The Indian calendar is replete with a plethora of festivals, feasts and fairs of every hue and colour, dedicated to deities, prophets, and seasons. Each festival is unique in style and has certain typical features.
Yet most of them are characterised by common rituals and ceremonies, music and dance, gaiety and mirth. Many of these festivals are common to most parts of India though they are known by different names and celebrated with regional variations.
Indian festivals are innumerable in number and much varied in the manner of celebrations. Among these, Diwali and Holi perhaps stand as the most Pan- Indian festivals celebrated all over India with great pomp and fanfare. Diwali, known as the festival of light is celebrated to mark the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile, while Holi celebrates the joyful Raasleela (dance) of Lord Krishna and his ‘Gopies’ (friends) at the advent of spring. Dussehra is also a major Hindu festival marking Lord Rama’s victory over Ravana, the symbol of evil.
In W. Bengal this festival takes the form of Durga Puja, wherein the victory of goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasura is celebrated with colour and illuminations. Nava Shivaratri is celebrated in honour of Lord Shiva who is said to have married goddess Parvati on this day. Janmashtami festival is associated with Lord Krishna and his birth.
The main Muslim festivals which are celebrated in India are Muharram and Id-ul- Fitr. Muharram commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, while Id-ul-Fitr celebrates the end of Ramzan, the Muslim month of prayer and fasting. It is an occasion of feasting and rejoicing. The main Christian festivals are Christmas and Easter.
Christmas marks the birth of Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity. Easter commemorates his death and resurrection. Both festivals are characterised by joy, merry-making and community celebrations. The birth anniversary of Lord Mahavir, Lord Buddha and Guru Nanak are celebrated as Mahavir Jayanti, Buddha purnima and Guru Nanak Jayanti respectively, in a grand manner with lots of pomp and religious festivities.
Among the regional festivals, Rongaali Bihu of Assam, Ganesh Chathurthi of Maharashtra, Pongal of Tamil Nadu, Onam of Kerala, Durga Puja of “West Bengal and Baisakhi Punjab are the most prominent ones. The major non- religious national festivals are Republic Day, Independence Day, Gandhi Jayanti and Children’s Day.
The various festivals and feasts celebrated during different times of the year teach us several noble values. First and foremost, these festivals teach us that India is a melting- pot of religions, culture, traditions and races and so encourages us to accept diversity and plurality as our inevitable lot.
Secondly, most festivals in India are community-based and are celebrated irrespective of caste, creed and race and so they bring about a great deal of unity, common brotherhood and national integration. Thirdly, most festivals promote spiritual cleanliness and instill the ideals of gratitude to nature, respect of mother-earth and the need to enjoy life in its varied forms.
Thus, there are numerous festivals and feasts in India, much varied in origin and manner of celebration. Yet all of them highlight some important values of life and lead us to the path of love, sharing, inner goodness and joyful living.
Therefore, we should give more importance to their nobler elements than their outward expressions. Of late, external celebrations have taken predominance over the spiritual aspects of festivals losing in the process their original sanctity and purpose. It is time that we put an end to this down sliding of the spiritual significance of festivals and feasts.