This 3-day harvest festival is one of the major events in South India. In Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, it is called Pongal, while in Karnataka and Maharashtra it is known as Sankranti. Pongal is celebrated to mark not only the reaping of harvest but also the withdrawal of the southeast monsoon.Different festivities mark each of the three days. The Tamils celebrate the first day by getting rid of old things.A fire is lit in which old agricultural and household wastes are burnt. The second day is the main celebration and marks the movement of the sun from the Tropic of Cancer to Capricorn, which is traditionally considered as an auspicious time. The third day is Mattu Pongal – celebrated mainly by farmers as a day to acknowledge the participations of animals in assisting them to raise a good crop. Cattle are bathed, their horns polished and painted in bright colours, and garlands of flowers placed around their necks.
Many extend the three days into a fourth day called the Kaani Pongal when youngsters go around seeking blessings from elders. In Chennai (Madras), a Rath-yatra (Temple chariot) procession is taken out from the Kandaswamy Temple. In Madurai, Thanjavur and Tiruchirrapalli, where Pongal is known as Jallikattu, bundles of money are tied to the horns of bulls and people try to snatch the bundles from them. Community meals are made from the freshly gathered harvests and enjoyed by the entire village.
This is pre-eminently the spring festival of India. Gulal (coloured powder) is sprinkled on to each other by elders and children, men and women, rich and poor alike. All social barriers are pulled down by the all-round gaiety and laughter. The day itself is associated with many interesting and enlightening Puranic legends. One legend is associated with the story of Holika, the sister of demon Hiranyakashipu. The demon-father, having failed in various other ways to make his son Prahlaada denounce Lord Narayana, finally asked his sister Holika to take Prahlaada in her lap and enter a blazing fire. Holika, who had a boon to remain unscathed by fire, did her brother’s bidding. But Holika’s boon ended by this act of supreme sin against the Lord’s devotee; she was burnt to ashes and Prahlaada came out unharmed.
Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati is widely worshipped as the munificent god of wisdom. Ganesh Chaturthi is a festival in his honour and is celebrated in the states of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. To appreciate this occasion, one must go to Mumbai where preparations begin months in advance. Images of Ganesha are installed within homes as well as in places of assembly.Elaborate arrangements are made for lighting and decoration and Ganesha is fervently worshipped for about 7-10 days. On the day of the Chaturthi, i.e. the last of the days dedicated to the elephant-headed god, thousands of processions converge on the beaches of Mumbai to immerse the holy idols in the sea. This immersion is accompanied by drum beats, devotional songs and dancing.
A festival most popular in Kerala celebrates the gift of nature and a year of good harvest. Ten days of feasting, boat races and song and dance are a part of the festivities. The festivities are marked with floral decorations adorning every home. Temple elephants in spectacular processions, fireworks and the Kathakali dances are an integral part of the festivities. The Boat races remain the most exciting aspect of Onam and are best seen at Aranmula and Kottayam. About a hundred oarsmen row huge and graceful boats fastened with scarlet silk umbrellas. Their number denotes the affluence of the family owning the boat. Gold coins and tassels hang from the umbrellas. The men row to the rhythm of drums and cymbals in each boat.
Deepavali or Diwali
Diwali – the festival of lights – during the months of October – November signifies the victory of the divine forces over evil. In India, Deepavali is synonymous with the bursting of firecrackers and the lighting of tiny clay lamps. These oil lamps are lit all around the house to welcome Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth. The festival of lights is one that is the most joyous and noisy of Indian festivals. Celebrations begin at dawn when family members are given an oil massage and bath followed by an arthi (puja) – after which the children rush out to burst crackers and mark the day. There is an additional significance for the Jains in Deepavali. For this was when Mahaveera attained the eternal bliss of nirvana.
Nehru Cup Snake Boat Race
This famous event takes place in Alleppey or Allapuzha on the second Saturday & Sunday of August every year. Several long, low-slung boats with highly decorated sterns and crewed by up to 100 rowers shaded by gleaming silk umbrellas compete for the cup, watched from the banks by thousands of spectators. The annual event celebrates the seafaring and martial traditions of ancient Kerala.