Festivals are occasions to celebrate life amidst the daily routine and toil. They serve as the tool to break the monotony of life. Furthermore, they bring people together and promote peace and harmony. As per the etymology corner of Collins Dictionary, the origin of the word ‘festival’ can be traced to the Latin ‘Festa,’ meaning ‘a religious holiday.’ The adjective connected with ‘Festa’ was ‘festivals,’ The word came into English via French as the adjective ‘festival’ (relating to a religious feast). During ancient times, festivals were compulsorily related to some religious celebration comprising rituals, sacrifices, and processions. But today, it covers a much broader spectrum. All the happy moments celebrated at the macro level are called festivals. Today, winning Cricket World Cup is no less than a festival in India. The entire nation celebrates it with equal zeal and zest. There are music festivals like ‘Tansen Music festival’ celebrated in Gwalior, ‘Sunburn music festival’ celebrated in Goa, Jodhpur Riff, etc.; art festivals like ‘Kala Ghoda’, celebrated in Mumbai; literature festivals like Jaipur Literature Festival and Food festivals like ‘Goa Food and Cultural Festival’ and ‘National Street Food Festival’ celebrated in New Delhi. All these festivals are dedicated to some particular theme, and people have an interest in those, waiting for them eagerly.
Festivals provide opportunities to understand the culture and build community and belonging. The periodic occurrence of festivals brings people closer. It enriches them through music, dance, story-telling, art decor, and other rituals. India celebrates more festivals than anyone else because of its multicultural society.
The best way to preserve culture is to participate in festivals.
India is flooded with hundreds of festivals that are celebrated around the year. That is why it is called the land of festivals. The major festivals include Holi, Diwali, Dussera, Navratri, Makar Sankranti, Mahashivratri, Ganesh Puja, Janmashtami, and Raksha Bandhan. These festivals display a wide variety of cultural practices.
Most Indian festivals are based on religious beliefs. Like Diwali is observed to celebrate Lord Rama’s return to his home from 14-year-long exile, Janmashtami celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna, Mahashivratri, Ganesh puja, and Durga Puja all are celebrated to offer prayers to these Gods and to bring in positivity and happiness in life. These times are considered to be very auspicious as per the Hindu religion. People wait for these times of the year to start anything new or important in life. For instance, moving to a new house, buying a new property or vehicle, starting a business and fixing a wedding, etc.
India is a land of different religions and cultures. Every religion has its festivals, and the people of India celebrate all the festivals with full enthusiasm and joy. Specific festivals are commonly celebrated all over India, like Diwali and Holi. Then there are some festivals that are region-specific. These are celebrated by people belonging to that particular region, like ‘Chath Puja’ is majorly celebrated by the people of Bihar. There is a festival called ‘Gangaur’ celebrated explicitly in Rajasthan. Different social groups can celebrate the same festivals with different names.
Other than Hindu festivals, there are Jain festivals, Sikh festivals, Buddhist festivals, Islamic festivals, and Christian festivals. Jain festivals are celebrated by people having faith in Jainism. The main festivals include ‘Mahaveer Jayanti Day’ and ‘Paryushan Parva.’ The Sikh community in India celebrates the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of the Sikh faith, as ‘Gurupurab’. Other festivals include Baisakhi, Lohri, Maghi, and Hola Mohalla. The Buddhist community celebrates ‘Buddh Purnima’, which marks the birth of Lord Buddha and his enlightenment. Some other Buddhist festivals are the Hemis festival, Losar festival, Lumbini festival, and Parinirvana Day. The Indian Christians mainly celebrate ‘Christmas’ and ‘Easter’; Christmas is the most significant one marking the birth of the Lord Jesus. The major Islamic festivals are Ramzan days, Eid-Ul-Fitr, Bakrid, and Milad-Ul-Nabi. Ramzan is a month of strict fasting by Muslims to honor Muhammad and develop more self-control. When this month-long fasting ends, they celebrate Eid-Ul-Fitr. All these festivals form an integral part of the rich heritage of India. Indian festivals are the most prominent examples of Unity in diversity.
Like the other parts of the world in India, some major festivals are celebrated to acknowledge the first yield of a new crop. These are called harvest festivals. These are celebrated to commemorate the evolution of humanity from hunter-gatherer clan-based societies to present-day agrarian societies. Due to the biodiversity and different climatic conditions, different regions celebrate their harvest festivals at different times of the year. The most colorful and widely celebrated harvest festival is ‘Makar Sankranti.’ It marks the Sun’s arrival into the zodiac sign of Makar, i.e., Capricorn, as it moves along its celestial route. It is celebrated to show gratitude towards the Sun God, and mother Earth. People of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, Punjab, Kerala, and Tamilnadu celebrate this festival with bonfires, kite flying, carnivals, music, dances and making and exchange of sweets. It is called Uttarayan in Gujarat, Maghi in Punjab, Magha Saaji in Himachal Pradesh, Pongal in Tamilnadu, Magh Bihu in Assam, and Kicheri in Uttar Pradesh. Sesame and jaggery sweets are the main attraction of the Makar Sankranti festival.
There are some other significant festivals related to crops like Onam, which is celebrated in Kerala; Baisakhi- celebrated in Punjab and Haryana; Lohri, which is celebrated the night before Makar Sankranti in Punjab; Ladakh harvest festival celebrated in Ladakh, Zanskar, and Kargil; Naukhai in Odisha which is celebrated to welcome the new rice of the season and Nabanna festival celebrated in West Bengal. Nabanna means ‘Nobo Onno’ or new rice. It is celebrated by worshipping the Golaghar (storehouse) in the form of thanksgiving for prosperity. It honors Goddess Lakshmi, who symbolizes wealth and fertility. It is celebrated after harvesting new paddy from the field and offering it to Goddess Lakshmi first as gratification for her blessings. It is also observed in Tripura and some parts of Assam.
The Gudi Padwa festival is celebrated in the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Madhya Pradesh, and the union territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu. It is the Marathi and Konkani new year when the successful reaping of the Rabi crop is celebrated. Vishu is also one such festival that symbolizes the beginning of the spring season and is celebrated as the beginning of the new year of Malayalis. It indicates the movement of the Sun to Mesh Rashi or Aries zodiac sign. It marks the day from which farmers begin the plowing of their land. Many harvest festivals have their strings attached to religious beliefs; as in India, religion and life cannot be separated from each other.
Some significant Indian festivals, like Holi, Durga Puja, Navratri, etc., last for many days. The cultural identity they provide to the city attracts thousands of tourists, boosting the economy of that place. Barsana in Uttar Pradesh is famous for its Holi celebration, and Indore in Madhya Pradesh is famous for its Rang Panchami celebration. The nine-day-long festival Navratri is observed in many parts of northern and western India, giving those cities unique cultural identity. Durga Puja is a festival that is mainly celebrated in the state of West Bengal to honor the unfathomable power of Goddess Durga. It is a ten-day celebration that ends with the immersion of the idol of Goddess Durga on the last day. Durga Puja marks the victory of Maa Durga over the demon Mahishasura. It signifies the triumph of good over evil.
Other than the religious and harvest-based seasonal festivals, national festivals are celebrated to honor some extraordinary people and events of great importance to our countries, like Independence Day, Republic Day, and Gandhi Jayanti. All the country’s citizens celebrate these, irrespective of religion, caste, creed, etc. Indians celebrate these occasions with great patriotism and enthusiasm. These festivals help unite the people of India and are celebrated at schools, offices, government organizations, and everywhere. Independence Day is the most important national festival, celebrated on the 15th of August every year. On this day, in 1947, India became an independent country. The Independence for which the freedom fighters and the people of India paid a heavy price. The second national festival is Republic Day, celebrated on the 26th of January every year. On this day, in 1950, the Constitution of India came into effect, which made India an independent republic. Both these national festivals are grandly celebrated in New Delhi, the capital of India, with parades and processions. All the educational institutions observe these days with cultural programs, parades, and flag hoisting. The third national festival is Gandhi Jayanti which is observed on the 2nd of October every year to mark the birth anniversary of ‘the father of the nation’, Mahatma Gandhi, who played a pivotal role in making India free from the Britishers. On this day, prayer services are organized at Gandhi ji’s Memorial, Rajghat, in New Delhi, where he was cremated. All the government institutions, schools, and colleges pay their tributes through prayers and cultural events.
These festivals give people hope and a reason to celebrate. They give people something to look forward to. They teach people to be grateful for all the bounties available to us as gifts of nature. They bring people close to their roots and culture and provide excellent opportunities for all the community members to share their joys and sorrows. Festivals are an opportunity to enjoy life, practice traditions, and strengthen the Unity and cohesion among a group of people; without them, life would be colorless.