If you’re Indian, you know what time of year it is! If you’re not Indian, I’m about to tell you what time of year it is! 🙂
For most Americans, the “holiday season” is from mid-to-late November until after the first of the year. That’s when the bulk of our holidays take place: Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s. But in India (and other South Asian cultures) the “holiday season” begins a few months earlier.
In India, holidays are typically called “festivals”, which I think is important to note because to many Americans, a festival is just a word for a big party or celebration. Indian festivals are celebrations, but they each have a deeper meaning than, say, a music festival.
Today I wanted to discuss a few of the upcoming festivals that take place around India during this time of the year, since they’re a big part of my family’s, my friend’s, and my life! Most of the festivals are Hindu, since India is a vastly Hindu-majority nation, but I’ll be sure to specify the root of each festival below. I’ll be covering some of the more widespread festivals like Diwali in their own separate posts at a later date – today I’ll just be touching on a few of the more localized ones.
Please keep in mind that the information below is not exhaustive, and just like any holiday around the world, celebrations can vary from region to region or family to family. I am providing information based on a combination of research and personal experiences of myself, my friends, and my family. I hope you enjoy!
August 7, 2017
Pronounced ROCK-shah BUN-dhan
First up is Raksha Bandhan, which happens to be today! This is a festival that celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters, specifically that brothers will always be there to protect their sisters. Raksha Bandhan is celebrated by the sister tying a special bracelet, called a rakhi (pronounced similar to “rocky”), onto their brother’s wrist, and in return the brother gives his sister a gift.
Rakhi bracelets are relatively simple, but can have more ornate beading or weaving if the sister so chooses. They are tied using simple knots, and are worn until they fall off.
Every year, Vikram’s sister sends a rakhi for him from India, and every year he sends her a gift in return. Since the festival is between brothers and sisters, I can’t help Vikram tie the rakhi because I’m his wife. Vikram usually either ties it on himself (difficult) or finds a friend to tie it on for him (much less difficult).
In India, “brother” and “sister” is not limited to biological siblings. Oftentimes, cousins are also called brother (bhaiya in Hindi) and sister (didi in Hindi), and celebrate Raksha Bandhan together. My sister-in-law and I each get rakhis for our closest Indian cousins.
Raksha Bandhan is a Hindu festival, but many groups outside of Hinduism also celebrate it, such as Sikhs, Muslims, and Christians. I celebrate Raksha Bandhan with my brother, and have done so ever since I met Vikram and learned about it. Since my brother just got married and I don’t live near him anymore, this year his new sister-in-law tied his rakhi 🙂
August 15, 2017
Pronounced KRISH-na jan-MAH-shtmi
Krishna is one of the most well-known Lords in Hinduism, so this is obviously a Hindu festival! Krishna Janmashtami, also known simply as Janmashtami, celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna. It is celebrated in different ways all over India, but most areas participate in fasting, singing religious songs call bhajans, making offerings, and putting on special plays or performances called Rasa lila, which depict Krishna dancing with Radha.
In the Western state of Maharashtra (home to Mumbai), Janmashtami is celebrated with an event called Dahi Handi (pronounced DUH-hee HUN-dee), which means “pot of yogurt”. In this event, a pot filled with yogurt, ghee, and other dairy products is hung high in the air, and teams compete to create a human pyramid to reach and break the pot! In addition to this special celebration, Maharashtrians also have a special name for the Janmashtami festival: Gokulashtami.
Indian Independence Day
August 15, 2017
This is a secular holiday, celebrating India’s independence from Britain as well as British India’s partition into India and Pakistan. This was in the year…..anyone?
1947. I feel like a lot of people don’t realize that British rule over India was that recent, or that Pakistan was part of India until that late, but it was!
Celebrations include parades, cultural performances, and general festivities. The main celebration happens at the Red Fort in Delhi, where there is a huge parade with floats and performances from each state. The Prime Minister gives a speech, and the event is broadcast on television all over India. In addition, there is ceremonial flag hoisting all over the nation, sometimes at a specified time as a display of unity and patriotism.
I was in Punjab in 2015 for Independence Day, but unfortunately we weren’t able to do much outside since it wasn’t safe in that area for women go to out on Independence Day. Back in the U.S., we really don’t do much to celebrate like we do for American Independence Day. I usually say “Happy Independence Day!” to Vikram, which is typically met with, “uhh…thanks”. 🙂
August 25-September 5, 2017
Pronounced guh-NAY-shah chuh-TOORT-hee
Ganesha Chaturthi is actually a huge festival in India, but it’s mainly celebrated in the Western and Southern parts of India. Since Vikram and his family are from North India, we don’t celebrate this holiday unless we are with friends from the West or South.
The festival is celebrated by statues of Lord Ganesha (Hindu god, Hindu festival) being created out of clay. Large, ornate statues are built and installed in temples, and oftentimes families create their own small statues for the home. If you’re not familiar with Lord Ganesha, he’s the one with the elephant head, and is the god of new beginnings and removing obstacles. This holiday is the celebration of his birth. There is typically pooja done for the statue, which includes lighted lamps (diyas) and candles, prayers, and offerings. At the end of the festival, the clay is returned to earth by placing it in water – often in a nearby lake or river – to disintegrate. This is typically done in a very celebratory fashion, with a parade, music, singing, and dancing.
In Pune, a large city near to Mumbai, Ganesha Chaturthi is celebrated with an event called dhol tasha or dhol pathak, in which groups or teams gather and play dhol and tasha drums in the streets for a large crowd. There are a ton of videos on YouTube, but if you’re looking for a recommendation, I suggest this one 🙂
We were fortunate to celebrate Ganesha Chaturthi with our South Indian friends a couple of years ago. As part of the pooja, my friend made something called Panchamrita, which is a mixture of five pure foods (panch/panj is Hindi for “five”) that is used in Hindu worship. The ingredients are cow’s milk, dahi (unsweetened yogurt), honey, ghee (clarified butter), and liquid jaggery (unrefined cane sugar). Sometimes one of the ingredients is swapped out for water, but even so, Panchamrita is delicious. It is offered at the feet of the god(s), and then spooned into the palms of the worshipers to drink. Panchamrita is not exclusive to the Ganesha Chaturthi festival, but it was my first (and so far only) experience with it.
It was such an amazing opportunity to celebrate this festival with our friends! It’s something we will never forget, and hopefully will do again someday!
August 25-September 6, 2017
Onam is another festival that is huge, just not in the area that I’m familiar with. Up until this post, this is what I knew about Onam:
- It’s the biggest festival in the South Indian state of Kerala
- Women wear white sarees with a gold border, and men wear white-and-gold dhotis (a long sheet-like garment that can be loosely compared to a skirt)
- Pookkalams are made, which are designs made of flower petals (and also it’s the cutest word ever!)
So I did some research, and my best friend Wikipedia told me that Onam is a ten-day festival in which celebrations are held on each day, but the first and last days are given priority as the most important. The celebrations include parades, dances, pookkalam flower arrangements (I told you!), boat races, and a large feast served on banana leaves called Onasadya.
Onam celebrates the annual return of King Mahabali, who passed a test by Lord Vishnu by proving his virtuousness, and is allowed to return every year to the place he once ruled.
Onam is a Hindu festival, but since Kerala has a sizeable Christian population, the festival is often celebrated by Christians as well.
Thus far, I haven’t had the opportunity to celebrate Onam with Malayali friends (Malayali = from Kerala). I hope to celebrate with them one day!
I hope you enjoyed reading about these upcoming Indian festivals! If you have Indian and/or Hindu friends, be sure to send well wishes on these holidays! Please let me know if there is anything I missed! Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I will be posting about some of the more widespread festivals in our household in their own separate posts at a later date.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next week 🙂