The festival of Dussehra (also spelled Dasara or Vijaya Dasami) marks the triumph of Lord Rama over Demon king Ravana. On this day, Rama killed Ravana. Dussehra marks the end of the nine days of Navratri, and is celebrated on the tenth day. On this festival, people decorate the house and shop entrances with flower studded strings called "Torans" (Floral Gateways). At night effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakaran and Meghanad are stuffed with firecrackers and set alight. From the little temples in the hills, deities are brought in procession to the Kullu Fair ground with a lot of gaiety, music and colour. Down South in the city of Mysore, the exotic and colourful celebration of Dussehra leaves many a visitor enthralled.
Meaning an array of lamps, it is the Festival of Lights and perhaps the only festival that is celebrated along the length and breadth of the country without any diversity as well as amongst Indians all over the world. This festival is celebrated to mark the return of Lord Rama, his consort Sita and brother Lakshmana, to their kingdom after 14 years of exile. To celebrate their return, the people of Ayodhya are believed to have lit up their houses and streets with lamps and the tradition is followed till date. People also conduct Lakshmi Puja to please the Goddess of Wealth.
'Holi' festival is a very fun-filled and popular occasion in the northern part of India. It is an occasion when people smear each other with bright colored powders, which are known as Gulal, and colored water. This festival is celebrated around early March each year. It can be said that 'Holi' festival is called a bright festival as a wide range of bright colors is used during it. The people believe that the bright colors represent energy, life, and joy. There are many legends given as the reason for celebrating 'Holi'. There is one popular legend that is reputed to bring about the birth of 'Holi'. It seems that long ago there was an evil king named King Hiranyakasipu. His son, prince Prahlad however was very holy and often prayed to God and this infuriated his father. One day, the wicked king ordered his sister, the demon Holika, to kill his son. The demon Holika, who was immune to fire, captured prince Prahlad and entered a fire furnace. She had done this to kill the prince; however it was her who was burnt to ashes. Prince Prahlad was safe and was not burnt at all. The legend goes that before the demon aunt died, she begged for prince Prahlad's forgiveness and the prince forgave her and announced that her name would be remembered once a year. Thus the festival 'Holi' was created.
Shivaratri is celebrated on the 6th night of the dark Phalgun (Feb or March) every year. On the auspicious day, devotees observe fast and keep vigil all night. Mahashivaratri marks the night when Lord Shiva performed the 'Tandava'. It is also believed that on this day Lord Shiva was married to Parvati Ma. On this day Shiva devotees observe fast and offer fruits, flowers and bel leaves on Shiva Linga.
Janmashtami, the birth of Lord Krishna is celebrated with great devotion in the August/September months, on the Ashtami of Krishna Paksh or the 8th day of the dark fortnight in the month of Bhadon, in the whole of north India. Temples and homes are beautifully decorated and lit. An attractive feature of the celebrations is cribs & other decorations depicting stories of Lord Krishna's childhood. There are five main "jhankis" of Janmashtami which depict the entire sequence of events from Lord Krishna's birth to his being discovered in Gokul. The "jhankis" include the birth of Krishna in jail, Vasudev carrying Krishna to safety across the river Yamuna amidst thunder and lightning, Vasudev's return to the jail, Kansa killing Yashoda's daughter and finally the little Krishna in the cradle in Gokul. "Jhankis" are created out of dolls dressed up as kids, men and women with lehangas, chunnis, dhotis & kurtas. Raslila of every type are also performed - Janmlila, Shankarlila, Putnalila and Naglila. In the evening bhajans are sung which end at midnight, the auspicious moment when Lord Krishna was born. Thereafter arti is done, prasad distributed and flowers showered on the idol.
Lord Ganesha, affectionately called Ganapati, is commonly depicted in homes and offices throughout India as a chubby, smiling and a little mischievous God. His devotees scribe to Ganesha the ability to bestow wisdom and wealth upon us humans, thus making him probably the most popular deity in the Hindu pantheon. To repay Ganesha's bounty, in India, especially in Maharashtra and nearby areas, the entire population celebrates the ten-day festival of Lord Ganesha's birthday. The festival of Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated all over India with great festivities and zest. It is celebrated as the birth anniversary of Lord Ganesha, the God of wisdom and prosperity. The festival honors Ganesha, the elephant-headed God of the Hindu pantheon. During the ten days of Ganesh Chaturthi, the image of the God is worshipped and feted in most homes, temples and halls, and on the last day the images are taken in a procession and immersed in water. Fasting, feasting and distribution of sweets are important aspects of Ganesh Chaturthi rituals in India. Hindus pray to images of Lord Ganesha, large and small, many of them made especially for the occasion by cottage industries and street-side artisans. Even those that do not wish to keep the idols alive by daily prayers, offerings, and lighting oil lamps, immerse them in the nearest water body (rivers, lakes and the sea that are sacred to the Hindus). Ganesh Chaturthi falls on the fourth day of Bhadrapada (August/September) month of Indian calendar. The celebration of this festival is followed according to the Indian calendar and hence the month in the English calendar varies every year. The festival is celebrated for as many as ten days in areas like Maharashtra, Pune, and nearby areas.
The chaste bond of love between a brother and a sister is one of the deepest and noblest of human emotions. 'Raksha Bandhan' or 'Rakhi' is a special occasion to celebrate this emotional bonding by tying a holy thread around the wrist. This thread, which pulsates with sisterly love and sublime sentiments, is rightly called the 'Rakhi'. It means 'a bond of protection', and Raksha Bandhan signifies that the strong must protect the weak from all that's evil. The ritual is observed on the full moon day of the Hindu month of Shravan, on which sisters tie the sacred Rakhi string on their brothers' right wrists and pray for their long life. Rakhis are ideally made of silk with gold and silver threads, beautifully crafted embroidered sequins, and studded with semi precious stones.
Several Indian festivals coincide with the harvest time and Baisakhi is one of them. Baisakhi is celebrated by the people of Punjab with vigor and joy. It is celebrated by different names and with different rituals almost all over India, when the Rabi crop is ready for harvesting. Baisakhi is also the day when the tenth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, founded the Khalsa Panth over three hundred years ago. The Vaishakha period of April and May is filled with festivals of fun, frolic and merry-making and Baisakhi, derived from the word Vaishakh, falls in this auspicious period. Based on the Indian solar calendar, this festival falls on April 13 every year and on April 14 once every 36 years. Other festivals celebrating the harvest are Bihu in Assam, Pongal in South India.
Every November, the sleepy little township of Pushkar in Rajasthan, India comes alive with a riot of colors and a frenzied burst of activity. The occasion: PUSHKAR FAIR. Very few, if at all any, fairs in the world can match the liveliness of Pushkar. Most people associate the Pushkar Fair with the world's largest camel fair. But it is much more than that: Every ingredient that makes Rajasthan a distinct place can be spotted in the fair including men dressed in colorful traditional clothes, women in mirrored skirts and vivid shawls, embroidered clothes, exquisitely designed jewelry, pots and ornaments. This four-day long fair full of fun and frolic falls on the full moon of Kartik Purnima and offers a unique opportunity for a shopping spree while giving an edge to the consumer product marketing in rural Rajasthan. Improved accommodation facilities have made it an International event. A large camel fair in which traders from all over Rajasthan participate to parade, race and trade their camels, horses and cattle give it a fascinating touch. The acrobats, jugglers, snake charmers and fire-eaters will leave you mesmerized with their skilled performances. Cruise on a camel safari and get the real flavor of the fair.
The otherwise sleepy town of Jaisalmer reverberates with enthusiasm and zeal during the Desert Festival that provides it with an occasion to parade its exuberant charm to the world. This colorful spectacle of dance and music showcases the rhythmic dances like Ghoomar, Gangaur, Gair, Dhap, Moria, Chari and Terahtal. The fire dancers are the special highlights of the festival. Held in the month of January-February the major attractions include turban-tying competition, Gair dancers and fire-dancers presenting enchanting displays of folk dance and music. The various interesting contests including turban tying and Mr. Desert contest, the Camel races, acrobatics, dances and camel polo are sure to leave you spellbound. An awe-inspiring fusion of traditional dances backed by the folk music of the desert is sure to give you a time of your life. The major attraction of the festival remains the music and dance performance on the sand dunes.
Nagaur awakes to the thronging of cattles, horses and camels during the time of cattle fair, which is reputed as one of the biggest in the country. The Nagaur bulls are renowned for their fleet-footedness and attract buyers from all over the world. Their owners with large moustaches and colorful costumes add a unique charm to the fair. Renowned for trading in cows, bullocks, camels and horses Held every year during the month of Magh (Jan-Feb) Provides an opportunity for a shopping spree to the locals The fair comes to an end with a series of exciting games including tug of war, camel races and strains of ballads that create a joyful atmosphere. Mirchi Bazaar (Red Chilly Market) is the main attraction and wooden items, iron crafts and leather accessories are also available in abundance during the fair.
Camel Fair, Bikaner
A unique blend of color, rhythm and melody. The Camel Festival begins with a colorful procession of bedecked camels, Ships-Of-The-Desert, in the red sandstone backdrop of the Junagarh Fort. The festivity advances to the open sand spreads of the Polo Grounds, followed by camel races, camel milking, fur cutting design, the best breed competition, camel acrobatics, camel bands and watching all this, are the gaping spectators. The camel display amazing foot-work, dancing gracefully to the slightest direction of their riders. Colourful bridles, bejewelled necks, jingling anklets and long, lanky camel shadows on dusky sands, cast a magic spell. The jubilant, skirt-swirling Gair dancers, the awe inspiring Fire dance, and dazzling fire-works light up the fortified desert city of Bikaner.
The most important local festival in Rajasthan, Gangaur is held about a fortnight after Holi and the celebrations go on for eighteen days. The festival is held in honor of Gauri, a manifestation of goddess Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva. The festival is celebrated by girls and married women throughout Rajasthan. Images of Gauri are ornamented and offerings are made. This is also an auspicious time for young people to select their life partners. Colorful processions with the town band, horses, and elaborate palanquins make it a fascinating spectacle. The Gangaur festival is celebrated throughout Rajasthan with great enthusiasm but the celebrations in Jaipur and Udaipur have their own special charm. The festival is also celebrated with great pomp and show in Bikaner, Jodhpur, Marathwara and Jaisalmer. Girls worship the goddess throughout the fortnight. Colorful images of Gauri, beautifully dressed and bejeweled, are taken out in a procession accompanied by the town band. A boat procession is taken out on the Pichola Lake in Udaipur. Women balancing several brass pitchers on their heads add to the gaiety of the Udaipur celebrations. Thousands of people from the countryside come to take part in the procession of Gangaur, which goes around from village to village. Tribal men and women get the opportunity to meet and interact freely and during this time, they select partners and elope to marry. An unusual, romantic custom sanctioned by the community, it helps many young people find their life partner.
Hemis Festival, Ladakh
The courtyard of Hemis - the biggest Buddhist monastery in Ladakh, is the stage of the famous Hemis Festival that celebrates the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava. Splendid masked dances are performed to the accompaniment of cymbals, drums and long horns. A colourful fair, displaying some beautiful handicrafts, is the special highlight of the festival.
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