Festivals of India - Where Mythology Meets Cultural Diversity
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India is popularly known as a country of festivals. There are so many interesting festivals in India that it is impossible to pick out one that is the best. The major reason for celebrating such vast Indian festivals is due to the cultural diversity prevalent here.
There are religious Indian festivals as well as those that are a part of folklore. No matter where you are in India, there is always a festival that is around the corner.
There is a festival for every reason in India. The most common reasons are to celebrate the harvest season, commemorate the victories of Hindu gods and goddesses, commemorate historical events, and to express devotion to particular gods and goddesses.
Any Indian festival is incomplete without prayers and rituals. Devotees seek the blessing of god. Goodwill is exchanged in the form of sweets and clothes. Houses are decorated. Floral designs are arranged on the floor.
Music and dance is always a part of Indian festivals. People celebrate festivals by wearing new clothes. And the most important part is the feasting process. Indian festivals are known for their grand feasts. Given the varied and vast cultural fabric of India, each festival has its distinct cuisine.
The emphasis of a particular festival varies by region. So if a festival is being celebrated with great fervour in a particular part of the country, there will be several other regions where this festival is not observed at all.
For instance, holi is celebrated with fervour and excitement throughout north India. But if you come down to south, holi may not be celebrated at all in many regions. In fact, many people would not even know that holi is being celebrated.
Whatever the case, India is definitely the most celebrative place in the world considering the number of festivals being held here! We list out some of the popular Indian festivals worth checking out:
Popular Festivals of India:
1. Temple Festivals of Kerala
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Festivals celebrated in Kerala temples are a sight to behold. These exotic festivals are held in the southern state of Kerala. The main attraction of these temple festivals are elephants. There are scores of such elephants at these festivals decorated with much grandeur.
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In fact any annual ritual is not complete without an elephant procession in this part of the world. The use of elephants is common in Kerala and they are a part of the various processions that are held to pay tribute to the gods in the temple.
The Time of the Festivals
Kerala temple festivals start in the month of February. There are festivals that are conducted in various parts of Kerala up to April. The average length of each festival is around ten days, with the Thrissur Pooram being the biggest of them all. It is held in the district of Thrissur in Kerala at the Vadakkumnathan temple.
Features of Thrissur Pooram
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It is a colourful festival with scores of elephants standing still while drummers work together creating an orchestra of sound and music.You witness this festival during April/May. This is the time of the year when the Malayalam month of Medam falls into.
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If you want to see more elephants then you have to witness the Arattupuzha Pooram – the most emphatic of all Indian festivals. This festival is held close by to Thrissur. If you land in Thrissur during the Thrissur Pooram time, you can easily be guided to where the Arattupuzha Pooram is held. The specialty of this pooram is the number of elephants used in the procession. A staggering 60 elephants are brought to the festival!
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Kerala temples are always teeming with activity. Temple rituals are simplistic. But temple festivals are held in great pomp and show. These temple festivals are important events for the people of Kerala. Everybody here plan their activities around these festivals and temple activities. The festivals of Kerala feature bejewelled elephants that are decked up in armor-type headgear.
Specially skilled drummers are part of these festivals. The drumming ceremony is mesmeric. People flock from all parts of the state to hear this special drumming activity. The drumming is accompanied by trumpet music.
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After the Thrissur Pooram, fireworks are organised and people flock to shops for religious items and other items of festival interest. Festival revelers are treated to a thunderous exposition of light and sound. The fireworks are burst in an open field and they generate an earth shattering sound. Fireworks are sent to the skies illuminating the sky with beautiful arrays of colors.
2. Onam in Kerala
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Onam is a harvest festival. It is celebrated over a period of ten days. It marks the homecoming of King Mahabali. The Onam festival is specific to the state of Kerala and its people are known as Malayalees. This festival is considered to be one of the richest Indian festival in terms of culture and heritage.
Onam is celebrated on the first month in the Malayalam calendar. This month is called Chingam. The Malayalam calendar is named Kollavarsham. Being a ten day festival, the most auspicious day of Onam is the Thiru Onam.
The place of celebration
Onam is chiefly celebrated in the state of Kerala. Due to the mass diaspora of the people of Kerala to other nations of the world, this is one of those festivals of india that is celebrated in these nations as well by the malayalees that reside there. Therefore, Onam is one of the truly international Indian festival. The places to visit in Kerala on the occasion of onam are Trivandrum, Kottayam, and Thrissur. The time of onam is also when the Tourism Week is celebrated. This is a special initiative of the state government. During this time plenty of international tourists visit the state to witness the celebrations.
The Pookalam and Ona Sadya
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Onam is celebrated in various ways. There is no restriction as to how people can celebrate onam. But one of the chief attractions of this festival is the pookalam, or the arrangement of flowers in front of homes. This floral arrangement is laid on the ground by the women of the house. Sometimes, there are pookalam competitions that are held between households. A jury decides the best pookalam design and gives an award for the people who laid it. Could this be called one of the creatively competitive Indian festivals?
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The pookalam competition is competitive. It features one of the finest and most beautiful expositions of floral designs. No other floral arrangement competition in the world can come close to the creative artistry that is displayed in this festival.
The best part of onam is the food. The Ona Sadya takes centre stage as the feast of all feasts. This is a vegetarian feast that features a rich variety and assortment of food items. Rice is the main item of the feast. Even though this is a Hindu festival, even Christians and Muslims celebrate onam to mark their solidarity of being malayalees and belonging to Kerala. For non-Hindus, the Ona Sadya would be customized with some non-vegetarian dishes prepared in their homes. So this festival is unique of all Indian festivals considering that it is celebrated by people from all religions.
3. Pushkar Camel Fair in Rajasthan
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What happens if you see more than 50,000 camels at a single point of time at a single place? You can simply call this a giant camel fair. Pushkar hosts this world famous camel fair called the Pushkar Camel Fair. This festival is probably amongst the bizarre festivals of India.
Pushkar is a small village in the state of Rajasthan. Chiefly a desert town, Pushkar’s name is etched in history purely due to its association with camels. The sight of these huge number of camels is unusual and worth watching.
Originally, this fair was an opportunity to buy and sell camels. It brought camel traders together and gave them a platform to trade camels. This process of trading was typically held during the Kartik Purnima festival. Kartika is the lunar month in the Hindu calendar. The Kartik Purnima festival is held during the time of the full moon.
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From being a camel trader’s congregation, the Pushkar Camel Fair turned out to be an international camel festival. This festival attracts hundreds of international visitors who want to see the spectacle with their naked eyes rather on television, videos, or pictures.
The festival is celebrated in the month of November. It is usually held during the full moon period. The initial phase of the festival starts off with the camel attraction. Then the festival proceeds into religious ceremonies.
Features of the Pushkar Camel Fair
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Pushkar is the place where the festival is held. Pushkar is a desert town. The town is located in the Thar Desert in Rajasthan.Camels are paraded across for a period of five days. Camels are dressed up and decorated. They are even shaved clean and pitted against each other in a beauty contest. Races are held to select the best camel.
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The carnival that is held during this time is truly spectacular. Rajasthani musicians throng the place playing exotic regional music. Magicians perform street magic. Dancers and acrobats leave the audience amazed at their gravity defying acts. Snake charmers leave the audience charmed more than the snakes. Carousel riders inspire admiration in the minds of festival goers.
There is a lake at Pushkar. This lake is believed to be holy. People bathe in this lake to rid them of their sins. Bathing during the full moon period is said to be the most beneficial.
Around 50,000 camels and more than 200,000 people on average are seen in the Pushkar Camel Festival. It is a giant exposition of people and camels.
4. Nag Panchami in Maharashtra
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This is the festival of snakes! Considering this, it is yet another amongst the bizarre festivals of India. And it is definitely not for people who fear snakes and run for cover at the very sight of them! The gist of the Nag Panchami festival is the worship of snakes.
Hundreds of snakes are found, dug out and brought to the festival. On the day of the festival, villagers carry the snakes in pots on their heads. They dance to the music of drums. They chant mantras.
They recite verses to celebrate a beautiful creation of god. They take the snakes to the temple and conduct snake worship using a combination of rituals and processions.
Once the rituals are complete, the snakes are released from the pots. The temple priest puts turmeric and red powder on the released snakes. Even flower petals are sprinkled onto the snakes. After this, the snakes are fed with milk and honey. They are then released yet again. This time it is not into the wilderness, but in the temple courtyard!
The Nag Panchami is full of surprises. The most surprising is that none of these snakes have their fangs removed. In spite of all this, there is no known incident of a snake bite that has caused a fatality. This is partly because of the experience and expertise the villagers have in handling these snakes. One of the reasons why snakes are less aggressive is that before being taken to the festivals, snakes are fed with a generous meal of rats and milk.
The place of the festival
The Nag Panchami is held in the village of Battis Shirala, in the state of Maharashtra. Battis Shirala is a remote rural village. You can get to this place from Mumbai. It is approximately 250 miles from here. The Nag Panchami has a world record congregation of snakes. You cannot see these many snakes at a single place anywhere in the world. Not even in a snake park. To view this spectacular event, people flock to the village of Battis Shirala from all over the country.
There is a healthy influx of international travelers who want to view this bizarre and unusual festival amongst all the festivals. Nag Panchami is not only celebrated in Battis Shirala. It is celebrated in many other parts of the country as well. But none of these can beat the number of snakes on display at Battis Shirala. Some of the popular places where this festival is celebrated apart from Battis Shirala are the Nagaraja Temple in Kerala and the Hardevja Temple in Jaipur.
5. Krishna Janmashtami Festival
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Lord Krishna is believed to be the eighth manifestation or avatar of Lord Vishnu. This festival commemorates Lord Krishna's birthday. Also called as Gokulashtammi or Govinda, Krishna Janmashtami is also a celebration of Lord Krishna's knowledge and intelligence. He is regarded as the ultimate oracle on how to live life through rightful means and attain god's abode.
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This two day festival is held in August or September. The month in which it is held depends on the moon cycle. The festival is celebrated with much ado throughout India. The best place to experience the true essence of the festival would be the city of Mumbai.
In the state of Maharashtra, there are hundreds of locations that are the venues of elaborate Krishna Janmashtami celebrations. So this is one of those Indian festivals that is held at multiple locations. Maharashtra Tourism has special travel plans for international visitors to experience this colorful festival. You have to visit the massive ISKCON temple in Juhu to witness splendid festival celebrations. You can take this a step further by visiting Mathura – the place where Lord Krishna was born. The temples of Mathura are decorated with grandeur on this occasion. Many of these temples have giant displays of important scenes from Lord Krishna's life.
The Dahi Handi Ceremony
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The second day of the festival is when the action starts. Called the Dahi Handi, clay pots are strung high from high-rise buildings. These pots contain a combination of items. Some of them are curd and butter. Even money is mixed with the curd and butter. The participants in this event are called govindas.
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They construct a human pyramid, tall enough to reach the claypot. One of them reaches to break the claypot open. This process of breaking the claypot signifies Lord Krishna's penchant to enjoy butter and curd that was stored by his mother in a claypot.
Lord Krishna also ate the butter and curd stored in other people's homes. Krishna was a mischievous child. So to protect their curd and butter, housewives would string their claypots high so that he could not reach it. But this would not deter him. He along with his friends used to form a human pyramid and reach these claypots eventually.
The first day of the festival is observed as a day of fasting.People spend their time worshipping, singing and reciting Lord Krishna's life.Cradles are arranged in temples with a statue of Krishna in each one of them.Huge crowds congregate at temples chanting and reciting mantras.
Children are dressed up as Lord Krishna with the flute in their hands and peacock feather placed in the hair.Various dances are held imitating Krishna's playful nature.
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Diwali is one of the popular festivals of India. Being a five day festival, diwali is also known as the festival of lights. The festival is characterized by the bursting of crackers and lighting of lamps. Firecrackers are burst as a celebration of the good over evil. It is also to dispel darkness and bring in light.
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Diwali is celebrated for various reasons across India. But the most common reason is the return of Lord Rama with his wife Sita followed by his brother Laxman. Rama returns to his kingdom of Ayodhya.
Lord Rama returns victorious following his vanquishing of demon Ravana. Partnering Rama is his able friend, the monkey god Hanuman. Therefore, the good finally triumphs over the bad. So diwali automatically becomes the celebration of all things that are good and divine.
The festival is celebrated in October and November. Diwali is celebrated throughout India. There are some states where this festival is not celebrated with the same amount of passion. But by far, this is one the festival that is close to the heart of almost every Indian.
Diyas and Rituals
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The diyas are an integral part of this festival. People light these small earthen pots and keep them in and around their homes. Some people light candles as well. The essence of this festival is to keep ones home illuminated with natural sources of light. During this time, people decorate their homes with rangoli – which is a type folk art where circular designs are made on the ground, typically from flower petals.
The rituals performed during this festival vary according to regions. However, the Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi is worshipped by all. A certain section of people also worship Ganesha – the remover of hindrances. According to Hindu mythology, Laxmi is said to have manifested when the ocean was churned on the first day of diwali.
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Invoking the blessings of Lakshmi is said to bring good fortune and prosperity. People decorate their homes and lay rangoli to invite the goddess to their homes. It is believed that the goddess is a stickler for cleanliness. She always visits the cleanest houses as a priority. People win Lakshmi’s attention by illuminating their homes with lights.
Diwali is an endearing festival. It is full of happiness. The festival is observed with a combination of fun and spirituality. It is a noisy festival, but the noise is sweet music to your ears given the context of this festival.
7. Ganesh Chathurthi
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This festival is all about the beloved elephant god – Ganesha. This is the god people worship to defeat the obstacles in their path. Lord Ganesha is also said to bring good fortune and luck to his devotees.
The festival is celebrated between August and September. The festival is celebrated on a grand scale only in some states. They are namely Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Goa.Ganesh Chathurthi is best experienced in the city of Mumbai.
The epicenter of all celebrations is the Siddhivinayak temple. On the day of the festival, thousands of devotees throng to the central suburb of Prabhadevi where this temple is located. This is also the time when thousands of Ganesha statues are available to be purchased.
Gigantic Ganesha Statues
The festival begins when statues of Lord Ganesha are erected in podiums on streets. Devotees also keep the statue of Lord Ganesha in their homes. The Pranapratishhtha Puja is conducted as a form of worship and to invoke the Lord’s blessings.
Following this, sweets and coconut is distributed. The statue is anointed and smeared with chandan powder. Every day, worship is conducted and songs of worship are played continuously. Special events and speeches are conducted as well.
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When you visit Mumbai, you can see numerous gigantic installations of Lord Ganesha. The decorations and podium construction is elaborate. Some of these statues and associated paraphernalia are done by specially skilled artisans who work for months together to create excellent statues that are gigantic.
The Immersion Ceremony
You should not see the moon on the first night of Ganesh Chaturthi. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Ganesha fell off from his vehicle, the rat. The moon was an onlooker and the moon laughed at this event. Therefore looking at the moon on this day is said to bring bad luck.
The last day of this festival is as spectacular as the first day. Statues are taken to the ocean or water bodies such as lakes, rivers, and ponds. These statues are then immersed into the water. It is believed that in Mumbai city alone, more than a million statues are immersed every year.
The immersion of the statue is a symbolic reminder to people that the universe is under constant change. Form soon becomes formlessness. But the energy of the form remains. The immersion process essays this fact and it helps people believe that they are in a transient world. It helps them be reminded of their mortality and submit themselves to a higher force.
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Holi is the celebration of the good over the bad. It is celebrated to rejoice the destruction of demoness Holika. Holi is called the festival of colors.It is based on the premise that Lord Krishna played pranks on the girls in his village by purposely making them wet with colored water. Apart from being a celebration of goodness, the festival is also a precursor to hopeful times. It signals the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It is to pray for a good spring harvest season.
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The festival is celebrated in late March. Holi is celebrated in almost every region in India. People spend the entire day smearing color on each others’ face. The colored water is jetted out through special hand-held pipes.
People carry water sprinklers and sprinkle colored water to any known person they see. People are expected to be sporty during the festival. Revelers also drink Bhang – a semi-liquid made from cannabis during holi. Bhang is consumed to feel high in spirits. It helps holi participants shed their inhibitions and participate in the celebrations.
On the eve of the festival, Holika Dahan is performed. Bonfires are erected and the fire is kept burning throughout the night. It is to symbolize the destruction of the evil Holika. The bonfire is also believed to bring warmth and ward off evil spirits.
Be smeared in the colors of Holi
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Holi is one of those festivals of India worth traveling thousands of miles to watch, witness, and celebrate. You should not mind getting wet and colored all over your body. Your skin will be stained with colors and it will take some time before this color wears away.
You can rub coconut oil before playing holi to prevent the colors from being absorbed into your skin. Enquire with the people playing holi if the colors they are using are safe. Some colors may take several days to wash off. So if you want to play with colors that wash off within a day, you have to choose and buy such colors from a store.
During holi men and women are in an inebriated state. It is advisable for women to stay at home during the night as holi revelers may still linger on the streets at night. So it is best to play holi during the day and get back home during night. Or the best option would be to play holi only with known people.
9. Kumbh in Godavari and Haridwar
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Kumbh or Kumbh Mela is one of the biggest pilgrimage festivals of India. It begins and ends on Makar Sankranthi and Maha Shivaratri respectively. Kumbh is considered to be a peaceful gathering of people. Millions of people make it to this festival every year. The festival takes places on the banks of many rivers on a rotational basis.
If last year’s Kumbh Mela festival was held on the banks of Godavari, this year’s is held on the banks of the Ganges river in Haridwar. This rotational policy brings people across all of India and unites them for a common cause. Apart from Godavari and Ganges, this festival is held on the banks of the Shipra River and on the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna, and Saraswati rivers in Prayag.
Some facts about the Kumbh Mela
The festival is held in one particular location or venue every 12 years. The time and place where the festival is held is based on astrological and religious observations.The festival has different varieties – the Maha Kumbh Mela and the Ardh Kumbh Mela. The former is considered as the more auspicious of the two. It is held only in Prayag.
The mythological inferences of Kumbh Mela
Kumbh means pitcher. Mela means festival. Together Kumbh Mela means the festival of the pot. Mythologically, this has significance. Once it so happened that the Gods lost their vitality. To reclaim their lost strength, they had a partnership with the demons. They decided to churn the ocean of milk. By doing this they hoped to find the nectar of immortality. However, the Gods and demons sparred. The fight carried on for a period of twelve years.
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During this period, the celestial bird Garuda got hold of this nectar of immortality held in a kumbh and flew away. Some drops of this nectar is said to have fallen down on some areas – which are now the sites use as places to celebrate this festival.
The Sadhus and Rituals of Kumbh Mela
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The sadhus or sages of this festival are the holy men who attend the festival without fail and inspire others into a life of spirituality. There are various types of these sages. There are the naked ones who smoke marijuana, sport long hair that covers their bodies, and live a recluse and unconventional life. There are the Shirshasinse sadhus who meditate by standing on their heads. They even sleep in this position.
10. Jagannath Yatra in Puri, Orissa
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The Jagannath Yatra or the Rath Yatra is the symbolic representation of gods going for vacation. It is one of those festivals of India that celebrates the spiritual process involved in carrying gods for vacation. It is to celebrate the vacationing of Lord Jagannath.
His elder brother Balabhadra accompanies him. Also accompanying him is his sister Subhadra. Lord Jagannath has his temple in Puri – which is a coastal town in Orissa. He also has a garden palace in the fringes of the region.
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The Yathra or travel is from the temple to the garden palace. Lord Jagannath is believed to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The statue or prathima of Lord Jagannath is decorated with the same grandeur that befits Lord Vishnu. The procession is held in gigantic chariots. A chariot looks like a temple on wheels. The chariot is called a rath. It is pulled across to its destination by thousands of devotees.
The Yathra Procession
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On the morning of the procession, pujas (worshipping the lord) are performed. This part of the procession is called Ratha Prathistha.
By afternoon, the chariots start to be pulled and moved across to their destinations. The statues of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra, and Subhadra are in each chariot. The chariots are named according to the god they carry. Therefore the names of these chariots are Nandighosa (Lord Jagannatha), Taladhvaja (Balabhadra), and Devadalana (Subhadra) respectively.
Each year, new chariots are constructed. The statues of gods are made of wood. These statues are replaced every twelve years.
The gods vacation at the country side palace for a period of nine days. Their summer vacation ends after this. They are brought back to the temple of Lord Jagannath.
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The Jagannath Yatra is one of those festivals of India that celebrates of unity. It brings together artisans, pilgrims, devotees, and international and national tourists. Some of the best artists of the country and in the world create the designs of the chariot. They painstakingly design, and sew the richly textured fabric. Brilliant painters lay fine paints on the chariot with intricate detail.
This Yathra is touted as the festival of unity. It requires people to pull the chariots with united effort. There is no differentiation as to who can do this. The rich and poor can do this. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs can participate in this festival.
In fact anyone can participate in this festival provided they truly believe in the spiritual process associated with the Jagannath Yathra – the most spiritual amongst all festivals of India.
11. Kila Raipur Rural Olympics
The Kila Raipur Rural Olympics is now an international rural Olympics cum festival. From its humble beginnings, this sporting event has attracted the attention of the international community. The festival is held during the month of February.
This three day festival is the time when more than four thousand men and women participate to win and be gracious in defeat as well. Surprisingly, this rural sporting festival has plenty of spectators. They are not in thousands. But in millions!
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The animals used in the sporting events are camels, bullocks, mules, and dogs. This aspect makes this festival unique amongst festivals of India. The main draw of the Kila Raipur Rural Olympics is the bullock cart race. This is an adrenaline pumping event. It brings the best, fastest, and muscular bullocks on the race track. Expert bullock riders with years of bullock riding practice vie for the prize money.
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There is also the dog race that draws a lot of applause and excitement. The horse race is a classic. The tractor race establishes the fact that this Olympics was started off as a source of entertainment for bored farmers! And not to forget the tug-of-war. The strongest and fittest men pull each other with all their might.
There are plenty of off-beat events that will make a lasting impression on you. There is the bicycle lifting competition! Strong men lift bicycles not with their hands, but with their teeth. They also lift bicycles with their ears. Truly, this is among those festivals of India that tests the endurance and willpower of the participants.
If you thought that this was about it on the Kila Raipur Rural Olympics, then there’s more. Every evening cultural events are held. Local and international musicians entertain the crowds. For three days, the cultural events can keep you without sleep. You will be reveling in a heady dose of entertainment as these events go well past midnight.
[Learn more about the rich and unique cultural heritage of Rajasthan]
The place where this rural Olympics is held is in Kila Raipur, which is south of Ludhiana, in the state of Punjab. Getting here is never a problem. Getting out of here definitely is! Because you will be addicted to the excitement, action, and entertainment that you get here.
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This is yet another of the festivals of India that celebrates the victory of good over evil. Being a national holiday, Dussehra is a very popular festival in India. Sometimes people get confused over Dussehra’s closeness in context to Diwali.
Unlike diwali, dussehra is celebrated only for a single reason – Lord Rama’s victory over the demon Ravana. Hindu mythology tells the story of how Sita, the wife of Rama, is kidnapped by Ravana and held hostage in Lanka.
Lord Rama then goes in search of Sita along with his trusted friend – the monkey God, Hanuman. Along with his brother Lakshman, Lord Rama takes the help of Hanuman and reclaims Sita. While doing this Lord Rama destroys Ravana in an epic battle.
People observe Dussehra by conducting prayers. Many of them offer food to people. They visit temples and take part in temple processions.
This festival is best experienced in Mysore, Karnataka. Goddess Chamundeshwari is carried on a throne. The goddess is carried on an elephant. The procession is a combination of scores of elephants accompanied by music and fireworks.
The gods are invoked through rituals to bless household items such as books, electronic items, and vehicles in the state of Karnataka.
If you are in Bengal, expect a mass preparation of Dussehra specific foods. They are namely luchi, which is a type of flattened bread deep-fried in oil. There is also alu dom which are potato snacks richly fried in oil and great to taste.
The occasion of Dussehra is considered to be a good time to start off ventures. It can be a new project that is to be undertaken, a travel plan or even marriages.
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On the day of the festival, all government offices are closed. So don’t be surprised if you see a bank, or post office closed during this time. Private establishments, stores, and businesses could be closed as well. There is also reduced public transport as this amongst the festivals of India where you may witness a mass exodus of public transport employees returning to their homes on leave to celebrate the festival.
So much is the importance of this festival that everything comes to a standstill. People embrace a spiritual process. They celebrate their belief systems with great conviction. They re-establish the legacy of the good which always triumphs over the evil.
13. Durga Puja or Navaratri in Bengal
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Durga Puja is the grand celebration and worship of Goddess Durga. This is chiefly a religious festival out of all the festivals of India. It is also considered as an occasion for family reunions. During this time, people bring back to the fore traditional customs.
The heart of the action is Bengal. This is the place where the Durga Puja is held in all its might. Durga Puja is all about worship, traditional customs, culture, feasting, fasting, and in general a celebration of life. This festival is observed not only in India, but in many foreign countries by Indians who reside there.
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The festival is held between the months of September and October every year. It marks the time of the year when millions of years ago Lord Rama invoked the goddess Durga before his advent into Lanka to fight the demon Ravana.
British involvement in the Durga Puja
The Durga Puja was popular with the British during their reign over India. They attended the ceremonies and many of them participated in the events. Many of these British soldiers and bureaucrats even turned to Hinduism and became staunch devotees of the goddess. The involvement of British nationals and officials continued until 1840. During this time a law was passed banning British participation in this festival.
Significant processions of this Festival:
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Mahalaya – This phase starts seven days before the Durga Puja festival. The festivities invoke the goddess to descend on Earth. The procedure to do this is to sing devotional songs and chant mantras.
Maha Shashthi - This is the day when the goddess arrives on Earth. It is on the eve of Durga Puja.
Maha Saptami - This is the first day of the festival. On this day nine types of plants are placed in a central place and worshipped. These nine types of plants symbolize goddess Durga. During this time, the Saptami Puja is conducted with tremendous participation from the public.
Maha Aastami - The second day of the Durga Puja is for sacred Sanskrit verses being chanted and recited out by numerous people from holy books. It is on this day that the Sandhi Puja is held. Thousands of devotees offer anjali to the goddess Durga. They pray fervently to her making the Durga Puja one of the holiest of all festivals of India.
[Witness the lush greenery of valleys, mountain peaks and hill on our custom tour in Sikkim]
Maha Navami - This is the third day of the festival and the second last one. The Navami Puja begins on this day.
Dashami & Vijaya - This is the last day of the Durga Puja. The goddess is bade farewell by thousands of tearful devotees. Truly, an emotional festival. None of the other festivals command such emotional connection.
14. Makar Sankranti
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Makar Sankranthi is a harvest festival. It is celebrated across the length and breadth of the country in myriad forms. The festival is celebrated in the month of January, and typically on the 14th day.
Makar Sankranti is celebrated to commemorate the ascending of the Sun God into the northern hemisphere. It signifies the philosophical meaning that the more you go higher, the more light and warmth you give. Out of all festivals, this one has a philosophical meaning and significance. The Sun has an important philosophical and spiritual stature for Hindus. The Sun signifies knowledge and infinite wisdom.
On the day of Makar Sankranti, it is believed that the Sun God visits his son Shani. The two people aren’t the best of friends, but on this day they forget their differences and embrace each other as father and son.
Makar Sankrathi is considered to be the holy period of transition as the Sun ascends northwards.
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Hindus believe that any person who dies during this period reaches the heavenly abode. This person is free from the cycle of births and deaths.
It is during this time that thousands of people take a dip in the holy Ganges River. They offer water to the Sun God in pots. For those who can’t make it to Prayag to take the holy dip, chanting the Gayatri Mantra is considered the alternative way to offer worship.
15. Hanuman Jayanti
Hanuman is a divine ape. He is a monkey God who helped Lord Rama reclaim Sita from the hands from Ravana. Hanuman is considered by many Hindus as the avatar of Lord Shiva. Hanuman is worshiped to bestow physical strength and perseverance.
Hanuman Jayanthi is celebrated to commemorate the birth of this powerful monkey God. The festival is celebrated on the 15 day of the month of April. It is celebrated in praise and admiration for the God Hanuman who is understood to posses numerous divine powers in addition to great physical strength.
Hanuman was himself an ardent devotee of Lord Rama. He had unflinching devotion to Lord Rama. Hanuman played a vital role in the battle of Lord Rama against Sita. Hanuman is understood to have great magical powers. He was the all-powerful and mighty considering that he could even lift huge mountains on his shoulders.
Hanuman Puja is a simple festival that is begun early in the day. Devotees visit the temple of Hanuman to offer their worship. Devotees gather and offer prayers to God Hanuman to protect them from harm and danger.
They pray to him to give them strength, endurance, perseverance, and willpower. Devotees spend the entire day praying to Hanuman. Devotees apply red Sindur on the feet of their god. They reapply this sindur on their foreheads and take back home some of this Sindur.