Festivals and religious celebrations form a key part of Indian culture and the lives of the people. These are usually celebrated with a great deal of enthusiasm and are times for the entire community to join together in happy throngs, paying homage to the gods or attending the events that are being celebrated. These festivals take place all through the year and for a variety of different reasons. Some festivals commemorate the beginning of a new season, others are for the birthdays of one of the hundreds of gods and yet others are conducted to remember important historical events. As with many other facets of Indian culture, the different areas of this subcontinent may celebrate the same festival in different ways. However, they are united by their recognition of each celebration, regardless of their methods.
There are countless celebrations that take place. A few examples are:Diwali is the most important Hindu festival and involves a great deal of ceremony and joy. It is called the “Festival of Lights” because small clay lamps are lit in everybody’s homes beginning on the 15th day of Kartika (a Hindu month, which is usually around November on other calendars) and lasting for five days. This is the beginning of the Hindu and Gujarati New Year. In addition, elaborate fireworks provide further illuminated beauty to this colourful event. Candles are placed all over the house and roof, along with mango leaves and flowers. This festival transcends classes and cultures, uniting the entire nation in festivity.
Pongal is a South Indian Hindu festival that lasts for four days and observes the harvest abundance. The overall theme is one of happiness as a result of plenty of food. Each of the four days has its own significance:
Day one – homes are cleaned and unwanted items are burned in a bonfire.
Day two – the most important day, the sun god (Surya) is worshipped and the women decorate their courtyards with kolams.
Day three – the cows and buffaloes are thanked for their hard work in ploughing the fields that are now yielding abundant vegetation.
Day four – the entire community is outdoors for a picnic.
Over the Pongal celebration, the new rice is cooked until it literally overflows from the pots in order to indicate the rich supply of food. Urban cultures generally tend to celebrate only the second day of this festival, while the rural communities continue to maintain traditions. This is possibly due to the fact that the rural folk are far more affected by the harvest.
Rakhi is a festival that recognises and honours the bond between siblings. This is in line with India’s focus on family values and a close-knit community. It focuses on the love and connection amongst siblings and is celebrated as an attempt to overcome evil forces that may try to split families. Sisters will pray for their brothers to be healthy, strong and prosperous, while brothers pray for their sisters to be protected and assisted. Even siblings that no longer live in the same country as one another will make an effort to don their traditional gear and celebrate this festival.
Bakri-Id is a Muslim festival, also known as Id-ul-Zuha. This is a day of sacrifice that Muslims celebrate regardless of where they are in the world. The basis for the celebration lays upon an ancient legend that bears remarkable similarity to the story of Abraham and Isaac in the Christian Bible. It tells of Allah’s dream, in which he tells his prophet, Ibrahim, to kill his son (Ismail) as a sacrifice. Out of faith, Ibrahim is prepared to do it. Ismail blindfolds him and, when he thinks that he has killed his son, he removes the blindfold to find a dead ram in Ismail’s place. To show their faith, Muslims sacrifice an animal to Allah on this day.