Back Of The Book
Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world. It has integrated into different sects, creeds and castes, along with their respective customs, traditions, culture and mode of worship, forming a formidable amalgam of astonishing vitality and dynamism. The secret of Hinduism's successful survival can be traced to the imaginative and colourful celebration of its festivals by the people.
These joyous occasions of festivals have a powerful impact of the faith and belief of the masses.
These festivals and fairs have several ramifications in the social, economical, cultural and artistic spheres. Society as a whole gains a lot by celebrating these fairs and festivals around the year.
From The Jacket
Auspicious night bejeweled with millions of earthern lamps shimmering on the rooftops and terraces, competing with the colourful firework-patterns in the skies; colours afloat in the air with revelers painting one another with the 'gulal' of Holi; feet dancing in a frenzied rhythm to the religious chants in Puja celebration; dancers swaying to the rhythmic beat of classical music in Khajuraho Dance Festival.
Hinduism encompasses a colourful collage of myriad hues and shades where every day is time for some celebration, some festival or ceremony. From National festivals like Diwali, Dussehra and Holi, etc., to Regional ones like Bihu in Assam, Onam in Kerala and Chhath in Bihar, we go on to the Sonepur Cattle Fair of Bihar, Kumbh Mela at Prayag, Nasik, Ujjain and Haridwar, and Pushkar Fair of Rajasthan among many others.
This present book has been painstakingly prepared to offer you a panoramic view of these celebrations that have been part of our culture and heritage since time immemorial, and continue to draw people from all over the world on account of their vibrancy and richness of heritage. The purpose is to bring the readers this rich diversity and thus help them not only to understand and appreciate the religious and traditional sentiments of other communities and people, but perhaps even prompt them to take new journeys to new and different exotic parts of this rich and varied land.
An acclaimed author and renowned columnist, Mr. S. P. Sharma has a number of major titles to his credit, and has also been regularly contributing to prestigious newspapers and magazines. The present work is the outcome of his concern for the general decline among younger generations about knowledge of their own traditional culture and his endeavour to educated them about it.
Seema Gupta has a Master's Degree in Sociology and an MS in Psychotherapy and Counselling. A prolific writer, Ms. Gupta has authored several widely acclaimed books on a wide variety of subjects, published by Pustak Mahal. Many of her articles and short stories in various magazines have won accolades from her readers.
Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer in sacrifice, whatever you give in charity. Whatever austerity you perform-do all that as offering to Me,
Resigning from all duties, come to Me alone for refuge. Grieve not, I will absolve you from all sins.
This book is truly the brainchild of Shri Ram Avtar Gupta ji, Managing Director, PUSTAK MAHAL. He desired a book like this to be brought out in all humility. Writing this book has been quite an experience. The vast panorama of Hindu festivals, rituals, religious observances, fasts and fairs unfolded before us. The emphasis laid on the different festivals differs in different parts of the country. For instance, Navaratri is celebrated with maximum fervour in West Bengal as compared to hat in other parts of the country. Holi is celebrated with gusto in the north, and although it is also observed in the western parts of India, in the south it is almost unknown.
There are also a few regional festivals like Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Onam in Kerala and the various other temple festivals devoted to the specific patron gods and goddesses of the temples, which are celebrated exclusively in those areas which may be limited to one or a few villages. Thus due to the proliferating nature of Hinduism, all its festivals cannot find a uniform general acceptance. But even so, the galaxy of festivals that exist do contribute to inter-spicing Indian life with gaiety, and colour as also in giving the country the distinction of having the maximum number of red letter days on its calendar.
We have selected major Hindu festivals and fairs for detailed treatment. Some less important ones have also been included as they represent a cross-section of practices prevalent in different parts of the country, which are not well known outside the locale.
Our sincere thanks to team Pustak Mahal for its contribution in making of this book.
It will be a great honour - and we shall feel amply rewarded if this work find acceptance in the hands of discerning readers.
Hinduism: A Way of Life
The great river valley systems of the world have always been the cradle of complex civilizations. This is quite evident when we look at the history of the Nile delta, the Yangtze - kiang. The crossroads of the world at the Tigris and the Euphrates valleys that spawned the Sumerian civilization. The Gangetic valley or even later examples like the Hudson, the Thames, the Seine, or the Potomac. Around five thousand years ago, a rich and very advanced civilization flourished on the banks of the Sindhu River. The people who lived along its banks came to be known as Hindus, so named after the Sindhu River, which came to be known as the Indus river. The Indus is still a mighty river, flowing through the northwest region of the sub-continent.
Hinduism is unique in as much as its origins are shrouded in the mists of time. Unlike other religions, which have a clear point of origin, usually being the date of the concerned founder's being the date of the concerned founder's birth or first revelations, Hinduism cannot make such a claim. It seems to loom out of the ages, a monotheisi religion that paradoxically has a large number of gods and goddesses. It is not our intention to explore here the Hindu way of life or its pantheon of gods and goddesses, since this has been thoroughly explained in another book in this series. Instead, we will focus on the fascinating landscape of fairs and festivals of India.
Before we go any further, it is imperative that we understand the realm of Hinduism. It is the world's oldest religion. Often referred to as the mother of all religions. It has branched off into myriad local variants - many sects, creeds and castes - along with their respective customs, traditions, mythologies, cultures and modes of worship. The formidable amalgam thus created has been an astonishingly dynamic structure that, in its sheer resilience has absorbed and integrated within itself a host of other beliefs and traditions. It has thus survived. Several epochs that have seen other religions fade away into obscurity.
For this very reason, Hinduism has the rare distinction of having more festivals and auspicious days than any other religion. India is dotted with thousands of temples ranging from ramshackle roadside structures to magnificent architectural and sculptural marvels. As far away as the spectacular ruins of Angkor Wat in the heart of the Vietnamese jungle, with ruins of 12th century temples dedicated to Vishnu by King Suryavarman II of the Khmer Empire, the spread and impact of Hinduism is reflected in the monuments that survive far beyond the borders of the country of their origin.
Today, each city, town or village has one or more temples that form the hub of social, religious and cultural activities, especially as regards the celebration of festivals, varying in proportion with available resources of money and manpower.
Down the ages, Hinduism has withstood the onslaught of marauders, invaders, conquerors and aggressive evangelists of other faiths who spared no effort to convert followers of Hinduism through force, violence and covert or overt material inducement. The secret of Hinduism's successful survival against such formidable odds could well be the imaginative and colourful celebration by the people of several festivals, which are basically of religious significance. In other words, the real significance of such festivals is the continuity they extend to Hindu society, affording as they do a modern anchor as well as lifeline to their remote past. They add an indispensable dimension to people's lives, imbuing them with meaning as well as hope for the future.
Over time, these festivals - joyous occasions for celebration - had a powerful impact on the faiths and beliefs of the masses. They served to foster communal harmony and developed a feeling of universal brotherhood. During these festivals, each with their distinctive religious undertones, people at all levels irrespective of their social and economic status, mingled freely, rejoiced and reveled with gay abandon. The poor, particularly, take them as an opportunity to set aside their day-to-day concerns in the prevailing festive mood, there being few other avenues of entertainment open to them. It is no wonder, therefore, that class wars were unheard of in olden times.
Thus we see that festivals like Dussehra, Diwali and Holi invoke a feeling of brotherhood and cohesiveness, cementing the various strata of society into a living composite that functions according to a common system of values and beliefs, faith and national consciousness. This has given rise to the phenomenon of unity in diversity. It may be recalled that the great patriot, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, canalized the religious sentiments of the masses, particularly in Maharashtra, into powerful freedom movements through grand celebrations of Ganesh Chaturthi.
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