Category Archives: f. Worship Rituals and Festivals

The Festival of Holi

Hindus celebrate a tremendous number of religious festivals; they are frequent and usually joyous. Hindus are known to have the longest calendar of holidays (Walker 351). Great festivals can be seen as times of general worship and are recognized by the provincial government as public holidays (O’Malley 121). Festivals are celebrated for important days, famous incidents in mythology, moon phases, purification, remission of sins, or worship of a certain god or goddess (Walker 352). Festivals may be celebrated by fasting, vigils, bathing, fairs, chanting, lighting of lamps, games, drinking, and gift offering (Walker 352).

One of the most popular of Hindu celebration is the festival of Holi (O’Malley 123). It is a harvest rite to welcome the return of spring (Prior 41). Holi begins about ten days before the full moon in the month of Phalguna (February-March), but it is usually only observed on the last three days (Kapoor 696). It was once a fertility festival, but now it is seen as a time of hilarity and horseplay (O’Malley 123). It is celebrated after the harvest so that everyone is able to freely enjoy themselves (Prior 41). The festival begins with a bonfire celebrating the cremation of the Holika (Marriott 201). Holika was the sister of the evil King Hiranyakasipu, and together they plotted to kill his son Prahlada, a devotee of Visnu. King Hiranyakasipu had tried many times to kill his son; he threw him into a pit of poisonous snakes, and had elephants trample him while he was sleeping, but Vishnu always saved him (Gateshill and Kadodwala 19). Holika was supposedly fireproof so she brought Prahlada into a fire with her. However Visnu came to the rescue, saved Prahlada, and Holika was burned to death. (Sivananda 19). Another legend is that Holika was a child-eating cannibal who was destroyed by Krsna (Sivanada 19). Whichever myth is believed, ultimately they are both stories of good conquering evil. The burning of the Holika image is symbolically a burning all evils. Devotees start collecting wood early so the bonfire is always huge and in some villages it is a rule that everyone must contributed something to the fire (Marriott 201). The fire is usually lit by a Brahmin and holy water is poured onto the wood (Gateshill and Kadodwala 18). Worshippers dance and mothers carry their babies around the bonfire in a clockwise direction to ask Agni, the god of fire, to bless them (Mayled 15). New corn is cooked in the fire and eaten to celebrate the harvest (Mayled 15). Coconuts, popcorn, dates, and lentil are also roasted in the fire and eaten (Mayled 15). People sometimes will take embers from the fire home to rekindle their own fire.

During the next day, normally forbidden behaviour is allowed (Pastva 79) and barriers of caste and rank are forgotten (Bahree 30). Women beat men with stout canes “just as the milkmaids loved Lord Krsna” (Marriott 205), and washmen, tailors and Brahman priests sing together (Marriott 211). In the past throwing mud, refuse, and even excreta at others was not uncommon (Walker 354), but today coloured powers (gulal) and liquids are playfully thrown at others (Prior 21). People run through the streets and water is thrown either directly from a pot or squirted from plastic containers or balloons sold especially for the festival (Vickery 221). Powders of different hues are also thrown on each other. This is why the festival is referred to as the festival of colors. Parties of boys and men dance in the street impersonating Krsna and people can be heard singing lewd songs and shouting obscenities; this is supposed to drive away devils or evil spirits. The street celebrations and practical joking may remind a Westerner of Mardi Gras (Pastva 79).

Some powder is also smeared on the faces of the deities, especially Krsna and Radha. Youthful Krsna is remembered during this time since he is known for playing tricks. Many worshippers say it is Krsna who taught them how to celebrate the festival of Holi (Marriott 207). The colored water and powders are associated with Krsna and the story about him, Radha and the other gopis (milkmaids) walking by the river on a nice spring day. Krsna threw colored power on Radha and she threw some back on him; pretty soon the milkmaids and the cowherd were all dancing together to Krsnas flute, while they threw red powder all over one another (Mayled 15). To some this may seem like a weird reason to celebrate, but it has a deeper meaning; it shows that Krsna, who is God, wants a special, close relationship with those who worship him (Gateshill and Kadodwala 17).

At noon time, there is a state of truce and every one goes home to bathe and put on fresh clothes (Marriott 203). In the evening, people visit with each other and exchange sweets (Bahree 30). Friends embrace each other three times to wish one another good luck. Devotees are found indulging in all sorts of vices in the name of the Holi festival. Some drink intoxicating liquor, like the festival drink, a sweet and mild, thick, green liquid made up of almonds, sugar, curds of milk, anise, and half a cup of bhnag (juice from the hemp leaf) (Marriott 205), and others bet money and gamble (Sivananda 19). Holi is more popularly celebrated in Northern India. In the South India, Holi celebrations include dolayatra (swing ritual), where images of a deity are placed on decorated swings and swung back and forth by devotees.

Holi is known as the festival of love, as well as the festival of colors. It is a time where two stories are remembered: one about Prahlada and the other about Krsna. Both stories promote the worship of Visnu; Prahlada is a devotee of Visnu and Krsna is one of Visnu’s avataras. Prahlada’s tale shows good winning over evil and Krsna’s story is the basis for the fun and frolic observed during Holi. It is a great festival where every one of all ages and castes participates and “for a moment may experience the role of his opposite” (Marriott 212).


REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READINGS

Bahree, Patricia (1985) The Hindu World. New York: Silver Burdett Company.

Freed, Stanley A., and Ruth S. Freed (1998) Hindu Festivals in a North Indian Village. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Gateshill, Paul and Dilip Kadodwala (1997) Celebrate Hindu Festivals. Illinois: Reed Heinemann Library.

Kapoor, Suboah (2000) The Hindus Encyclopedia of Hinduism. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Marriott, McKim (1966) “The Feast of Love.” From Milton Singer ed., Krishna: Myths,Rites and Attitudes. Honolulu: East-West Press, 200-212.

Mayled, John (1987) Religious Festivals. England: Wayward Publishers Limited.

O’Malley, L.S.S. (1970) Popular Hinduism: The Religion of the Masses. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Pastva, Loretta (1986) Great Religions of the World. Minnesota: Saint Mary’s Press.

Prior, Katherine (1999) World Religions Hinduism. New York: Franklin Watts.

Sivananda, Sri Swami (1997) Hindu Fasts and Festivals. Himalayas: The Divine Life Society.

Vickery, Roy A. (1974) “Holi Celebrations in Kathmandu.” Folklore, Vol 87, No. 2 .pp.220-222

Walker, Benjamin (1983) Hindu World. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publisher Pvt. Ltd.

Related Topics For Further Investigation

Dolayatra

Diwali

Gopis

Holika

Krsna

Prahlada

Radha

Visnu

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.colorsofindia.com/holi/aboholi.htm

http://hinduism.about.com/library/weekly/aa030401a.htm

http://www.indiaexpress.com/rangoli/holi.html

http://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/holidays/holi.htm

Article written by Whitney Walsh (April 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.

Ramlilas

The city of Banaras is considered to be the holiest city in the Hindu tradition. Millions of people make pilgrimages to the holy city every year in hopes of fulfilling their spiritual desires. The religious importance of the city is not only recognized by the people of India but also by scholars, anthropologists, sociologists and the likes from all over the world. Many come to study the city while others come to bask in its spiritual and cultural offerings (Kapur 209). The city itself is actually considered by believers to be the dwelling place of all Hindu deities (Hertel and Humes 1). For pious Hindus this grants enormous importance to many of the city’s major festivals. It can be said that Banaras is most proclaimed for its festivals and traditions, one of the most notable of which is the Ramnagar Ramlila. The Ramlila at Ramnagar is an event that takes place every year and is the celebrated victory of Ram over Ravana, from the epic Ramayana.

There are many Ramlilas in Banaras. Ramlilas (play) are a way in which a Hindu tales are recreated for audiences in the city. The during the Ramila season there can be up to sixty neighbourhoods that participate by hosting the play on their block (Parkhill 104). The importance of these plays is immense because it sets out to recreate the “epic story of Lord Rama” (Eck 269). Rama is a highly regarded figure in Hinduism. He is considered to be the reincarnation of the deity Visnu. Visnu is one of the highly regarded deities and is widely worshipped across Hindi speaking northern India. This makes the Ramlilas an important and integral element of the city. Many of the roles in the Ramlilas are played by children (specifically boys). This also has an underlying spiritual connection because when the children are playing the role of Rama, or his wife Sita or Hanuman his devotee [For more information on Hindu deities, see Hertel (1998)], they are said to become temporary residence for the deities, during the presentation of the Ramlila (Parkhill 104). During this time there are many pilgrims who also come to the city hoping for a chance to view a Ramlila. Their visits add to the reputation of Banaras as a site of pilgrimage, which already attracts many because of its large number of deities and their temples.

The grandest Ramlila is the one that takes place at Ramnagar. It is a thirty one day theatrical event that attracts hundreds of people from all across the country (Schechner 20). The immensity of this Ramlila is greater than any other in terms of the crowds is attracts and its longevity. Despite its popularity the Ramlila is not strictly meant for entertainment purposes, as we in the west might go and see a theatrical event. It has significant spiritual importance that is not compromised, because all Ramlilas especially those of Ramnagar are “celebratory performances tracing the footsteps of Vishnu” (Schechner 20). The Ramlilas typically enact how Rama suffered when Ravana the demon kidnapped his wife Sita and took her away in hopes of wooing her into marriage. The Ramlilas use ritual and drama to demonstrate how Rama rid the world of Ravana and finally returned to Ayodhya [The city or kingdom to which Ram returns after his victory. See Schechner (1998) for more information] in triumphant victory (Schechner 41). The significance of the story and victory is displayed not only by its performers but also by the spectators who take part in their own rituals that they deem an important part of the Ramlilas. For example, some spectators will not walk on the ground where the Ramlilas are being held in their shoes, because they consider those sites to be like temples, and one would not walk into a temple with shoes on (Schechner 32). The Ramlilas therefore are not merely plays put on by the town people simply for entertainment. They have a strong religious significance for most Hindus. Particularly because Rama, who is regarded as an incarnation of Visnu, is held in high regard. As one scholar remarked, the Ramlilas are “carefully crafted enactments of a narrative transmitting information and values concerning sacred history and geography, social hierarchy, ethics and the personalities of god, heroes, and demons” (Schechner 22).

The epic story and the Ramlilas are significant because of their importance in the Hindu tradition. However they have also been significant in the shaping of Indian life and culture. The Ramnagar Ramlila has been shaped by many years of influence from the Maharajas [Maharajas were the ruling royalty in India until its Independence in 1947; they still exist but have no ruling power. See Schechner (1998)] of Banaras who gathered scholars, poets and theatre practitioners and guided the Ramlila (Schechner 24). The first of these was Maharaja Balwant Singh who ruled in the seventeenth century. Later on Maharaja Ishavari Prasad Narain Singh who ruled in the eighteenth century also played a significant role (Schechner 24). The present Maharaja of Banaras has had no political power in India since its independence in 1947. However he is highly active in his role and participation in the Ramnagar Ramlila because it has been such a tradition for previous kings that his royal identity is now dependent on his involvement in the festival drama (Schechner 37).

Since the kings’ roles in the Ramlila have evolved, it raises the question of how the Ramlila itself has evolved through the ages? Of course the text from which the Ramlilas’ performance is derived has been mostly unchanged for centuries. However, there are some significant changes that have occurred in India culturally and structurally. For one, the power and grandeur of the Maharaja has declined which has led to far less glamorous shows, with only half the materials once used in previous Ramlilas (Schechner 51). There are also some more obvious changes that have occurred as well. The most significant of these is the growth in population of India. This has limited the theatre space available for the Ramnagar Ramlila; in an area where there were once trees and grass, there are now vast amounts of housing and people. Another shift has been in some of the innovative advances that have been introduced in staging the drama. Circumstances now allow production officials to use electrical lighting and other technical innovations (Parkhill 108). However, this creates a spilt between those who want to keep the Ramlila traditional and those interested in using modern innovations. The issue is emotionally charged; many consider the innovations improvements while others see them as tools for corruption (Parkhill 111). Still some feel that the message and value is in the rituals and practice themselves and not the aesthetics of the presentation.

Even with such changes over the centuries in the Ramnagar Ramlila, the sheer magnitude and importance it enjoys today has still not diminished. The story of Rama and Sita is one that has been told for centuries by Brahmins [Brahmins are the priestly caste in Hindu society. See Parkhill (1998)], scholars, and parents to children and will certainly continue. The Ramnagar Ramlila is an event that can only grow in stature. No matter what elements are introduced to enhance its performance the ritual enactments will continue as they have for centuries. As one scholar notes the “Ramlila is not reducible to single meanings or experiences” (Schechner 48). Rather it is an event that can offer something to everybody, from the performers to spectators and even the poor of the city who benefit from offerings by the Maharaja.

REFERENCES

Eck, D. L (1982) Banaras the City of Lights. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Hertel, R. Bradley., and Humes, Ann Cynthia (eds.) (1998) Introduction. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Kapur, Anuranha (1990) Actors, Pilgrims, Kins and Gods: The Ramlila at Ramnagar. Calcutta: Seagull Books.

Parkhill, Thomas (1998) Whats Taking Place: Neighborhood Ramlilas in Banaras. Eds. Bradley R. Hertel and Cynthia Ann Humes. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Schechner, Richard (1998) Crossing the Water: Pilgrimage, Movement, and Environmental Scenography of the Ramlila of Ramnagar. Eds. Bradley R. Hertel and Cynthia Ann Humes. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Related Topics

Gods and Goddess:

Sita

Rama

Vishnu

Ravana

Hanuman

Devi

Krsna

Ganesa

Surya

Texts:

Ramayana

The Vedas

The Bhagavad-Gita

Upanishads

Mahabharata

Rg Vedas

Dharma Sastras

Dharma Sutras

Manu

The Aranyakas

Related Websites

http://www.gkindia.com/worldreligions/hindusm.htm

http://www.stthomasu.ca/~parkhill/lila.htm

http://www.unesco.org/culture/intangible-heritage/16apa_uk.htm

http://www.up-tourism.com/fair/ramlila.htm

http://www.sacredsites.com/asia/india/banaras.html

http://www.4to40.com/discoverindia/places/index.asp?article=discoverindia_places_banaras

Written by Osman Shah (Spring 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.

Divali

Divali, known as the Festival of Lights or Lamps “is one of the most prominent and widely celebrated Hindu festivals” (Schomer 8), and “…in the most limited sense refers to the illuminations made on the [festivals] new-moon night…” (Schomer 13). There are several variations in the Divali festival, its name, rituals, and celebratory meaning. Hence, it is not a festival easily defined or described. Much like any celebration its significance and ritual practice has evolved to meet an individual’s perception of what it should be. The variances in Divali exist locally, regionally, and globally, based on its historical significance, tradition, and individual interpretation. Schomer states that “certain variations in the stories and rituals related to Divali can be traced to regional historical events” (13), thus supporting the realization that Divali is a complex festival. Schomer also explains that there are six principal stories connected to Divali: Bali story, Story of King Hema’s son, Narakasura story, Govardhan story, Shiva-Parvati story, and Yama-Yamuna story, which are all closely related (28) and may share common rituals. Other factors complicating our understanding of the festival are its globalization and evolution. The global movement of Hindus, Jains and Sikhs allow festivals such as Divali to be shared, directly or indirectly, with new cultures resulting in an increased popularity. It is believed that Sikh’s originally celebrated Divali to honour their sixth Guru or the establishment of the Golden Temple in Amritsar (Schomer 25). Jains are said to celebrate Divali to mark the death of Mahavira and that the lighting of lamps compensate for the darkness left after his passing (Schomer 25).

Diwali, Dipavali (dip = lamp, avali = row), Dipotsavi, Deepavali and Dipapratipad are alternative names or titles for Divali, mainly dependant upon what region of India or the world the festival is being celebrated. Variations in the festival’s duration are also observed based on the location of the festival, and can range from one to five days. Divali is celebrated for five days and in accordance with lunar calendars. It begins in late Asvina (August – September) and ends in early Karttika (October – November). The festival begins on Dhan Teras, the 13th day of the dark half of Asvina, and ends on Yama Dvitiya, the 2nd day of the light half of Karttika, each day marking a day of celebration for one of the six principle stories in which Divali is linked (please refer to Chart 3 for details). Divali is sometimes viewed as a cluster of holidays, earmarked for the worship of all three principal goddesses: Laksmi (Goddess of Wealth), Kali (Goddess of Destruction), and Saraswati (Goddess of Learning) (Bezbaruah 21). Divali is also seen a festival to mark the change of seasons, the end of harvest, the end of monsoon season, a new business year and a new calendar year (Bezbaruah 15, Schomer 10). It is believed that Divali is most important to the farmers and merchants (the vaisya class); however, according to Bezbaruah, Divali “is celebrated in full force in Delhi” and “is a universal festival” (20).

The most common or mainstream interpretation of the Divali festival is that it is in honour of the Goddess Laksmi, the Goddess of Wealth & Prosperity. After the monsoons people clean, white-wash, and decorate their homes in order to receive Laksmi into their home during the festival. Her visit brings the hope of prosperity for the new year. Lights and rangoli are used to decorate homes and welcome Laksmi [(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rangoli) “Rangoli is one of the most popular art forms in India. It is a form of decoration that uses finely ground white powder and colours, and is used commonly outside homes in India. Rangoli can be wall art as well as floor art. The term rangoli is derived from words rang (colour) and aavalli (‘coloured creepers’ or ‘row of colours’)”]. Each day a new rangoli design is drawn, and in addition to lamps inviting Laksmi into homes lamps are also lit and set afloat on the Ganga or other nearby rivers. The floating lamps are seen as indicators of prosperity in the new year, meaning if they float a long distance and remain lit then prosperity will greet the individual and his/her family in the upcoming year. In addition to lamp lighting some people prepare sweets and other delicacies, others clear debts and close accounts and open new ones in the New Year hoping that Laksmi will bless them with prosperity and others purchase new clothing and jewellery. Divali rituals vary between people based on what they can afford, what region of the world they live, and what the significance of the festival represents to them.

Globalization of Divali has led various groups and individuals to compare the festival to other existing festivals and celebrations such as the Anglo-pagan Halloween. The comparison of Halloween to Divali is in part due to certain beliefs that “the lighting of lamps at the Divali festival is intended to scare away evil spirits” (O’Malley 133), and Hospital supports this view of commonality between Divali and Halloween through this statement:

“It is intriguing that in both Europe and India this period of transition is linked with the dead, that at both Hallowe’en and Divali (that is, immediately preceding New Year Day) evil and inauspicious forces on one hand, and the dead on the other, were thought to be let loose. Such similarities, of course, again raise the question of a possible common historical background to these practices (Hospital 249).

Although there may be some commonality between Divali and other festivals (local or global), differences exist because of history, translation, and significance.


Divali Stories As Charters For Ritual (Schomer 29)

Time: Dhan Teras (13th of dark half of Asvina)

Ritual: lighting rows of lamps

Story: Yama’s boon to his emissaries

Time: Narak chaudas (14th of dark half of Asvina)

Ritual: ceremonial baths

Story: Krishna’s boon to Narakasura

Time: Bari Divali (15th of dark half of Asvina)

Ritual: cleaning homes/Laksmi Puja

Story: Lakshmi freed from Bali’s jail

Time: All three days of the “triplet” (13th-15th of dark half of Āśvina)

Ritual: lighting rows of lamps

Story: Vishnu’s boon to Bali

Time: Govardhan (1st of bright half of Karttika)

Ritual: worship of Govardhan

Story: Krishna’s starts Govardhan worship

Ritual: saving the land

Story: gambling Parvati’s boon to Shiva

Time: Yama Dvitīya (2nd of bright half of Karttika)

Ritual: sisters entertaining brothers

Story: Yama’s boon to Yamuna

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Babb, Lawrence A. (1975) The Divine Hierarchy: Popular Hinduism in Central India. New York: Columbia University Press.

Bezbauah, M.P. (2003) Fairs and Festivals of India Vol. III. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House.

Devagupta, Rama; Klaus, M. (Illustrator) (May 2001) The slaying of Narakasura. Parabola 26 no 2, May 2001, p 80-81.

Dhal, Upendra Nath (1978) Goddess Laksmi: Origin and Development. New Delhi: Oriental

Publishers.

Dogra, R.C., Dogra, U. (2000) Hindu and Sikh Wedding Ceremonies: with salient features of Hindu and Sikh rituals. New Delhi: Star Publications Pvt. Ltd.

Fuller, C.J. (1992) The Camphor Flame: popular Hinduism and society in India. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Gregory, Ruth W. (1975) Anniversaries and Holidays Third Edition. Chicago: The American Library Association.

Havell, E.B. (2000) Benares, the Sacred City: sketches of Hindu life & religion. New Delhi: Book Faith India.

O’Malley, L.S.S. (1970) Popular Hinduism: The Religion of the Masses. New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation. (Original print 1935 at Cambridge University Press).

Pattanaik, Devdutt (2003, c2002) Laksmi, the goddess of wealth and fortune: an introduction.

Mumbai: Vakils, Feffer & Simons.

Schomer, Karine (Spring 1999) Divali: The Study of a Hindu Festival. Journal of Vaisnava Studies.

Vineeth, Vadakethala F. (1987) Religio-cultural festival of India. Journal of Dharma.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rangoli April 9, 2006.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Laksmi

Kali

Saraswati

Bali

Narakasura

Yama Yamana

Sikhism

Amritsar

Jainism

Mahavira

Vaisaya Class

Rangoli

Halloween

Festivals

Rituals

Celebrations

Puja

Govardhan

Shiva Parvati

Rama

Holi

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://amitkulkarni.info/pics/diwali-2005/

http://www.diwalifestival.org/

http://www.diwalifestival.org/diwali-rangoli.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diwali

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rangoli

http://www.diwalifestival.org/the-tradition-of-rangoli.html

http://www.sivanandadlshq.org/religions/deepavali.htm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/cbbcnews/hi/club/your_reports/newsid_1677000/1677032.stm

http://www.arts.wa.gov/progFA/AsianFest/Diwali/faAsianFestdiwalicontents.html

Article written by Lisa Shaw (March 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.