The Festival Season of India. Part-1

by Atula Gupta on September 20, 2009

It’s happening…the malls and markets of India are flooding with colorful garments of all kinds and all sizes. Homes are being decorated, white washed or renovated all together. Women are busy matching accessories to the new attires they’ve just bought and men are working less and planning more about the fun days ahead. Social functions have been arranged, menus , knick-knacks decided, colored bulbs are ready to enlighten every street and people ready to welcome the biggest festival season of India with a bang.

India is one country which never gets tired of festivals. Each season, each joy, each God worshipped in this vastly diverse nation prompts people to resurrect the centuries old traditions each year and celebrate like never before. In fact, if you ask an Indian, he can name a festival for each day of the year!

But the present season is extra special. Because, it is not just time for one but three of the major festivals of the year – Eid, Dussehra and Diwali.  And if you are planning a trip to this peninsular country around this time, be prepared to be swept away by the loudest of crackers and the widest of smiles.

Here is a quick info about the festivals and what you might expect to see when India celebrates.

Eid-ul-Fitr – (Celebrated this year on 21st September) The festival that marks the end of Ramadan or Ramzan, the 40 day long fasting period for Muslims is just around the corner. This festival is devoted to the spirit of love, sharing, peace and brotherhood. It is said that Prophet Mohammad received the message of the Holy Koran from Allah through an angel named Jibril during the month of Ramadan and people therefore consider it the holiest of all months. Depending on the sighting of the new moon, the final day is celebrated as Eid.

Celebrating Eid, courtesy Ashish T from Flickr

Celebrating Eid, courtesy Ashish T from Flickr

Eid-ul-Fitr is also known as the mithi Eid or the sweet Eid in India because of the special vermicelli savory that is prepared in all Muslim homes called the seviya. Indeed, if you are in India during this time, make sure you get yourself invited to a Muslim home to taste this wonderful mouth- watering dessert.

Navratri/ Dussehra/ Durga Puja (Celebrations begin on 19th September this year) – This is one festival that is celebrated in ways that are as varied as the country’s demography.  Starting on the first day of the new moon, the nine day festival begins across the country but depending on which part of India you are visiting, you can see a completely different style of celebration.

Navaratri means Nava (nine) Ratri (nights) and it is the auspicious occasion when people worship the Goddess in all her avatars. The first three nights are devoted to Durga -to destroy all our vices, impurities, and defects. The next three nights devoted to Lakshmi- the giver of spiritual and material wealth, and the last three nights devoted to Saraswati – the goddess of wisdom.

Garba dance, courtesy brian glanz from Flickr

Garba dance, courtesy brian glanz from Flickr

It is the style of celebration that is a must watch, especially if you are in the state of Gujarat. Here men and women wearing traditional Gujarati apparels, perform a rhythmic dance called the garba moving in circles and either clapping hands or striking batons to a beat. The tempo gets faster and faster till it finally reaches a frenzied crescendo.

In other northern states, the celebration focal point is the ram leela. This nine day long enactment of the many adventures of Lord Ram and his final war with Ravana, leaves the audience enthralled, entertained and religiously satiated. Although the traditional histrionics of the act are fading fast, it is something worth- watching just to understand the strong sentiments people have towards religion and the belief that good always triumphs over evil.

Ravana effigy, courtesy black_coffee_blue_jeans from Flickr

Ravana effigy, courtesy black_coffee_blue_jeans from Flickr

Dussehra or Vijay dashami is the tenth day of the festival that is believed to be the day in history when Lord Ram defeated Ravana. It is celebrated all over the country by burning huge effigies of Ravana and people meeting friends, family, distributing sweets and rejoicing.

While some are worshipping Lord Ram, in eastern states of India, especially in Bengal, the year long waiting for the Goddess Durga to come home is over. The four day celebration begins on shashti, the sixth day of the navaratri. Idols of the goddess shown with ten-arms and slaying Mahishasura a demon king are installed at community halls and specially erected pandals ( bamboo structures).

Godess Durga, courtesy rufaro from Flickr

Godess Durga, courtesy rufaro from Flickr

Durga Puja is an annual ritual for every Bengali when its time to herald the advent of autumn, adorn new garments and immerse oneself with merriment from dawn till dusk. With great feasts and greater entertainment programs organized each day, it is an affair to remember for every person who witnesses this mass celebration. On Dussehra day the Durga idols are bid a teary farewell as they are immersed in water bodies along with frantic beating of the drums. It is a symbol of the Goddess returning to her in-laws place, leaving behind lots of joy, prosperity and wonderful memories in the heart and mind of her devotees.

The end of the Dussehra festival also means the countdown must begin for the Diwali celebration. And with renewed energy and vigor people all over the country start preparing for the grand festival of lights.

To know more about what is so special about Diwali and how it enlightens the lives of every living soul, make sure you read Part- 2 of this post.

Till then, wishing you all a very happy festive season ahead.

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