Hinduism is an extremely diverse religion. It has numerous sects, each with their own unique religious practices and methods. Hindu festivals thus are naturally variegated each resembling a different cultural diversity and celebration methods. Festivals in India stem from various religious beliefs, myths, and folklores or from historic or mythological events and usually associated with change of seasons. It is interesting how one festival in India can have myriad back stories to it – Some based on an event, some based on an ancient practice and some stemming from philosophical or mythological legend and usually differs based on different cultural communities and their beliefs. Although the word ‘festival’ signifies a feast or fiesta, most Hindu festivals actually have a concrete mythological significance which defines the methods of practice and other details of the festival.
Let’s take a look at some of these important Hindu festivals and their mythological significance.
Shiva – The destroyer is the Maha Yogi who is one of the three forming a holy triad. There are many legends and stories surrounding the start of this auspicious festival which is celebrated throughout India and by all Hindus irrespective of cultural differences. The most significant folklore states that once a poisonous pot emerged from the seas which was capable of ending the entire world. Lord Shiva in order the save the world, drank the entire pot of poison and held it in his throat. This turned his throat blue also giving him the name Neelkanth. To celebrate this event when Shiva saved the world, ‘The Night of Shiva’ or Shivaratri is observed by a strict fasting. This auspicious festival falls sometime during January-February.
Holi is the festival of colors and is celebrated by young and old by playing with colors. It is a joyous festival celebrates the burning and death of Holika – an ogress. This carnival of merry making and harmony also marks the occasion of Lord Vishnu saving BhaktPrahlad, a devotee. Holi is enjoyed throughout the country by all ages and all cultures of people. In certain parts, it is also called Kaman-Pandigai as a festival of Kama Deva or the God of love. Holi is the spring break festival usually occurring during March-April.
Onam is widely celebrated in Kerala as a 10-day joyous festival to harmonize and reignite family ties. Onam signifies the mythological tale of Maha-Bali asura and Vamana, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu as a dwarf. Before Mahabali was put down he had asked for a boon – to be allowed to visit his family and people at least once a year. Lord Vishnu granted this boon to him which is celebrated as Onam.
Janmashtami signifies the birth of Lord Krishna to destroy all evil and it thus also marks the triumph of good over bad. The birth of Krishna, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu is celebrated all over the country particularly in Vrindavan and Mathura by fasting the entire day till midnight which is believed to be the auspicious birth time of Lord Krishna. This festival occurs during August-September.
- Dussehra or Durga Puja
Known by different names and celebrated marking different folklores by diverse cultural sects, this is one of the most important festivals for the Hindus. While Dussehra is mostly celebrated in the North to mark the event of Lord Rama killing Ravana, Durga Puja resembles the event of the death of Mahisasura (an Ogre) by hands of Goddess Durga. Celebrated during September-October this festival is particularly of great importance to Bengalis too.
The festival of lights is celebrated during October-November to mark the return of Lord Rama after his victory over Ravana and Lanka. Also in some parts of the country, the mythological story behind this event is the death of Narakasura by Lord Krishna.
Procedures and process of worship are same though, deities worshiped vary.