Dussehra (tenth day) is one of the significant Hindu festivals, celebrated
with much joie de vivre in the entire country. The occasion marks the triumph
of Lord Rama over the demon king, Ravana, the victory of good over evil. Brilliantly
decorated tableaux and processions depicting various facets of Rama's life
are taken out. On the tenth day, the Vijayadasmi day, colossal effigies of
Ravana, his brother Kumbhkarna and son Meghnad are placed in vast open spaces.
Rama, accompanied by his consort Sita and his brother Lakshmana, arrive and
shoot arrows of fire at these effigies, which are stuffed with explosive material.
The result is a deafening blast, enhanced by the shouts of merriment and triumph
from the spectators.
It is significant that the Lord invoked the blessings of the divine mother,
Goddess Durga, before actually going out to battle. In burning the effigies,
people are asked to burn the evil within them, and thus follow the path of
virtue and goodness, bearing in mind the instance of Ravana, who despite all
his might and majesty was destroyed for his evil ways. It must be remembered
that Ravana was a great scholar and an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva, but the
very powers that were bestowed on him for his steadfast devotion proved to
be his undoing, due to his gross misuse of the same.
The festival is also celebrated with intense fervour and zest in West Bengal
and by the Bengalis nationwide in the form of Durga Puja. The festivities
commence on the first night in the month of Ashwin (September-October). The
vibrant festivities last for ten days, of which nine nights are spent in worship,
'Navaratri'. The tenth day is devoted to the worship of Goddess Durga, who
occupies a special position in the Hindu pantheon of gods and goddesses. She
is 'Shakti', the cosmic energy that animates all beings. Beautiful idols of
the Mother Goddess are worshipped in elaborate pandals for nine days, and
on the tenth day, these are carried out in procession for immersion (visarjan)
in a river or pond.
It is spring time in India, flowers and fields are in bloom and the country
goes wild with people running on the streets and smearing each other with
brightly hued powders and coloured water. This is the festival of Holi, celebrated
on the day after the full moon in early March every year.
Originally Holi is a festival to celebrate good harvests and fertility
of the land. There are many legends concerning the origin of this spring
festival. The most popular among these concerns Prince Prahlad, the god-fearing
son of the evil King Hiranyakasipu. Prahlad did not give up worshipping
the god Vishnu in spite of fearful persecution by his father and his demon
aunt Holika, who was deputed by her brother to kill young Prahlad. Ultimately,
when Holika, who was immune to death by fire, took Prahlad and entered a
blazing furnace built for his destruction, it was the wicked Holika who
was burnt to ashes by divine intervention, while Prahlad came out unscathed.
Before she died, she realised her follies and begged the boy's forgiveness.
As his gesture of forgiveness, Prahlad deemed that her name would be remembered
at least one day in the year.
Holi commemorates this event from mythology, and huge bonfires are burnt
on the eve of Holi as its symbolic representation.
This exuberant festival is also associated with the immortal love of Krishna
and Radha. The young Krishna would complain to his mother Yashoda about
why Radha was so fair and he so dark. Yashoda advised him to apply colour
on Radha's face and see how her complexion would change. Holi is celebrated
with particular eclat in the villages around Mathura, the birthplace of
Down the ages, civilisation has advanced leaps and bounds, but the spirit
of Holi remains the same. Each year, without fail, the old and the young
alike gather into groups and indulge in a riot of colours.
Holi is also synonymous with bhang, which is consumed by many in the form
of laddoos and ghols. One could get away with almost anything on this day;
squirting coloured water on passers-by and dunking friends in the mud pool
saying "bura na mano, Holi hai" (don't feel offended, it's Holi).
Apart from this usual fun with coloured powder and water, Holi is marked
by vibrant processions, which are accompanied by folk songs, dances and
a general sense of abandoned vitality.
On Easter, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as it is
told in the Bible. This holy day celebrates the triumph of life over death.
Historically, the resurrection of Christ occurred at the time of the Jewish
feast of Passover (called "Pesach" in Hebrew). In the early years
of Christianity, Jewish Christians observed resurrection and Passover to
on the 14th day of Nisan, the Jewish month roughly corresponding with April.
However, Gentile Christians celebrated the resurrection every Sunday with
a special emphasis on the Sunday closest to Nisan 14. To settle this difference,
at the Nicene Council in A.D. 325, churchmen fixed the date of Easter on
the first Sunday following the Paschal full moon. This is the first full
moon after the vernal equinox, 21 March. This system is still followed today.
Therefore, Easter Sunday moves between 22 March and 25 April.
The term "Easter" was first used when Christianity was introduced
by the Saxons. Prior to this time the Saxons had held an annual feast in honour
of the ancient Teutonic goddess of spring, Eostre. The name was transferred
to the Christian observance of Christ's resurrection. Easter is universally
a joyous, happy day.
Besides Hinduism, India is also the home of innumerable other faiths and the
religious and cultural diversity of this nation is manifested in the large
number of non-Hindu festivals
The sizeable Muslim communities have their Ids in common with Muslims across
the world. Id-ul-Fitr, Id-ul-Zuha and Id-i-Milad are the three festive occasions
widely celebrated by Muslims in India.
Id is celebrated with great enthusiasm all over the country, and one can
see Muslims of all age groups and from all stratas of society attired in
new clothes, visiting mosques to offer namaaz.
The tombs of many Sufi saints attract devotees of all religious persuasions,
especially during the urs or death anniversaries. The best known urs are
centred at tombs in towns like Ajmer, Delhi, Manakpur, Nagore and Dongri.
Id-ul-Fitr (Ramzan Id)
Coming with the new moon, this festival marks the end of Ramzan, the ninth
month of the Muslim year. It was during this month that the holy Koran was
revealed. Muslims keep a fast every day during this month and on the completion
of the period, which is decided by the appearance of the new moon, Id-ul-Fitr
is celebrated with great eclat. Prayers are offered in mosques and Idgahs
and elaborate festivities are held.
Id-ul-Azha or Id-ul-Zuha (Bakr-Id)
The Id-ul-Azha commemorates the ordeal of Hazrat Ibrahim, who had been put
to a terrible test by God when he was asked to sacrifice whatever was dearest
to him and he decided to sacrifice the life of his son. As he was on the point
of applying the sword to his son's throat, it was revealed to him that this
was meant only to test his faith, and it was enough, if instead he sacrifices
only a ram in the name of Allah. This is celebrated on the tenth day of Zilhijja,
when the Haj celebrations at Mecca are rounded off by the sacrifice of goats
or camels. In India, too, goats and sheep are sacrificed all over the country
and prayers are offered.
The Prophet was born on the twelfth day of Rabi-ul-Awwal, the third month
of the Muslim year. His death anniversary also falls on the same day, the
word 'barah' standing for the twelve days of the Prophet's sickness. During
these days, sermons are delivered in mosques by learned men, focusing on the
life and noble deeds of the Prophet.
In some parts of the country, a ceremony known as sandal rite is performed
over the symbolic footprints of the Prophet engraved in stone. A representation
of 'buraq', a horse on which the Prophet is believed to have ascended to
heaven, is kept near the footprints and anointed with sandal paste or scented
powder, and the house and casket containing these are elaborately decorated.
Elegies or 'marsiyas' are sung in memory of the last days of the Prophet.
The 12th day or the Urs proper is observed quietly, in prayers and alms
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