October. (Ashwin means ‘light’ in Hindi and the Sanskrit translates as ‘possessor of horse’ or ‘horse tamer’.)

 In 2017, Dusserha falls on Saturday 30th September. The start of Dassara festival in Bangalore is marked by a government holiday on Monday 18th September. 

History and legend

Dussehra is celebrated as the victory of the lord Rama, the seventh incarnation of lord Vishnu. His birth was to overpower the powerful ruler of Lanka, the ten-headed demon king Ravana. The story is that Lakshmana, the brother of lord Rama, cut off Surpanakha’s nose, the beloved sister of Ravana. Full of revenge, Ravana, disguised as a sage, kidnapped Sita. Later lord Rama declared a war against Ravana and brought Sita back.
Mythology states that goddess Durga killed demon Mahishasura after a long period of cruelty and oppression. Another story involves gold coins. The lord Kuber rained coins on the city of Ayodhya following Kautsa asking King Raghu for 140 million coins to give to his guru in exchange for knowledge. After giving 140 million coins to his guru, Kautsa distributed the rest to the people of Ayodhya.

How is it celebrated?

It is believed that the celebration of Dussehra commenced in the 17th century when the King of Mysore ordered a celebration of the day on a grand scale. The celebrations at Mysore Palace attracts thousands of visitors each year – it’s a real crush. Children are lifted on to shoulders of parents to see the great parade of elephants at the palace. The Karnataka State government arranges 10 days of festival celebrations with a program of music and arts. Major buildings are decorated with lights and colour across the city of Mysore.
Episodes from Rama’s life are staged in the form of ‘Ram Leela’. In the evening of Dussehra big effigies filled with crackers (fireworks) are installed in grounds. The figures are the embodiment of Ravana, his brother Kumbkarna, and son Megahnatha, which are burnt later in the evening.
People visit the Pooja Pandals wearing new clothes, prepare traditional food at home and celebrate the festival with their friends and families.
The day also coincides with the immersion of the idol of goddess Durga.
The Dussehra celebrations spread the message of victory of good over evil. It is also start of the festival season with Deepavali / Diwali next month and national holidays to mark Anniversary of Gandhi.

Adverts

There are lots of adverts appering at this time of year as it is the start of the festival season. Here are a selection from the newspapers.

St Mary’s Feast


What is it?



St. Mary’s Feast celebrates the birth of Mother Mary is the most important festival celebrated in St Mary’s basilica and is attended by thousands of people. 

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St. Mary’s Basilica is a basilica located in the Archdiocese of Bangalore. It is among the oldest churches in Bangalore and is the only church in the state that has been elevated to the status of a minor basilica. It really is a beautiful piece of architecture and is busy with visitors all day.

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 When is it?



The festivities go on for 10 days beginning on Tuesday 29th August and end on Friday 8th September; the day on which the Mother Mary was born. The first mass began at 5:30am with masses every 30 minutes in three different languages. At 6:30am the Archbishop offered a thanksgiving mass.

How is it celebrated?

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The festivities begin with the masses. In the evening of the first day, the first novena flag is blessed and hoisted (it’s a traditional flag). The flag with the image of “Our Lady” was blessed by Archbishop Bernard Moras and was hoisted by Sri KJ George (a former Home Minister for Karnataka state).

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A Novena ( a form of worship in the Roman Catholic Church consisting of special prayers or services on nine successive days) is held on the first nine days from Tuesday 29th August to Thursday 7th September. 

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On Friday 8th September, the day on which Mother Mary was born, a Holy feast is celebrated. Holy Mass is offered in different languages and mass marriages are conducted for those in need. A thanksgiving mass is also organized for couples who have completed 50 years of marriage. Eucharistic celebrations (mass with bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus Christ) are held on the day of the feast. The day culminates with a grand chariot procession with a decorated chariot with the image of Mother Mary drawn by devotees along the various streets of Bangalore. 

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Afterwards food is distributed to the thousand of people who have joined in the celebrations. This throng of people consists of all religions with Hindus joining Christians in the celebrations. It is a great time of enjoyment and feasting together.

Bonalu

Front page picture from the Hyderabad Times

What is it? 

Bonalu is a folk festival celebrated in the Telangana region, Andhra Pradesh. This century-old tradition is observed with gaiety and devotional fervour. 

When is it?

It is during the month of Asadh. This is Sunday 25th June to Sunday 16th July in 2017. 

How is it celebrated?

This month long festival is marked by devotional singing and ritualistic worship of the village deities. The ‘Ghatams’ or decorated pots, filled with flowers, are the main attraction of the festival. The flower pots are carried on the heads of women in a procession. Similarly cooked rice is also carried by women on their heads to the local goddess accompanied by male drummers. Every Sunday from the end of June throughout July there are colourful celebrations ongoing.

Bonalu is celebrated chiefly in the cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad ( where we happen to be on holiday at the moment). Saree Jagadambika Temple located on the top of the Golconda Fort attracts the most devotees from the region. The state government also performs puja officially on behalf of the people. Temples are decorated. 

In Hyderabad the newspapers reported low attendance at work from female employees who were celebrating Bonalu. Some employers are allowing female staff to leave early to visit temples for puja. Office are reported to be in a festive atmosphere as ladies distribute sweets to colleagues dressed for the occasion. 

Id-ul-Fitr

What is it?

The followers of Islam consider Id-ul-Fitr as one of the most auspicious festivals following Ramadan fasting. It is a celebration of the end of fasting.

When is it?

It is the end of the month of fasting, at the end of Ramjan (Ramzan/Ramadan), by Muslims all over the world. It is usually celebrated on the first day of the month of Shawwal. This tenth month in the Muslim lunar calendar begins when people sight the new moon.

In 2017 that date falls on Monday 26th June.

How is it celebrated?

The Muslim devotees put on new clothes and at the mosque or in the open courtyard to offer namaz. After prayer, devotees participate in the feasts and fairs. Rich people give zakaat or charity to the poor. The elders distribute gifts and money to children. This is called ‘Idi’. A typical sweet dish called Sewaiyan is also prepared.

This traditional festival combines the rituals and traditions of the religion as well as addding fun and festivities to the occasion.

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Notes
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Shawwāl means to ‘lift or carry’. Named because a female camel normally would be carrying a fetus at this time of year.

Namaz (Persian) or Salah/ṣalāt/ṣalawāt called namāz (‘Muslim prayer’)  is one of the Five Pillars in the faith of Islam and an obligatory religious duty for every Muslim. It is a physical, mental, and spiritual act of worship that is observed five times every day at prescribed times. In this ritual, the worshiper starts standing, bows, prostrates themself, and concludes while sitting on the ground. During each posture, the worshiper recites or reads certain verses, phrases and prayers. 

Zakat/Zakaat means ‘that which purifies’ and is a form of alms-giving treated in Islam as a religious obligation or tax which, by Quranic ranking, is next after prayer (salat) in importance. As one of the Five Pillars of Islam, zakat is a religious obligation for all Muslims who meet the necessary criteria of wealth. It is not a charitable contribution and is considered to be a tax or obligatory alms. Zakat is based on income and the value of all of one’s possessions and is customarily 2.5% (or 1/40th) of a Muslim’s total savings and wealth above a minimum amount known as nisab.

Deepavali or Diwali


Deepavali or Diwali is celebrated with much gusto here in India. Fireworks (or firecrackers as they are known here) are set off everywhere by everyone. I imagine it’s what a battlefield would sound like. The booms and bangs are loud and relentless as people celebrate. Businesses are booming at this time of year.

When is it?

Deepavali falls on the darkest moonless night of Amavasya on the fifteenth day of the month of Kartik. In 2016 this is 30th October. Deepavali begins from the the thirteenth day of Kartik, known as Dhanteras. In south India the fourteenth day is celebrated as Narka Chaturdashi. It’s called Choti Diwali by children.

What is it?

In Hindi Deepavali means ‘row of lamps’ and it is for this reason that the festival is known as the festival of light. It is celebrated by Hindus the world over and markets the beginning of the new year in North India.


How is it celebrated?

There are a LOT of fireworks! There are also oil lamps lit, candles, tea lights etc are placed at the entrance of houses and inside. Coloured lights decorate homes and streets. There are lots of sweets and chocolates, big feasts and much celebrating. Gifts and cards are exchanged and more money is supposed to come to people. (It is traditional for every worker to receive a months salary as a bonus at Deepavali). In fact the celebrations are very similar to Christian Christmas celebrations but here people also buy new utensils, metal objects and ‘holy’ items during this period. The belief is that these things will wards off ill health and evil for a whole year.

Festival Fever: Bihu, Vishu and Varsha Pirappu, Poila (Pohela) Boishakh, Puthandu and Sri Ram Navami

  

Yesterday and today are the days of many New Year festivals and celebrations here in India. There is a lot going on and it’s difficult trying to keep up. That said there is palpable excitement in the air and much discussion as to which temples are offering the best juices and snacks for believers. It is truly lovely to see so many excited and happy people.  I’ve tried to consolidate into bite size chunks each of the festivals, who is celebrating and how.

Bihu

What is it?

Bishnu is a spring festival celebrated in Assam.The name is derived from Sanskrit meaning ‘vernal equinox ‘.it is originally a fertility ritual. The festival represents the arrival of seeding time, the completion of sowing and transplanting of paddies and the end of the harvesting period. 

How is it celebrated?

It is celebrated across the state with exuberant singing, drumming and dancing. It is a secular and universal festival without any sectarian bias. Ladies perform the dances and men accompany them on horns and drums.

Vishu and Varsha Pirappu

What is it?

Vishu is the first day in the first Malayalam month of Medam (March-April). Varsha Pirappu is the Tamil New Year.

How is it celebrated?

Vishu is celebrated in Kerala with much fanfare. The traditional rituals followed are believed to to bring in another prosperous year for the Keralites. On the night before Vishu fresh agricultural produce such as rice, cucumber, jack fruit coconut etc are decorated and placed at the feet of lord Krishna. The yellow flowers of Konna Poova are also considered to bring prosperity. Believers also attend the Temple for prayers / puja.

Varsha Pirappu is the Tamil New Year and people decorate the entrance to their houses with Rangoli (or Kolam). To mark the holiness of the occasion mango leaves are also used to decorate the entrance. Early baths are taken and the whole family perform puja / prayers together. The lord Ganesha is offered fruits, sweets and flowers. Food has an emphasis on pulses and cereals and in the afternoon believers attend the temples and exchange gifts.

Poila Baisakh

What is it?

It is the Bengali New Year and is the first day of the Bengali calendar and celebrated on 14th or 15th April in Bangladesh, West Bengal and Tripura. The traditional greeting is “Shubho Noboborsho” meaning “Happy New Year”. 

How is it celebrated?

At dawn families and believers gather together to watch the sunrise usually at the bank of a river or lake. Any artists present will sing the new year song “Esho, he Boishakh”. The day is marked with singing, processions and fairs; visiting relatives, friends and neighbours preparing special dishes for any guests.

Puthandu

What is it?

Puthandu is the Tamil New Year and is celebrated in mid April (in keeping with the Hindu solar calendar) by Tamils in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Reunion and Malaysia. The traditional greeting is “Puttantu valttukkal”. In 2016 that is 14th April. (It is also known as Chittirai Vishnu in southern Tamil Nadu.)

How is it celebrated?

On the eve of Puthandu a tray is arranged with three fruits – mango, banana and jack fruit- betel leaves, are abut, gold/ silver jewellery, coins/ money, flowers and a mirror. This is viewed upon waking in the morning. The entrance to houses are decorated Kolams (Rangolis) and in some communities Neem flowers and raw mangoes symbolise growth and prosperity.

The first financial transaction of the year is traditionally with children or unmarried young as elders gift money as a token of good luck. It is also the first ploughing of the ground to prepare for the new agricultural cycle and is known as ‘arpudu’.

Sri Lankan Tamils begin the new year with a herbal bath to bring good health. ‘Coconut wars’ is played between youths in villages and cart races are also held. It is also a time for family visits.

Sri Ram Navami

What is it?

It commemorates the birth of lord Rama on the ninth day of the ‘Shukla Paksha’ (waxing moon) in the month of Chaitra. It marks the end of the nine day Chaitra-Navaratri celebrations. In 2016 that is Friday 15th April. It is believed that lord Rama is the seventh avatar of lord Vishnu and one of the oldest avatars of lord Vishnu having human form.

How is it celebrated?

Eight ‘Prahar’ fasting is suggested during Ram Navami which means devote believers should observe the fast from sunrise to sunrise (ie a full 24 hours). 

Puja is performed and devotional hymns are recited continuously (‘Akhand Paath’). Music is played (‘bhajan’) and songs of praise are sung (‘kirtan’). Images of the infant Rama are placed in cradles and rocked by devotees. Temples and family shrines are elaborately decorated and families gather at Noon (believed to be the time of birth) for prayers, chanting and offerings of fruits and flowers. At the end of the day the diety is taken into a procession in the streets.

 After puja the ‘Prasad’ is distributed (‘gracious gift’). This is edible food first offered to a deity or avatar and then distributed in their name to followers or others as a good sign. The Prasad is considered to have the diety’s blessing residing within it. The desire to get prasada and have darshana (the auspicious sighting of a diety) are the two major draws to temples and pilgrimage motivations. There is certainly frantic phone calls and moped trips between temples to discover which temple is offering the best juice (‘Panakam’ – a sweet juice prepared with jaggery and pepper) and food (community meals are often organised).

In Ayodhya, the birthplace of lord Rama, there are celebrations and functions held. It is regarded as one of the seven most important pilgrimage sites for Hindus.

Festival Fever

There is a lot going on at the moment. Yesterday and today there are a lot of people on the streets and at Temples. Parades are being arranged and dirties being prepared. There will be much celebrating later. Especially since this is the last festival until August – a long gap in celebrations here. 

Wherever you are – enjoy the new year celebrations if you can.