by Dr. Venugopal Menon


Diwali (Deepavali):

October/ November

Perhaps the most major festival of all, Deepavali, the Festival of Lights (deepam=lamp or light), Diwali, as it is popularly called, is celebrated during Karthik falling during October or November, after the conclusion of the harvest, during new moon that is deemed the darkest night in Hindu calendar. It is one festival that is observed throughout India, each state having its significance and patterns of festivities. As one could expect, in the various regions of the country, there are many legends relating to Divali.

The overall symbolic significance of Diwali is the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil. It is one celebration and affection, of family gatherings, exchange of gifts, of joy and merriment.

Regional traditions relate Diwali to Goddess Lakshmi, Lord Rama, Vishnu, Kali, Durga, Ganesha, Hanuman, and other deities, based on legends and local beliefs. In preparation for the festivities, there would be renovations, cleaning, decorations, observed equally by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and some Buddhists, but essentially it is one of an overall sense of goodness, camaraderie, and affection.

In Eastern India, people keep their doors open with lighted lamps, welcoming Goddess Lakshmi into their homes. In Bengal, it is overnight Kali puja, with a grand celebration at Kalighat and Dakshineshwar temple in Kolkata, while in Odisha, people worship the ancestors, burning jute sticks, seeking their blessings.

In Western India, Diwali is a grand event, with a display of Diyas, lamps, and firecrackers. In Maharashtra, the festivities span for 4-5 days, with traditional treats of food ‘Faral’, a wide array of snacks prepared at home being offered to guests, neighbors, and even strangers. In Gujarat, Dhanteras or Diyas are lit in honor of Lakshmi and Dhanvantari, and buying gold and silver is considered auspicious during the time. In Northern India, people observe Diwali as the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya, after his exile for fourteen years and killing the demon Ravana. Welcoming Rama, Sita, and brother Lakshmana, people light lamps in every household. In the state of Punjab, the Sikhs celebrate at their Gurudwaras, while the Hindus worship Goddess Lakshmi. In Uttar Pradesh, celebrations take place on the banks of the holy river Ganga, floating lighted earthen lamps on the water, while the priests chant prayers. In Southern India, it is celebrated as ‘Naraka Chaturdasi’, the victory of Sri Krishna over demon Narakasura. People bathe in oil, eat sweets and display lamps, and visit the temples. In Karnataka, the event often lasts two days, as Krishna Chaturdasi and Bali Padyami, reciting stories of King Bali. In Tamil Nadu, people wake up early, take oil baths infused with betel leaves, and fragrant pepper, and consume Deepavali Lehyam before they feast. In Andhra, people chant prayers and seek blessings from Satyabhama, and celebrate with family gatherings.

(The extensive, epigraphic, historic, astrological, and religious details of Diwali are beyond the scope of this article)



(End of February to early March)

A national ceremonial event, perhaps as popular as Diwali, is Holi, the Festival of Colors, also known as the Festival of Love, and the Festival of Spring. In contrast to Diwali, Holi falls on a full moon day in the month of Phalgun, towards the end of February to the beginning of March, as the winter gives way to spring and the harvest season. Holi is a cheerful and euphoric celebration, an exuberant ritual when people smear and drench each other with bright colors, promoting harmony between different groups and social classes, in an expression of unity and fellowship. Traditionally, the colors are washable, plant-derived products, but lately commercial pigments have been used. There is a joyous and festive atmosphere of meeting one another, of blossoming love, of play and laugh, ‘forget and forgive’, and repairing broken relationships.

Holi has Hindu mythological mentions as a celebration of the victory of Lord Vishnu over demon Hiranyakashipu, who had gained boon that no human or animal can kill him, during day or night, inside or outside of any building. His pious son Prahalad, a devotee of Vishnu challenged his father, who threatened to kill him, when God Vishnu incarnated as Narasimha, a human-lion form from inside a metallic pillar, during the twilight hours between day and night and killed the demon on the steps of the entryway, quelling his boon. In some parts, Holi is also a symbolic observance of the eternal, divine love of Krishna and Radha, the celestial couple. Another legend is about Shiva burning into ashes the god of love Kāma.

Originating in India, the event has spread beyond its borders with religious connotations, to many countries around the world, and is enjoyed as a colorful and gleeful version along with the sentiments of western Valentine’s Day. It is even mentioned during the Mughal times and was participated in by all castes, throwing the colors at the Emperor. Holi is also very popular with Sikhs, Jains, and some Buddhists. Anyone and everyone, friends and strangers, man, woman or child, rich and poor, engage in frolic and fun, singing, laughing, dancing on the streets and parks, sharing delicacies, food, and drinks.

As vast and varied a country that India is, with its diverse spread of cultural characteristics, Holi also assumes different regional styles, but with the ‘commonality of colors’. In Assam, it is Phakuwa or Doul Jatra, with burning clay huts and singing devotional bhajans of Lord Krishna. In Bihar, they light bonfires, the eldest member taking the initiative. In Goa, it is called Ukkuli in Konkani; in Gujarat, the two-day festival has people offering coconut and corn to the fire, and the color-sprinkling termed ‘Dhuleti’; in Karnataka, children collect wood prior to the day and burn it on ‘Kamadahana’ night; in Maharashtra, it is ‘Shimga’, lasting almost a week, burning fire, eating the delicacy of Puran Boli, symbolically eliminating the evil; in Manipur Holi merges with the festival of ‘Yaosang’, with folk dance wearing white and yellow turbans, and culminating in cultural activities at the Krishna temple; in Odisha, it is ‘Dola’, where icons of ‘Jagannath’ replace Krishna and Radha; in Punjab, the eight days preceding Holi are known as ‘Luhatak’, the Lubana community heaping cow dung cakes and burning fire; in Telengana Holi is called ‘Kama Purnima’ and other names, the festival lasting for up to ten days; while Uttar Pradesh, a rather conservative state, celebrates it on a major scale with youth mingling freely with colors, food, dancing around bonfires, even using Bhang (cannabis) in Laddoos adding to the revelry.

Holi was described by some foreigner as if a massive color palette fell on earth from the hand of the Almighty, the atmosphere is painted with red, pink, yellow, blue, and green, and people soaked in colored water, running around, laughing loudly, shouting, and throwing mud on each other. It is a war where a water gun is your weapon, colored water is your bullet, and colored powder is your smokescreen. If you are a foreigner, locals tell you not to go out on this day. If you are unable to control your curiosity, they will have no mercy on you.


Navaratri, Durga Pooja, Dussehra:


Perhaps no other country in the world can claim the distinction of an adjective, ‘Differences are our Similarity’, like India. As much as we have an assortment of diverse terrains, climates, languages, religions, cultures, and customs, they are like pearls on a necklace, distinct yet connected, savoring similar sentiments through adapted sensations.

The different manifestations of Goddess have symbolic representations of their functionality, the masculine aspect representing the matter, and the feminine aspect the energy. Saraswathi is considered the consort of Brahma, Lakshmi of Vishnu, and Parvathi that of Shiva, each complimenting their roles, wisdom and knowledge with creation, wealth with protection and preservation, and energy with creative destruction, respectively. The Goddess is Durga for her followers.

The nine-day festival of Navaratri is celebrating and honoring goddess Saraswathi in most parts of the country, while in some others, it is the triumph of Rama and his ardent monkey devotee Hanuman over Ravana, as eastern India observes it as the victory of Durga over demon Mahishasura. The nine representations of the goddess are described as Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kaalratri, Mahagauri, and Siddhidhatri. The festival is celebrated in the bright half of the Hindu calendar month Ashvin, which typically falls in the Gregorian months of September and October.

Dussehra is another version of the same festival in the Kulu valley of Himachal Pradesh, Mysore in Karnataka, Kota in Rajasthan, Bastar in Chhatisgarh, and Almora in Uttarkhand.

The devotees who follow Goddess Saraswathi dedicate the nine days for learning, for re-energizing the knowledge, for initiating children to education at her ‘Sannidhi’ (altar) on the ninth day. The eighth day is Durgashtami, praying to Durga, the ninth is Mahanavami and the tenth day is Vijaya Dashami, also Dussehra for those who observe it.

Those who follow the tradition of Saraswathi Pooja, ask the children to submit their books and learning materials in the prayer room in front of Saraswathi, Goddess of knowledge, for the last three days and be engaged in prayers to her than studying (children love these days) and get Her blessings on the tenth day, rejuvenating their prowess for another year. For the students of arts or music or dance, this is also the time for re-initiating and emphasizing their commitment to the respective art forms. Coincidentally for the warrior class engaged in martial arts or weaponry, Navaratri is the time for Ayudha pooja, sanctifying their ‘weapons’.

Extensive music performances and dance recitals are conducted throughout the nine days, usually in the temple premises, as teachers bring in their students and engage in offering their talents to get divine blessings for the artists.

Dussehra or Vijayadashami signifies the victory of good over evil, Rama over Ravana or Durga over Mahishasura. In some places, huge effigies of the demon Ravana are burned, parades are organized and various folk-arts are performed.

And as with any festival, there is feasting following the poojas, with various customs and varieties of foods are prepared in different parts of the country.

A fascinating and proud reality of the ancient Indian tradition is the nation’s culture of assigning a Goddess in charge of education, of learning, of expertise, of scholarship, of arts whether it is fine arts or martial arts, and fundamental philosophy of establishing knowledge as a priority, as the foundation of a people, of a culture. UNESCO has inscribed this Hindu tradition of festive performance arts as one of the "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity" in 2008.


Ganesh Chathurthi (Ganesh Festival):


Most of the festivals of India can be traced to its ancient civilization and linkage to its Hindu traditions, except for the few specific ones that are observed by the other faiths. Essentially being a tolerant society, almost all the traditional festivals are mutually shared by people of other faiths, and celebrated as social events, except for their intimate religious observations.

Ganesh or Vinayaka Chathurthi is an auspicious, popular festival, celebrating the birth of the beloved elephant-headed god, Lord Ganesha. Some people consider the event as the arrival of Lord Ganesha to earth from Kailash, the abode of God Siva and Parvathi, the parents of Ganesha. It is believed that praying to Ganesha enables the devotees to fulfil their wishes and as a penance setting them free of sins, and leading them on the path to knowledge and wisdom. The celebration is for ten days, in the Bhadra month of the Hindu calendar, that falls during August-September. Ganesha is considered the God of knowledge, wisdom, sciences, and prosperity. And almost every Hindu function commences with prayers to Lord Ganesha for His benevolence in blessing the event, removing any obstacles, preventing mishaps, and allowing successful completion. Hindus all over the world celebrate Ganesh Chathurthi, but it is most popular in Maharashtra, along with Goa, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Gujarat, and Tamil Nadu.

Historically, the festival is believed to be initiated during the time of king Shivaji in the 17th century, but Shri Bal Gangadhar Tilak, popularly known as Lokmanya Tilak from Pune in Maharashtra, changed it from a private celebration to a grand public event in 1893. This was during India’s freedom struggle with the British, when people from all sections of the society and castes came together, championing it as a means to circumvent the colonial British government’s ban on Hindu gatherings in 1892.

Clay idols of different poses and sizes of Ganesha are made and installed in ‘pandals’ at home, temples, or specially created venues, decorated with flower garlands and illuminations. Participants are engaged in chanting Vedic hymns and prayers, reading texts, fasting, and offering prasad (God’s food). Ganesha’s favorite item is Modakam, made with rice flour, jaggery, coconut, ghee, and some condiments, while several other delicacies like Pooran Boli and Karanji are prepared for friends and relatives.

On the tenth and final day, the idol is carried in a public procession, with joyous celebration, music, group chanting, and dancing, to a nearby river or lake or sea and the idol is immersed in the water, in the ceremony if ‘Visarjan’. Symbolically it signifies the cycle of birth and death and epitomizes the reality that nothing is permanent, reverting to the elements. The ocean or body of water represents the infinite (God), and the idol is seeking salvation, thus conveying the Hindu concept of the immortal soul leaving the mortal body to surrender and blend with the Absolute.



Another extensively observed event covering many states of India is the celebration of the birth of Lord Krishna, perhaps the most favorite of Hindu Gods. He was born on the star Ashtami (the eighth day) of the dark fortnight of the month of Bhadrapada (August-September), and hence in some areas, it is Ashtami Rohini, while Sri Krishna being raised in the place Gokulam, the name Gokulashtami has also been used.

The legend of Sri Krishna, as the ‘Avatar’ or incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is perhaps the most acclaimed by the Hindus, especially the ones following the Vaishnava tradition. The circumstances of his birth, his interesting childhood escapades, the miracles surrounding his life, his role in the epic Mahabharatha, and eventually his spiritual discourse guiding the completely bewildered Arjuna, the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ (song of God) convey many aspects of the essence of Hindu philosophy. Sri Krishna’s arrival was to free the earth from despair from tyranny and evil happenings. His tyrant uncle Kamsa held his parents caged and was killing all their newborn babies since the prophecy had predicted his death by his nephew. As the divine baby was born, his father was miraculously allowed to shift the baby to the nearby village of Gokulam. That divine birth is what is being celebrated as Janmashtami.

Lord Krishna is revered for his love, compassion, playfulness, and wisdom and his exhortations on how to live based on dutiful principles. The flute-playing, cowherd God is associated with arts, music, and dance. The essence of his teaching to Arjuna through the most revered text of Hinduism, the ‘Bhagavad Gita’, is to fulfil one’s duty, upholding moral righteousness, concentrating on it as an ethical commitment to God and not on its fruits. The philosophical tenets of Bhagavad Gita, profoundly dictate elaborate guidance on every aspect of virtuous living with integrity and goodness, with the ultimate objective of upholding ‘Dharma’.


The main festival is celebrated in Mathura, where Krishna was born, and in Vrindavan where he grew up, as Hindus all over the world participate in huge celebrations, reliving and rejoicing Krishna’s birth. As in every Hindu religious observation, there is fasting, singing praying together, doing poojas, and dancing to bhajans in praise of God. The festivities are continued through the night, as Krishna was born at midnight, and celebrations follow through the next day. Major Krishna temples organize recitation of ‘Bhagavatha Purana’ and ‘Bhagavad Gita’, and dance dramas or Rasa Leela, especially popular in the Northern states of India, like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Manipur, and Assam, even though the event is very popular all over India. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) celebrates the event on a grand scale all over the world where they have units.

Parents dress up children as Krishna and Gopis, ad let them participate in singing and dancing and playing scenes from Krishna’s childhood. Dahi Handi festival is one such that involves hanging an earthen pot filled with dahi (yogurt) or any milk-based delicacy, favorites of Krishna, at a convenient height slightly beyond reach, and teams of boys and girls compete to break the pot and drink the contents. Stealing butter from neighboring homes was Krishna’s favorite frolic, which earned him a pet name, ‘butter thief’, ‘Makhan-chor’ or translated in the local languages of the various states.



(February/March) Mahasivaratri is in honor of God Siva, as Janmashtami is for Krishna. The day is of most significance to those following Shaivism tradition. According to Sadguru, it is a significant annual event especially for people on a spiritual pursuit. To those who are in family situations, it is the anniversary of Siva and Parvathy’s wedding, and for those with worldly ambitions, it is one to pray for fulfilling their such desires. For the ascetics, it is a day to be like Mount Kailash, to become still and stoic. In the yogic traditions, Lord Shiva is not worshipped as a God, but the primordial Guru, from where the wisdom of yoga originated. After many millennia of meditation, one day he became still, all the movements came to a stop, and the night of that enormous stillness became Mahasivaratri.

But legends apart, in the yogic traditions, Sivaratri offers possibilities to the spiritual seeker. Modern science has come to an understanding that all we know as life, as matter and existence, like cosmos and galaxies, are all manifestations of one energy. This is the same experiential reality of a realized yogi. It is believed that Mahasivaratri is the one night that offers a person the experience of that reality.

Shivaratri is the darkest day of every month, and celebrating Mahasivaratri is ‘celebrating darkness’. The word ‘Shiva’ means ‘that which is not, but ‘that which is, being existence and creation. Based on one’s vision, one may see the little things of creation or may experience the vast emptiness as the biggest presence of existence. The reality that the millions of galaxies are just a speck in comparison to the unbounded emptiness, the enormous vastness that is being referred to as ‘Siva’ or ‘Shiva’, the ‘Mahadeva.’ HE is the omnipresent, all-pervading, darkness or emptiness, the nothingness, the Absolute Reality.

Mahasivaratri, literally meaning ‘the great night of Shiva’, falls on the lunar month’s 13th night/14th day of Krishna Paksha, during February/March. It is observed by fasting, praying to Lord Shiva, chanting mantras, meditating on ethics and virtues, engaging in charities, and offering forgiveness. Most devotees visit temples and participate in offering ‘abhishekam’ by pouring sanctified water or milk on the Shiva Lingam, and some continue praying and singing through the night, chanting ‘Om Namah Shivaya’, or reciting Rudram or Shiva Chalisa. According to Shaivism legends, this is the night Lord Shiva performs the Cosmic dance of creation, preservation, and destruction.

Mahasivaratri is celebrated on a huge scale in Tamil Nadu, Varanasi in UP, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Kashmir, Kerala, Central India, Punjab West Bengal, Odisha, and throughout other parts of the country. In Nepal, it is widely celebrated in temples, especially in the Pasupathinath temple. They celebrate Mahasivaratri as the Nepali Army Day, amid a spectacular ceremony held at the Army Pavilion, Tundikhel, and declare it as a national holiday. The Hindus in Pakistan, celebrate it as a three-day festival in their Umarkot Shiva temple, attended by about 250,000 people and the expenses borne by the Pakistan Hindu Panchayat.

Also need to mention about ‘Pradosha’, a bimonthly occasion on the 13th day of every fortnight, worshipping Lord Shiva with Abhishekam and Naivedyam, devotees wearing Rudraksha and observing ‘vrata’ or fasting.

All said about Mahasivaratri, whether it is a ‘festival’ by definition or purely a religious event, is for the enquirers to decide.


Ram Navami


Ram Navami is the day when Sri Rama, the seventh Avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu was born. The day is celebrated extensively in most places of India and abroad, by people who are devotees of Sri Rama. He was the son of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya and his queen Kausalya, born on Navami, the ninth day of the lunar cycle, in the month of Chaitra, (March – April) during Thretha Yuga, as per the Hindu calculations, perhaps ten thousand years ago by Georgian calendars. The legend of Ramayana is one of the most celebrated epic stories of Sri Rama’s life, narrated by the sage Valmiki, along with Sri Krishna’s life as depicted in the other epic Mahabharatha, by sage Vyasa, both texts belonging to the Smriti lines of Hindu scriptures.

As every Avatar is believed to happen when there is a moral decline in the universe, and the Almighty sends His agents to correct the decadence and re-establish righteousness and virtues on earth, the story of Sri Rama is praised and revered as a model of perfect human living. The main objective of Rama’s life was to kill the demon king Ravana of Sri Lanka. Sri Rama was sent on exile to the forest for fourteen years accompanied by his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana, from where Ravana in disguise, abducts Sita, and Rama with the help of the monkey army and its leader Hanuman defeats and kills Ravana and returns to Ayodhya where he rules for several years.

Like Janmashtami, Sri Rama Navami is also observed by praying to God, arranging several kinds of festivities in the temples and homes, celebrating His life, reading Ramayana and enacting his stories, singing compositions of poet Thyagaraja and Bhadrachala Ramdas praising Sri Rama, feasting and being engaged in charitable offerings. The major celebrations are in his birthplace Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, which is declared as Ram Janmabhumi, a most revered place for Hindus. For political reference, this is the disputed place where the Muslims had erected their mosque Babri Masjid after demolishing the old temple, and recently the Supreme Court ordered the land to be given back to build a Hindu temple.

In Karnataka, Ramanavami is celebrated all over by distributing free food and panaka (a drink of Jaggery and melon), organizing classical music festivals. In the eastern states of Odisha, West Bengal, and Jharkhand, the Jagannath temples celebrate the event, especially by the Vaishnava communities. Similar festivities are conducted in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, and Indian descendants in various countries like South Africa, Caribbean Islands, and Fiji, follow the traditions.


Makar Sankranthi

(January 14 or 15)

Makar Sankranthi, or ‘Uttarayan’, is celebrated every year in January (14 or 15) to mark the winter solstice, signifying the northward movement of the sun, entering the zodiac sign of Capricorn, as the winter ends and days begin to get longer. The practice was supposed to have been established during the time of Aryabhata. The day is dedicated to the god sun, Surya, the significance traceable to the Vedic texts, especially referring to Gayathri Mantra, perhaps the most sacred hymn for Hindus, found in Rigveda, the holy scripture, that is chanted daily by many people. The Mantra is believed to keep our intellects sharp, help in education and bring on overall well-being. The meaning of the Gayatri mantra is as follows: "We contemplate the glory of the light that illuminates the three worlds: dense, subtle and causal, of that life-giving power, love, radiant enlightenment, and the divine grace of universal intelligence. We pray for that divine light to illuminate our minds."

In Sanskrit, Sankranthi means ‘transmigration of the Sun from one Rashi, constellation of the zodiac in Indian astrology, to the next. It is one of the most auspicious days for the Hindus, marking the end of the harsh winter and the beginning of the harvest season. The day is regarded as important for spiritual practices, beginning with a dip in the holy rivers like Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Krishna, and Kaveri, believed to result in the absolution of past sins. People pray to the sun for prosperity and success and for sustaining life.

Poojas are done at home using flowers, coconut, lamps, holy water from Ganga, and, betel nuts and leaves, akshata – a mix of turmeric powder and rice powder, and a mix of sesame seeds and jaggery offered as ‘prsadam’ (God’s food). Gifts and delicacies are offered to family, friends, and poor people, symbolically bringing people together and be at peace despite any differences.

Each state of India celebrates the event in its traditions, may even have a different name. In Maharashtra, they fly kites, it is Pedda Panduga in Andhra, Makara Sankranthi in Karnataka, and Maharashtra, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Magh Bihu in Assam, Megha Mela in parts of central and north India, and Makara Vilakku in Kerala.


Kumbh Mela

Kumbh Mela, also called Kumbha Mela, is a Hindu religious festival in India, that is celebrated four times over the course of 12 years, the site of the observance rotating between four pilgrimage places on four sacred rivers—at Haridwar on the Ganges River, at Ujjain on the Shipra, at Nashik on the Godavari, and at Prayagraj, at the confluence of the Ganga, the Jamuna, and the mythical river Sarasvati. Each site’s celebration is based on a distinct set of astrological positions of the Sun, the Moon, and Jupiter, the holiest time occurring at the exact moment when these positions are fully occupied. The Kumbh Mela at Prayag every 12 tears, in particular, attracts millions of pilgrims. In addition, a Great Kumbh Mela festival is held every 144 years at Prayag, most recently in 2001. The Kumbh Mela lasts several weeks and is one of the largest festivals in the world, attracting more than 200 million people in 2019, including 50 million on the festival’s most auspicious day. (courtesy – Encyclopaedia Britannica)

The latest one in Haridwar, UP, that concluded in April 2021 has been one of great, global scrutiny and controversy, as the government allowed millions of people to congregate during the pandemic Covid-19 crisis, and perhaps causing the rapid spread of the virus, favoring Hindu beliefs over safety.

The festival credits Adi Sankara, the 8th-century saint as its initiator, the observance being a penance or atonement, Prayaschita, that the ritual dip in the sacred waters of Ganges, Ma Ganga, would absolve the seekers of all the sins. It is also a celebration of the community commerce with numerous fairs, education, religious discourses, mass feeding of the monks and the poor, and entertainment. The event is timed, based on the Hindu lunisolar calendar and the relative positions of the planet, especially Jupiter, the sun, and the moon. Similar events of dipping in sacred rivers around the country have been observed as Magha-Mela or Makar-Mela, each attracting millions of religious pilgrims, and considered as the ‘world’s largest peaceful gatherings. Kumbh means, clay pot symbolizing the womb, and Mela is for gatherings, the event representing fertility, and generative power of human beings, sustaining life. Many believe that the pilgrimage at the sacred junction of rivers Ganga, Yamuna, and the mythical Saraswati may have originated in the mythology of ‘Samudra Manthan’, the churning of the oceans, mentioned in Vedic texts. It is also mentioned in the Pali canons of Buddhism, wherein the Buddha states that bathing in rivers cannot wash away one's sins.

One of the key features of Kumbha Mela has been the camping and processions of sadhus or monks from Hindu and Sikh traditions. Many have reported roots in the Naga traditions, the akharas, going to war without clothes. The fair also attracts many loner monks who do not belong to any akharas.

Organizing such a mammoth assembly of people, providing safe stay, food, water, sanitation, health care, policing, and disaster management, is a very daunting task. The government with Seva volunteers, set up committees, involve several Indian and outside agencies, including US-based CDC, and provide efficient, safe, and convenient arrangements for the millions of attendees. In 2021, because of Covid, the Mela was limited to 30 days instead of the usual 4 months, but apparently, the majority of the attendees were tested positive after the event, because of the reportedly ‘irresponsible and incomprehensible’ attitude of the Ministry of Health and higher up governmental authorities.

Traditionally on Amavasya or New moon day – the most cherished day – the pilgrims take the dip and join a celebratory procession, with banners, flags, elephants and horses, musicians and monks including many naked ones smearing bhasmam (ashes). There would be spiritual discourses along with celebratory feasts of vegetarian food, while some pilgrims observe fast, and perform various forms of traditional and cultural activities representing different parts of India. The event is globally covered by mass media from National Geographic to Wall Street and hundreds of others.


Raksha Bandhan


Rakshabandhan, a Hindu tradition, is an annual rite of sisters tying a string, an amulet, called Rakhi around the wrist of their brothers, symbolically guarding them, undertaking responsibility, an affectionate bonding, and offering care. The event is observed in August, the last day of the Hindu lunar calendar month of Shraavana. Raksha Bandhan in Sanskrit translates into a ‘bond of protection, an intimate and sincere expression of sibling love. The sister-brother festival, presumably has origins in folk culture, following an old custom of exogamy, especially in northern Indian villages, where parents do not visit daughters in their husbands’ homes, and during this annual ceremony of Rakhi tying, these married women visit their parents, brothers, and folks in their homes. Occasionally, the brothers travel to their sisters and bring them to their parents’ homes.

The custom is prevalent in northern, central, and western India, Nepal, and scattered overseas communities of Indians. As mentioned in Hindu texts, a similar custom of the priests tying Raksha prevailed in the olden times, as Lord Krishna describes to Yudhishtira about the ritual of a priest tying it on his wrist on a full moon day. In some modern societies, even non-relatives but friends practice such a tradition across caste and class lines and between Hindus and Muslims. The names and customs also vary between regions. On a specific day, sisters and brothers wear new clothes and observe the ceremony in front of parents and grandparents. Lamps are lit, prayers are performed for mutual well-being, sisters apply ‘tilak’ on brothers’ foreheads and tie the string around their wrists. The brother offers gifts to the sister as a gesture of affection and offer of protection.

All the above festivals are connected essentially to Hindu traditions considering the religion’s ancient heritage and a substantial majority of the country following the faith. But India is a pluralistic country with the representation of almost all world religions, and since Hinduism respects and accommodates every faith, the festivals of other faiths are equally celebrated throughout the country.