The ancient tradition of celebrating festivals goes back to the Vedic times of the Aryans. Ancient Indians used to express these occasions through the words SAMAJA (a gathering of people), UTSAVA (a festival) and YATRA (a pilgrimage or temple chariot procession). And today we use the word MELA (meaning a fair) rather than a SAMAJA. The Vedic scriptures and literature give many references to festivals when celebrations were carried on to honor gods, rivers, trees, mountains, the coming of monsoons, the end of winter or the first flush of spring. The celebrations not only include fasting & prayers, but also equally events of social &a
mp; cultural significance, Performances of music, dance and drama took place side by side with more rugged physical activities. Even today, festivals are symbolic of a link between the home, the villages and a larger outside world. Colour, contribution, enthusiasm, prayers and rituals are the characteristics of the Festivals of India. The travellers are attracted to the scale and elaboration of the merrymaking that populate the cultural scene of the country. The various festivals in the country can be categorized on the national, regional, local, religious, seasonal and social grounds. The popularity of Indian fairs and festivals are spread far and wide and attract a large number of foreign tourists.
The Indian Festivals:
Makar Sankranti, Return of the Sun to the North – This is the time of the year when the Sun enters Capricorn in the month of Magha (January-February). It’s a time of great festivities throughout the nation with people taking a dip in the holy rivers and seas. In Gujarat particularly, it is the time to witness and extravaganza of Kite flying in what has become an International Kite Festival.
Pongal: mainly held in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. A 3-days colourful Tamil harvest festival.
Shiva Ratri, the Great Night of Shiva :-Jubilated on the new moon night in the month of Phalguna (February-March), this Hindu festival is committed to Lord Shiva
Holi, The festival of colors –the most lively of all Hindu festivals, which falls on the full moon day in the month of Phalgun (March) according to the Hindu calendar. It heralds the end of the winter and the beginning of the spring and marks the rekindling of the spirit of life. This festival is also associated with legends of Lord Krishna.
Ramanavami, the Birth of Lord Rama –This Hindu festival goes on for nine days where it is celebrated in the bright fortnight in the month of Chaitra (March-April) and commemorates the birth of Lord Rama who took birth to annihilate the demon King Ravana.
Hanuman Jayanti, the Birth of Lord Hanuman-Â is celebrated to commemorate the birth o fÂ Hanuman, the Vanara god, widely venerated throughoutÂ India. It is celebrated on the 15th day of theÂ Shukla PakshaÂ during the Hindu calendar month ofÂ Chaitra.Â Hanuman is an ardent devotee of Lord Rama, and is worshipped for his unflinching devotion to the god.
BaisakhiÂ Festival falls on April 13thÂ or April 14thÂ and marks the beginning of the solar year. People of North India, particularly Punjab thank God for good harvest. Visit to Gurudwaras, Vaisakhi processions and traditional performances are the highlights of the day. Baisakhi has special significance for Sikhs as on this day in 1699, their tenth Guru Gobind Singh Ji organized the order of the Khalsa.
Id-ul-Zuha – or Bakr-id –is a Muslim festival celebrated on a National level. It commemorates the martyrdom of Abraham and is marked by the sacrifice of lambs.
Id-ul-Fitr –is a Muslim festival that marks the end of the month of Ramzan, a month long period of fasting.
Raksha Bandhan –is celebrated mostly in North and West India. It’s a legendary reenactment of sisters tying colourful ‘rakhis’ (bracelets or talisman) on their brother’s wrists.
Krishna Janmashtami, the Birth of Lord Krishna -Krishna Janmashtami falls during the dark fortnight in the month of Bhadra (August-September) and is celebrated to commemorate the birth of Krishna to bring an end to the injustice of Kansa.
Ganesha Utsav –This is a ten-day festival, jubilated during the bright half of Bhadrapad (August – September), celebrates the birth of Ganesha.It is believed that Lord Ganesh bestows his presence on earth for all his devotees during this festival. It is the day when Ganesha was born. Ganesha is widely worshiped as the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune and traditionally invoked at the beginning of any new venture or at the start of travel.
Dussehra( Vijay Dashmi), the trimph of good over evil – This Hindu festival is celebrated all over India to mark the defeat of Ravana by Lord Rama. The ‘Ramlila’ – an enactment of the life of Lord Rama, is held during the nine days preceding Dussehra. On the tenth day, larger than life effigies of Ravana, his son and brother -Meghnath and Kumbhakarna, are set alight.
Durga Puja, The Victory of Good over Evil –Celebrated in the month of Ashvina (September-October) in the state of West Bengal, Durga Puja is a nine-day festival (of which five days from Sashthi to Dashami are the most celebrate one in West Bengal) of the Hindus. It highlights the winning of Goddess Durga over the buffalo demon Mahishasura after a long battle, bringing forth the victory of good over evil.
Diwali, the Festival of Lights –This is one of the oldest and the most important Hindu festivals falling in the month of Kartik (October-November), which celebrates the return of Rama to Ayodhya after an exile of 14 years. Diwali or Deepawali also marks the beginning of the New Year and is celebrated with the lighting of lamps, burning of crackers.
Guru Nanak Jayanti –Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of the Sikh faith, was born in the month of Kartik (October/November), and his birthday is known as Guru Nanak Jayanti. He was born in 1469 A.D. at Tolevandi some 30 miles from Lahore. The anniversaries of Sikh Guruâ€™s are known as Gurupurabs (festivals) and are celebrated with devotion and dedication.
Christmas, the Birth Anniversary of Jesus Christ –The most important and the most rejoiced festival of Christians is Christmas celebrated on the 25th of December. The festival marks the birth of lord Jesus and is celebrated with great enthusiasm all over the country.
The Indian Fairs:
Life in the town of Nagaur starts bustling every year with the thronging of Cattle, horses and camels accompanied by their owners and buyers. The cattle fair held here annually is supposed to be one of the largest in the world.
Nagaur bulls are renowned for their fleet-footedness and therefore, attract buyers from all over. The day starts with buyers and sellers engaged in earnest bargains. Once the price of a horse, bullock or a camel has been settled, the day closes with dances, songs and merrymaking.
GANGASAGAR MELA Gangasagar, West Bengal
Near the mouth of the river Ganges in the state of West Bengal, is the island of Gangasagar where the Ganges meet the Bay of Bengal. Every year a Mela is held here in January on Makara Sankranti day and is attended by a large number of pilgrims from all over India. The island is dedicated to the sage Kapila.
BENESHWAR FAIR Beneshwar, Rajasthan
Towards the full moon night during the month of January/February, thousands of Bhil tribe people join together at the junction of two rivers, Som and Mahi in Rajasthan. They immerse ashes of their relatives died during that year, as a memorial service. After that, they bathe in the river to cleanse themselves and then worship at the temple where God Shiva is defied. In India more than 400 tribes live separately. Bhil is one of them and they live mainly in the mountains near boundaries of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. They all are serious Hindus and believe that they are the descendants of God Shiva.
URS AJMER SHARIF Ajmer, Rajasthan
Every year Ajmer prepares for its festival – the Urs of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, a Sufi saint. The Urs, commemorating the symbolic union of the saint with god, is an occasion for celebration. Thousands or pilgrims arrive to pray at the dargah (tomb) of the saint.
SONEPUR FAIR Sonepur, Bihar
At the time of the Kartik Poornima, cattle fairs are also held at Sonepur, in Bihar and at Bateshwar and Mukteshwar in the state of Uttar Pradesh. One of the largest cattle fairs in the country is held at Sonepur. At this month-long fair there is a lot of trade in cattle. Cows and oxen are coloured bright shades of red, yellow and purple. Their horns are gilded. The sound of their bells and the trumpeting of elephants add to the glamour of the fair.
GANGAUR FAIR All over Rajasthan, especially Jaipur, Udaipur & Mandawa
Idols of Issar and Gangaur, manifestations of Shiva and Parvati, are worshipped by women, and particularly those unmarried who pray for a consort of the like of Shiva. Celebrated all over Rajasthan, it has women taking out processions through the streets of towns, carrying images of the divine couple. The festival is especially colourful in Jaipur, Udaipur, and at Mandawa in the Shekhawati region.