Lohri is a popular festival celebrated on the 13th of January every year. The first association with the name is ‘Punjabi Lohri’ since it is an exclusive Punjabi festival, celebrated with great enthusiasm in the states of Punjab and Haryana. It is traditionally associated with the harvest of the rabi crop.

Celebrated a day before Makara Sankranthi, it marks the end of the winter season. It is essentially a festival dedicated to the Fire and the Sun God.

It marks the movement of the sun towards the north as opposed to the south. It is referred to as the sun becoming Uttarayan, considered to be an extremely auspicious time. People believe that the Lohri night the longest night of the year and from the next day light is meant to increase.

History of Lohri :

The origin of the festival is related to Dulla Bhatti, a robber who lived in Punjab during the reign of Emperor Akbar. Besides robbing the rich, he rescued Hindu girls who were forcibly taken to be sold in slave market of the Middle East.

He got them married to Hindu boys and provided them with dowries. He gained respect of the people and became a hero. Therefore every Lohri song has lyrics expressing gratitude to him.

Some people believe that the word Lohri comes from the word ‘loh’, a thick iron sheet tawa used for baking chapattis while others believe the festival has derived its name from Loi, wife of Saint Kabir.

Lohri Celebrations:

With the setting of the sun huge bonfires are lit and people gather around them to celebrate the Lohri festival. Dressed in rich colours people circle around the bonfire (parikrama), offering prayer to the Fire God.

They throw puffed rice, peanuts and popcorn into the fire. After the prayers are offered prashad is distributed, consisting of til, gajak, gur, peanuts and popcorn.

The celebrations are marked by traditional songs and dances. Folk songs are sung and both men and women dance around the fire celebrating the spirit of the festival. While the popular male dances are the Bhangra, Jhoomer, Luddi, Julli and Dankara, the female dances include Giddha and Kikli. A traditional dinner of makki-di-roti and sarson-da-saag is served. Rau di kheer is served as dessert.

In houses that recently had a marriage or childbirth, the celebrations are at their peak. The first Lohri of the newlyweds and new born babies are important and considered auspicious. The festival instills a spirit of brotherhood and unity and generates happiness.

It is an occasion for friends and relatives to meet, exchange gifts and greetings and spend time together. Lohri cards are a special way to express wishes on this occasion. There are special cards for friends, family, relatives, and newlywed couples among others. They usually depict themes like brotherhood, love, unity, peace and prosperity. E-cards are gaining more popularity than normal cards.

The advantage they have is that they can be personalized; available in a wide range of colours and themes with special Lohri songs and quotes, they express the right emotions.

‘Maghi’ is the day following Lohri. According to Hindus this is an auspicious day to take a holy dip in the river and give away charity. On this day sweets are prepared with sugar cane juice.
It is said ‘A good Lohri sets the tone for the whole year ahead’ the more joyous and bountiful the occasion, the greater will be peace and prosperity.

 

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The birth of Lord Krishna was the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. This incarnation was for ending the reign of evil Kansa whose atrocities had been troubling mankind. Janmashtami is observed is the Shravan maas on the eighth day, the birth falls in Rohini nakshatra that is in the months of August-September.

It is ceremonious to rain heavily on the night lord Krishna was born. It is said that Lord Krishna was born on a stormy night on a rainy day. All rituals and puja happen after the birth of Krishna i.e. after midnight.

Krishna Janma is celebrated with great enthusiasm throughout the country. The preparations begin much before the day of Janmashtami. A cradle is decorated with flowers and decorations. New clothes and jewellery is made to order for Bal Krishna.

Celebrations resound for two days. The first day is the day before midnight. Before Janma all the enthusiast devotees throng temples and sing bhajans and songs signifying Krishna Janma.

After the birth, the ceremony of child birth and bhog (dishes offered after puja) and aarti is done. The bhog consists of 56 varieties of food. People who observe fast on Janmashtami break it with Prasad. Next day after birth, is Kalashtami.

The fervour of the festival is most in Mathura and Vrindavan which have been mentioned to be the places of Krishna leela in the mythology. The zeal among the people is much more than at any other place. People place the baby idol of Lord Krishna in the Grabh Griha (where he was born) before midnight.

Devotees keep singing the bhajans and aartis all through the night and stories depicting Krishna Leela are chanted to add to the flavour of the night. Post birth, Abhishek is done with milk, ghee, curd butter, water and flowers. Some also prepare Panchamrit (milk, ghee, oil, honey and Gangajal) for the Abhishek.

Rasleela is the traditional dance performed by all the devotees. Another ceremony performed is Dahi Handi. Dahi Handi is an earthen pot filled with curd hanged at a height. This pot is meant to be broken by young men. These men symbolize Bal Krishna and his friends. The Dahi handi is specially celebrated in Mathura, Vrindavan, Dwarka and Mumbai.

To show the various life stages of Shri Krishna, tableaux are taken out. Children, men and women dressed in colourful traditional ghagra and cholis, dhoti kurta sing and dance along the floats. People stop and welcome the tableaux at various places. Some also perform aarti to the idols.
It is a festival observed around the world. The chain of temples like ISKON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) which work towards preaching teachings of Lord Krishna, observe Janmashtami. The Hindu community across the globe comes together and celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna.

The Zoroastrians celebrate Jamshed Navroz on the 21st March as the first day of their calendar year. This Parsi New Year commences with the Vernal Equinox – when the length of the day equals that of the night. ‘Nav’ means new and ‘Roz’ means day and thus ‘Navroz’ means a new day.

Jamshed Navroz History:

The origin of the festival is not well established but according to popular legend the festival dates back to over 3000 years when the legendary king of Persia, Jamshedji ascended the throne on the day of ‘Navroz’. It is believed that he introduced solar calculation into the Persian calendar and also determined the date when the Sun enters the constellation of Aries. As a custom the king was weighed in gold and silver, and the money was distributed to the poor on this day.

This festival also finds mention in Shah Nameh, the Persian `Book of Kings’ written by Firdausi. According to the book, the festival was celebrated by the kings of Persia, Cyrus and Darius to rejoice in the spring and dates back to the 6th century B.C.

The first time celebration of the festival in India was started towards the end of eighteenth century when Seth Nasarvanji Kavasji Kohyaji first celebrated it in Surat. After a couple of decades Seth Merwanji Pandey started the celebrations in Mumbai which was further popularized by Khurshedji Rustamji Cama in the 20th century.

Jamshed Navroz Celebrations:

Parsis celebrate Jamshed Navroz in an elaborate manner. The celebration commences with cleaning of the house. Auspicious symbols like stars, butterflies, birds and fish are used for decoration.

The doors and windows are adorned with garlands of roses and jasmine, colourful rangolis add to the beauty. People wear new clothes along with Parsi caps on this occasion.

Ravo prepared with suji, milk and sugar and fried vermicelli cooked in sugar are special preparations for breakfast. After breakfast, people visit the Fire Temple or Agiary for a special thanksgiving prayer known as ‘Jashan’ where they offer sandalwood to the Holy Fire. After the ceremony is over, they greet each other by saying, ‘Sal Mubarak’.

Guests are welcomed in a special way by sprinkling rosewater and rice on them and applying tilak. There is a custom to keep a copy of the Gathas, a lit lamp, an afrigan, a bowl of water containing live fish, a shallow earthenware plate with sprouted wheat or beans for prosperity, flowers for colour, a silver coin for wealth, sweets and rosewater in bowls for happiness on a table. Apart from these, the table also has seven food items beginning with ‘sh’ and ‘s’. These are meant to symbolise creation.

Food is of great importance of this day and the menu is fixed. Pulav is an integral part, while plain rice and moong dal is a must. The traditional drink is falooda, prepared from milk flavoured with rose essence.

It is one of the three main festivals celebrated by the Parsi community. It symbolizes the spirit of friendship, happiness and harmony and brings people closer.

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Hemis is around 35 km, while the Gompa is nearly 45 km to the south of Leh. The place is well known for Hemis Gompa, the Monastery and the two-day colourful festival by the same name.

The Monastery:

Hemis Gompa also known as Chang Chub Sam Ling in the local language or the lone place of the compassionate person is one of the biggest and wealthiest monasteries in the region of Leh and Ladakh. At an altitude of 12,000 feet, it is one of the highest settlements of the world.

It is situated inside the Hemis National Park. Over 350 years old, architecturally it is unique because of its intrinsic design qualities..

The Monastery is extremely beautiful and grand, decorated in Tibetan style. The Monastery boasts of a rich collection of ancient relics – thankas and copper gild statue of the Lord Buddha, stupas made of gold and silver and other such objects.

The Hemis Gompa Festival:

Hemis Gompa is also a two-day festival organized from the 9th to 11th day of the 5th Tibetan month, which falls in the month of June-July. It is one of the most important festivals in the Buddhist calendar, organised on the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava also known also as Guru Rimpoche. He was the founder of Tantric Buddhism and is credited with preaching the message of spiritual harmony and prosperity among human beings.

The prime attractions of the festival are Cham dances and traditional music that is played using the beating of drums, clashing of cymbals and long horns. Sacred masked dances are performed by resident lamas of the Monastery; they are a re-enactment of the magical feats of Guru Rimpoche in his services to the cause of Buddhism in his eight different manifestations.

The monks dress up as demons and Gods portraying battles between good and evil spirits. Lamas with red-robes and tall tufted hats bang on drums and crash symbols as others leap to fight off demons.

Women adorn themselves with the perak, an elaborate headdress with woven strips of beads and turquoise, silver dangles, and upright ears of braided yak hair. The portrait of sacred Guru Rimpoche is put for devotees to show their respect. Each family carries yak-butter tea, a canister of tsampa and roasted barley flour.

There are various tales about the festival, its origin and celebrations, the essence of all being – the battle of good with evil and the arrival of Buddhism in Ladakh. The message of the festival symbolizes the victory of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance and virtue over vice.

Hemis Gompa is one of the many things about Ladakh which make it unique and special. The grand Monastery and colourful festival are a treat to the eyes. Celebrated with great vigour, it is of the largest and best Buddhist festivals, attracting people from around the world.

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Buddha Purnima, also known as Buddha Jayanti or Vesak is the most sacred day in the Buddhist calendar. It holds special importance as it commemorates the three most significant events in the life of Gautama Buddha – His birth, enlightenment and nirvana; all three took place on the same day – full moon day of the lunar month Vaishakha.

Also known as the ‘Light of Asia’, Gautam Buddha was among the greatest spiritual teachers of all times. His message and teachings have travelled far and wide, around the globe..

Gautam Buddha’s Life:

According to the legend, Queen Mahamaya gave birth to Buddha under the shade of two sal trees at Lumbini on the full moon day of Vaishakha, on her way to Devdaha. Siddhartha was the only son of Shuddhodana, the King of Kapilavastu and thus led a protected life; ignorant of miseries, sorrows and sufferings.

At the age of 29, on his visit to the city he saw – an old man, a sick man and a dead body, for the very first time in his life; this changed his life forever. His mind was filled with numerous questions; to seek the answers and search for the true meaning of life he left all royal luxuries and worldly pleasures. He went from one religious centre to another searching in vain answers to his questions.

Finally in a forest near Gaya, he meditated for six years, then took his seat under a Bodhi tree and decided to stay there until he found the answers to his questions.

One Vaishakha full moon night, he attained enlightenment and found the answers to the four truths of life – the existence of pain and suffering, their causes, the need to overcome them and the means of doing so. Thus, he became Siddhartha – the Buddha or Gautam Buddha – the Enlightened One.

Thereafter, he travelled far and wide preaching; his followers consisted of scholars, sanyasis, kings and their ministers. In 483 BC, at the age of 80 the Buddha attained nirvana; it was the same day as Buddha’s birthday and the day he attained enlightenment.

Rituals & Celebration:

On this day Buddhists wear only white clothes. Prayers and sermons are offered in monasteries, religious halls and homes. Daylong reading of scriptures by monks takes place in the monasteries. People offer flowers, candles and fruits to the statue of Buddha. The Bodhi Vriksha or the Pepal tree is beautifully lit with lamps and decorated with garlands.

People reaffirm their faith in the five principles called Panchsheel. Stalls are set up by them in public places to offer clean drinking water to others. They refrain from eating meat; kheer is a special preparation on this day.

Bodh Gaya in Bihar and Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh are the two main places where elaborate celebration takes place.

Celebrations in Bodh Gaya

People from all over the world come to attend ceremonies that take place at Bodh Gaya, the place where Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment. The Mahabodhi Temple is decorated to mark the special occasion. Throughout the day prayer, meets, sermons on the life of Gautam Buddha, religious discourse, group meditation and processions take place.

Celebrations in Sarnath

Sarnath was where Buddha delivered his first sermon. A large fair is organised on the occasion of Buddha Purnima. Relics of the Buddha are brought out for public display in a procession. Devotees offer fruits, flowers and candles to the statue of Lord Buddha and pay respect to the great teacher.

Besides these two places, the festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm in areas with large Buddhist population like Ladakh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh in India.

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Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a normal Indian citizen living his daily life was exalted when he moved out of his nest to fight a kingdom that had made the country their domain. Born in Gujarat, like every well doing Indian, he travelled to UK to complete his education and become a lawyer. On completion he travelled to South Africa to practice as a lawyer.

His enormous contribution to the freedom struggle elevated his stance from a normal individual to a political hero. He was a catalyst to throw out the British Raj and usher democracy in the country. The election of a Prime Minister and the cabinet was brought in place in a country shattered and torn by riots and caste wars.

Living in a country that opposed the Raj, Gandhiji saw bloodshed and war all around him. As the British had a zero tolerance policy they slaughtered and killed Indians without batting an eye lid. In vengeance more people would attack and even more would lose their lives, surviving widows and fatherless children lurking in around corridors hungry and nowhere to go.

In a pathetic state of the country Gandhi struck out to protest against the rulers, but in a different way. He used the non-violence or ahimsa and Satyagraha method. In this way he did not raise his hands or preach to take up the baton, instead he recommended his people to fight but not with arms. Hence was born the union syndrome and the Mahatma was born.

People moved out in droves shouting slogans and demanding their rights. Mahatma Gandhi would urge Indians to wear clothes and use substances that are made in India, another way of his silent protests. In worse times he has gone on a fast- where he would not eat his food for days and sometimes even weeks together, all to get his demands sorted.

Such was the simple life of Mahatma Gandhi. Initially this did not stir the government, but when large number of people began to resort to the same method then the nature of this national strike surfaced.

Hence 2nd of October is celebrated as a Gandhi Jayanti to commemorate the profound work done by a single man to releasing the country from the clutches of the Britishers. Gandhi through this style of revolt won an international audience and today is known world over for his non-violence movement. Hence 2nd October is also celebrated world over as a non-violence day and the week is known as the non-violence week as sealed by the WHO.

Gandhi was loved by many and was equally reciprocated with hate. It disheartened him to see the country’s partition as lakhs of people were being killed in the name of religion. And ultimately it was a Hindu’s Nathuram Godse who assassinated him and brought an end to the 72 year old who still remains in the mind and hearts of the world.

Many have translated his life into books and movies. The Gandhi Movie released in 1981 played by Ben Kinsley, resounded through the world and received an international audience.

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Navratri is a Hindu festival celebrated for nine days worshipping the various forms of Durga. ‘Nav’ means nine and ‘ratri’ means night, thus the name meaning ‘nine nights’ in Sanskrit.

It is celebrated five times a year – Vasanta Navaratri, Ashadha Navaratri, Sharada Navaratri and Poushya/Magha Navaratri. Of these, Sharada and Vasanta Navaratri are most important..

Vasanta Navaratri is the festival of nine days dedicated to the nine forms of Devi, in the spring season. Sharad Navaratri is the most important of the Navratris and often called ‘Maha Navratri’. It is called so since it is celebrated during Sharad, i.e. beginning of winters, sometime in October – November. The Chaitra Navratri culminates to Ram Navami and the Sharad Navratri in Durga Puja and Dussehra.

Celebrations:
The festival coincides with the end of the rainy season; considered auspicious as it is associated with the sprouting of new seeds, a sign of prosperity. Many people consider it the best time of the year to initiate something new in their personal or professional lives.

It is celebrated in different ways throughout the country. During these days the nine forms of Shakti – Durga, Bhadrakali, Amba, Annapurna, Sarvamangala, Bhairavi , Chandika or Chandi, Lalita, Bhavani and Mookambika are worshipped. Some people observe fasts for all the nine days. The festival ends on Mahanavami. On this day, ‘Kanya Puja’ is performed. Nine young girls representing the nine forms of Goddess Durga are worshipped. Their feet are washed and a puja is performed, at the end of which they are given food, traditionally consisting of pudi, chana and halwa. People who do not fast for all nine days do so on the 1st and 2nd or 1st and last or the last 2 days, since it is believed that the fasts have to be kept in pairs.

The nine days are divided into sets of three days, each dedicated to different Goddesses. The first three days are dedicated to Durga, also known as Kali, the Goddess of power. On the next three days Lakshmi, the Goddess of peace and prosperity is worshipped. The seventh and eighth days are dedicated to Saraswati, the Goddess of wisdom. Devotees believe that one needs the blessings of all the three to be successful in life.

Navratri is synonymous with Dandiya Rasa and Garba, the characteristic folk dances of Gujarat. Both men and women dress in traditional attires. Village girls bearing garbis (pots) on their heads go from house to house and perform dances. The garbi has a diya burning inside which signifies knowledge and the end of darkness. Dandiya-Rasa is performed mostly by men. They dance in concentric circles and beat the dandiya sticks in rhythm while performing.
Rituals across the country:
The last four days of Sharad Navratri are celebrated as Durga Puja in West Bengal. It is the most important festival in Bengal. Elaborately decorated clay idols of Goddess Durga depicting her slaying the demon Mahisasura are set up in temples. The idols are worshipped for five days and immersed in the river on the last day.

In North India the tenth day is celebrated as Dussehra, the festival which marks the triumph of ‘good over evil’. Ram Lilas portraying the story of Rama’s life are performed. Huge images of Ravana are burnt, depicting the end of evil.

In the Southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh the festival is known as Kolu, it is celebrated for ten days. Women decorate the houses with dolls and draw rangolis. Families gather to display traditional wooden dolls, sing songs and depict scenes from various epics. They also exchange sweets and gifts.