Vijaya Dashami (Dussehra)
Makar Sankranti is celebrated on January 14th each year. This date does not change as it is not based on the lunar calendar, but unusually it is dependent on the position of the sun and so its date remains constant with the Gregorian calendar. Sankranti means the entry of the sun from one zodiac to another. During this period the sun begins a northward movement, and so the occasion is also known as Uttarayan literally meaning ‘northern movement’. Daylight hours increase from this day and the actual Sankranti occurs in an extremely short period.
This festival is celebrated every year, and has both astronomical and geographical implications related to Planet Earth. It can therefore be termed as a ‘Festival of Nature’. Our Earth, which revolves around the Sun and rotates on its own axis, has a periodical movement. It circles around the Sun in an oval manner. Every six months it swings from one end to another. Those two points of transition of Earth are celebrated among the Hindu community as Sankramanas – Makara Sankramana in January and Karkataka (Mithuna) Sankramana in June.
Looking from Earth, the Sun’s northward journey begins around 22nd December. Hindu calendars (Panchangas), which are ages old, give this date as the commencement forUttarayana. An ayana is a period of six months. Every year has two ayanas: Uttarayana and Dakshinayana. Uttarayana is the northward journey of the Sun and Dakshinayana is the southward journey. 22nd December is therefore the shortest day of the year, also known as the winter solstice. Makara Sankramana falls during Uttarayana. It is on this day that the Sun rises latest in the day (but the day is not the shortest), as the Sun enters the zodiac of Makara (Capricorn). In other words, if we look at the eastern horizon at a fixed time in the morning on Makra Sankramana day, the Sun appears to be at the lowest point with respect to the horizon. From this day onwards, the Sun rises earlier with each passing day, till Karkataka Sankramana (early June).
The festival has several different names, each with its own significance throughout India:
- SANKRAMANA means ‘transition’, applicable to
- The Earth’s movement in its revolution around the Sun.
- The gradual change in nature.
- Changes in society, which are inevitable. In contrast to revolution which is drastic and imposed,
- the changes in evolution are welcome as natural phenomena.
- MAKARA is the zodiac sign to which the Sun transits on this day i.e Capricorn.
- UTTARAYANA means ‘northern movement’. As already explained, the days become brighter, longer and warmer after this festival owing to the transit of the sun.
- PUNYA KAALA means ‘meritorious or auspicious period’. The increase in daylight, ending of winter, increase in warmth, reappearance of leaves upon trees and greenery in nature all add to the feeling of an auspicious time approaching.
- BHISHMA’S DEATH occurred on this day in the Mahabharata. The grand-sire was lying on a bed of arrows and chose this auspicious day to depart the world.
- PONGAL is the name of the special food prepared from the ingredients of the early crops of the arriving harvest in the southern parts of India.
- People welcome this change in season in many different ways. Some bathe in sacred water; give oblations to deceased forefathers (tarpana), clean up their homes, and exchange greetings with loved ones.
- Some prepare a special food called pancha-kajjaya – a mixture of five ingredients: jaggery, coconut, peanuts, sesame and broken peas. They distribute a handful of pancha-kajjya to other houses which is an expression of sharing, friendship and love within the community.
- Pongal, a delicious rice dish (also the name of the festival) is prepared in every home. It is popular among the farmers who use fresh crops from the early harvest. It is offered to the Almighty as a mark of gratitude and then eaten as Prasada.
There are many different, but significant rituals observed on Makar Sankranti.
Along with Pancha-kajjaya, people also distribute sugarcane (a product of the harvest season) which represents sweetness. Various types of sugar-candy artistically made in various colours, shapes and sizes are also distributed along with Pancha-kajjaya. The sugar-candy may be in the shape of trees, animals, Hindu Gods and Goddesses and other fanciful figures. The taste is always the same regardless of their appearance. This points to the Spirit within all created matter, as well as the unity in diversity. The Spirit is immortal, divine and sacred. In other words, apparent differences are to be ignored: what really matters is the integrity within. Underlining unity in diversity is a valuable message as well as a fitting welcome offered to the arriving harvest.
The practices in Sankramana give us many things to reflect upon. The law of change is eternal; we need to be prepared for changes around us and to welcome them. Welcoming the harvest reminds us that winter is coming to an end, and more importantly, that we have much to be thankful for. We must accept the differences between each of us, and learn to appreciate them. We should share our feelings with each other, and embrace the idea to ‘live and let live’. These are the messages in the celebration of Makara Sankramana.
At the time of Makar Sankranti many pilgrims travel to the holy city of Prayag, at Trivedi Sangam (confluence of three sacred rivers; Ganga, Yamuna and Sarasvati). In South India, the eve of Makar Sankranti is known as ‘Bhogi.’ People use this time to remove unwanted bric-a-brac from the house, creating more space for the family. Makar Sankranti is also known as Pongal meaning ‘to overflow’. Rice is cooked in milk and then the rice is allowed to flow over the rim. This is symbolically significant as one’s home should brim with wealth.
It is the start of the celebrations of the start of the harvest season in southern parts of India. In Gujarat grain from the new harvest is used to cook ‘khichdo’. Cows and trees are also offered pujan (worship) since man’s existence depends on them. People forget and forgive ill will. For this, they ritually offer each other food balls made of sesame seed and jaggery. This is common in Maharashtra too. In east India, at Gangasagar, thousands of pilgrims throng to Kapil Muni’s ashram on this day for Darshan.
People of all generations, young and old spiritedly fly kites all day on this auspicious occasion.
Significance of the Sun
In Vedic texts, the Sun is shown to represent God since it sustains all life, overlooks everything and bestows its warmth and light on everything under it. Almost every cult, civilisation, and religion have worshipped or respected the Sun and its symbolism. And so the northern, upward movement of the Sun symbolises God’s guiding power taking us form the low, dark and harsh winter months to the crisp, bright and brilliant months ahead. It symbolises our movement and evolution from being clouded in bitter and cold ignorance, to the light and warmth of knowledge.
Asato maa sadgamaya
Tamaso maa jyotir gamaya
Mrityor maa amrtam gamaya
Om Shantih Shantih Shantih
O Lord please lead me from the unreal to the real
Lead me from darkness to light (from ignorance to knowledge)
Lead me from death to immortality
May there be peace, peace and perfect peace
– Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.3.28
14th January 2014
All across India (celebrated as Pongal in South India)
The Sun’s northern movement reflects how we want to make progress from light to dark. It signifies the coming of brighter days, and the festivities encourage unity and love for all.
Ganesh Chaturthi also known as ‘ Vinayak Chaturthi’ or ‘ Vinayak Chavithi’ is celebrated by Hindus around the world as the birthday of Ganeshji. It is observed during the month of Bhaadrapada.
Ganeshji is the Lord of good fortune who provides prosperity, wisdom and success. He is the Lord of beginnings and the remover of obstacles of both material and spiritual kind. He is also considered to be a patron of the arts and sciences and of the letters.
Once, Shivaji left His usual dwelling on Mount Kailash in the Himalayas, to meditate in one of the caves of another mountain. Two friends of Parvatiji, his consort, suggested that She should have a ‘gana‘ – attendant of their own, since they were not too happy with Shivaji’s ‘ganas‘. Parvatiji agreed. Soon after, using Her divine powers, She created a son from the mud of Her own body, naming him Vinayak. She instructed him to guard their home.
When Shivaji returned, Vinayak prevented him from entering since Parvatiji was bathing. After some bickering, Shivaji became angry as He did not know who Vinayak was. Shivaji then beheaded Vinayak with his ‘trishul’ (trident) following a fierce battle. When Parvatiji heard of this She lamented intensely, and Shivaji quickly realised His error. To set things right He sent His men to the forest to fetch the head of the first living thing they met, with its head facing the North. The only creature Shivaji’s men had encountered was a baby elephant and they returned with its head. With His divine power, Shivaji placed the head over His son’s body. Instantly Vinayak sprung to life. Henceforth Vinayak also earned the name of Gajanan, since ‘Gaja‘ means elephant.
Shivaji made His son worthy of worship by stating that all would first worship and offer him dedication in all their auspicious undertakings, marriages, expeditions and studies. He ordained that the annual worship of Ganesh should take place on the 4th day of the bright half of Bhaadrapada. Without the grace of Sri Ganeshji and His help nothing whatsoever can be achieved. No action can be undertaken without His support, grace or blessing.
Festival and Rituals
The festival lasts for 10 days in some areas, and during this time beautifully sculpted Ganeshji idols are installed in the Mandaps (large tents) that are colourfully decorated, depicting religious themes or current events. There are huge public displays of Ganeshji idols with Aarti (songs of devotion offered to the Lord) and loud music and dancing by the devotees. Various pujas and types of worship are offered, and with the festivities drawing to a close, Ganeshji is paraded through the town before His ‘Visarjan‘ (submergence) into the water.
This activity is most popular in Maharashtra, with “Shrimant Dagadu Shet Halwai Ganapati” in Pune being the main attraction of the Utsav. Many cultural events are organised and people participate in them with keen interest. On the tenth day, huge processions carry images of the Lord to be offered into the water, and people sing and chant asking for the Lord to return gracefully again soon.
In this manner Ganeshji is a deity of auspiciousness, wisdom and wealth. Ganesh Chaturthi is a festival inspiring devotees to be virtuous and faithful in the actions.
All across India, especially Maharashtra
The day marks the birth of Ganeshji, the dispeller of our obstacles, bestower of intelligence, wealth and virtue. By remembering Him our tasks are made easy and through His blessings we achieve success.
Although by Indian traditions, Shivaratri occurs every month, Maha Shivaratri, is the auspicious festival observed on the 14th dark night of Magh (Hindu calendar). It translates to the “Great night of Lord Shiva” and is when the Lord manifests Himself as the Shivalinga. In Hinduism, Lord Shiva (the destroyer of evil) is one of the three aspects of the divine trinity (Brahman): the creator, Lord Brahma, and the preserver, Lord Vishnu being the other two.
The five syllable holy mantra ‘Namah Shivaya’, sung in praise of Lord Shiva, is chanted continually during the night of Maha Shivaratri, along with the Lord’s other names describing His greatness.
Lord Shiva’s glory has been recited throughout the Puranas. His worship in Bharat (India) has been since ancient times, initially in his murti (deity) form, and later as Shivalinga. The Mahabharata relates the story of Maha Shivaratri:
A Bheel (forest inhabitant) named Suswara was out hunting in the forest. To kill was his only means of survival and sustaining his family. One night, having not found anything, he climbed a tree near a lake and sat in despair. He was hungry, thirsty and tired.
To keep himself occupied and to stop himself from falling from the tree, he picked nearby leaves from the tree and dropped them, watching them fall. He cried bitterly for his starving family and sat all night, waiting for the dawn to break.
What Suswara did not realise was the tree was a Bael tree, the tree sacred to devotees of Lord Shiva. Beneath the tree was a Shiva Linga, which he did not know. By not eating and drinking, by washing the Linga with his pure tears, and by offering the Bael leaves to the Linga, he had performed selfless Puja (worship) without even knowing it. The punya (benefit) he had accrued by doing this was so great that at the eventual time of his death, Lord Shiva sent messengers to collect and welcome his soul. His heart had been purified and the Lord shed his mercy on his kind devotee.
On Maha Shivaratri, Lord Shiva is worshipped in the form Shivalinga. Lord Shiva has many other forms including:
- Shankara – the giver of happiness to all
- Nataraja – the Lord of Dance (His worshipped form adored by dancers and musicians)
- Bholenath– the one who is easily pleased
- Pashupati – Lord of creatures (often with Nandi (Bull), His favourite animal)
- Mahadeva – the greatest God
When the Ganga River was send to Earth by Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva was the bearer of the River on his head. Lord Shiva’s abode peak is believed to be the Kailash Peak in the Himalyas. Lord Shiva is usually depicted as residing there with his consort, Goddess Parvati (the daughter of Himalaya, and deity of strength). They have two sons, Lord Ganesha and Kartikeya.
During Mahashivratri, Rudra Sukta (Vedic hymns) is recited by Pandits, whilst bathing Shivalinga with holy waters of the Ganga, known as Rudra-Abhisheka. The flow of the water is said to represent our constant ebb and flow of thoughts, which we surrender to the Lord.
Puja takes place at four different times through the day, and during each stage, a different liquid is used for bathing the Shivalinga. Milk is offered first, followed by curd, Ghee and finally honey. This symbolises our evolution through worshipping the Lord: first we start with the milk, suggesting we are still impure and raw. Upon refining this, we ascend to curd, which is further purified and refined to give ghee. Finally, as our impurities and faults have been removed, we are left with the sweet honey which symbolises the endless joy that emerges from Bhakti (devotion). Bael leaves are also offered, as are flowers, incense and many other items.
In Saurashtra, Gujarat, the town of Junagadh hosts a grand mela where many thousands of saints and sannyasis (renunciates) congregate at the foothills of the mighty Mount Girnar.
All across India
Mahabharata and Puranas
Through worship of the great Lord Shiva, our impurities and bad tendencies are destroyed and we are left pure and filled with joy
Holi falls on the day of the full moon during Phalguna, and is the most colourful festival in the Hindu calendar. It is full of joy and optimism for the start of spring, a season of hope and new beginnings. Following the cold indoor months of winter, people emerge to see a new sparkling world of colour and life.
Holi is a very ancient festival, originally known as ‘Holika’. It has been mentioned in early scriptures such as Jaimini’s Purvamimamsa-Sutras and Kathaka-Grhya-Sutras. Originally, it was a special rite performed by married women for the happiness and well-being of their families. The festival falls on the full moon (Purnima) of Phalguna. Shree Krishna is said to have playfully celebrated Holi with the people of Nandagow and Vraja.
According to the Puranas, Holi is important for three reasons:
- It was on this day Lord Shiva opened his third eye, reducing Kamadeva (the God of Lust) to ashes. Kamadeva’s foolish pride led him to aiming an arrow at Lord Shiva, who was deep in meditation. However, aware of this, Lord Shiva killed Kamadeva before he could do any harm.
- An ogress named Dhundhi lived in the kingdom of Prthu (Raghu). Here she used to trouble the children of the Kingdom, and due to several boons, she was invincible. However, she was sensitive to taunts and pranks, and on this day the village boys all collectively drove her away by creating a fire, chanting and mocking her.
- Perhaps the most widely known story behind Holi is of Bhakta Prahlad.
The demon king, Hiranyakashipu was father to a boy named Prahlad. Although being born into a demon family, Prahlad always had a strong belief in God and was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. However, Hiranyakashipu was not pleased as he saw himself as the Lord of the Universe and demanded his son to worship him. Prahlad disagreed, and although multiple attempts were made to take his life, he survived.It was on this day that one such attempt was made. Hiranyakashipu asked his sister, Holika, to help him kill Prahlad. Holika had a boon which meant she could not be burnt by fire, so she took Prahlad in her lap and sat on a pyre of wood, which was set ablaze. Although Hiranyakashipu intended to kill Prahlad, it was Holika that died and Prahlad survived, as she had misused her powers. Hiranyakashipu was later killed by Lord Narasimha, an avatar of Lord Vishnu.
There are formal religious observances on this day.
An image of Holika is set alight in a simple ceremony with the Raksoghna Mantras of the Rig Veda being chanted to ward off evil spirits. Coconuts and corn are often roasted and eaten. The religious significance of this is to mark the burning of the undesirable tendencies (selfishness, greed, egoism), and celebrate the coming of spring, a victory of good over evil.
People all over India and the world also celebrate Holi with much pomp and celebration. Throwing gulal (coloured water or perfumed coloured powder) on one another is the most significant celebrations that happen. This playful activity of throwing coloured paint is designed to remove the barriers that people sometimes build around themselves. Holi renews the spirit of unity and brotherhood among families and in the community.
Holi is celebrated by NHSF (UK) chapters all across the country!
True devotion saves from the greatest of fears and obstacles. Our lives become as joyful and colourful as the fun and games of Holi
For further information on the festival of Holi visit:
Ram navmi, the birth of Shree Rama, is celebrated on the ninth day of the bright fortnight of the Hindu month of Chaitra. In some parts of India it is a nine-day festival, coinciding with the Vasanta Navratri, and many people fast over this period.
Glory of Shree Rama
Shree Rama is the 7th incarnation of Lord Vishnu, born into the Ikshvaaku lineage of King Dasharath of Ayodhya. Shree Rama is known as Maryaada Purushottama meaning “the perfect man”or“Lord of Self-Control”, as His life exemplifies the ideal son, ideal brother, husband and King. Shree Rama’s incarnation was to restore Dharma on Earth by destroying the evil King of Lanka, Ravana.
Shree Rama’s journey is one of perfect adherence to Dharma, even through difficult situations in life. Seen as a truly devoted renunciant, Shree Rama abandons His claim to the throne for His father’s honour, and serves a 14 year exile in the forest. Unable to bear separation, His wife Sitaji and brother Lakshman both join Shree Rama in his exile.
Many events occur throughout their time in exile, but the most important being the kidnapping of His wife Sitaji by Ravana. This leads to a colossal war against Ravana after a long and painful search. The battle tests Shree Rama’s personal strength and virtue, but He eventually slays Ravana and liberates Sitaji.
Upon completing His exile, Shree Rama returns to Ayodhya (the capital of his Kingdom and birthplace) and eventually becomes Emperor, under a reign famously termed Rama Rajya – eleven thousand years of perfect happiness, peace, prosperity and justice. Shree Rama’s presence and strict following of Dharma attracted powerful devotees such as Hanumanji and the vanaras (monkeys) of Kishkinda, who helped Shree Rama rescue Sitaji. Shree Rama is revered for His endless compassion, courage and devotion to Dharmic values and duty.
Ritual & Celebration
Celebrations of Ramnavmi are marked by Akhand Paath (continuous recital) of the Ramcharitmanas, bhajans and kirtans. Images of Rama are placed on cradles and rocked by devotees. As Rama was born at noon, Mandirs are elaborately decorated and Aarti is performed. Many devotees uphold a Vrata (fasting) on this day and feast in the evening.
Ayodhya, the birthplace of Rama, is a focus for great celebration. A huge fair is organised for two days, where Ratha Yatras (chariot processions) of Rama and his wife Sita, brotherLakshman and devotee Hanuman, set out from many temples. Nasik, Tirupati and Rameshwar(major pilgrimage sites in India) also celebrate Ramnavmi with much joyous ceremony
All across India
The birth of Shree Rama. Shree Rama shows us the ideal towards which we should strive in our day to day interactions
Hanuman Jayanti celebrates the birth of Lord Rama’s most ardent devotee, Hanumanji. It is celebrated every year on the full moon day of the Chaitra month.
When we speak or hear of Hanumanji, we instantly think of the ideal sevak (servant) who epitomises sewa of the Lord at the very core of His being. Throughout the Ramayana, we see that Hanumanji’s obedience towards God was unfathomable and He is seen as an embodiment of devotion and loyalty to Lord Rama. He is an ideal Karma Yogi (one whose devotion is demonstrated through selfless service, humility and devotion) and is the ideal of Prem (unconditional Love), Bhakti (devotion), Satya (truth)
Karuna (compassion)and Sewa
Hanumanji was born to a cursed heavenly damsel who mocked the Sage Angirasa. Upon repenting, he blessed her with the boon of bearing a divine child. She was born as Anjana the daughter of Kunjar, the King of the monkeys. She married Kapiraj Kesari of Mount Sumeru, and unto them a son, Hanuman, was born. It is believed that Vaayu Deva (the God of wind) mediated the transfer of Lord Shiva’s energy to Anjana’s womb, leading to one of Hanumanji’s names being Pavan putra (son of the Wind). It is through Lord Shiva’s blessings that Hanumanji was born, and He is therefore also considered the 11 incarnation of Lord Shiva.
Other sources tell of how Vaayu carried the celestial prasad that emerged from a sacrificial ritual to Anjana. King Dasharatha (father of Shree Rama) carried out the ritual – the Putrakameshti yagna – for his queens to bear children. The prasad led to the birth of Lord Rama, Lakshman, Bharat and Shatrughna, and it is said that Anjana was delivered some Prasad through which Hanumanji was born.
Glory of Hanumanji
Born to Anjanadevi and Kesari, a powerful chief of the Vanaras (monkeys), Hanumanji’s story is one that is extraordinary from birth. Yet, by far the most well-known role of Hanumanji was His unwavering service to Bhagavan Shree Rama throughout the epic Ramayana. Working as a servant, assistant and messenger for Sugriva,Hanumanji first met Shree Rama when he was searching for his wife Sitaji. Upon building bonds with Shree Rama, Hanumanji went off in search of Sitaji, eventually finding Her in Lanka. As well as consoling Sitaji, Hanumanji was able to gauge the strength of Ravana’s army and succeeded in burning down half of Lanka before He left. Furthermore, aside from featuring prominently in the ensuing battle between Shree Rama and Ravana, Hanumanji was able to save the life of Shree Rama’s brother Lakshman by bringing Sanjivani (a life giving herb) from the Himalayas.
Hanumanji also obtained boons of victory and immortality from Varuna Deva (water deity) and Yama (deity of death). From Brahma, he obtained the powers of inducing fear in enemies, destroying fear in friends, changing his form at will and travelling wherever He wished. From Lord Shiva, he obtained the boons of longevity (Chiranjeevi), scriptural wisdom and formidable strength. This all led to Hanumanji becoming mischievous and He began harassing sages. Bhrigu Rishi (a sage) then cursed him to forget the ability to use such powers, until a divine personality guides him to do so. Shree Rama was later to be that divine personality.
Hindus around the world worship Shree Hanumanji for his unparalleled qualities of valour, intelligence, strength, patience, wisdom, virtue, humility and courage. Above all, Hanuman Jayanti provides us with an opportunity to take inspiration from the boundless devotion shown by Hanumanji and seek to apply this in our own lives. Indeed, this selfless sacrifice is aptly summarised in the following shloka:
Yatra yatra raghunatha kirtanam,
Tatra tatra kritha masthakanjalim,
Bhaspavaari paripurna lochanam,
Maarutim namata raakshasanthakam
We bow to Shree Hanumanji who stands with his palms folded above his forehead, with a torrent of tears flowing down His eyes wherever the names of Shree Rama are sung.
Hanumanji is the symbol of strength and energy. On the day of Hanuman Jayanti, devotees flock to Hanuman Mandirs across the world to sing his praises. Upon entering the Mandir, devotees will apply a sindhur (vermellion) tilak on their forehead.
As the story goes, Sitaji once was applying sindhur (vermellion) to her head. Hanumanji questioned why She did this. She replied that this would ensure a long life for Her husband, Shree Rama. Hanumanji then smeared His entire body with sindhur, in an effort to ensure Shree Rama’s immortality.
Recitations of the Hanuman Chalisa (composed by Goswami Tulsidasji) take place frequently, and prasad is offered to all. One such verse of the Hanuman Chalisa depicts the greatness of Hanumanji:
Sub sukh lahe tumhari sharana
Tum rakshak kahu ko darna
All comforts of the world lie at your feet. The devotees enjoy all divine pleasures and feel fearless under your benign protection.
All across India
The birth of Hanumanji. He teaches us the meaning of true devotion, selflessness and courage, bestowing intelligence and strength. Worshipped with the infamous Hanuman Chalisa
Who was Hanumanji’s Mother?
Who was Hanumanji’s Father?
Kesari / Vaayu Dev (Wind God)
Who did Hanumanji eat as a child mistaking them for a Mango?
Surya Dev (Sun God)
How is the glory of Hanumanji often recited?
Through the Hanuman Chalisa
Who wrote the ‘pads’ (prayers) in the Hanuman Chalisa?
Shri Goswami Tulsidasji
Hanumanji is often referred to as the 11th incarnation of?
Which American president is known to keep a Murti of Hanumanji in his pocket?
Don’t tell Hanumanji how big your PROBLEMS are, Tell your problems how big your HANUMANJI is!
Gurur Brahma Guru Vishnur Gurur Devo Maheswara
Guru Sakshaat Parabrahma Tasmai Shri Guruve Namah
I prostrate to that Sri Guru, who is himself Brahma, Vishnu, and God
Maheshvara, and who is verily the Supreme Absolute itself.
Guru Purnima is the day where the Hindu Community celebrates its revered spiritual, educational and inspirational leaders. We aim to learn, understand and appreciate the value the day of Guru Purnima brings.
The day traditionally falls within the month of Ashadh (July-August). Hindus refer to this day as Guru Purnima, (Sometimes also called Vyasa Purnima). On this day, devotees offer puja (worship) to their Guru. Guru Purnima acknowledges the might of one’s teacher or Guru through respect and reverence. The occasion is celebrated in memory of the great sage Vyasa, who it is believed, was born on this day.
Hindus are revere this great sage who: edited the four Vedas (Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samveda, Atharvaveda), wrote the Brahma Sutras (a summary of the Upanishads) and the 18 Puranas. Vyasa also witnessed and narrated various scenes of the Mahabharata. Every year on the day of Ashadh Purnima it is said that he was greatly worshipped and disciples sought his blessings. This belief and practice of seeking the blessings of one’s teacher to bring wisdom is one that has resided, and evolved into the tradition known as Guru Purnima.
It is a day with spiritual significance as it is believed that God is the ultimate Guru and typical practice is to worship, make offerings and seek blessings from one’s spiritual teachers, as a manifestation of God. The period ‘Chaturmas‘ (four months) begins from this day. Historically, wandering spiritual leaders used to take homage at a place to study the scriptures and engage themselves in Vedantic discussions for these four months.
The Meaning and Importance
The word ‘Guru’ means ‘dispeller of darkness’, the concept being that the Guru removes ignorance and gives one the light of knowledge.
A dialogue from the Shrimad Bhagwatam highlights the importance of the Guru in one’s aspirations of gaining spirituality:
“O Rahugan! One cannot attain knowledge of Atma and Paramatma by performing penance, sacrifices, renunciation, Vedic study or worshipping deities of water, fire or the sun. But when the dust from the feet of a satpurush (God-realized Guru) sprinkles on our heads, then we can surely attain this knowledge.”
Students may also refer to School teachers or Lecturers as Guru, as in this case the Guru imparts temporal knowledge and thus is accordingly offered respect. Today, the tremendous work that teachers endeavour themselves in is often undervalued. But the tradition of Guru Purnima engages a different mindset altogether. Students today can give thanks, honour and reflect on the positive impact teachers have on their lives.
On this day the National Hindu Students’ Forum (UK) reveres and honours the role of a Guru in one’s life. As students we take this opportunity to thank those teachers across the length and breadth of the country.
Guru: the dispeller of ignorance (so teachers too!)
We pay homage to those who help us progress from ignorance to knowledge. We respect them for their guidance
Raksha Bandhan stirs up one of the deepest emotions in people – the steadfast and chaste bond of love between the brother and the sister. Raksha means ‘to protect’ and Bandhan means ‘binding’, hence signifying the sister tying the Rakhi around her brothers wrist as a symbol of love and a bond of protection. This love and protection is mutual and not just one-sided, as is stereotypically believed.
There are many origins of Raksha Bandhan which narrate the tying of the Rakhi as a bond of protection. However, the sister-brother relationship highlighted by the Rakhi goes far beyond the protection of the sister from her brother. It implies the basic element of a cordial life where all members of society look upon themselves as brothers and sisters:
|| Vasudhaiva Kutumbakum – The Whole World is One Family ||
Other narratives of Raksha Bandhan are:
The Rakhi between Indra and his wife Indrani
The Bhavishya Purana recites the battle between the Devas (Gods) and the Daanavas (Demons) which lasted twelve years. The Devas, including the mighty Indra were defeated. As they prepared to fight again, Indrani tied a Rakhi on her consort Indra, and Indra won the battle, thus extolling the significance and glory of Raksha Bandhan. The feminine is often given the association of shakti (power) in Hindu thought, and with the strength of the females, the males prosper. On this occasion, the Rakhi is given by a wife to her husband.
Kunti blesses her Grandson
During the battle of the Mahabharata, Queen Kunti tied a Raksha on her grandson Abhimanyu to protect him in battle. Raksha Bandhan does not necessarily have to be celebrated between a sister and a brother and can be tied between any two people who have a deep bond. To this day, often when a young Hindu leaves the home for long periods for work, a Rakhi is tied to remind them of what they have left behind and should return for.
The story of King Bali and Lakshmi
When Lord Vamandev was pleased with King Bali and appeared as Vishnu as the fifth avatar (incarnation), Bali asked a boon that Lord Vishnu would leave His abode Vaikunth and come to Patalaloka, King Bali’s kingdom. Lord Vishnu agreed and became a Dwarpalaka (guard) of Bali standing outside the door. When this news reached Goddess Lakshmi via Narada, She was greatly distressed.
In order to make Her husband return, Lakshmi went to Bali as a poor woman seeking help on the day of Shravana Purnima. She told Bali that She didn’t have a brother and would dearly like one. Bali agreed that from now on he would be Her brother and She accepted him as her brother by tying a Raksha on him. He told Her to ask him for anything She needs, and She requested Lord Narayan’s return. She grieved that despite having a consort She was experiencing premature widowhood in Narayan’s absence. However, the Lord had pledged to eternally protect Bali, by guarding his door.
To resolve his dilemma, Brahma and Shiva agreed to guard Bali for four months each, while Vishnu (Narayan) would guard him for the auspicious four months- Chaturmaas– beginning from Ashadh Sud Ekadashi and terminating on Kartik Sud Ekadashi, usually from Mid-July to Mid-November.
Therefore when Brahmin priests perform puja rituals, they chant a famous mantra while tying the nada chhadi (raksha) on a devotee:
||Yena baddho Baliraja daanavendro Mahaabala
tena twaamabhi badh naami rakshe maa chala maa chala||
I tie onto you (the devotee) the raksha which was tied on Bali, the King of demons. Therefore, O Raksha! Do not ever fail to protect this devotee, do not ever fail.
On the day of Raksha Bandhan, the sister will visit the home of her brother and performs his ‘pujan‘ by applying kumkum and rice grains on his forehead. She would then fasten a Rakhi to her brother as a symbol of love and a bond of protection. She will also offer him mithai (sweets). In return, the brother bestows upon her a gift and vows to protect her.
On this day, Yajurvedi and Rigvedi Brahmins and those who normally wear ‘yagnopavit‘ (janoi) also adorn new ‘janois‘.
Birth of Balabhadra
This day is also celebrated as the birth of Lord Balaram, also called Balabhadra. He is the elder brother of Shri Krishna and is considered an incarnation of Ananta Shesh, the great serpent upon which Lord Vishnu rests. To save the child from the tyranny of Kamsa who had vowed to kill all of Devaki’s offspring, the child was transferred into the womb of Rohini, another of Vasudeva’s wives who resided safely in Gokul. Bhagavan’s elder brother is well known for his wisdom and phenomenal strength.
Tying a Rakhi to the communal deity and to each other
There are many Hindu communities where the members would tie a Rakhi to each other and to the deity or Guru. The tying of the Rakhi to each other in the community regardless of the social background and status of the persons taking part shows the equality between the community and their tying it to the deity represents their personal relationship to God. This concept is far more comprehensive than the concept of the ‘maximum happiness of the maximum number’.
In fact, spontaneous love and compassionate service for the poor and lowly in society is regarded as the highest form of worship of God Himself. The spirit of selfless social service, protection of mankind and help given to the needy is thus transformed into a sadhana (spiritual practice). Hence, Raksha Bandhan represents a most auspicious occasion to recharge ourselves every year with the true spirit of protection, service and sacrifice for the welfare of society, and find therein the highest spiritual fulfilment of human life.
All across India
Tying a rakhi is not only a sign of protection but also of love. The bond is held sacred and the knot signifies the tying together of communities
Krishna Janmashtami or Gokulastami is the Jayanti (day of incarnation) of Bhagavan Shri Krishna, the eighth of avatar of Lord Vishnu. Observed on the eighth day (Ashtami) of the dark half of the month of Shraavana, this festival is widely celebrated across India since Shri Krishna is one of the most well recognised and worshipped deities in the Hindu pantheon of Gods. Under the constellation of Rohini, the Lord incarnated to fulfil His purpose as described in the Bhagavad Srimad Gita 4.7/8:
yada yada hi dharmasya
glanir bhavati bharata (7)
sambhavami yuge yuge (8)
“Whenever there is a decline in Dharma and evil predominates
I incarnate to vanquish evil and re-establish dharma”.
Often worshipped as the most glorious, beautiful and perfect incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Shri Krishna restored Dharma by killing His demonic uncle Kamsa, and by helping the Pandavas defeat the cruel Duryodhana. Shri Krishna radiates a profound and divine love so that merely chanting His name or hearing of His pastimes brings deep joy to His devotees.
Birth of Shri Krishna
The tenth canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam narrates the birth of Sri Krishna.
On the banks of the River Yamuna, in the capital city of the Vrushni dynasty, Mathura, Shri Krishna was born to Devaki and Vasudeva. Devaki was the niece of the King, Ugrasen, who also had an evil and rotten minded son named Kamsa. The King gave his niece’s hand in marriage to Vasudeva, a devout and saintly man of the Yadu dynasty.
The wedding was a grand and lavish one. Overjoyed at Devaki’s wedding, Kamsa took the reins of the golden chariot that carried the newly wedded couple. Suddenly, the heavens were torn by a voice that proclaimed “Kamsa, fool, the eighth child of your sister will slay you!”
In his wrath, Kamsa grabbed Devaki’s hair with one hand, and with the other unsheathed his sword to kill her, when Vasudeva begged his cruel brother-in-law for mercy, accepting imprisonment instead. Vasudeva promised to hand over all of their children at birth, and accepting this, Kamsa locked away the couple and in time killed six of their newly born infants. He had his father taken away and made himself King, and started to terrorise the people who prayed to be freed from Kamsa’s tyranny.
The seventh child was due to be born. Lord Vishnu instructed Sheshnaga, the King of the Serpents and servant of the Lord to take birth. By instructing His divine powers, Lord Vishnu transferred the child into the womb of Rohini, who was another one of Vasudeva’s wife and lived in Gokul. There, on Raksha Bandhan, Sheshnaga incarnated Himself as Shri Krishna’s older brother Balabhadra, also called Baladeva or Balarama because of His phenomenal strength. Everyone thought that Devaki had miscarried, but in fact the child was safe in Gokul.
It was time for the eighth child to be born. With the disappearance of the seventh, Kamsa was increasingly anxious and fearful, keeping his sister under strict surveillance. As the eighth day approached, the heavens opened pouring forth their rain, and the Yamuna swelled. All celestial beings rejoiced and the air was overflowing with sweet anticipation and excitement for the birth of Bhagavan. At midnight, Shri Krishna was born with the brilliance of a thousand suns emanating from His divine form. The guards were put under a mysterious spell by the Lord and the doors of the prison cell opened. Vasudeva carried the radiant child on his head, and accompanied by Sheshnaga, he crossed the violent Yamuna River which made way for him as he walked. Vasudeva came to the house of his friend, Nanda, where his wife Yashoda had a daughter sleeping beside her. Everyone was asleep, and so Vasudeva left Shri Krishna safely with Nanda, and in exchange took the girl back with him to the jail.
As morning broke, Kamsa heard of the birth and rushed in to kill the eighth child. Devaki pleaded with him but Kamsa did not listen, snatching the girl from Devaki by her legs to smash to Her against a stone. As he picked Her up, She slipped from his hands and ascended into the sky taking the form of an eight armed and fearsome Goddess. She roared “Kamsa, you fool! The eighth child, the one who will slay you, has already taken birth and is safe elsewhere.”
Meanwhile, in Gokul the apparent birth of a son at Nanda’s home was celebrated joyously, and the whole town was immersed in festivities, all mesmerised by the divine child that Yashoda had bore. Shri Krishna grew up with His adopted parents Nanda and Yashoda in Gokul and in time He returned to Mathura to kill Kamsa with His brother Balarama.
Celebration of Janmashtami
Culturally, the festival is celebrated by devotees worldwide, particularly in shrines in Vrindavan, Mathura, and Dwarka for example. The festival is also celebrated as ‘Dahi handi’ (meaning a pot full of curd), where men and boys will form a human pyramid to reach and break a pot hanging from a rope containing curd. Some devotees dress up and sing Shri Krishna’s holy names or hear of His divine pastimes. Others may perform folk dances such as raas, and cook sumptuous delicacies infused with devotion and fervour to offer to Shri Krishna. On this night, Bhagavan is worshipped in the form of ‘Lalji’, an infant, and is seated on a swing. Makhan is especially made since Shri Krishna was so fond of it as a child, and throughout the streets of India, the air is heavy with the chanting of the auspicious names of Bhagavan.
Many temples celebrate the birth at midnight as Janmotsav which literally translates to the celebration of the birth. However, in many shrines surrounding His birthplace, it is arrival of the Lord in the sacred Vraja and the beginning of His lila (divine play) which is more significant. Since it only became apparent that Bhagavan had entered Vraja the morning after, many local temples celebrate this coming of the Lord the next day, known as Nandostav – relating to celebrating the birth at Nanda’s home.
Singificance of Janmashtami
Deep down we are all searching for happiness, and through experience our sages tell us that spiritual joy is far superior to material, physical or emotional joy. This festival integrates all three and its true meaning becomes apparent: “Shri Krishnaarpanamastu”– let everything be offered to Shri Krishna!
In the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Shri Krishna states that He resides within the hearts of all, and so Janmastami isn’t just about His literal birth. It’s a reminder that we should see the light inside ourselves and recognise that same divinity in those around us. He is the source of all kinds of bliss, and so by establishing our head and heart in Him, we can achieve lasting happiness, sparking the spiritual ideal.
Jai Shri Krishna!
All across India, especially Shri Krishna’s temples in Vrindavan and Dwarka
The birth of Shri Krishna is the birth of Krishna inside our hearts. By worshipping Him with true devotion we will feel peace, unity and joy in everything around us.
“Navratri” translates to “the nine nights”, a festival in which many Hindus venerate the divine in a motherly form.
Navratri occurs twice in the year: once in the month of Chaitra (April-May) and once in Ashvin (September-October), although there are other “gupta” (concealed) Navratri through the year. The most celebrated is that of the month of Ashvin and is known as “Mahanavratri” or the “great Navratri”. Its tale comes from the renowned Devi Mahatmya and is one of evil, war and triumph.
Mahishasura was a fierce demon threatening to overthrow the Devas (demigods) and conquer all three worlds. His father, the previous King of the Asuras (demons) married a princess cursed to live in the form of a water buffalo. Through the union of these two, the hideous Mahishasura was born, a shape shifter who could change his form from demon to mighty buffalo at will. After destroying all three worlds and committing unthinkable atrocities, the Devas tired of Mahishasura’s onslaught and sought refuge in the Supreme Devi Durga. With the intelligence of Lord Brahma, the tactical wit of Lord Vishnu and the brute destructive force of Lord Shiva, Durga “the invincible one” was born.
For nine nights the Devi took on nine powerful forms to battle Mahishasura. The Devi Mahatmya describes how even the Devas were terrified of Her form and how Her laughter at the petty Asuras tore up the skies. Her might was unmatched, and hordes of the greatest of Asuras were annihilated by Her effortless warfare. On the tenth day, Durga drove her trishul (trident) into the heart of Mahishasura, and ended His tyranny forever. This day is known as Vijaya Dashami.
Navratri is a time used by Hindus to appreciate God in the form of a mother. Although divine female figures exist in every religion, Hindu Dharma remains the only faith to view God in a female form. The Hindus belonging to this sect are called Shakta. Since the mother-child relationship is the most natural and the mother is a symbol of selfless affection and protection, many find it much easier to connect to God in this way.
Durga is also known as Shakti meaning “energy”. Although superficially the narrative teaches the triumph of virtue over vice, the idea of Shakti goes far deeper.
The Samkhya philosophy talks of “Prakriti” (Nature) and “Purusha” (man). One is ever still and centred whilst the other is revolutionary and dynamic. Lord Shiva represents the ever still and unmoving Purusha, the underlying reality of the Universe. However, Durga is the ever flowing and eternal drive that propels everything to happen. This concept is seen in the greatest galaxies – with their inner stability and outer motion – to the tiniest atom, with a central nucleus and the revolving electron. It is universal.
The battle of Devi and demon is itself symbolic; Mahishasura is half-man-half-buffalo, signifying our inner instincts that remain animalistic despite our outwardly appearance. Anger, greed, lust, envy: these are all primitive and destroyed by Durga. The buffalo is slow, dirty and weak whilst the lion is majestic, mighty and strong. Navratri reminds us to develop ourselves from one to the other.
Navratri is essentially the journey of the soul as it evolves. The first three days are dedicated to Mahakali (“the great Devourer”), the Goddess with a recognisable and ferocious form. She destroys the inner demons, vices, flaws, habits and tendencies that we may have. She cuts us free from the bondages that hold us back such as anger, fear or contempt. Having been cleansed of these, we move to the next three days, represented by Mahalakshmi. As the consort of Lord Vishnu, She bestows ever-lasting prosperity and progress. These allow fulfilment so that the soul can ascend to the final stage, symbolised by the last three days and the Goddess Mahasarasvati. She imparts divine knowledge on the soul having known which, everything is known.
This model isn’t just symbolic of spiritual progression – it is the structure for achieving true progress. We always need to first assess and remove our obstacles, then mobilise our resources to fulfil what we need for our vision – before reaching out and grasping it.
Navratri is celebrated throughout the world. One of the most famous traditions associated with it is the Gujarati folk dance Garba. A clay pot housing a lamp which symbolises fertility and the feminine power of Durga is circumbulated throughout the nine days.
Navratri is a time for celebrating the women in our communities and lives. Many fast, reflect and pray intensely during these days. In Bengal this is also the time of the great celebration of Durga Puja, where phenomenal murtis of Durga slaying the demon Mahishasura are produced by the Kumartuli clans. Many thousands flock to partake in the puja, which lasts for the final three days of Navratri and Vijaya Dashami, before they disperse the murtis of Durga into the waters of the river.
Om bhavatāpa pranāshinyai ānandaghana murtaye
jnānabhakti pradāinyai mātastubhyam namonamah.
“Mother, I bow to Thee again and again, destroyer of worldly sufferings,
embodiment of bliss, dispenser of wisdom and devotion.”
|Story||All Devas came together to call upon Durga to destroy the tyrant Mahishasura, who was defeated on the tenth day|
Vijaya Dashami is one of the mostly widely celebrated festivals in the Hindu calendar. It falls on the tenth day of the month of Ashwin and is preceded by the nine night festival of Navratri, with which it shares its significance and story.
The words “Vijaya” and “Dashami” mean “victory” and “tenth day” in Sanskrit respectively. Therefore, it is on this tenth day that victory over darkness was achieved. This relates to the story of the slaying of half-man-half-buffalo demon Mahishasura, as described in the Devi Mahatmyam.
Mahishasura was the King of the demons, and his strength and relentless campaign for power meant that he quickly defeated the Devas (demigods), gaining complete supremacy. The Adi Parashakti, the primal energy of this universe, was summoned to save the Devas, and through nine different forms She fought Mahishashura before defeating him on the tenth day by driving a trishul through his heart.
The day is often also called Dussehra which refers to the narrative of Ravana’s death at the hands of Lord Rama in the epic Ramayana. After capturing Sita, Ravana retreated back to his kingdom of Lanka. Lord Rama declared war on Ravana and on this day ended both the demon and the war.
According to the Mahabharata, this is also the day that the Pandava brothers came out of exile and recollected their armour and weapons, taking up the war for Dharma. Having spent years in quiet solitude, they woke up to the destiny they were to later fulfill.
Each of the narratives of Vijaya Dashami show the victory of good over evil, of light over dark and of knowledge over ignorance. It is a reflection of the ongoing war inside of us between virtue and vice.
Despite being mighty and intelligent, Ravana and Mahishasura both embody the over ambitious ego. It is only by slaying them that peace and progress was achieved. In the same way, working in a humble way and trying to think of others and not ourselves makes us graceful and successful in all that we do.
Vijaya Dashami is a reminder that these demons are not literal but are tendencies that we all house. Ravana’s ten heads symbolised lust, anger, attachment, greed, excessive pride, jealousy, selfishness, injustice, cruelty and the ego – ten flaws we are all affected by. Vijaya Dashami is a reminder that they are not invincible, and that we are capable of overcoming these vices.
In the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna explains (6.6):
“For the being who has conquered the mind, that being’s mind is the best of friends
But for one whose mind is uncontrolled, that very mind acts as the worst of enemies”
So it is only by defeating our own inner demons that we can achieve lasting joy and tranquility.
The victory of Lord Rama over Ravana is usually celebrated lavishly and with explosive festivity. Traditional plays enacting the scenes of the Ramayana take place at in even the smallest of villages and effigies of Ravana are burnt to the joyous chanting of Lord Rama’s auspicious name. Processions, music and dance all add to the spirit of the celebration that marks not only the end of Ravana, but also of Lord Rama’s exile.
In certain parts of the south of India such as Kerala or Karnataka, this day is known as Vidyarambham meaning the beginning of formal education. Children begin their schooling and many others embarking on new adventures take the blessings of the Devi first. This induction on this auspicious day is believed to bring success in the chosen endeavors.
In Bengal, the occasion marks the end of the famous Durga Puja. The concluding days of Navratri are especially important for a Bengali and Vijaya Dashami is the consummation of the worship. Sanskrit hymns, prasad, clothes and other spiritual oblations are offered to the Devi, before the murti is dispersed into the waters of the river.
|Meaning||Tenth day of victory|
Dhan Trayodashi (Dhan Teras)
Dhan Trayodashi is also known as Dhan Teras. “Dhan” means wealth and “Trayodashi” or “Teras” refers to this day falling on the 13th day of the dark half of the month of Ashvin.
Various tales are associated with this festival.
One such tale is the tale of King Hima’s son who was destined to die on this day. His newly wed wife lit lamps in the palace everywhere and sang beautiful devotional songs all night. Lord Yama, the God of death approached in the form of a serpent, but lost his bearings due to the brightness of the lamps and decided to sit and listen to the bhajans instead. As dawn broke, the serpent left dazzled without taking the soul of the son with him. Thus the wife cleverly avoided her husband’s death and therefore this day is known as “Yamadeepadaana” or the offering of lamps to Lord Yama.
According to the Srimad Bhagavatam, the churning of the ocean by the Devas and Asuras led to the pot of immortality emerging on this day. This was carried by an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, known as Dhanvantrari. He is the physician of the Gods and is the Lord of medicine.
This day is dedicated to wealth, but stresses that this is not just money. Since Lord Yama is the God of death it is clear that links are made between death and wealth, showing that healthy living is true affluence. The one who overcomes death and lives a long and active life is truly rich.
Lord Yama was evaded by lamps, symbolic in Hindu Dharma of knowledge, virtue and immortality. The light illuminates all around it, offering warmth and light despite being enveloped in darkness.
oṁ asato mā sad gamaya
tamaso mā jyotir gamaya
mṛtyor mā amṛtaṁ gamaya
“Lead us from the unreal to the real
Lead us from darkness to light
Lead us from death to immortality”
– Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 1.3.28
This prayer ties all three ideas of knowledge and ignorance, of light and dark, of death and deathlessness into one: they are all the same thing. It explains that our journey onwards is driven by a desire to attain the light. By leading lives of purity and striving for the knowledge embedded in the scriptures, we can overcome adversity and shine bright like the lamp. The guiding and divine light gives us smart solutions to our problems, much like the wife of King Hima’s son.
Dhanvantari emerged from the cosmic oceans on this day carrying the pot of immortality. This was only made possible by intense churning, showing that only if we really think deeply and churn the ocean of our mind will the clarity and insight come in the form of nectar. Once again, this lila proves that in Hindu Dharma, the emphasis is on a healthy life; since Dhanvantari is the physician of the Gods, the “dhan” or wealth that he bestows is not material wealth, but is strength of body and mind.
Lakshmiji is also worshipped on this day for prosperity. It is important to realise that Hindu Dharma does not condemn the pursuit of affluence, but rather considers it a fundamental objective of life. However, the methods of acquiring the wealth should be as pure as the nectar mentioned earlier. This can only happen if we work hard, use moral means of achieving our ambitions and are guided by righteousness (Dharma).
Many people perform Lakshmi puja on this auspicious day to invoke Lakshmiji into their homes and forthcoming year. They pray for the prosperity of their families and friends: Lakshmiji is not just the Goddess of money but of all other kinds of affluence. Prasad is offered and as the first day of the Diwali celebrations, many houses are decorated with rangolis and lamps.
New utensils and jewellery may often be bought, and prayers are offered also to Lord Yama to bless the family with a long and comfortable life. In some states Kubera is also worshipped, the deity of money.
In Maharashtra, ground coriander and jaggery is offered as naivaidya (prasad) and this day is very important for the merchant communities in the West of India too.
|Meaning||13th day of Ashvin of wealth|
|Rituals||Lakshmiji and Kuber puja|
Naraka Chaturdashi (Kali Chaudas)
“Naraka Chaturdashi” is sometimes also called “Kali Chaudas” and occurs on the 14th day of the dark half of the month of Ashvin. “Chaturdashi” and “chaudas” both mean the 14th and “Narak” refers to Narakasura, a demon.
It is believed that on this day, Lord Krishna slayed the evil demon Narakasura. After having captured many thousands of damsels and many precious items, the demon stole the earrings of Aditi, the Mother of the divine demigods. Enraged, they begged Lord Krishna to intervene and punish the the tyrant, who was later slain at the hands of Bhagavan.
It is also believed that Durga defeated Rakhtabija on this day. Rakhtabija was a formidable demon and possessed a very unusual boon. Every time a drop of his blood touched the ground, a new Rakhabija would manifest. Very quickly a whole army of Rakhtabijas was created. Durga took on the terrible form of Kali, who used her tongue to drink any spilling blood from Rakhtabija before putting an end to him.
Narakasura’s tale classically highlights how desire leads to destruction. “Naraka” incidentally means hell, and by fuelling unfulfilled desires, he creates for himself a hell where he is tortured by craving. He stole and pillaged ntil he had achieved what he wanted, challenging even divine powers. It is human nature to desire, but desire itself is endless and can never lead to everlasting happiness. As soon as one desire is fulfilled, another springs forth like the Rakhabija demon!
“Restraining the self by the Self, destroy, O mighty-armed that enemy
The unseizable foe, desire”
Srimad Bhagavad Gita 3.43
Buddhism is similarly based on the principle that true happiness and peace is achieved when attachment and desire are removed. Desire temporarily gives happiness, but soon a new desire has superseded the previous one, and we chase that instead. Only by taking shelter in Shri Krishna can this destructive cycle come to an end.
“Kali” means “the devourer” and the tale reminds us to overcome our external and internal obstacles. Interestingly, bone marrow, the origin of blood, provides new cells that can theoretically restore any part of the body. These are some of the only remaining stem cells in an adult with this plasticity and they can replenish damaged cells forming new tissue, just as the tale describes.
On a symbolic level, this ability to multiply also shows how the vices inside us have an urge to grow as rapidly as Rakhabija did if we give them the opportunity. Even in nature, darkness and disease has a tendency to grow like a tumour, corrupting us from inside. Whilst a basket of good apples cannot heal a rotting one, the rotten apple will spread disease to all those that are good. This propensity to multiply is something this lila warns us of, offering us a solution by taking refuge in Mata Kali.
Usually prayers are offered to Mata Kali on this day for blessings of strength and fearlessness. Many offer prayers, food (prasad) and apply kajjal in their eyes, believing that it is protective from evil.
In Tamil Nadu, the slaying of Narakasura is celebrated as Diwali with the lighting of lamps and fireworks.
Since this season has been linked to the harvest season, it is seen that many devotees wash with sesame seeds and offer the Mata plenty of seeds and grains, coconut and also various rice dishes.
In Goa, effigies of Narakasura are built and later destroyed.
Diwali is the biggest celebration in the Hindu calendar. The word comes from “Dipavali” which means “row of lamps”, and is one of the only festivals celebrated by all Indians across India and beyond. The festival spans five days starting from Dhan Trayodashi (Ashvin Vad 13) (see above!) until Bhai Duj (Kartik Sud 2) and is commonly called the “festival of light”, referring to the custom of lighting small oil lamps.
In North India, the first day is celebrated as Govatsa Dvadashi (Ashvin Vad 12) whereas elsewhere the festivities begin at Dhan Trayodashi. Dvadashi highlights the importance of cows in Hindu Dharma and has its origins in the Srimad Bhagavatam. As a punishment for the disrespectful deeds man had committed, Bhumi Mata (Mother Earth) exacted many years of famine and drought. King Prithu chased Bhumi Mata who symbolically took on the form of a cow. Cows represent motherhood and abundance, serving as a metaphor both for Bhumi Mata and for our mother figures; by milking the cow, the King pacified Bhumi Mata and restored the monsoons, grains and fertile lands for his people.
Dhan Trayodashi and Naraka Chaturdashi
There are various stories associated with Diwali, but by far the most famous is that of Lord Rama. Following 14 years of long exile and after killing the demon Ravana, Lord Rama returns in full glory to His Kingdom of Ayodhya to be crowned King. Accompanied by Mata Sita, Lakshman and of course the valiant and devoted Hanumanji, Lord Rama’s return is on the darkest night of the month, Amavasya or the new moon of Ashvin. The joyous citizens lit up the Kingdom by lighting small oil lamps in honour of the Lord, giving the festival its name.
It is also believed that on this auspicious day, the Devas and Asuras churned the cosmic ocean, with Lakshmiji and immortal nectar emerging from within.
Nutan Varsh/Bali Pratipada
The following day marks the 1st Kartik, and is New Year in Gujarat. It is the day that Lord Sri Krishna symbolically lifted the Govardhan Hill to offer shelter to his devotees, and to commemorate this, Govardhan Puja and spectacular food displays are exhibited known as Annakut. This is also the day that King Bali was exiled into the Patala (lower realms) by Lord Vamana, the 5th avatar of Lord Vishnu.
Yama Dvitiya (Bhai Duj/Bij)
The final day of Diwali is a celebration of the relationship between brothers and sisters. It is believed that Yamuna (the sacred Hindu River) invited her brother Lord Yama (God of death) to visit her, and he blessed her family with health and longevity. Thus sisters pray for their brothers’ health and wellbeing on this day.
It is quite clear that the story of Lord Rama and Ravana is one of good defeating evil, of light conquering darkness. In the midst of the darkest night of the darkest month, the hearts and faces of the devoted shine bright in anticipation of Lord Rama. This shows us the power of bhakti (devotion): no darkness, no adversity, no calamity can take away the joy of those who relish in Lord Rama.
Lord Rama’s return is symbolic of imbibing sacred virtues in our hearts. Rama is known as Maryada Purushottama – the ideal man. Rather than exiling this idol of magnificence, we welcome Him into our hearts and live by His principles. By striving to be thoughtful, hardworking and fulfilling our duties, we understand the true message of Lord Rama. Diwali shows us that we have one such duty: to become a beacon that carries the divine light to parts of our samaj (society) that are still plunged in darkness. Let us live a Dharmic life, make a difference and empower. Diwali’s message is one of building a stronger, better future.
Light is fundamental to this festival and is itself a symbol of knowledge. We often use the term “being in the dark” when we’re unaware of something and ask for someone to “shed some light” when clarifying. Hindu philosophy explains that the soul is bound in a web of ignorance, resulting in a cycle of life, death and rebirth. Who am I? Is there a God? Who created this world? Who decided where I will be born? Is there free will? What happens when I die? What is real and what is unreal? What is the meaning of life – and death? We know nothing about these higher questions, and we rarely ask them. The philosophy of Vedanta provides illuminating answers and the instructions to experience true knowledge, the light that leads us to immortality. Diwali reminds us to put our lives into perspective and focus not so much on the mundane but on the deeper truths of life.
There are so many customs related to Diwali that it would be impossible to list them all! Families take part in festivities through lighting lamps and fireworks, believed to attract Lakshmiji who visits the homes of devotees and bestows prosperity. New clothes are worn, old friendships renewed and the year’s finest food is enjoyed.
Many also perform “Chopada pujan” in Maharashtra and Gujarat where old account books are closed and new ones are blessed, ensuring a successful economic year. Lakshmi Puja is also performed to welcome the Goddess and bring all kinds of opulence, not just monetary, into the family home. In Odissa, Diwali is a time of remembrance for ancestors, whilst for Tamils the festival falls on the night of Naraka Chaturdashi, preceding the New Moon. Most Hindus offer worship to Lakshmiji during this auspicious time unlike Bengalis, who call Diwali Shyama Puja or the worship of the dark one, Mata Kali.
Jains celebrate the day as the merging of the final Tirthankar, Mahavira, into the infinite. On this day he achieved Moksha.
Sikh tradition names Diwali Bandhi Chhor Divas or the day of the release of the prisoners. This refers to the release of Guru Har Gobindji along with 52 other Hindu Kings from the Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s prison. As the sixth Guru, he was the first to incite an uprising against the Muslim rule.