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Religious Hindu Festivals

- Janmastami, Ganesh-Chaturthi, Mahashivratri and Ramnavami

by Sudheer Birodkar

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Table of Contents

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Janmastami

The Ceremony of Dahi-Handi

During this ceremony a large earthenware pot is filled with milk, curds, butter, honey fruits etc. and is suspended from a height between 20 to 40 feet. Sporting young men and boys come forward to claim this prize. To do so they construct a human pyramid by standing over each other's shoulders till the pyramid is tall enough to enable the topmost person to reach the pot and claim the contents after breaking it. Normally, currency notes are tied to the rope by which the pot is suspended. This prize money is distributed among those who participate in the pyramid building..

Janmastami (also known as Krishnastami or Gokulastami) is a festival dedicated to Lord Sri Krishna and commemorates his birth. This festival occurs on the eight day (Astami) of a lunar fortnight hence the name (Krishna+astami). Krishnastami which comes around sometime in August is celebrated over two days. This first day is Krishnastami or Gokulastami. The second day is called Kalastami or more popularly Janmastami.

On the midnight between the first and second days the 'birth of Lord Krishna is replicated with pomp and ceremony. Delicacies are prepared from milk and curds that Krishna loved. The more popular ceremony of Dahi-handi (breaking a pot full of milk and its derivatives} takes place on the second day. This ceremony is so popular that Krishnastami has come to be synonymous with the ceremony of Dahi-handi.

The Ceremony of Dahi-Handi

During this ceremony a large earthenware pot is filled with milk, curds, butter, honey fruits etc. and is suspended from a height between 20 to 40 feet. Sporting young men and boys come forward to claim this prize. To do so they construct a human pyramid by standing over each other's shoulders till the pyramid is tall enough to enable the topmost person to reach the pot and claim the contents after breaking it. Normally, currency notes are tied to the rope by which the pot is suspended. This prize money is distributed among those who participate in the pyramid building.

This ceremony replicates Krishna's love for milk and butter. In his childhood, the Lord Krishna alongwith his mates used to raid the houses of his neighbours in search of milk and butter. It is a common practice in India to tie up food articles in a pot suspended from the beams of the roof so as to prevent domestic animals like cats and dogs from despoiling them. We are told that every day after the men and womenfolk left for their farms, the naughty and adventurous Krishna along with a band of his mates would build a human pyramid and plunder the caskets of milk and butter much to the chagrin of the owners.

Krishna Lila - The Story of Lord Krishna reflects life in a Pastoral Society

The story of Lord Krishna reflects life in a pastoral society.. Cattle are the principal means of subsistence. The activity of people revolves around tending cows, milking them, making curds, butter etc. Krishna himself has names displaying a pastoral charecter. Govinda and Gopala as he is also known, mean cowherd. In Sanskrit Go means cow.

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Krishna is always shown with his flute (Bansuri). He is considered to be the Hindu God of Music and is patron God of Indian Musicians of the traditional schools (Gharanas), irrespective of religion.

In brief the life story of Krishna as per mythology is as follows:

Kansa, the king of Mathura was a very cruel tyrant. His tyranny spared no one, even the sages had to bear the brunt of this. Finally the Gods could tolerate no more of it and in a dream Kansa was told that his evil reign would be brought to an end by his sister Devaki's son who would kill him. The cowardly tyrant immediately threw his sister Devaki and her husband Vasudev in prison so that he could kill all the sons born to Devaki.

The Cruelty of Kansa

In captivity Devaki bore six sons, each of whom were promply killed by Kansa. At the seventh time, theGods again thought it necessary to intervene. At the night the seventh child was born, the prison guards fell into a deep slumber and the doors were unlocked. Taking advantage of this opportunity, Vasudev slipped out of the prison and whisked away the God-child to the safety a neighbouring kingdom which was ruled by king Nanda. King Nanda's domain lay across the Yamuna river. We are told that at that time the Yamuna was in spate, but when the waters touched the feet of the God-Child Sri-Krishna, the waters parted making a channel for Vasudev to pass.

(The similarity with the biblical story of Joseph carrying the child Christ across the Sinai to Egypt is very close).

Lord Krishna at Gokul

The generous king Nanda gave away his new born daughter to Vasudev knowing fully well what fate awaited her at Kansa's hands. Next morning Kansa completed his gruesome job complacent of the fact that his would be avenger was still living.

At Gokul, under king Nanda's protection, Krishna got the loving affection of Nanda's Queen Yashoda whom Krishna looked upon as a mother. Days passed with fun and frolic, while the child-Krishna grew up. But one day rumours reached Kansa that Devaki's son had somehow escaped his cluthes and was living in Gokul.

The Demoness Putana

To kill Krishna, he engaged a demoness named Putana. After specially treating the demoness Putana so that her nipples were poisoned he disguised her as a nymph and sent her to Gokul to try to breast-feed Krishna and kill him. But God that he was, the child Krishna saw through the game and as a miracle, we are told, the demoness fainted, the moment Krishna's lips touched her breast. Kansa plot to eliminate Krishna was foiled. But as a result of sucking the poisoned milk Krishna's originally fair skin colour turned dark

Kalia Mardan and the Lifting of Mt. Govardhan

Krishna continued to grow at Gokul. He acquired notoriety as a pilferer of milk and butter, but had endeared himself to the people of Gokul by his playfulness.

Among other things, he is said to have done at Gokul, include his lifting Mount Govardhan to save the people of Gokul from a storm and his taming of Kalia, a giant snake that lived in the Yamuna river and terrorised the people of Gokul. While still in his teens, Krishna came to Mathura where King Kansa had organised a wrestling tournament, Krishna participated in it and after defeating all contestants, he challenged Kansa to a wrestling bout. The evil Kansa's time was up, Krishna defeated him and killed him. The people of Mathura were relieved. Another major event in Krishna's later life was that he functioned as an adviser to the Pandavas and during the Mahabharata war between the Pandavas and Kauravas he was a Arjuna's (one of the five Pandava brothers) charioteer.

The Bhagvad Geeta :

An important event that is accredited to Srikrishna is the original recitation of the Bhagvad Geeta (Song of the Blessed Lord). The Bhagvad Geeta, we are told, was inspired by Arjuna's ambivalence as to whether he should or should not fight his blood relations (the Kauravas) who were arrayed in the enemy camp at the beginning of the Mahabharata war.

The Bhagvad Geeta

An important event that is accredited to Srikrishna is the original recititation of the Bhagvad Geeta (Song of the Blessed Lord). The Bhagvad Geeta, we are told, was inspired by Arjuna's ambivalence as to whether he should or should not fight his blood relations (the Kauravas) who were arrayed in the enemy camp at the beginning of the Mahabharata war. Although the occasion for Sri Krishna's recitation of the Bhagvad-Geeta seems to be a casual one, that document contains profound ideas on many issues touching on temporal and non-temporal aspects of life.

The story of Srikrishna's life neatly explains away the reason for his dark complexion. But it is quite possible that Krishna was of non-Aryan origin. The word Krishna itself means dark

The Parallels between the Life-Stories of Lord Sri-Krishna and Lord Jesus Christ

In passing it may be mentioned that some scholars see parallels between Krishna's life and that of Jesus Christ. They point out that the birth of both Krishna and Christ was foretold, they were both destined to bring harm upon the reigning king who were Kansa in the case of Krishna and Herod in the case of Christ. Both Herod and Kansa tried to kill their would be avengers. Both Herod and Kansa failed. The reasons for the failure were that the God-child was whisked away to a far away place, Christ to Egypt and Krishna to Gokul. Also that some other innocent children were killed by mistaking them for the God-child.

And finally, the similarity in the names Krishna and Christ makes these scholars claim that Isa (Jesus) Christ is actually Esha Krishna and that Christianity originated in India and was founded by Krishna. And that word Christianity, they say, is a corruption of the original word Krishnaniti (the Code of Krishna). These claims are substantiated by the reported absence of Jesus from Biblical record for 12 years during his lifetime when he is supposed to have come to India in Kashmir and have studied under Buddhist Bhikkus from where Christianity takes its missionary aspects. But the question still remains of Radha who is not mentioned in the Bible and of the sixteen thousand Gopis of Lord Sri-Krishna. Hence, for everything that these scholars say, their romantic and controversial theory could as well be baseless imagination built around a few co-incidences.


Ganesh-Chaturthi

Ganesh-Chaturthi is the festival devoted to Ganesh the elephant-headed God.

During the Ganehchaturthi festival, clay idols of Ganesha are specially prepared and most families in Maharashtra install an idol for periods varying from two days to eleven days. During the period when the idol of Ganesha is installed in a home, every morning and evening prayers (Aarti) are performed and hymns are sung. The singing of hymns is a popular event during this festival, especially for children. The hymns are sung to the clanging of small gongs (called jhanja), the sounds of which reverberate throughout the day

The festival ends with the ceremony of immersion of the idols in the sea or rivers and wells. This ceremony which is called Ganesha-Visarjan which means immersion of Ganesha is as popular as the festival proper. During the immersion ceremony huge crowds move in a procession carrying idols of Ganesha towards the places of immersion. These processions which take place with great fanfare, begins in the afternoon and continue till the late hours of the night. Although this festival is observed in all parts of the country, it is celebrated with maximum fervour in Maharashtra where it is celebrated both publicly and privately.

This festival occurs on the fourth day (chaturthi). Ganesh Chaturthi occurs around August.During the festival, clay idols of Ganesha are specially prepared and most familiei install an idol for periods varying from two days to eleven days. During the period when the idol of Ganesha is installed in a home, every morning and evening prayers (Aarti) are performed and hymns are sung. The singing of hymns is a popular event during this festival, especially for children. The hymns are sung to the clanging of small gongs (called jhanja), the sounds of which reverberate throughout the day.

The Visarjan (immersion) Processions and Ceremony

The festival ends with the ceremony of immersion of the idols in the sea or rivers and wells. This ceremony which is called Ganesha-Visarjan which means immersion of Ganesha is as popular as the festival proper. During the immersion ceremony huge crowds move in a procession carrying idols of Ganesha towards the places of immersion. These processions which take place with great fanfare, begins in the afternoon and continue till the late hours of the night.

Although this festival is observed in all parts of the country, it is celebrated with maximum fervour in Maharashtra where it is celebrated both publicly and privately. Apart from the small idols of Ganesha that are installed in various houses, there are also many public celebrations called Sarvajanik Ganeshotsava.

The Public Celebrations of Ganesh-Chaturthi - Started by Lokmanya Tilak

In these public celebrations huge images of Ganesha ranging from 10 feet to 40 feet are installed and alongwith the daily prayers and hymns, there are entertainment programmes which are a major attraction. Till the turn of the last century, this festival was celebrated only in homes and temples. But during the struggle for independence against British rule, Lokmanya Tilak (an important freedom fighter who led the Indian freedom struggle before Mahatma Gandhi took over) gave it the form of a public festival. Tilak did this so as to cleverly broadcast his political message of freedom for India.

Carried out in the garb of a religious activity, it was difficult for the British Administration to curb it. But the festival once having acquired a public form for a political purpose, retained that form even after the political purpose did not exist. Hence even today in independent India Ganeshotsava is celebrated both publicly and privately.

The Composite Image of Lord Ganesha

When looking at the lord Ganesha, a question that comes toevery inquisitive mind is: Wow could the concept of a human being with an elephant head, have come into being Claims are made that this is an evidence of the development of surgery in India. Although nothing can be said assertively, piecing together of facts and hypothesis can afford a convincing answer. Gana-esha (eshwara) or Gana-pati means Lord of the tribe (Gana means a collection of people or a "tribe"; Esha, Eshwara or Pati roughly mean "lord"). Thus, these names convey the meaning of a tribal title. The second set of names by which he is referred are Gajanana and Gajamukha which seem similar to the names Ganapati and Ganesha but have an entirely different meaning. Gaja means elephant while mukha or anana mean face or head. Gajanana and Gajamukha mean elephant headed. Thus although Gana meaning a tribe or a collection of people sounds similar to Gaja which means elephant, their connotation is totally different. The only possible link between the two terms is that both originate in a tribal ethos of the hazy past.
Apart from the mythological explanation, there is one hypothesis that can explain the composite idols in Indian culture like Gajanana (man-elephant), Narasimha (man-lion), and in other cultures like mermaids (woman-fish), winged angels and sphinxes, etc.

Hasti-Gumpha (meaning an "elephant cave") in eastern India contain a curious carving that conveys the story of a battle between an elephant clan (Hasti-gana) and a mouse clan (Mushika-gana) This battle, the carving says, led to the victory of the elephant clan over the mouse clan. The subjugation of the mouse clan by the elephant clan might be the explanation behind how the elephant-God got to ride a mouse. It need not be underlined that an elephant riding a mouse seems somewhat incongruous. But the narration of this episode at Hasti-Gumpha throws up circumstantial evidence on the coming together of two totems as a result of a tribal war

An Anthropological Hypothesis

Research in social anthropology has established that in a tribal society every tribe has a totem. A totem is normally a caricature of a bird or animal that is in some way important to a tribe's survival or is an object of fear and awe. A totem becomes the sign of a tribe's individuality and it plays the same role which the national flag or national emblem play in relation to modern nation states. But even if we accept the elephant to have been a tribal totem, the question remains - how anthropology can explain how the composite totem of a man-elephant come into being? A possible explanation could be the tendency of mergers between two or more tribes that is made necessary by war and subjugation of one tribe by another, famine, floods, attack by a powerful common enemy, etc. A merger of two tribes with two different totems could have made necessary the merger of the two different totems resulting in a composite totem. This could be a possible anthropological explanation behind mythological personalities like Gajanana (man-elephant), Narasimha (man-lion), Hanuman (man-ape) etc.

Instances of Composite Divine Objects in Other Culture

But instances of such composites is found not only in Indian mythology but also in other countries. The idea about Centaurs (man-horse), Mermaids (woman-fish), Winged Angels, etc., are examples of this in other parts of our globe.

But this is all pure hypothesis, and could be written off as 'grotesque' imagination for explaining a result of divine action. Is there anything to substantiate this theory, it may be asked?

The Hasti-Gumpha Bas Relief

Fortunately there is at least one rock carving that lends credence to this theory. Hasti-Gumpha (meaning an "elephant cave") in Orissa in eastern India contain a curious carving that conveys the story of a battle between an elephant clan (Hasti-gana) and a mouse clan (Mushika-gana) This battle, the carving says, led to the victory of the elephant clan over the mouse clan. The subjugation of the mouse clan by the elephant clan might be the explanation behind how the elephant-God got to ride a mouse. It need not be underlined that an elephant riding a mouse seems somewhat incongruous. But the narration of this episode at Hasti-Gumpha throws up circumstantial evidence on the coming together of two totems as a result of a tribal war.


The Mythological Explanation of Ganesha

But parallel to all the rationalization of this phenomenon, mythology has an equally enthralliing account that explains the birth (or more properly the creation) of this curious half-man, half-elephant God called Gajanana or Ganesha. All Hindus know that Ganesha is an unique deity. He is no ordinary God, but is like the first among equals. All Hindu prayers start with the invocation "Shree Ganeshaaya Namaha" meaning Salutations to You O Ganesha. Mythology has an explanation to offer for Ganesha's elephant head as well as for his being a first among the Gods. The divine couple of Shiva and Parvati had remained childless for a long time after the birth of their first son Kartikeya.

Parvati makes Ganesha from Clay and Infuses Life in the Idol

Parvati's motherly instincts made her yearn for a son and Shiva's long absence from home intensified her yearning due to loneliness. On day a bright idea came to her mind, she decided to mould a statue of clay in the form of a son. Having created this the idol satisfied her yearning for a son. She used her divine power to bring the clay idol to life. Happy as she was to have the company of a son, she went about her chores, many a times leaving the boy in charge of the house.

Shiva Confronts Ganesha

One fine day while Parvati was busy with her daily ablutions, Shiva turned up and saw Parvati's son Ganesha, guarding the entrance to his house.

Shiva - the Lord of Mount Kailas who is portrayed as the Destroyer in the Hindu trinity (trimurti) along with Brahma (the Creator) and Vishnu (the Preserver). Shiva is also known as Nataraja or Nateswara (Lord of dance). Shiva is characterised by an angry temperament and we are told has a third eye on his forehead that emits fire if opened. The unfortunate Madana who dared disturb Shiva's meditation was reduced to ashes when Shiva opened his third eye, enraged by Madana's having disturbed his Tapasya (meditation).

Strangers as they were to each other the son (Ganesha) refused allow Shiva to enter the house. Taken aback at being prevented from entering his own house, Shiva asked this tiny sentinel who he was. On being told that he was Parvati's son Shiva was confounded and enraged, at this insolence. In a fit of anger Shiva chopped off his head and threw it away.

Shiva fetches an Elephant's Head for the Beheaded Ganesha

When Parvati heard about this outrage she lost her temper and she demanded that Shiva restore her son to life immediately. Compelled to appease Parvati, Shiva set out to find the head of her son. Hard as he tried, he could not find the head that he had chopped off and thrown away in disgust. As he could not find the head he wanted, he thought of fitting the headless body with the head of any living being that he would come across. Having so resolved he came across a baby elephant and true to his word, Shiva chopped off the elephant's head, carried it to his beloved and to pacify her, he fitted it to the lifeless body of her son and revived him. This was how the Lord Gajanana or Gaja-Mukha came into being.

Ganesha become the first among the Gods

To atone for his deed Shiva also granted a special status to Gajanana by issuing a divine decree that thence forth Gajanana would be the first to be invoked in every prayer and only after this, could the invocation of any pther God takes place. This was how the elephant-headed Ganesha got to acquire his privileged position. In deference to the decree of lord Shiva, Hindus today, continue to regard Ganesha as the first God to be invoked in any prayer.


Mahashivaratri

The next of our festivals that we take up is Mahashivaratri. This as we know is associated with Shiva - the Lord of Mount Kailas who is portrayed as the Destroyer in the Hindu trinity (trimurti) along with Brahma (the Creator) and Vishnu (the Preserver). Shiva is also known as Nataraja or Nateswara (Lord of dance). Shiva is characterised by an angry temperament and we are told has a third eye on his forehead that emits fire if opened. The unfortunate Madana who dared disturb Shiva's meditation was reduced to ashes when Shiva opened his third eye, enraged by Madana's having disturbed his Tapasya (meditation).

A conch (shankha) is blown to invoke Shiva, this is not so in the case of other Hindu deities. The conch is a rather primitive instrument used in tribal societies. There is a special relation between the conch (shankha) and Shiva as is evident from the similarity between the word Shankha and the word Shankara which is one of Shiva's many names. The word Shankara could have been derived from Shankha-kara which roughly means conch-blower (Shankha = conch, Kara = blower).

Shiva a Pre-Aryan Tribal Deity?

Again the fine nuances observed in other Hindu deities especiallv Vishnu are missing in Shiva. Shiva is never shown wearing a dhoti (a lion-cloth draped around the waist) which is invariably worn by all other Gods nor does Shiva wear a Kaya-bandha (a metallic belt around the waist) as is worn by all other Gods. Shiva also has no jewellery that other Gods have. This along with his dark complexion suggests that Shiva originates in a pre-Aryan environment. His dark complexion and other characteristics, though explained away with the story of Samudra-manthan (the battle between Gods and demons) which the Gods lose and as a result one of them has to drink Halaahala (poison). Shiva is chosen to do this and the results in his dark complexion. For this he is also called Neel-kantha (Blue-necked). The poison having turned his neck blue.

Shankara = Shankha Kara?

We see that Shiva is clothed in animal skins, he carries a three pointed spear (trishul), is dark in complexion and wears snakes on his body. All these speak of a hunters lifestvle. A conch (shankha) is blown to invoke Shiva, this is not so in the case of other Hindu deities. The conch is a rather primitive instrument used in tribal societies. There is a special relation between the conch (shankha) and Shiva as is evident from the similarity between the word Shankha and the word Shankara which is one of Shiva's many names. The word Shankara could have been derived from Shankha-kara which roughly means conch-blower (Shankha = conch, Kara = blower).

Shiva a Pre-Aryan Tribal Deity?

Again the fine nuances observed in other Hindu deities especiallv Vishnu are missing in Shiva. Shiva is never shown wearing a dhoti (a lion-cloth draped around the waist) which is invariably worn by all other Gods nor does Shiva wear a Kaya-bandha (a metallic belt around the waist) as is worn by all other Gods. Shiva also has no jewellery that other Gods have. This along with his dark complexion suggests that Shiva originates in a pre-Aryan environment. His dark complexion and other characteristics, though explained away with the story of Samudra-manthan (the battle between Gods and demons) which the Gods lose and as a result one of them has to drink Halaahala (poison). Shiva is chosen to do this and the results in his dark complexion. For this he is also called Neel-kantha (Blue-necked). The poison having turned his neck blue. We are also told by mythology that to overcome the burning sensation caused by the poison, Shiva sports the cool snakes around his neck and has the Ganga river flow around his neck.

While talking of Shiva we cannot but mention the Linga (and Yoni) worship with which his name is associated. A hard look at the Linga and Yoni combination would suggest the close correspondence between the process of copulation and the Shivlinga (This is valid for a sociological and anthropological view. The religious view being entirely different).

Shiva and Worship of the Phallus

While talking of Shiva we cannot but mention the Linga (and Yoni) worship with which his name is associated. A hard look at the Linga and Yoni combination would suggest the close correspondence between the process of copulation. Linga correspondes to the male reproductive organ (the Phallus) and the Yoni to the femals one (Vagina). The container of water (Kalasha) that is suspended above the Linga and from which water drips over the Linga also corresponds with the idea of intercourse. Looking at it this way Linga worship in effect means worship of the reproduction function. This function would have been understood partially in tribal societies in the early stages of human social and psychological evolution and this incomplete understanding of something that had a sensual as well as emotive relevance,at which early humans marvelled found its expression in its deification. But how the Linga came to be associated with the personified Shiva remains a mystery.Thus the festival of Mahashivaratri is dedicated to a deity who origins are lost in the hoary past. But the practices that are associated with Mahashivaratri are eloquent in themselves. Apart from the fast which we observe on that day and the special prayers that we offer to the Lord of Kailas - the destroyer - the essential ritual is of fermenting bhang an intoxicating beverage. Only when devotees intoxicated with bhang dance themselves to a feverish pitch is Mahashivaratri considered to have been celebrated in its true 'spirit'.

Shiva is a Prototype of a Hunters Deity.

Shiva is prototype of a hunters deity. His apparel is made of animal skins and animal furs, his trident (trishul) essentially a hunter's weapon, the tiger skin on which he is seated, his strong taste for fermented drinks are all suggestive of the origin of Mahashivratri in a lifestyle of hunters society at a primitive stage of evolution. A lingering evidence which directly or indirectly is seen in our method of celebrating the festival devoted to Shiva in whose memory we celebrate Mahashivaratri.

Nagapanchami

Nagapanchami is a festival dedicated to a the snake-God. It occurs on the fifth day (panchami) of the fortnight as is evident from its name. This festival is observed sometime in August. It is celebrated with more fervour especially in the rural areas. On that day women and children visit snake-pits and worship the snakes residing there by performing Aarti (invocative prayer) and offering milk and honey to the snakes. In urban areas where snake pits are rare images of the deity are worshipped. As during Ganesh-chaturthi, small clay images of Naga are installed for being worshipped. Even snake-charmers carry captive snakes from door to door to enable city house-wives to worship the deity.

In Nagapanchami Hindus worship the Naag (cobra). But worshipping a slithering reptile whose mere sight makes our flesh creep would appear strange and curious to a person from another part of our globe, not familiar with Hindu customs. Snakes have been associated with many Hindu Gods. Sheshnaga (Snake with Six hoods) is the vehicle of Vishnu. The world according to Hindu mythology and cosmogony, rests on the head of Sheshnaga, and when he shakes his head we have earthquakes (This explanation, of course is for the devout).

Naga as Sheshnaga in Hindu Mythology

Worship of a slithering reptile whose mere sight makes our flesh creep would appear strange and curious to a person from another part of our globe, not familiar with Hindu customs. Snakes have been associated with many Hindu Gods. Sheshnaga (Snake with Six hoods) is the vehicle of Vishnu. The world according to Hindu mythology and cosmogony, rests on the head of Sheshnaga, and when he shakes his head we have earthquakes (This explanation, of course is for the devout).

ln another episode Krishna is said to have battled with Kalia who is portrayed as a giant snake with multiple hoods who resided in the Yamuna river and terrorised people living nearby. But strangely, worship of the snake Naga on Nagapanchami day is not associated with any of these deified snake-gods. Naga is a deity in his own right and is worshipped as such. This indicates that apart from all mythologies which have eulogized and deified this reptile, his worship during Nagapanchami owes its origin to some other reason.

Agricultural Origins of Nagpanchami

Nagapanchami occurs at the beginning of the harvest season. The time of its occunence and the method of its observation betray the origin of Naqapanchami in the agrarian way of life. At the beginning of a harvest season crops attain their full growth and the harvest is ready to be reaped. In countries like India the reaping of the harvest is (still largely) a manual operation for the performance of which farmers have to mote among the dense crops for cutting them before the threshing, dehusking, etc. In doing the farmers, expose themselves to the danger of snakebite from these reptiles lurking unseen among the dense crop. From this fear and for providing psychological comfort for themselves farmers propitiate the snake (God).


Sri-Ramanavami

Sri-Ramnavami is dedicated to the memory of Lord Rama. It occurs n on the ninth day (navami). The festival commemorates the birth of Rama who is remembered for his preperous and righteous reign. Ramrajya (the reign of Rama) has become synonymous with a period of peace and prosperity. Mahatma Gandhi also used this term to describe how, according to him, India should be after independence.

Ramnavami occurs in the month of March. Celebrations begin with a prayer to the Sun early in the morning. At midday, when Lord Rama is supposed to have been born, a special prayer is performed. In northern India especially, an event that draws popular participation is the Ramnavami procession. The main attraction in this procession is a gaily decorated chariot in which four persons are dressed up as Rama, his brother Laxman, his queen Sita and his disciple Hanuman. The chariot is accompanied by several other persons dressed up in ancient costumes as work by Rama's solders. The procession is a gusty affair with the participants shouting praises echoing the happy days of Rama's reign.

Surya - The Sun was recognised as the source of light and heat even in ancient times. The importance of the Sun was much more in the higher latitudes from where the Aryans are supposed to have migrated into India. Many royal dynasties potrayed symbols of virility like the Sun, Eagle, Lion etc. as their progenitor. Rama's dynasty considered themselves to have descended from the Sun. This could have led to the tagging on, of Rama's birthday to a festival devoted to the sun.

On the face of it Sri-Ramnavmi appears to be just a festival commemorating the reign of a king who was later deified. But even behind present-day traditions there are clues which unmistakably point to the origin of Ramnavmi as lying beyond the Ramayana story.

Sri Ramnavami occurs at the beginning of summer when the sun has started moving nearer to the northern hemisphere. The Sun is considered to be the progenitor of Rama's dynasty which is called the Sun dynasty (Raghukula or Raghuvamsa, Raghu means Sun and Kula or Vamsa mean familial descendant). Rama is also known as Raghunatha, Raghupati, Raghavendra etc. That all these names begin with the prefix Raghu is also suggestive of some link with Sun-worship. The hour chosen for the observance of the lord's birth is that when the sun is overhead and is at its maximum brilliance. In some Hindu sects, prayers on Ramnavami day start not with an invocation to Rama but to Surya (sun). Again the syllable Ra is used in the word to describe the sun and brilliance in many languages. In Sanskrit, Ravi and Ravindra mean Sun.

Ra or Amon Ra - the Sun God of the Egyptians

Significantly, the ancient Egyptians termed the sun as Amon Ra or simply as "Ra". In Latin the syllable Ra is used to connote light. For example, we have Radiance which emission of light, or Radium which means any substance emitting light or brilliance. The common element is the syllable Ra which in many languages is used to derive words for describing Sun or light.

The occurrence of this syllable in most names used for Rama alongwith other clues is strongly suggestive that the festival Ramnavami antedates the R- ayana and it must have originated much before the Ramayana, as a 'Sun-festival' for invoking the Sun who was recognised as the source of light and heat even in ancient times. The importance of the Sun was much more in the higher latitudes from where the Aryans are supposed to have migrated into India. Many royal dynasties potrayed symbols of virility like the Sun, Eagle, Lion etc. as their progenitor. Rama's dynasty considered themselves to have descended from the Sun. This could have led to the tagging on, of Rama's birthday to a festival devoted to the sun.

There is some link between Lord Rama and Sun Worship. The Sun is considered to be the progenitor of Rama's dynasty which is called the Sun dynasty (Raghukula or Raghuvamsa, Raghu means Sun and Kula or Vamsa mean familial descendant). Rama is also known as Raghunatha, Raghupati, Raghavendra etc. That all these names begin with the prefix Raghu is also suggestive of some link with Sun-worship. The hour chosen for the observance of the lord's birth is that when the sun is overhead and is at its maximum brilliance. Significantly, the ancient Egyptians termed the sun as Amon Ra or simply as "Ra". In Latin the syllable Ra is used to connote light. For example, we have Radiance which emission of light, or Radium which means any substance emitting light or brilliance. The common element is the syllable Ra which in many languages is used to derive words for describing Sun or light.

According to some scholars the origin of Christmas also antedates Christianity and even before Christ, a Roman festival known as Saturnalia used to be celebrated on the 25th of December.

Summing Up

These are a few of the many festivals that are observed by most Indians. The total number of festivals is infinitely more. This is no exaggeration, a look at the Hindu calendar (Panchanga i.e. five sided) would prove this. Every other day in the calendar has some religious significance. The reason for this plethora of festivals is the pantheonic and assimilative character of Hinduism due to which the festivals devoted to the countless number of deities normally find general acceptance among the Hindus from all parts of the country.

But the emphasis laid on the different festivals differs in different parts of the country. For instance during Navaratri (the four days of Pooja starting with Shasti Pooja on the sixth day) is celebrated with maximum fervour in West Bengal as compared to that in other parts of the country. Holi is celebrated with gusto in the north, and although it is also observed in the western and eastern parts of India, in the south it is almost unknown. There are also a few regional festivals like Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Onam in Kerala and the various other temple festivals devoted to the specific patron Gods and Goddesses of the temples, which are celebrated exclusively in those areas which may be limited to one or a few villages. Thus due to the proliferating nature of Hinduism, all its festivals cannot find a uniform general acceptance. But even so, the galaxy of festivals that exist do contribute in inter-spicing Indian life with gaiety and colour as also in giving the country the distinction of having the maximum number of red letter days on its calendar.

Now we move on to read about the Social Life in Ancient India

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Sudheer Birodkar

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