Hindu Festivals and what they mean to me

Life Lessons Society Spirituality

New clothes, plenty of goodies to eat, and most importantly, no school. As a boy growing up in a traditional Hindu Family, the very mention of the phrase “”Habba ide” (“Festival is coming”) produced a surge of merry and joyous feelings inside.

All Hindu Festivals were religiously and ritually followed at our large home of twenty members during my growing up years.

Festivals brought about a sense of belonging and a connection between each other. The good thing about Hindu culture is that there are festivals throughout the year, except for a hiatus during Ashada Maasa in July.

Irrespective of their caste or creed, grown-ups and kids get equally excited with the new dresses, the gifts, the bright lights, flowers, foods, and the chanting of mantras. There is joy in the air everywhere.

The first of the festivals is Sankranthi or Pongal, which occurs in January. Farmers offer the first crop of sugarcane and paddy to God in the form of jaggery and Pongal. Since the festival is celebrated in the middle of winter, the food prepared for this festival is such that it keeps the body warm and gives a lot of energy. During my growing up years, the festival was an occasion for young boys and girls to visit their family and friends and distribute ellu Bella, Sesame seeds, and Joggery. But over the past three decades, the zeal for celebrations has reduced, and kids do not go out as much to distribute Ellu Bella.

Soon arrives Maha Shivaratri. Maha Shivaratri is an annual festival dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Unlike most Hindu festivals, which are celebrated during the day, the Maha Shivaratri is celebrated at night. Maha Shivaratri is the only festival that is a solemn event notable for its introspective focus, like fasting and meditation on Lord Shiva rather than pomp and pageantry. Hindus mark this night as “overcoming darkness and ignorance”” in one’s life and the world through meditating on Shiva.

Rama Navami comes next in April. Ram Navami is celebrated to mark the birth of Lord Ram. Paanaka, a concoction of lime, saffron, and sugar, and Rave Laadu(made with semolina, powdered sugar, nuts, and Ghee) on Rama Navami day, Lord Rama’s birthday in April.

Yugadi, New Year’s Day, according to the Hindu Calendar, is celebrated in Maharashtra, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Karnataka. Unique dishes are prepared for the occasion. Kids get their first brush with philosophy through gastronomy when they must forcedly eat bitter neem leaf and jaggery together. This signifies sweet and painful aspects of life during Ugadi’s Hindu new year celebration.

My second favorite festival arrives in July -August. Krishna Janmashtami, or Gokulashtami, is a festival to celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna. Many sweet and spicy savouries are prepared with great care since we believe Lord Krishna tastes them. We prepare various fried snacks, sweets made from Ghee, and dishes with pounded rice (Avalakki), considered Lord Krishna’s favorite dish. The festival is celebrated in the evening, as Krishna was born at midnight. Most people observe a strict fast on this day and eat only after the midnight puja.

Within a few days occurs Ganesh Chaturthi, also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi. We celebrate the arrival of Lord Ganesh from his father, Lord Shiva’s abode, Mount Kailash, and his mother, Goddess Parvati, on this auspicious day. The festival is marked with Lord Ganesh’s clay idols installed privately in homes. Observances include chanting Vedic hymns and Hindu texts, such as prayers and fasting. Sweets are offered as oblations as they are believed to be a favorite of Lord Ganesh. In addition, we prepare a special dish called Kadabu(rice cakes).

The festival ends on the tenth day after the start. Then, the Ganesha idol is carried in a public procession with music and group chanting and immersed in a nearby body of water such as a river or sea.

Dasara… It is a 10-day festival, starting with nine nights called Navaratri and the last day being Vijayadashami. The festival is observed on the tenth day in the Hindu calendar month of Ashvina, which typically falls in the Gregorian months of September and October. The Hindu festival of Dasara, Navratri, and Vijayadashami celebrates the victory of good over evil. It was the day that Goddess Durga killed the demon Mahishasura.

RangoliThis beautiful rangoli was drawn at my brother Murthy’s house last year. Courtesy Jhanvi Murthy.

Deepavali… The one festival that I most looked forward to and loved was Deepavali (Diwali). On that day, all seven of us brothers woke up an hour before dawn. We were made to squat on a mat in a row following our birth order. My mother put Akshate, made from Sandal paste, on our foreheads and smeared oil on our scalps. Then, two older women from the family carried out Aarathi with a lighted lamp on a plate containing Kumkum water. We rewarded them by dropping 50 Paisa coins as a token of gratitude on the tray. I could not wait to start with the firecrackers but had to take my oil bath before laying my hands on them. As the youngest, I could only get the safest firecrackers, like sparklers, with the riskier ones, like skyrockets and atom bombs, reserved for the older siblings.

These festivals and functions inculcated a deep sense of the joy of collective celebrations. Moreover, they created a strong bond between all of us. This has continued even today. We celebrate festivals with the third and fourth generations together even after 50 years.


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