The social life of Hindus is full of celebrations – festive occasions that allow them to come together as a community to celebrate their religion and culture. The following is a list of popular Hindu Holidays which includes holy days and festivals. These dates usually commemorate a particular deity, season or event in history. Click to learn more about each particular holiday:
2014 Hindu Holiday Calendar
27th February 2014: Maha Shivaratri - Night of Shiva
17th March 2014: Holi - Festival of Colours
8th April 2014: Rama Navami - Birthday of Rama
17th August 2014: Janmashtami - Birthday of Krishna
28th August 2014: Ganesha Chaturthi - Celebration of Ganesh
29th September - 3rd October 2014: Durga Puja
23rd October 2014: Divali - Festival of Lights
Navaratri: five times per year - see description below
Maha Shivaratri (Shivaratri/Sivaratri) - 'Great Night of Shiva'
Maha Shivaratri is a Hindu festival celebrated every year in reverence of Lord Shiva, an important deity in Hindu religion. Maha Shivaratri literally translates to ‘Great Night of Shiva’ and is also known as the birthday of Lord Shiva.
Rituals: The festival is principally celebrated by offerings of bael leaves, milk and cold water to Lord Shiva, all-day fasting and an all-night-long vigil. All through the day, devotees sing hymns and chant "Om Namah Shivaya", a sacred mantra dedicated to Lord Shiva. The benefits of this mantra are said to increase greatly on this auspicious night. Hindu temples across the country are decorated with lights and colorful decorations and people can be seen offering night long prayers .
Date: Maha Shivaratri is celebrated throughout the night and day. The Maha Shivratri festival is observed on the 13th night/14th day of the new moon on the Hindu month of Maagha or Phalguna (February or March).
Holi (Holaka/Phagwan) - Festival of Colours
Holi, also known as the Festival of Colours, celebrates the arrival of Spring with all its beautiful colours and vibrant life. Spiritually, Holi signifies the playful nature of the divine and the victory of good over evil.
Rituals: Holi is celebrated with a variety of rituals beginning with a bonfire the night before the full moon on the Hindu calendar month of Phalgun, where people gather to sing and dance. The next morning is a free-for-all mayhem, where people spray each other with dry powder and coloured water. Groups carry drums and musical instruments from place to place, singing and dancing, exchanging greetings and eating festive delights. Holi is characterised by the loosening of social norms and social restrictions associated with caste, sex, status and age. It is a day where one is encouraged to end a conflict with another, and to forgive and forget.
Background: Originally Holi was an agricultural festival celebrating the arrival of Spring and the harvests it brings. Today, it also holds a religious significance with a number of Hindu deities associated with the festival (ie Vishnu-Prahlad-Holika, Lord Krisha and the Gopis, Shiva-Madana).
Date: Day after the full moon of the Hindu calendar month of Phalgun (around end of February - early to mid March).
RamaNavami - Birthday of Rama
Rama Navami is a Hindu festival which celebrates the birth of the god Rama to King Dasaratha and Queen Kausalya in Ayodhya. Rama, the 7th avatar of Vishnu, is the oldest known god having human form.
Rituals: At some places the festival lasts the whole nine days of the Navaratri, thus the period is called 'Sri Rama Navaratra'. It is marked by continuous recitals, mostly of the Ramacharitamanas, organized several days in advance to culminate on this day, with elaborate bhajan, kirtan and distribution of prasad (food offered to the deity of Rama) after the puja and aarti. Images of the infant Rama are placed on cradles and rocked by devotees. Community meals are also organized. Since Rama is believed to have been born at noon, temples and family shrines are elaborately decorated and traditional prayers are chanted together by the family in the morning. Also, at temples, special havans are organized, along with Vedic chanting of mantras and offerings of fruits and flowers. Many followers mark this day by fasting through the day followed by feasting in the evening, or at the culmination of celebrations. In South India, in Bhadrachalam the day is also celebrated as the wedding anniversary of Rama and his consort Sita.
The important celebrations on this day take place at Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh), Sita Samahit Sthal (Sitamarhi) (Bihar), Bhadrachalam (Andhra Pradesh) and Rameswaram (Tamil Nadu), thronged by thousands of devotees. Rathayatras, the chariot processions, also known as Shobha yatras of Rama, Sita, his brother Lakshmana and Hanuman, are taken out at several places,including Ayodhya where thousands of people take a dip in the sacred river Sarayu.
Date: The holy day falls in the Shukla Paksha on the ninth day of the month of Chaitra in the Hindu calendar (March-April). Thus it is also known as Chaitra Masa Suklapaksha Navami, and marks the end of the nine-day Chaitra-Navaratri (Vasanta Navaratri) celebrations.
Janmashtami - Birthday of Krishna
Krishna Janmashtami also known as Krishnashtami, Saatam Aatham, Gokulashtami, Ashtami Rohini, Srikrishna Jayanti, Sree Jayanti or sometimes merely as Janmashtami, is an annual commemoration of the birth of the Hindu deity Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu. Krishna was the 8th son of princess Devaki and her husband Vasudeva. Based on scriptural details and astrological calculations, the date of Krishna's birth, known as Janmashtami, is 19 July 3228 BCE and He lived until 3102 BCE. Krishna took His birth into the Vrishni clan of Yadavas from Mathura. Mathura (in present day Mathura district, Uttar Pradesh) was the capital of the Yadavas, to which Krishna's parents Vasudeva and Devaki belonged. King Kansa, Devaki's brother, had ascended the throne by imprisoning his father, King Ugrasena. Afraid of a prophecy that predicted his death at the hands of Devaki's eighth son, Kansa had the couple locked in a prison cell. After Kansa killed the first six children, and Devaki's apparent miscarriage of the seventh (which was actually a secret transfer of the infant to Rohini as Balarama), Krishna was born. Following the birth, Lord Krishna appeared to His father Vasudeva in His four armed form of Lord Vishnu and ordered Vasudeva to take Krishna to Gokul, to Nanda and Yashoda, where He could live safely, away from His Uncle Kansa. Vasudeva took Krishna with him and crossed the river Yamuna to reach Gokul. There, everyone was asleep; so he quietly left Him there having swapped Krishna with Yashoda's newborn daughter. Kansa, thinking her to be Devaki's eight child, threw her on a stone. But she rose into the air and transformed into Yogamaya (who is Vishnu's helper) and warned Kansa about his death. Then, she disappeared. Krishna grew up in Gokul with his brother Balarama. He then returned to Mathura and killed Kansa with the help of Balaram.
Rituals: Dramatic enactments of the life of Krishna, are a special feature in regions of Mathura and Vrindavan, and regions following Vaishnavism in Manipur. Krishna Janmashtami is followed by the festival Nandotsav, which celebrates the occasion when Krishna's foster father Nanda Baba distributed gifts to the community in honour of the birth.
Date: The festival is celebrated on the eighth day (Ashtami) of the Krishna Paksha (dark fortnight) of the month of Shraavana (August–September) in the Hindu calendar.
Durga Puja – Worship of Durga
Durga Puja festival marks the victory of Goddess Durga over the evil buffalo demon Mahishasura. Thus, Durga Puja festival epitomises the victory of Good over Evil. It is an annual Hindu festival in South Asia that celebrates worship of the Hindu goddess Durga.
Rituals: Durga Puja also includes the worship of Shiva, who is Durga's consort (Durga is an aspect of Goddess Parvati), in addition to Lakshmi, Saraswati with Ganesha and Kartikeya, who are considered to be Durga's children.Worship of mother nature is done, through nine types of plant (called "Kala Bou"), including a plantain (banana) tree, which represent nine divine forms of Goddess Durga. Modern traditions have come to include the display of decorated pandals and artistically depicted sculptures (murti) of Durga, exchange of Vijaya greetings and publication of Puja Annuals.
Date: The actual worship of the Goddess Durga as stipulated by the Hindu scriptures falls in the month of Chaitra, which roughly overlaps with March or April and is called Basanti Durga Puja. This ceremony is not observed by many and is restricted to a handful in the state of West Bengal. The more popular form, which is also known as Sharadiya (Autumnal) Durga Puja, is celebrated later in the year with the dates falling either in September or October. Since the Goddess is invoked at the wrong time, it is called "Akaal Bodhon" in Bengali.
It refers to all the six days observed as Mahalaya, Shashthi, Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami, Maha Nabami and Vijayadashami. The dates of Durga Puja celebrations are set according to the traditional Hindu calendar and the fortnight corresponding to the festival is called Devi Paksha, "Fortnight of the Goddess"). Devi Paksha is preceded by Mahalaya, the last day of the previous fortnight Pitri Paksha, "Fortnight of the Forefathers", and is ended on Kojagori Lokkhi Puja ("Worship of Goddess Lakshmi on Kojagori Full Moon Night").
Divali (Deepavali, Diwali) - Festival of Lights
Divali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is one of the biggest and brightest of all Hindu festivals celebrating life, enjoyment and goodness. Divali literally means ‘row of lights/lamps’ and spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil.
Rituals: The festival is celebrated with a variety of rituals typically over a five day period with the main festival night coinciding with the darkest, new moon night of the Hindu calendar month Kartika. Before Divali night, people clean, renovate and decorate their homes. On Diwali night, Hindus dress up in new clothes or their best outfit, light up lamps and candles inside and outside their home, and participate in family prayers (puja). After puja fireworks follow, then a family feast including sweets (mithai), and an exchange of gifts between family members and close friends.
Background: Divali dates back to ancient times in India as a festival after the summer harvest in the Hindu calendar month of Kartika. Today, it also holds a religious significance with a number of deities associated with the festival (ie Lord Rama & Sita, Vishnu and Lakshmi, Krishna, Kali, Ganesha, Saraswati).
Date: Main festival night is on the darkest, new moon of the Hindu calendar month of Kartika (around mid October – mid November).
Navaratri – Worship of the Goddess
Navratri is a festival dedicated to the worship of the Hindu deity Durga. The word Navaratri means 'nine nights' in Sanskrit, nava meaning nine and ratri meaning nights. During these nine nights and ten days, nine forms of Shakti/Devi are worshiped. The tenth day is commonly referred to as Vijayadashami or "Dussehra" (also spelled Dasara). Navratri is an important major festival and is celebrated with great zeal all over India. Diwali the festival of lights is celebrated twenty days after Dasara.
Rituals: During Navratri, some devotees of Durga observe a fast and prayers are offered for the protection of health and prosperity. Devotees avoid meat, alcoholic drinks, grains, wheat and onion during this fast. Grains are usually avoided since it is believed that during the period of Navratri and seasonal change, grains attract and absorb lots of negative energies from the surrounding and therefore there is a need to avoid eating anything which are produced from grains for the purification of Navratri to be successful. Navratri is also a period of introspection and purification, and is traditionally an auspicious and religious time for starting new ventures.
During this vowed religious observance, a pot is installed (ghatasthapana) at a sanctified place at home. A lamp is kept lit in the pot for nine days. The pot symbolises the universe. The uninterrupted lit lamp is the medium through which we worship the effulgent Adishakti, i.e. Sree Durgadevi. During Navratri, the principle of Sree Durgadevi is more active in the atmosphere.
Navratri is celebrated in a large number of Indian communities. The mother goddess is said to appear in 9 forms, and each one is worshiped for a day. These nine forms signify various traits that the goddess influences us with. The Devi Mahatmya and other texts invoking the Goddess who vanquished demons are cited.
Date: Navaratri is celebrated five times a year. They are Vasanta Navaratri, Ashadha Navaratri, the PoopSharad Navaratri, and the Paush/Magha Navaratri. Of these, the Sharad Navaratri of the month of Puratashi and the Vasanta Navaratri of the Vasanta kala are the most important.