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Diwali

This is perhaps the most well-known of the Indian festivals: it is celebrated throughout India, as well as in Indian communities throughout the diaspora. It usually takes place eighteen days after Dusshera. It is colloquially known as the "festival of lights", for the common practice is to light small oil lamps (called diyas) and place them around the home, in courtyards, verandahs, and gardens, as well as on roof-tops and outer walls. In urban areas, especially, candles are substituted for diyas; and among the nouveau riche, neon lights are made to substitute for candles. The celebration of the festival is invariably accompanied by the exchange of sweets and the explosion of fireworks. As with other Indian festivals, Diwali signifies many different things to people across the country. In north India, Diwali celebrates Rama's homecoming, that is his return to Ayodhya after the defeat of Ravana and his coronation as king; in Gujarat, the festival honors Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth; and in Bengal, it is associated with the goddess Kali. Everywhere, it signifies the renewal of life, and accordingly it is common to wear new clothes on the day of the festival; similarly, it heralds the approach of winter and the beginning of the sowing season.

 

 
Dussehra
The effigies of Ravana and Meghnada in the community park at Sheikh Sarai, south Delhi. Ravana and his companions are proceeding in a float atop a truck, and he is shown taking a swig from a Pepsi bottle: evil finds evil! The truck winds its way through the streets of Sheikh Sarai, a community in south Delhi; when it arrives at the local park, Ravana will be engaged in battle with Rama and be defeated. The effigies are burnt at sunset.

Though known by different Rama over Ravana, or the orces "good" over the forces of "evil". Large effigies of the ten-headed Ravana, the king of Lanka who abducted Rama's wife, Sita, and was subsequently vanquished in battle, are burnt as the sun goes down; on either side of him are the slightly smaller effigies of Meghnada, the son of Ravana, and Kumbhakarna, the full brother of Ravana whose name has become a household word in India for lethargy and laziness. (It is said that Kumbhakarna slept for six months and would then stay awake for a full day, no doubt to replenish himself.)

The festival lasts ten days, and most communities celebrate it with great fanfare. During the festival, the Ramleela, or the story of Rama, is enacted by professional dance companies and amateur troupes. On the last day of the festival, young men and small boys, dressed as Rama, his brother Lakshman, Ravana, and other players in the drama, proceed through the streets of the community as part of a float that is sometimes quite elaborate. Rama and Ravana engage in battle; Ravana is defeated.

Then Rama fires an arrow into the huge effigies of Meghnada and Kumbhakarna, stuffed -- as is the effigy of Ravana -- with crackers and explosives; finally an arrow is shot into Ravana's effigy, to the encouraging shouts of "Ramchandra ki jai", "Victory to Rama", and a large explosion ripples through the sky. In Bengal, Dusshera is celebrated as Durga Puja. Idols of the goddess Durga are worshipped for nine days, and on the tenth day immersed in a body of water, such as a river or pond. In Mysore, caparisoned elephants lead a colorful procession through the streets of the city.

 

 
Sankranthi
The great diversity of Indian religious beliefs is projected through the various festivals that are celebrated in our country. They arise from the innate desire of man to seek diversion from humdrum activities and they help in symbolising, reflecting and enriching social life in a specific cultural setting.

The festival of Makar Sankrant traditionally coincides with the beginning of the Sun's northward journey (the UTTARAYAN) when it enters the sign of Makar (the CAPRICORN). It falls on the 14th of January every year according to the Solar Calendar. This day has a very special significance because the day and night on Makar Sankrant are of exactly of equal hours. This day is celebrated as a festival right from the times of the Aryans and is looked upon as the most auspicious day by the Hindus.

The evidence of this festival being lucky is found in our great epic Mahabharat wherein it is told that the great warrior-hero, Bhishma Pitamaha even after being wounded and lying on the bed of arrows, lingered on till Uttarayan set in, to breathe his last. It is believed that the person who dies on this auspicious day of Sankranti escapes the cycle of birth and re-birth and that his soul mingles with the Almighty.

This festival is celebrated differently in different parts of the country yet the use of til that is sesame is found everywhere. Til or sesame seed contain lot of oil and they therefore have a quality of softness in them. Therefore, firstly the use of til in sweets is good for health and secondly being soft their exchange means exchange of love and tender feelings.

In Maharashtra on the Sankranti day people exchange multi-coloured tilguds made from til (sesame seeds) and sugar and til-laddus made from til and jaggery. Til-polis are offered for lunch and these are specialities of Maharashtra. Maharashtrian women are proud of their excellence in preparing these delicacies. While exchanging tilguls as tokens of goodwill people greet each other saying - "til-gul ghya, god god bola" meaning "accept these tilguls and speak sweet words". The under-lying thought in the exchange of tilguls is to forget the past ill-feelings and hostilities and resolve to speak sweetly and remain friends. This is a special day for the women in Maharashtra when married women are invited for a get-together called "Haldi-Kumkoo" and given gifts of any utensil, which the woman of the house purchases on that day.

In Gujarat Sankranti is observed more or less in the same manner as in Maharashtra but with a difference that in Gujarat there is a custom of giving gifts to relatives. The elders in the family give gifts to the younger members of the family. The Gujarati Pundits on this auspicious day grant scholarships to students for higher studies in astrology and philosophy. This festival thus help the maintenance of social relationships within the family, caste and community.

In Punjab where December and January are the coldest months of the year, huge bonfires are lit on the eve of Sankranti and which is celebrated as "LOHARI". Sweets, sugarcane and rice are thrown in the bonfires, around which friends and relatives gather together. The following day, which is Sankranti is celebrated as MAGHI. The Punjabis dance their famous Bhangra dance till they get exhausted. Then they sit down and eat the samptions food that is specially prepared for the occasion.

In Bundelkhand and Madhya Pradesh this festival of Sankranti is known by the name "SUKARAT" or "SAKARAT" and is celebrated with great pomp merriment accompanied by lot of sweets.

In South Sankranti is known by the name of "PONGAL", which takes its name from the surging of rice boiled in a pot of milk, and this festival has more significance than even Diwali. It is very popular particularly amongst farmers. Rice and pulses cooked together in ghee and milk is offered to the family deity after the ritual worship. In essence in the South this Sankranti is a "Puja" (worship) for the Sun God.

 
Ugadi

CHAITRA SHUKLA PRATHAMA

The first day of Chaitra

  The first day of the year according to the National Calendar of Bharat (in some parts, the Shalivahana Shaka and in the rest, the Vikrama Samvat - corresponding to the era beginning 78 A.D. and 57 B.C. respectively) is significant both for its historical import and for the advent of bountiful nature. The day falls in the beginning of spring - Vasanta Ritu - When the Goddess of Nature gets bedecked as a divine bride.

  The day aptly carries the assurance to human life, "If winter comes, can spring be far behind?" It fills the human spirit with optimism and hope about one's future and injects into him courage and confidence in facing the trials and tribulations of life - both individual and national.

  In some parts of Bharat, the tender leaves of neem mixed with jaggery are distributed on the occasion. The neem, extremely bitter in taste, and jaggery sweet and delicious, signify the two conflicting aspects of human life - joy and sorrow, success and failure, ecstasy and agony. The neem-jaggery blend is offered to God as naivedya and then distributed as prasaada. This embodies one of the highest philosophical attitudes taught by the Hindu spiritual masters. Sri Krishna says - 

Duhkheshwanudvignamanaah Sukheshu vigatasprihah |
Veetaraagabhayakrodhah sthitadheermuniruchyate ||
 

Not being agitated in sorrow, and free from desire for pleasure, sensual attachments, fear and anger such a person is called Sthitaprajna - one who has acquired equanimity.

This in fact is the essence of yoga - whatever its path - Jnaana, Bhakti Karma or the Raajayoga. The innate peace and tranquility which results from such an equanimity in the face of the extremes of life-situations holds the key to the supreme goal of self-realization of the human soul. The resolve, single-minded and indomitable, to reach that goal is taken on this day. Thus, this day verily becomes a moment of starting a new epoch - yuga - in our life.

On the national plane, the day recalls the inspiring occasion when the invading Shakas - the barbaric tribal hordes from Central Asia descending on Bharat like locusts during the 1st century A.D. - were vanquished by the great emperors Shalivahana and Vikramaditya. A people who had become benumbed and passive in the face of the furious and inhuman onslaughts, were roused to heights of manliness and patriotic fervor by their efforts. The people who till then were given to peace and affluence and had been singularly free from devastating aggressions from outside, had to be mobilized to face the challenges of the new situation. Shalivahana was the King of Shatavahanas, with his capital at Pratishthana on the banks of Godavari (in the present-day Maharashtra). A beautiful allegory woven round the singular achievement of Shalivahana depicts how he made clay images of soldiers, breathed life into them and forged a formidable army of warriors.

As another story goes, Shalivahana popularized the figure of the dark Kali in her terrible form trampling upon a Raakshasa white in color, and piercing him with her deadly Trishoola. The idol carried its own message, - the dark Kali representing the Hindu people rising to their full heroic stature and crushing the foreign aggression of the white Shakas. It also symbolized the triumph of the forces of divinity over those of wickedness.

Vikramaditya - literally, the Sun of Valour - was famous not only for the peerless prowess he displayed in liquidating the foreign aggression; he was the patron of nine gems of poetic genius - Kalidasa crowning them all. The King was also celebrated for his supreme sense of justice so much so that Vikramaditya Simhaasana (The throne of Vikramaditya) has come to mean the seat of undiluted justice. His very name has become so much a part of all that is great and glorious in Bharat's tradition that many a king in later days even in distant parts of the country prided himself in affixing the title Vikramaditya to his name.

The founding of new Eras in the names of Vikrama and Shalivahana signifies the supreme importance accorded in the Hindu history ad tradition for safeguarding the nation's freedom and sovereignty. As such, the continuing tradition of the two Eras has helped to keep aglow the spirit of national freedom in the nation's mind.

As a happy and meaningful coincidence, the great founder of the Rashtreeya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS) Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, was also born on this very day of Yugaadi of (1889).

Dr. Hedgewar was born of poor parents in Nagpur in 1889. Even as a child, his flaming spirit of patriotism was transparent to one and all. As a tiny tot he asked questions which amazed his elders: "How could these handful of foreigners (the English) coming from six thousand miles away become our masters?". Even as a school boy, he entered the arena of freedom movement and bore its brunt. He graduated from the Calcutta Medical College. But he had long back vowed to remain a bachelor and dedicate himself at the altar of the motherland. He chose to become the `Doctor of the Nation'.

At Nagpur he plunged into the various freedom struggles, as the duck takes to water. He underwent hard terms in prison. He participated in social activities as well. But in none of these he find the final means of national emancipation. After deep cogitation, the Doctor made his diagnosis: absence of national awareness, i.e., utter lack of the feeling of being the organic limbs of a single national life, and the resultant mutual selfish feuds - well, it was these which had eaten into the vitals of our nation over the last one thousand years.

The Doctor therefore concluded that a national organization to instill true national consciousness and cohesion was the one supreme need of the hour. The Doctor also formulated the actual ways and means of achieving it. As a result, in 1925 on the auspicious Vijayadashami day - the Day of Victory in our national tradition - the Rashtreeya Swayamsevak Sangh was born.

The Sangh, too, by the creation of its dedicated, disciplined and organized strength of the people, has vowed to destroy the various evils corroding our social life from within the set at naught the attacks from without as well. Verily, the RSS is justifying its epoch making role in the same tradition of our heroic ancestors like Vikrama, Shalivahana and a host of other national saviours.

Baishaakhi, which follows Yugaadi, is the first day of the Hindu Solar Year (2nd week of April). In Punjab and certain other northern parts, it is an occasion for unbounded religious fervor and mass participation in festivities.

 
Ganesh Chaturthi
Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati is widely worshipped as the munificent god of wisdom. Ganesh Chaturthi is a festival in his honour and is celebrated in the states of Andhra pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka . To appreciate this occasion, one must go to Mumbai where preparations begin months in advance. Images of Ganesha are installed within homes as well as in places of assembly. Elaborate arrangements are made for lighting and decoration and Ganesha is fervently worshipped for about 7-10 days. On the day of the Chaturthi, i.e. the last of the days dedicated to the elephant-headed god, thousands of processions converge on the beaches of Mumbai to immerse the holy idols in the sea. This immersion is accompanied by drum beats, devotional songs and dancing.

 
Sree Rama navami

CHAITRA SHUKLA NAVAMI

The ninth day of the bright half of Chaitra

"Wherever four Hindus live, Rama and Sita will be there" so said Swami Vivekananda, one of the foremost harbingers of modern national renaissance of Bharat. The reverse also is equally true - wherever Rama and Sita live, the people there will remain and live as Hindus.

The various tribal groups too have sung the story of Ramayana in their dialects. Sri Rama, Lakshmana and Janaki mirror the ideals for millions of tribal boys and girls. The Khamati tribe in Arunachal Pradesh, which is Buddhist, depicts Ramayana as the story narrated by Buddha to his first disciple, Ananda, and carries the universal message of Buddha. How deeply significant that every group and sect even in distant and far-flung parts of Bharatavarsha should have found a radiant reflection of its own ideals in the form of Sri Rama!

The comparison of Sri Rama's fortitude to Himalayas and the grace and grandeur of his personality to the ocean - 'Samudra iva gaambheerye, dhairye cha Himavaan iva' - portrays how inseparably his personality has been blended into the entire national entity of Bharat.

Where in lay the secret of this unique greatness in Rama's personality? He is called Maryaada-Purushottama - the great one who never deviated from the norms set by Dharma. In the eyes of the Hindu, the touchstone of human excellence is Dharma. Devotion to Dharma came first in Rama's life and considerations of his personal joys and sorrows came last. It was his supreme commitment to putra-dharma (duty of a son) that made Rama smilingly depart to the forest for fourteen years at the bidding of his father. And this he did on the very day he was to be announced as the future emperor of Bharat. He would not budge from the path of Dharma - righteousness - even when his own preceptor, his parents, his brothers and the whole body of his subjects tried to dissuade him. He upheld the supremacy of Dharma in every one of his human relationships and hence became an ideal son, an ideal brother, an ideal husband, an ideal disciple. an ideal friend, an ideal king and even an ideal foe.

The one and supreme concern of Sri Rama's life was the welfare of his subjects. He would forsake everything else to uphold his kingly duties - the Rajadharma. The night previous to his scheduled coronation, when Rama and Sita were alone in a happy mood in view of the next day's joyous occasion, Sita asked Rama, "What is that thing which hold dearest to your heart?" Rama fell serious for a moment and said, "Dear Sita, you know I love you most dearly, but I love the subjects of Ayodhya more and if their welfare demands, I would not hesitate to sacrifice even you!" The following couplet conveying this idea is cited often:

 
Holi
This is pre-eminently the spring festival of Bharat. The trees are smiling with their sprout of tender leaves and blooming flowers. With the harvest having been completed and the winter also just ended, it is pre-eminently a festival of mirth and merriment. Gulal (colored powder) is sprinkled on each other by elders and children, men and women, rich and poor alike. All superficial social barriers are pulled down by the all-round gaiety and laughter.

The day itself is associated with many interesting and enlightening Puraanic legends. It is the day of Kaamadahana, the burning of god Kaama - Cupid. The virgin daughter of the king of Himaalayas, Paarvati, was in deep penance to acquire the hand of Lord Shiva as her spouse. But Shiva himself was lost in a deep trance entirely oblivious of the outside world. Kaamadeva came to the rescue of Paarvati and shot his amorous arrows of love at Shiva. Shiva, disturbed from his trance, opened his terrible Third Eye. The flames of Shiva's wrath, leaping from his fore-head eye, burnt Kaama to ashes and there after, Kaama became spirit without a form. Shiva then looked towards Paarvati and fructified her penance by marrying her. It is this burning of lustful infatuation by penance that is signified in this festival.

   One more legend pertains to another Holika, also known as Pootana, who came as a charming woman to kill the infant Sri Krishna by feeding him with her poisoned breast. Sri Krishna, however, sucked her blood and she lay dead in all her hideous form.

As in the case of all our festivals, this too has its plentiful share of spiritual significance. Fire is the symbol of yajna in which all our bodily desires and propensities are offered in the pure and blazing flame of spiritual enlightenment lit within our hearts.

Holi is also associated with the story of Holika, the sister of demon Hiranyakashipu. The demon-father, having failed in various other ways to make his son Prahlaada denounce Lord Naaraayana, finally asked his sister Holika to take Prahlaada in her lap and enter a blazing fire. Holika, who had a boon to remain unscathed by fire, did her brother's bidding. But lo, Holika's boon ended by this act of supreme sin against the Lord's devotee and was herself burnt to ashes and Prahlaada came out unharmed.

Such stories have effectively charged the popular mind with the faith that ultimately the forces of divinity shall triumph over the demonic forces. Symbolically, a bonfire of Kaamadeva or Holika is made in every town or village, attended by unbounded fun and frolic. Games depicting the pranks of infant Krishna are also played by boys singing and dancing around the fire.

 
Christmas
History of the Celebration of Christmas

People have celebrated a mid-winter festival since pre-historic times. They marked the beginning of longer hours of daylight with fires and ritual offerings. The Roman festival of Saturnalia a time for feasting and gambling lasted for weeks in December. Germanic tribes of Northern Europe also celebrated mid-winter with feasting, drinking and religious rituals.

It's thought that Jesus of Nazareth was born in springtime. December 25th was chosen for the celebration of his birth by a Pope, Julius I, in the 4th century to include a Christian element in the long-established mid-winter festivals.  Also in the 4th century, a bishop in Turkey who came to be called St. Nicholas was known for good deeds involving children. St. Nicholas is illustrated in medieval and renaissance paintings as a tall, dignified and severe man. His feast day on December 6 was celebrated throughout Europe until about the 16th century. Afterwards, he continued to be known in Protestant Holland.


Although it was never celebrated in biblical times, Christmas is celebrated in local churches here in Visalia, California in praise of the fact that God loved us so much, he sent his one and only son to earth. He was wholey god and wholey man. Whereas we have succumbed to the temptations of this earth, Jesus was able to overcome all temptations and live a sinless life. He was then crucified as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. One can not understand why we celebrate the birth of Christ without seeing the other end of his life. He was crucified for our sins and resurrected. North America -- where we came to know him as Santa Claus. The "jolly old elf" with his sleigh drawn by reindeer was first
described by Clement Clarke Moore, in the poem "The Night Before Christmas" . Click here to see the Harper's Weekly cartoon that was inspired by this poem.

Thus, in our culture is "Christmas" a seasonal celebration of winter or a religious celebration honoring the birth of Christ? In truth, it is a mixture of both with, as any economist will confirm, quite a bit of materialism thrown in.

Dutch children would put shoes by the fireplace for St. Nicholas or "Sinter Klaas" and leave food out for his horse. He'd gallop on his horse between the rooftops and drop candy down the chimneys into the children's shoes. Meanwhile, his assistant, Black Peter, was the one who popped down the chimneys to leave gifts behind. Dutch settlers brought the legend of Sinter Klaas to 

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