You can be sure that somewhere in India, every day of the year, there is a celebration. And it’s double the fun and festivity in September-October
India is a vast multi-ethnic country where people following different faiths, religions, speaking different languages, from different communities, castes and tribes live harmoniously. Interestingly the months of September and October, the busiest in India as far as festivals go, cater to the religious and communal needs of almost every Indian.
The Indian society being an amalgamation of various cultures there are many reasons for us to celebrate all throughout the year. It is believed that there was a time when there used to be a festival every day of the year—365 festivals a year!
The months of September and October usher in a season of festivities both religious and social in nature marked by zest and fun-filled celebrations. In fact, festivals in India take a significant turn in the month of October and are among the popularly awaited ones in the country. Many Indian festivals mark important times in our social and economic lives. It is an age-old saying that India lives in her villages and due to an Indian’s strong links to the agrarian economy, most festivals fall around times of harvest and seeding. One such festival is the harvest festival of Kerala, Onam, celebrated by Malayalees from all walks of life. It may have a connection to a Hindu mythology, but that does not stop Malayalees from across religions coming together sharing a feast and making merry. In the month of September, the Zoroastrians celebrate Paitishahema Gahambar on the occasion of bringing the harvest home and in the month of October, they celebrate Ayathrem Gahambar to celebrate the return of the cattle that used to go grazing to faraway lands.
The reason behind the celebration may be irrelevant today, but the concept is not as it is a time when families get together in a joyous mood. The month of September also gives the Christians of South India a reason to celebrate—8 September is the Feast of the Blessed Virginand month of October is dedicated to the Holy Rosary, when people pray the rosary.
The month of September also has two major festivals—one for the Hindus and the other for the Muslims in India and across the world—Ganesh Chaturthi and Eid ul-Adha. Lord Ganesha is believed to the remover of all obstacles. While there are many temples dedicated to the Lord himself, there is hardly a temple that will not have the statue of Lord Ganesha. All auspicious occasions begin with His invocation. Ganesh Chaturthi observes Lord Ganesha’s birthday and is celebrated all over India though it is particularly popular in the state of Maharashtra. The celebration that lasts for ten days, begins with the installation of a Ganesha idol and culminates with the ‘visarjan’ of the idol. Both the occasions are marked by feasts and festivities. Modak, a sweet prepared using rice flour, with jaggery, grated coconut and dry fruit stuffing is the sweet of choice.
It is believed that Lokmanya Tilak changed the festival from a private family celebration to a grand public event in the hope of bridging the gap between the Brahmins and the non-Brahmins. I was in Pune this year during the time of the ‘visarjan’ and it was heart-warming to see people from all strata of the society getting together in a celebratory mood. The fortnight following the festival is observed as Pitru Paksha in Southern and Western India. It is considered as an inauspicious period by Hindus as it is the period when homage is paid the dear departed ancestors. No items of jewellery or clothing are purchased during this period. Eid al-Adha, also called Bakri-Eidis the ‘Festival of Sacrifice’ and begins after the culmination of the holy pilgrimage or ‘Hajj’ to Mecca. The underlying message of the celebration is that by observing the rites, Muslims across the world strengthen their determination to renounce things dear to them and learn to reach out to the needy, empathise with others and forge ties of friendship. The festival intends to spread the message of joy, brotherhood, and compassion. Muslims believe that in order to gain Allah’s blessings, they must display purity of heart, obedience and show generosity towards others.
October brings with it a foray of festivals galore and one can undoubted proclaim that this is the most happening month on the Indian calendar. Paradoxically the month begins with the Gandhi Jayanthi celebrations and ends with Halloween!
And interspersed in between are Durga Pooja, Navratri, Kurva Chauth, Dusshera, Muharram and Diwali. It is a great time for the businesses and families save up through the year to splurge during this time. Gifts are given and received—there is no holding back. The month of Navaratri is the celebration of truth over evil, be it in the form of Garbha-Dandiya in the West, Ramlila in the North, Golu in the South or Durga Pooja in the East. Goddess Durga is one of the most revered deities in the Hindu mythology. ‘Durga’ in Sanskrit means a fort, or a place that cannot be transgressed easily. All devotees believe that ‘Ma Durga’ will protect them from all the evils of the world thus relieving them of their miseries. The arms of Durga represent quadrants or directions in Hinduism, suggesting that she protection reaches out in all directions. Just like Durga Pooja celebrates the victory of Good over Evil, so does the burning of the effigy of Ravana as a culmination to the Dusshera festivities. The festival of lights Diwali which is celebrated 20 days after Dusshera s probably the biggest and the brightest of all festivals in India. There may be many myths and legends connected to this festival, but in each again lies the significance of the victory of good over evil. As the families lighten up their homes with little ‘diyas’, they illuminate their hearts with the light that empowers them to commit themselves to good deeds and make this society a better place. During Diwali as lights illuminate every corner of India and sound of crackers liven up the air, people embrace each other and share sweets in a mood of togetherness, happiness and hope.
Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar which is a lunar calendar and begins with the sighting of the new moon. This holy festival is celebrated by both the Sunnis and Shias. This is one of the four most sanctified months of the Islamic calendar. The 10th day has a more religious significance as it is believed that on this day Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Hazrat Imam Husain Ali, his family and followers were brutally massacred. This day is also called Ashura. Some Muslims fast during daylight hours on the ninth and 10th days of the month and also attend special prayer meetings.It is believed that some Hindus also observe Muharram. These are the Hussaini Brahmins, also known as Mohyals, a community of Hindus in North India and follow certain Muslim traditions and rituals. According to the Mohyal lore, a number of their ancestors fought on Husain’s side at Karbala and died in the battle. The community now bears the legacy of that mythic lineage.
These festivals unite and bring Indians together. It is amazing how mythical folklore can bind a community and encourage them to come together setting aside petty differences. Unfortunately, with the change in the societal framework, with micro and nuclear families becoming the order of the day, the customs and traditions that bind us are slowly fading away. Nowadays, in many households a festival means a holiday, a day from the hectic schedule, a day to sleep in, a day for take-aways and catching up on the favourite TV shows or watching a movie at home. It is rarely a time when the whole town would gather together and have a big celebration. In many families the rituals are tokenistic in an attempt to keep the traditions alive.
For me a festival meant getting up early in the morning and getting engrossed in the hustle and bustle of the festive mood, it meant visiting neighbours, inviting neighbours, sharing a communal meal… but unfortunately those days seem to be thing of the past. I enjoyed my time in India during Ganesh Chaturthi and savoured the moments watching different societies (the modern equivalent of villages) organising their idols, the poojas, the dancing, the feasting and the communal festivities. India is a great place and the feeling of being an Indian is even greater during these festival times!