Hindu Festivals

Hindu Festivals

Utsavāḥ
Festivals

Praise our Lord in devotion congregational. Sing His praise within, and His feet adore. Dance within and know Him. Then He yearns after you, like the cow after its calf.

Tirumantiram 2109. tm


What Are the Festival Days of Śaivism?

SLOKA 96

Festivals are special times of communion with God and Gods, of family and community sharing and sādhana. Śaivites observe numerous festivals in the temple and the home, and special holy days each week and month. Aum.

BHĀSHYA

Monday is the Hindu holy day in the North of India, and Fri­day in the South, set aside each week for attending the temple, cleaning and decorating the home shrine, devout prayer, japa and scriptural study. These are not days of rest, for we carry on our usual work.

Among the major Deity festivals are Mahā Śivarātri, Vaikāsi Viśākham, Gaṇeśa Chaturthī, Skanda Ṣaṣṭhī, Kṛittikā Dīpam, Vināyaka Vratam, Ārdrā Darśanam and Tai Pusam.

Temples also hold a ten-day annual festival called Brahmotsava, often on the Uttarā Phalgunī nakṣatra in March-April, as well as honor the anniversary day of their founding.

Festivals are auspicious and sacred days of family and community to­getherness, and of sādhana, fasting, meditation, worship and retreat from worldly concerns.

Śaivites offer special prayers to Śiva, Gaṇeśa and Kārtikeya on propitious days each month according to the Hindu sacred calendar.

The Vedas proclaim:

“Behold now a man who unwinds and sets the thread, a man who unwinds it right up to the vault of heaven. Here are the pegs; they are fastened to the place of worship. The Sāma Veda hymns are used for weaving shuttles.” Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.

What Are the Primary Festivals to Śiva?

SLOKA 97

Mahā Śivarātri, Śiva’s great night, venerates Paraśiva. Kṛittikā Dīpam celebrates the infinite light of Parāśaktī. Ārdrā Darśanam invokes the blessings of Parameśvara— Lord Śiva Naṭarāja in His blissful Cosmic Dance. Aum.

BHĀSHYA

Mahā Śivarātri is the night before the new-moon day in February-March.

We observe it both as a discipline and a festivity, keeping a strict fast and all-night vigil, meditating, intoning Śiva’s 1,008 names, singing His praise, chanting Śrī Rudram, bathing the Śivaliṅga and being near the vairāgīs as they strive to realize Paraśiva.

On Kṛittikā Dīpam, the Kṛittikā nakṣatra in November-December, we honor—with oil lamps every­where, village bonfires and special temple āratī—God Śiva as an infinite pillar of light. This is an important festival in Murugan temples.

On Ārdrā Darśanam, during the Ārdrā nakṣatra of December-January, Lord Naṭarāja receives elaborate abhiṣeka and is beseeched for yogic union, prosperity and matri­monial success.

He is again lavishly invoked on the Uttarā Phalgunī nakṣatra in June-July and on four other days each year. Special monthly days for Śiva worship are the two 13th tithis, called pradosha.

The Vedas proclaim:

“The Lord, God, all- pervading and omnipresent, dwells in the heart of all beings. Full of grace, He ultimately gives liberation to all creatures by turning their faces toward Himself.” Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.

During Śivarātri, a devotee grows doubtful if he can keep his vow not to sleep or eat on this holy night. A friend offers encouragement, pointing to the Śivaliṅga and re­minding him that Śiva lives in the heart, where all strength to endure can be found.

What Are the Major Gaṇeśa Festivals?

SLOKA 98

Gaṇeśa Chaturthī is a joyous celebration of Gaṇeśa’s birthday. Vināyaka Vratam is twenty-one days of fast­ing and daily temple worship. Pañcha Gaṇapati is a five- day family festival of harmony and gift-giving. Aum.

BHĀSHYA

On Gaṇeśa Chaturthī, in August-September, elaborate temple pūjās are held. Worship is also given in the home shrine to a clay image of Gaṇeśa that we make or obtain.

At the end of the day, or after ten days, we join others in a grand parade, called visarjana, to a river, temple tank, lake or seashore, where we immerse the image, symbolizing Gaṇeśa’s release into uni­versal consciousness.

During the twenty-one days of Vināyaka Vratam, in November-December, devotees vow to attend daily Gaṇeśa pūjā, fasting on water and taking a full meal after sun­set.

Pañcha Gaṇapati, December 21 to 25, is a modern five-day festival of gift-giving, dear to children.

Families invoke His five Śaktis, one on each day—creating harmony in the home, con­cord among relatives, neighbors and friends, good business and public relations, cultural upliftment and heartfelt charity.

Gaṇeśa’s monthly holy day is Chaturthī, the fourth tithi after the new moon.

The Vedas implore:

“O Lord of Categories, thou art the Lord, the seer of seers, unrivaled in wealth, king of el­ders, lord of the principle of principles. Hear us and take thy place, bringing with thee all enjoyments.” Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.

While Gaṇeśa worships His father as the Śivaliṅga, an elephant offers homage to Lord Ganeśa, plucking and offering lotuses from the jungle pool. The elephant-faced Deity is Hinduism’s most popular God, worshiped by all denominations equally.

What Are the Main Kārtikeya Festivals?

SLOKA 99

Vaikāsi Viśākham celebrates the anniversary of Lord Kārtikeya’s creation. Skanda Ṣaṣṭhī is a six-day fes­tival honoring His conquest of light over darkness. Tai Pusam is a time of sādhana and public penance. Aum.

BHĀSHYA

On Vaikāsi Viśākham day, Lord Kārtikeya’s birth-star, Viśākhā nakṣatra, in May-June, elaborate abhiṣeka is conducted in all His temples.

It is a time of gift-giving to panditas and great souls, weddings, feedings for the poor, caring for trees, spiritual initiation, dīkṣā, and conclaves of holy men.

Skanda Ṣaṣṭhī is celebrated on the six days after the new moon in October-November with festive processions and pūjās invok­ing His protection and grace.

It honors Kārtikeya’s receiving the vel, His lance of spiritual illumination, jñāna śakti, and cul­minates in a dramatic victory celebration of spiritual light over asuric darkness.

Tai Pusam occurs on Puṣyā nakṣatra in January-February. During this festival we fast and perform public penance, called kavadi, seeking Kārtikeya’s blessings to dispel our selfishness, pride and vanity.

His special monthly days are Kṛittikā nakṣatra and Ṣaṣṭhī, the sixth tithi after the new moon.

The Vedas say:

“Like the cry of watchful birds swim­ming in water, like the loud claps of thundering rain clouds, like the joyful streams gushing from the mountain, so have our hymns sounded forth to the Lord.” Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.

What Are Other Important Festivals?

SLOKA 100

Besides the temple festivals, there is a multitude of home, community and national celebrations, notably Dīpāvalī, Hindu New Year, Tai Pongal, guru pūjā days, kumbha melas, Jayantī and Guru Pūrṇimā. Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.

BHĀSHYA

Dīpāvalī, the “festival of lights” in October-November, is a most popular festival, esteemed as a day of Hindu solidarity, when all sects gather in love and trust.

It begins the financial year and is celebrated by opening new accounts, giving greeting cards, clothing and other gifts and by lighting rows of oil lamps. Family bonds are strengthened and forgivenesses sought.

The several Hindu New Years are important observations. Tai Pongal, in January-February, is a harvest thanksgiving and invocation for prosperity.

God Sūrya, the Sun, is honored, and daughters are presented with gifts. We venerate saints and sages by conducting guru pūjā on the anniversary of their pass­ing, or mahā samādhi.

We celebrate our satgurus birthday, or Jayantī, with special pūjā to his Śrī pādukā, “sandals,” or holy feet. We honor him again on Guru Purnima, the full moon of July.

Kumbha melas, humanity’s largest gatherings, are held at four pilgrimage centers in India every three years.

The Vedas proclaim:

“Thus have we now approached the All-Knower, the one who is the best procurer of good things. Endow us, O Majesty, with strength and glory.” Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.


Supported by whose protection Heaven and Earth, shining brightly and inspired in their spirit, manifest this glory, with whose effulgence does the risen sun shine forth? To whom else, besides that giver of happiness, can we offer all our devotion?

Rig Veda 10.121.6. rvp, 4615

Let us now invoke for our aid the Lord of Speech, the Designer of all things that are, the inspirer of wisdom! May He, the ever-kindly, be well disposed to our summons, and may He, whose work is goodness, grant us His blessing!

Rig Veda 10.81.7. VE, 808

The gift of wealth and victory in deeds, sweetest of garlands, honor and fame, too, love and esteem are His bounties—so even devas adore the elephant-faced One, in devotion sweet with cooped hands.

Tirumurai 11 (Kapiladeva). ag, 159

Wherever I hear the sound of drums, the music of hymns, the Vedas chanted, there my heart remembers God our Master, the Lord who dwells in Itaimarutu.

Tirumurai 5.129.1. ps, 180

The Lord of Citticcaram shrine in Naraiyur, who has the river in His hair, the poison stain on His throat and the Veda on His tongue, goes resplendent in ceremonial dress as His devotees and perfected sages sing and dance His widespread fame, and the sound of festival drums beaten on the streets, where the temple car is pulled, spreads on every side.

Tirumurai 1.71.5. ps, 183

Pumpavai, O beautiful girl! Would you go without having seen, on the streets of great Mayilai, always busy with festive crowds, the festival of Uttarā Phalgunī with its great sound of celebration, at which beauti­ful women sing and distribute alms, at the Lord’s Kapaliccaram shrine, center of many festivals?

Tirumurai 2.183.7. ps, 188

As the blare of the moon-white conch, the parai drum’s beat and the jingle of the cymbals of dancing devotees spread everywhere, peacocks, thinking that the rains have come, dance in delight. Such is the splendor of Ārdrā day in Arur town!

Tirumurai 4.21.5. ps, 185

You took for your shrine the good temple at Itaimarutu where, for the blessing of the world, scholars praise you with the Vedic chant, and great seers and Gods gather to bathe on the day of the Pusam festival in the month of Tai.

Tirumurai 2.192.5. ps, 183

Folk from far and near, good men and rogues and those who pray every day for an end to disease—our Lord of Arur is kinsman to all those who cry, “O my jewel, golden one, dear husband! My son!” Such is the splendor of Ārdrā day in Arur town!

Tirumurai 4.21.2. ps, 184

Hail! Śankara, Dispenser of Bliss! Hail! The oldest in Śivaloka! Hail!

Our youngest youth appearing to extricate us from affliction! Hail! Matchless One! Hail! The Lord of devas! Hail!

Tirumurai 8. tt, 151

By drinking the water after washing the holy feet of the guru and sprinkling the remains on the head, man attains the fruit of bathing in all the sacred waters of all sacred rivers and of all pilgrimages.

Guru Gītā 29. gg, 10

I’ll wreathe Him in garland. I’ll hug Him to heart. I’ll sing Him His name and dance with gifts of flowers. Singing and dancing, seek the Lord. This alone I know.

Tirumantiram 50. tm

The golden emblems of Śiva and the smear of holy ashes are apt insignia of the Śaiva path. This path of jñāna is San Mārga, which no evil can obstruct. It is the beloved way of Śuddhā Śaivam.

The blemish- less jñāni is king of the entire realm of wisdom. He is the sun whose beams illumine the massive lore of Vedanta-Siddhāṅta. He remains immortal, ever devoted to the Śuddhā Śaiva way.

Tirumantiram 1427-1428. tmr, 221

Why think and suffer further for the insubstantial body that is transient as a dew drop on a blade of grass? While on this Earth, extol with love the holy feet of Him who has six faces.

Natchintanai, “Give Praise... NT, 199