Festivals are a way to provide respite daily activities and provide an outlet of creative expression and general entertainment. These special occasions and festivals are called “utsava”.
Festivals are important because they remove mental and physical exhaustion where as normal vacations and weekends do not. While vacations and weekends relax the mind and body for a while, they themselves become monotonous rituals after sometime, leaving a peculiar feeling of incompleteness afterwards. Although the purpose of the vacations is to help to relax and gain more enthusiasm, cheerfulness and energy for regular work, generally this not true. When the vacation is over, people think, “Oh, now I have to go back to the office. What a bore!”. Often the vacationer is left exhausted, both physically and financially. The result is that work must be done to make up for the lost money. The pleasure of the vacation has, in effect, not removed the pressure, it only added a new one! This undesired result is due to the fact that the entertainment was purposeless.
On the other hand, religious festivals have a very different effect. They provide occasions for merrymaking, but they also provide a noble, divine vision and inspire people to raise their mind to the heights of the great goal. Rather than merely exhausting the participant, they purify the mind and prepare the participant with more enthusiasm, to live life more happily and fully. In short, religious festivals serve the purpose of all other entertainment and at the same time give is much more.
Varieties of Festivals
Religious festivals can be classified into several different groups. Some celebrate the birth of great incarnations of the Lord, such as Sri Ramchandra and Sri Krishna. Similar festivals glorify the life and work of divine masters. For example, Makarsankranti, usually celebrated in January, is fixed at the time when the sun shifts its course and begins moving northward gain. the dominants idea behind these festivals is that we should live more in harmony with nature instead of trying to destroy her and make her our slave.
Holi, the festival of colors, is another great seasonal festival. At this time, everybody splashes colored water or powder all over each other. It is wonderful because it reflects exactly what is occurring in nature at that time —when all the flowers of different colors are blossoming! This splashing of colors was also a famous “lila” (pastime) of Sri Krishna.
Other festivals such as Onam or baisakhi, celebrate the harvest time, a time of plenty, signifying both material and spiritual prosperity. Navaratri and Diwali celebrate the victory of good over evil. Finally, there are the adhyatmic festivals, including Shivaratri.
Sri Ram Navami generally comes toward the end of March or beginning of April and is celebrated at noon. Long ago, when the wicked king Ravana ruled in Lanka, the good people were being persecuted by him and unrighteousness prevailed. The suffering people prayed to God for help. Soon He was born on earth as the Prince of Ayodhya to destroy evildoers and to establish the kingdom of righteousness. This is the incarnation of Sri Rama.
Sri Krishna Janamastmami comes in late August or early September and celebrates the midnight birth of Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna also incarnated for the purpose of destroying evil and restoring righteousness on earth.
The great festival of Maha Shivratri celebrates the appearance of Lord Shiva at midnight in the form of column of light (jyoti).
Significance of Festivals
The important point to be noted in the celebration of these festivals is the sequence of their three phases: the preparation before the appearance of the Lord, the Lord’s actual appearance or incarnation, and the final joyous celebration after his arrival. Each of these phases is of deep spiritual significance.
These three phases of the religious festivals—preparation, incarnation, and celebration—represent the three phases of the spiritual progress. Our preparati0on consists of first purifying the mind by withdrawing it from sense objects, then making it single pointed by turning it toward the Lord in japa and meditation. When the mind id fully prepared and all thoughts have ended, the Self—which is of the nature of pure Consciousness—is recognized. When the ego has been completely destroyed, life is forever a joyous celebration in the bliss of the Self!
Before the actual moment of the Lord’s birth, people generally observe a fast as a way of preparing for the Lord’s coming. This fast has two aspects: one is the withdrawal from the indulgence in sensual pleasures. fasting means not just the absence from food, but from sense objects of all kinds, for we constantly eating through all our sense organs. We eat forms and colors through our nose, and so on. When we eat all these sense objects through their respective organs, what we are actually feeding is the mind. The mind grows or breeds on these sense perceptions and thereafter runs constantly outward in their direction and becomes totally dissipated. True fasting, therefore, is to have control over the sense organs and to cease from indulgence in sense pleasures.
The second important aspect in the observance of a fast is to constantly be chanting the name of the Lord, to think of Him, to worship, meditate, and pray to Him. The Sanskrit word for fasting, “upavaasa”, comes from “upa” meaning near and “vas” meaning to live. Thus, fasting reminds us to “sit near” the Lord mentally. For this reason devotees will often do their “japa” (repititionof the Lord’s name) and “pujaa” while sitting near a picture or image of the Lord with a lamp burning in front of it. The purpose of this is to purify the mind and to be ardently praying Him, “O Lord, please manifest Thyself in my heart!’
The manifestations of the Lord takes place in two ways. Objectively, Sri Ramchandraji actually did take birth in the city of Ayodhya and lived an exemplary life in order to teach everyone the dharmic way of living. The other is the subjective manifestation that occurs when mind and intellect are totally integrated and perfectly tuned with the Divine. Generally our mind is constantly wandering in many different directions and toward many different objects. Numerous thoughts are constantly rising. Therefore, the pure Consciousness, which is the eternal substratum of all thought, is not recognized by us. But when the mind is withdrawn from all objects and made single pointed through meditation, there comes a point when the last thought has ended and no new thought has risen. At this juncture the mind is called “nirvisayamanas”, meaning thoughtless or objectless mind. This objectless mind is pure Awareness itself and its recognition is called realization, the birth of the lord in the heart.
This is also the significance of the timing of many incarnations of the Lord. At midday, when Sri Ramachandra was born, the morning has ended and the afternoon had not yet begun. At midnight, when Lord Krishna was born and Lord Shiva manifested Himself, one day was over and the next day had not yet begun, This juncture or midpoint between two periods of time is called “sandhikaala” and it represents this objectless state of mind, when realization of the pure Consciousness, which is the Self, takes place within us.
During their lifetimes, both Sri Ramchandra and Sri Krishna destroyed evildoers and reestablished the kingdom of righteousness and happiness in the world. In the same way, when realization takes place within, one recognizes one’s won true Self. All ignorance and ignorance created delusions, all negative tendencies of the mind, get totally destroyed. Thereafter, one lives ever in the experiences of the blissful Self, the kingdom of joy. This joy of realization is represented externally in the festivals by the lighting of the lamps everywhere, by singing and dancing, and by the distribution of sweets (Diwali)!
- Dasshera / Navratri
- Deepavali (Diwali)
- Kumbha Mela
- Sri Krishna Janamashtami
- Raksha Bhandan
- Sri Ram Navami
- Maha Shivratri
- Onam / Baisakhi
- Makar Sankranti
- Durga puja
- Kali puja
- Ganesh Chaturthi
- Karva Chauth
- Naag Panchami
- Vishwakarama puja
- Saraswati puja/Basant panchmi
- Ganga Dussehra
- Hanuman Jayanti
- Mahavir Jayanti
- Buddha Jayanti
- Guru Poornima
- Rath Yatra
- Swami Tejomayananda, "Hindu Culture"