The Festival Series

Festival Series

By Ahana

January- Celebrating Pongal

What is Pongal?

Pongal is a four-day festival and is celebrated on January 14th. It is known as the “Harvest Festival” in South India, particularly in Tamil Nadu.

Why is Pongal celebrated?

India is a very agricultural-based society, and since this is a harvest festival, it is highly valued by farmers and working-class people. The money brought from the harvest is used to celebrate weddings and solving family problems. Many people believe that it will bring prosperity, so they ring in this holiday with great joy and pomp.

How is Pongal celebrated?

The first day of the festival is celebrated by worshipping Lord Indra (who gives rains), and they pay homage to him to give thanks for the prosperous harvest. The ritual known as “Bhogi Mantalu” is recognized today, where many household items that are of no use are thrown into a fire. The second day is called “Perum Pongal” (this varies throughout parts of India). On this day, people perform puja and boil rice in milk outside. This is a symbolic offering to the Sun God, and all of the people wear traditional garments. A turmeric plant is tied around the pot where the rice is being boiled, and many offer sugarcane, coconut, and bananas in the dish. A “Kolam” is also created during this time. It is a design traced with white lime powder and is also made of rice flour. The third day of the festival is known as “Mattu Pongal.” On this day, people worship their cattle by tying bells, beads, flower garlands, and sheaves of corn around the cattle’s neck. The cattle are given Pongal to eat, and aarti is performed on the cattle to ward off the evil eye. The fourth and final day of Pongal is called “Kannum Pongal.” During the festival, a turmeric leaf is placed on the ground, where leftovers of sweet Pongal, rice, betel leaves and nuts, two pieces of sugarcane, and plantains are kept. Then, the aarti is performed, and water is sprinkled on the Kolam.

 

How is Pongal celebrated throughout India?

In Tamil Nadu, people create rangolis, make Pongal, and offer prayers to God. Pongal also marks the last day of the Tamil month known as Marghazi. In Mumbai, people decorate their homes and temples and cook special dishes for the celebration. In Andhra, the four days of celebration are known as Bhogi Festival, Surya Pongal, Mattu Pongal, and Kannum Pongal. Cows that are decorated in ornaments and garlands are taken out for processions, and entrances to each home are decorated with colorful Kolam designs. The festival is referred to as Makara Sankranthi here. The traditional dance, ‘Kolattam,” is also performed.

In Karnataka, Pongal and lemon rice, vada, payasam, and vegetable gravies are prepared. In villages, women cook Pongal in the fields, while everyone sits together to eat it. In Orissa (now known as Odisha), Radha and Krishna’s love is celebrated via dandiya programs, and the festival is three days long. This festival marks the end of Gobbi, a month-long festival that the women celebrate.

In Assam, the festival is known as the Magh Bihu and is four days long. The traditional folk song for this festival is known as “Bihugeet”. The festival is centered on eating and since this festival denotes the end of the harvesting season for many residents of Assam, many people feast and enjoy on this day.

Courtesy: Google Images

In Punjab, this festival is known as Lohri. It is associated with both celebrating the decline of winter and celebrating the harvest of the Rabi crops. This is a one day-long festival and is celebrated on the 13th or 14th of each January. Fires are lit at night and people sing and dance, wishing each other health, happiness, and prosperity. Lohri is dedicated to the Sun and Fire God, and people offer peanuts, and sweets to the fire god.

Overall, Pongal is celebrated differently everywhere, but its purpose of showing gratitude to the gods will always be aligned, no matter where one is in India!

Fun Fact: Did you know that in 2017, a Democratic senator in the United States of America signed a bill announcing that January 14th should be known as Pongal Day?

For Gurukulam- The Shloka Learning Centre

Ahana, 12 years

Festival Series

Month 2: February 2021

Vasant Panchami

By: Ahana Raghavan

For: Gurukulam- The Shloka Learning Centre

 

What is Vasant Panchami, and what does it celebrate?

The beginning of spring is very festive and bright, and Hindus celebrate it with great pomp, welcoming in the blooming flowers, the blossoming trees, and the beautiful weather. Hindus celebrate Vasant Panchami, to welcome the arrival of the new season. Vasant Panchami also takes place forty days before Holi, so it is truly the onset of Spring. It is also on the fifth day of the month Magha (in the traditional Indian calendar).

What is the significance of Vasant Panchami?

During the springtime, mustard flowers that are yellow in color begin to bloom in India. These flowers are associated with the arrival of Spring. Due to the mustard flowers representing the beginning of this season, the color yellow is associated with the festival, and therefore, in many regions of India, the women of the household wear the color yellow. The yellow turmeric tilak is also applied on the forehead, to celebrate and pray. The goddess Saraswathi (the goddess of wisdom, knowledge, language, music, and all the arts), is celebrated throughout the festival, which will be taking place on February 16th this year. Puja is suggested to be done in the afternoon, though the whole day is an auspicious time to celebrate and worship Saraswathi. This day is considered to be auspicious for students, for starting a business or important work, and auspicious for housewarming celebrations

How is the festival celebrated throughout India?

The festival is mostly celebrated in northern parts of India such as Punjab and Bihar. In these states, the festival is one of the kites and they fly kites throughout these regions. In Rajasthan, people wear jasmine garlands on this day. It is a public holiday in the Haryana, Odisha, Tripura, and West Bengal regions of India, and is considered to be a festival of kites in these regions.

People typically eat foods with yellow in them, such as khichdi, and they celebrate the mustard flower beds which are in full bloom. Kesaria Bhaat is also made, and it is sweet yellow rice.

Festival Series

Month 3: March 2021

Holi

By: Ahana Raghavan, 12 years

For: Gurukulam- The Shloka Learning Centre

 

What is Holi and how is it celebrated?

Courtesy: Google Images

 

You have probably already heard of Holi because it is one of the most popular festivals that India celebrates! It marks the beginning of spring, following a rather long winter. This also symbolizes the triumph of good over evil.  Kids especially love this celebration because it is known as the Festival of Colors, and a key way this is celebrated is by throwing colorful powders at one another.

 

   

 Courtesy: Google Images

 

There are numerous foods eaten for Holi. For example, poli, rasmalai, and thandai are eaten during this time. However, behind the pompous and fun celebrations, there is a deeper, more religious significance for numerous Indians.

 

What does the festival celebrate?

Simply put, the festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil, and honors Lord Vishnu, and his devotee Prahlada. The mythological significance of Holi lies in the fight between Prahlada and Hiranyakshyapu. Hiranyakshyapu wanted his sister, Holika to sit in the fire with Prahlada sitting in her lap. Holika had a boon to enter the fire unscathed, but Prahlada’s devotion to the lord saved him, and Holika was burned by Lord Vishnu, despite the immunity she had been granted. A bonfire is lit to push bad spirits away, known as Holika Dahan.

Courtesy: Google Images

 

What is the modern cultural significance of Holi?

To this day, Holi is celebrated with great pomp and festivity. In fact, Holi celebrations have spread much farther than India. London hosts the “Color Run” for Holi every year. Despite the festivities and enjoyment, there are some controversies with regards to the celebrations. Many say that there are many gimmicky events that diminish the impact it has on so many Indians around the world. They remind those celebrating that Holi is a religious festival and that its religious impact must be recognized. Many even say that some of these events are potential “money-making events”.

 

Despite all of the comments made on the way we celebrate Holi today, we must all remember where this celebration branched from, and the religious significance of the celebration.

Courtesy: Google Images

Festival Series

Month 4: April 2021

Ram Navami

By: Ahana Raghavan, 12 years

For: Gurukulam- The Shloka Learning Centre

Courtesy: Google images

 

What is Ram Navami and how is it celebrated?

Ram Navami celebrates the birthday of Lord Rama, an avatar of Lord Vishnu. Ram Navami is on April 21, 2021. Ram Navami is one of the biggest Hindu festivals and is celebrated in a variety of ways.  For example, some devotees bathe, dress up miniature idols of Lord Rama, and place them in a cradle to mark his birth. They also light a lamp in front of the idol and prepare kheer as an offering to the god. Others celebrate the festival by feeding the needy. Hindus also perform Kanya Puja, where nine girls are invited to a home and are given respect because Hindus believe that they are the manifestation of Indian Devis. The girls are given halwa and puri as prasadam, to eat.

Courtesy: Google Images

The day not only is Rama’s birthday, but also the day of his wedding to Sita.

Ram Navami is such a special and unique holiday honoring Rama and his successful rule, so to celebrate that, here are some fun facts and important things to know about Lord Rama and Ram Navami.

What are some facts about Lord Rama and Ram Navami?

Rama is the seventh avatar of Vishnu, and Ram Navami celebrates the day he incarnated in human form and came to Ayodhya. He has half of the divine qualities of Lord Vishnu, and this is called the “Ardha Ansh”. The word Rama means one who is divine, blissful, gives joy to others, and the sages rejoice for him. Rama Navami falls on the ninth day of Chaitra (April/May) and is typically celebrated for 8 days, but in some regions, it is celebrated for nine days due to the festival coinciding with Vasant Navaratri or Chait Durga Puja.  The festival honors the birth of Rama on the ninth day after the new moon in Sukul Paksh (the waxing moon), which falls in the month of April.Rama was the avatar of Vishnu that came down to earth to defeat Ravana (the demon king) in human form. Ramrajya (the reign of Rama) has become synonymous with a period of peace and prosperity.  Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama is the focus of celebrations of Ram Navami festival. Chariot processions of Rama, his wife Sita, brother Lakshman, and devotee Hanuman, are taken out from many temples. The puja required roli, aipun, rice, water, flowers, a bell, and a conch. The youngest female applies teeka also known as tilaka or tilak to all the members of the family. The puja is done by showering handfuls of rice on the deities, then performing aarti, where plain water is sprinkled on everyone. Then, people sing bhajans and the prasadam is distributed. On this day, devotees crowd temples and rock images of him in cradles to celebrate his birth, They also recite the Ramayana, which recounts his rule.

Overall, Ram Navami might have manys parts to the celebration, but it is centered on honoring Rama, an avatar of Lord Vishnu. Thank you so much for reading! Namaste.

Festival Series

Month 5: May 2021

Narasimha Jayanti

By: Ahana Raghavan, 12 years

For: Gurukulam- The Shloka Learning Centre

Courtesy: Google Images

 

What is Narasimha Jayanti and how is it celebrated?

Narasimha Jayanti celebrates the birthday of Lord Narasimha, the fourth avatar of Vishnu who is in the form of half-lion and half-man. He appeared like this to kill the demon Hiranyakashipu. Narasimha Jayanti always falls under the month Vaisakha in the Hindu calendar (typically April or May).

Courtesy: Google Images

 

The festival is commonly celebrated to honor the power of good over evil. Narasimha Jayanti is typically celebrated through special puja, with the picture of Lord Narasimha or Goddess Lakshmi. Fresh or new clothes are to be worn once a devotee wakes up early during the Brahma muhurta (an auspicious 48 minutes that begins 1 hour and 36 minutes before sunrise).

Gram dal and jaggery should be offered to the deity and the puja ceremony is to be done with friends and relatives, typically offering sweets, kumkum, kesar, flowers, and coconut. Many fast on this day to please the Gods and the Narasimha mantra is to be recited in order to attain a more meaningful life. It is very good to donate clothes, precious metals, and sesame seeds to the poor on this day.

What is the story of Narasimha Jayanti?

Lord Vishnu killed the brother of Hiranyakashipu to protect mankind and the earth, and Hiranyakashipu was frustrated at this. He prayed for a long period of time and Lord Brahma gave him a blessing. Hiranyakashipu had a son named Prahlad, and he was a pious devotee of Lord Narayana. His father did not like this and tried to tell Prahlad to stop worshipping Lord Narayana and convert to a demon to take revenge. However, Prahlad was given a blessing from Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu’s sister, Holika, tried to convert Prahlad to a demon by sitting in a fire. She had a blessing that she would never be burned by fire, so she sat with Prahlad on her lap. However, Prahlad’s devotion to the Lord saved him, and Holika was burned to death, despite the immunity given to her. Hiranyakashipu was very angry at this and attacked a pillar near him. Lord Narasimha came out of it. Hiranyakashipu had a blessing that no human, animal, or Deva could kill him and he could not be killed during the day or night, in space or on Earth, and could not be killed with weapons. Lord Narasimha came in the form of half-lion and half-man and killed him by ripping his nails on his chest.

Courtesy: Google Images

 

Overall, Narasimha Jayanti might have many parts to the celebration, but it is centered on honoring Lord Narasimha, an avatar of Lord Vishnu. Thank you so much for reading! Namaste.

Festival Series

Month 5: May 2021

Akshaya Tritiya- Bonus!

By: Ahana Raghavan, 12 years

For: Gurukulam- The Shloka Learning Centre

 

What is Akshaya Tritiya, and how is it celebrated?

Akshaya Tritiya celebrates Lord Vishnu. For many years, it has fallen on Lord Parashurama’s birthday (Lord Parashurama is the sixth avatar of Lord Vishnu). It is celebrated through puja and yajna, and charitable works are an important part of the day, people often give grains and clothing to the poor on this day. Oftentimes, rice, vegetables, fruit, and clothes will be given for charity and during puja, tulsi water is sprinkled all around. Also, many devotees fast on this day to appease the Lord.

Courtesy: Google Images

 

What are some fun facts about Akshaya Tritiya?

  • Akshaya Tritiya is also the day Goddess Annapurna was born (the goddess of food and nourishment).
  • Lord Ganesha and Veda Vyasa started writing the Mahabharata on this day.

Courtesy: Google Images

  • On this day, Lord Krishna provided wealth and monetary gains to his poor friend Sudama who asked for his help.
  • Akshaya Tritiya is considered a very auspicious time for weddings and pilgrimages.
  • Many people also purchase gold, believing that more wealth and prosperity will come in the future.
  • On this day, the “Akshaya Patra” was given to the Pandavas. The “Akshaya Patra” was a vessel that never ran out of food and helped them when they were in exile. The Akshaya Patra Foundation was created to honor this and is a non-profit that feeds people in need. It was established in 2000 with the goal of educating children and countering classroom hunger.

Courtesy: Google Images

 

 

Festival Series

Month 6: June 2021

Ganga Dussehra

By: Ahana Raghavan

For: Gurukulam- The Shloka Learning Centre

Courtesy: Google Images

 

What is Ganga Dussehra and how is it celebrated?

Ganga Dussehra is dedicated to Goddess Ganga, who came to Earth on this day. Ganga Dussehra is on June 20, 2021. Goddess Ganga is the goddess of purification and forgiveness. It is said that Ganga is the personification of the Ganga River.

Courtesy: Google Images

 

Many people take a dip in the river to cleanse themselves and rid themselves of sins. It brings them to a state of forgiveness and cures ailments. Those who recite the Ganga Stotra while in the water are said to be purified of all sins they have committed. Taking ten dips in the water is also said to get rid of one’s sins. It is celebrated for 10 days in the month of May or June and devotees take a dip in the holy water. They also place earthen lamps on the water during aarti in the evening, and melodies are sung by devotees.

Courtesy: Google Images

 

People pray to the river to attain moksha. Moksha is a point in time when one is released from the cycle of rebirth. Reincarnation is the idea that when people die, they are born in a different body. When you no longer reincarnate, you have attained moksha.

 

What is the story of Ganga?

King Bhagiratha brought Goddess Ganga to Earth because only she could bestow moksha upon his ancestors, who were cursed by Sage Kapila. She was sent to purify the ashes of King Bhagiratha’s ancestors. King Bhagiratha had 60,000 ancestors, all were sons of King Sagaram and they were cursed by Sage Kapila. They were cursed when they disturbed the sage. Here is why they disturbed Sage Kapila. King Sagara was completing 100 Ashwamedhas (a horse sacrifice ritual), which had only been done by Lord Indra before. Lord Indra was afraid that he might be replaced in his role. So, he took the celestial horse that was to be used for the 100th yajna, and hid it where Sage Kapila was meditating. The sons of King Sagara, known as the Sagaras, saw the horse and attacked with their weapons. Sage Kapila burnt them all.  After years of penance, she descended towards Earth. Lord Shiva agreed to channel her flow. The river is known as Jatashankari because it flowed from Shiva’s jata or hair.

Festival Series

Month 7: July 2021

Guru Purnima

By: Ahana Raghavan, 13 years

For: Gurukulam- The Shloka Learning Centre

Courtesy: Google Images

What is Guru Purnima, and how is it celebrated?

Guru Purnima is a festival that is dedicated to the goodness of teachers and spiritual gurus. Mahatma Gandhi revived the festival in honor of his spiritual guru, Shrimad Rajchandra. He was a poet, philosopher, and scholar. Gandhi recalled that his spiritual guru kept him going, and gave him “refuge in times of spiritual crisis”. It is celebrated in many ways. The main way the festival is celebrated is through rituals used to honor teachers. Many households also follow a strict vegetarian diet on this day as well. Temples distribute prasadam, mainly including fresh fruits and sweetened curd. Families enjoy delicacies like Soan Papdi, Khichdi, Gulab Jamun, and Halwa.

Courtesy: Google Images

In some Indian schools, students give their teachers gifts as a sign of respect, and some even touch their feet to show their devotion to their teachers. It is a very important day.

When is Guru Purnima celebrated?

Guru Purnima is celebrated on July 24, 2021. It occurs on a full-moon day (Purnima), and in the Hindu month of Ashadha.

What is the story behind Guru Purnima?

Guru Purnima celebrates the birth of the first guru (Adi Guru). Many say that 15,000 years ago, a sage appeared in the Himalayas. He showed no signs of life, as he was deep thought, and therefore his eyes were closed. Seven people circled around him, and after a long while, he opened his eyes. The men asked him what he was doing and how he was doing it. The sage educated them on the basics of meditation and closed his eyes once more. For 84 years, the men too closed their eyes and enlightened themselves. Finally, on the day of Dakshinayana (the six-month period between the Summer and Winter Solstice), the sage woke up to see the seven men sitting there. He was pleased and decided to share his wisdom with them. These men were known as the Saptrishis (seven sages) and traveled across the world to share the wisdom they collected from Adi Guru.

What are some fun facts about Guru Purnima?

  • Many people donate food and clothes on this day. Some people do Mahabhandaras (grand feasts) to feed people as a charitable deed.
  • The rituals one should do during Guru Purnima Pooja include…
  • He/she should wake up at the Brahmamuhurta (I have spoken about this before, but it is the time period that falls exactly 1 hour and 36 minutes before sunrise). They should also take bath and sit in the prayer room.
  • He/she should give an offering to VedVyasa and his guru.
  • One should visit all of their gurus and pay respects.
  • One should fast to seek their teacher’s blessings.
  • One should meditate.

Overall, Guru Purnima might have many parts to the celebration, but it is centred on honouring your teachers and gurus. Thank you so much for reading! Hope you read the next Festival Series article! Namaste.

Festival Series

Month 8: August 2021

Krishna Janmashtami

By: Ahana Raghavan, 13 years

For: Gurukulam- The Shloka Learning Centre

 

What is Krishna Janmashtami and how is it celebrated?

Krishna Janmashtami is a festival that celebrates the birth of Krishna. It is celebrated through fasting, singing, decorating, praying, and bathing the idol of Krishna. Some people even fly kites to celebrate the festival! Most people eat traditional sweets and share the sweets. Devotees sing devotional tunes to honor Lord Krishna and some devotees even stay quiet throughout the night because they are praying.

Courtesy: Google Images

 

When is Krishna Janmashtami?

Krishna Janmashtami takes place on August 30th. This year, the 5,248th birth anniversary of Lord Krishna will be occurring.

 

What is the story of Krishna’s birth?

Devaki’s brother, Kamsa (also spelled as Kansa), was so excited that his sister and now brother-in-law, were married. He agreed to drive them in his chariot, to celebrate their wedding.

Courtesy: Google Images

 

However, all of a sudden, a celestial voice spoke. It said that Kamsa would be killed by Devaki’s eighth child. Angered by this, he chained the both of them in his prison, and he killed the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth son of Devaki. Finally, the day came. She was giving birth to her eighth child. The baby was soon born, but something was different about this child. Suddenly, Devaki and Vasudeva were free from the chains that once held them both. Realizing what needed to be done, Vasudeva snuck out of the prison and into a village, where he exchanged his newborn with a little girl.

Courtesy: Google Images

 

He snuck back in and they tied their chains back together. Kamsa came in, and as he tried to kill the baby, the goddess Yogmaya emerged, warning that death had arrived in his kingdom. She vanished. Krishna grew up with Nanda and Yashoda, since he was exchanged for another child. He grew up to be extremely powerful and witty and ended up defeating Kamsa in a battle.

 

Overall, Krishna Janmashtami might have many parts to the celebration, but it is centred on celebrating the birth of Krishna (the eighth avatar of Vishnu). Thank you so much for reading! Hope you read the next Festival Series article! Namaste.