Child : Mom, can you tell me something about the Hindu festivals and fasts?
Mother : Most fasts and festivals in Hinduism are based on the lunar calendar year. According to this, one lunar year is divided into 12 months of 30 days each. Each month is divided into two halves of 15 days, dark and bright. The names of the Hindu months in relation to the western calendar are:
My child, there are many designated days to fast throughout the Hindu year. Fasts are considered to be an important part of many Hindu festivals and worship. All Hindu festivals and fasts have great religious significance as well as social love and hygienic elements embedded in them. These fasts and festivals are meant to relieve people from worldly day to day routine, and make them relaxed, cheerful and happy. I will briefly tell you about some of the important festivals and fasts which are commonly observed by Hindus. They are:
- Holi, the festival of colors, is celebrated in the spring on the full moon (purnima) day of the month of Phalguna. It signifies the destruction of the demoness Holika, the sister of the demon, Hiranyakashipu, and the preservation of the child-devotee and very righteous person Prahlad. Lighting of bonfires, symbolizing burning of the demoness, the mutual splashing of brighly colored waters (usually the color of blood, red) and socializing with family and friends are the celebration aspects of Holi.
- Deepawali or Diwali, the festival of light occurs in the autumn on the fifteenth day of the dark side of the month (amavashya) of Kartika. It signifies Lord Rama's homecoming after 14 years of exile. It is the gayest of all Hindu festivals. Every city, town and village is cleaned and decorated with numerous flickering lamps or electric lights. It is a great social festival which is dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi. It is also a celebration of the new year (based on Vikram Calendar) by buisiness people.
- Navaratri or Dashahara, the festival of nine nights, is celebrated in autumn, between the first (Mahalaya day) and the tenth day of the bright half of the month of Ashwina (Vijaya Dashami day when Lord Rama Killed Ravana). It is dedicated to Goddess Durga or Kali (goddess of valor). The festival signifies the victory of Lord Rama over demon Ravana indicating supremacy of goodness over evils. Frequently, during the festival people burn the effigies of Ravana and worship mother Durga.
- Makara Sankranti is a festival to celebrate the start of the Hindu new year according to the solar Hindu calendar and takes place on January 14 every year in the month of Magha. It is celebrated with social get-togethers, feasts, group songs and dances. Makara Sankranti festival is also known as Lohri or Pongal.
- Shivaratri, the wedding celebration of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, takes place on the 14th day of the dark half of the month of Phalguna and is dedicated to the worship of Lord Shiva. Fasting until the worship is considered very desirable for blessings by the Lord.
- Vasanta Panchami is celebrated at the coming of spring on the fifth day of the bright half of the month of Magha to adore the Goddess of learning, Saraswati. The color yellow, a symbol of auspiciousness, spirituality and the spring season, becomes common during the festivities.
- Rama Navami, the birthday of Lord Rama, is on the ninth day of the bright half of the month of Chaitra and is dedicated to the worship of Lord Rama. Recitation of the Ramayana and stage-playing the life story of Lord Rama called Ramaleela are some of the important parts of the celebration.
- Janmashtami, the birthday of Lord Krishna, is on the eight day of the dark half of the month of Bhadrapada and is dedicated to the worship of Lord Krishna. The worship usually takes place during the midnight hour after which devotees break their fasts kept for the occasion for obtaining blessings.
- Ugadi, Vishu and Gudi Parva are the Hindu new year celebrations that fall on the first day of the month of Chaitra according to the lunar calendar. The festival signals the end of the winter harvesting season and the start of the upcoming one. Thanksgiving to God is celebrated by rejoicing through dancing and singing on the occasion.
- Onam, a social festival in the month of Bhadrapada is dedicated to Lord Vishnu in the Dwarf incarnation form. Decorating the houses with flowers and boat racing are some of the form of rejoicing the occasion.
- Hanumana or Mahaveera Jayanti is celebrated on the birthday of the god of strength, Hanumana, by adoring him. The day falls on the full moon (Purnima) day of the month of Chaitra.
- Ganesha Chaturthi is celebrated on the fourth day of the brightside of Bhadrapada by worshiping the elephant headed God of wisdom and obstacles. An image of the Lord is freshly made and decorated for the worship.
- Raksha Bandhana or Bhaiya Dooj is celebrated as a token of a sister's love for her brother. Sisters tie a Rakhi, a colorful combination of threads around the wrist of their brothers symbolizing the love and well wishes. Brothers give presents to their sisters in return. Raksha Bandhan falls on the full moon day of Shravana and Bhaiya Dooj falls on the second day of the bright side of Kartika.
- Teej or Karva Chauth is celebrated as a wife's benediction for her husband. Married women keep a fast for the well being of their husbands for that day. Teej falls on the third day of the dark side of Bhadrapada and Karva Chauth falls on the fourth day of the bright side of Kartika.
- Guru purnima is the day when the Guru, the spiritual teacher for an individual, is honored and worshiped. It falls on the full moon day of the month of Ashadha. As a matter of fact the Almighty Lord is adored indirectly in the form of the Guru who has imparted the knowledge and wisdom to his disciple.