Annual festivals in India and where they are most prominently celebrated:
|Pongal||January||South India / Tamil Nadu|
|Snake Boat Race||August||Kerala|
|Ganesh Chaturthi||September||Maharashtra, Goa|
|Deepavali / Diwali||November||All over India|
|Christmas||December||All over India|
This three-day harvest festival is known as Pongal in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and as Sankranti in Karnataka and Maharashtra. It is one of South India’s most important festivals. Pongal is about celebrating the harvest and the end of the southeast monsoon. Each day of the 3-day festival is marked by special events. The festival starts with a symbolic cleansing. In Tamil Nadu, for example, on the first day of Pongal, old items that are no longer of use in the household or in the field will be burned. The second day is the actual day of celebration. On this day, the sun moves again from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn, which is traditionally regarded as a very auspicious period. On Mattu Pongal, the third day of the festival, the farmers give thanks to their cattle for contributing to the planting and harvesting work.
Cows and bullocks are washed and decorated with flower garlands, their horns polished and freshly painted in bright colors. In many places, the festival is extended to a fourth day, the so-called Kaani Pongal, in which youngsters go from home to home, seeking blessings from the elders. The Kandaswamy temple in Chennai organizes a Rath Yatra (temple car procession). In Madurai, Thanjavur and Tirichirrapalli, where Pongal is also called Jallikattu, daredevils attempt to tear off banknotes tied to the horns of bulls. Whole village communities celebrate with community meals prepared from freshly harvested crops.
Holi is first and foremost the Indian spring festival. On this day, people joyfully throw gulal (coloured powder) at each other. Everyone joins in: the old and the young, males and females, the rich and the poor. All social differences and barriers are set aside for this one day. Laughter and unbridled joy can be heard everywhere. Holi is also associated with various legends from the Puranas, for example the story of Holika, the sister of the demon Hiranyakasipu. According to legend, Hiranyakasipu was determined to stop his son Prahlaada from worshiping the god Vishnu, taking drastic measures to accomplish the same. After several attempts had failed, he persuaded his sister Holika to jump into a fire with Prahlaada in her arms. Holika had a gift that protected her from being burned by fire.
But because of their transgression against the worshipers of God, the gift became ineffective as she jumped into the flames with Prahlaada. While the fire consumed her, Prahlaada remained unharmed.
Nehru Cup Snake Boat Race
This famous event is held every year in Alleppey (Allapuzha), in the second weekend of August. Several very long, low-slung wooden boats with magnificently decorated sterns take part in the competition, manned by up to 100 oarsmen who are shaded by shiny silk umbrellas. The race is attended by thousands of spectators, watching from the stands on the river banks. The yearly event celebrates the seafaring and fighting tradition of Kerala.
Onam is a popular festival in Kerala, in which the gifts of nature and a good harvest year are celebrated. The festive atmosphere is underlined by flower decorations in people’s homes. Spectacular processions of temple elephants, fireworks and Kathakali dance performances are an integral part of the festival. The most thrilling events, however, are the various boat races, at their most impressive in Aranmula or Kottayam. Over a hundred men row long and graceful boats with mounted purple silk umbrellas. The number of umbrellas, which are decorated with gold coins and tassels, is an indication of the social status of the boat owner. The men row to the rhythm of drums and cymbals played in each boat.
Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati, is worshiped everywhere in Hindu culture as the God of wisdom. Ganesh Chaturthi is a festival dedicated to him and is celebrated in the states of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. In order to learn to appreciate Ganesh Chaturthi, one has to travel to Mumbai where preparations for the festival start a month in advance. Specially made statues of Ganesha are set up in people’s homes and in public places, and elaborate arrangements provide light and decoration. Ganesha is worshiped for 7 – 10 days. On the last day of Chaturthi, thousands of processions, accompanied by drums, dances and songs of worship, move towards the Mumbai beaches, where the sacred idols are immersed in the sea.
Deepavali or Diwali
Diwali (or Deepavali), the festival of lights, is celebrated in October or November and symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. In India, Diwali is synonymous with fireworks and small clay lamps filled with oil which are lit around the house to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. The Festival of Lights is the merriest and noisiest of all Indian festivals. The festivities start at sunrise, when, after an oil bath that involves extensive massaging of warm til-oil, the family members come together for a prayer ceremony. Afterwards, the children rush outside to greet the day with loud firecrackers. For Jains, Diwali has another meaning, for it was on this day that Mahaveera reached the eternal bliss of nirvana.