Indian culture has matured and developed over several millennia, and its customs are among the oldest in the world. Celebration has always been an important part of the Indian way of life, and thus, the Indian calendar is filled with a host of festivals. At one time, there were said to be 365 festivals in a year! Let’s take look at five well-known and popular festivals one must see to absorb the essence of Indian culture.
Mahashivratri is one of the most significant festivals in India’s spiritual tradition. This festival is also in honor of Shiva, and literally translates to “the great night of Shiva.” Shiva is celebrated as the supreme deity who creates and destroys the universe. Mahashivratri falls in the lunar month of Phalguna, which corresponds to February and March in the Gregorian calendar.
It is a common practice during the festival to stay awake all night while sitting erect, as this is said to bring great spiritual benefits. The chanting of Om Namah Shivaya, a mantra sacred to Shiva, is considered to be of great importance on this night, as is the reading of the Shiv Puran, one of the scriptures of the Hindu way of life.
Mahalaya Amavasya is a festival that celebrates one’s ancestors. Amavasya is the night of the new moon and Indians traditional make offerings to fire, known as Agni Arpanam, in a mark of gratitude to their ancestors and to help in their journey beyond. The offerings are generally made at midnight, and the next day marks the beginning of Navratri, a very important festival that celebrates the feminine aspect of the divine.
Dussehra is a ten-day festival in honor of the goddess Durga in her various forms. Dussehra is usually celebrated in two phases in October. The first nine days are called Navratri or “nine nights”, during which the goddess is worshiped in many different aspects. Classical dance and music performances are popular at this time, as is the Dandiya, a folk dance performed by young men and women. Vijayadashami, the tenth day of Dussehra is the day of victory, and is celebrated as the day Durga overcame her enemies.
Visiting and participating in Indian festivals is a great way to absorb and appreciate the culture of India. However, costs and prices aren’t cheap at these times of the year, so it’s best to plan well and book early.