The NEW YEAR DAY is looked upon as an auspicious day and greetings are exchanged. (January 1st.)
The beginning of the Tamil month of Thai marks the end of the harvest season and the people celebrate PONGAL. While Pongal falls on the MAKARA SANKRANTI day, the preceding day is called Bhogi, when the old items of the house are ridden off. The next day is the MATTU PONGAL when the cows are worshipped. In every house on Pongal day, a pot containing rice, dhal and jaggery are allowed to boil over, signifying plentiness. (January)
REPUBLIC DAY is celebrated on January 26th every year; it is the anniversary of India's establishment as a Republic. Cultural activities are held in almost all the state capitals but it is most spectacular in Delhi, where there will be a colorful parade. As part of the Republic Day celebrations, three days later, a Beating of the Retreat ceremony takes place outside the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
VASANT PANCHAMI is a spring festival, held on the 5th day of Magha when people wear yellow dresses. In some places like in West Bengal, the Goddess of learning, Saraswati is worshipped. Books, musical instruments and other objects related to arts are placed in front of the Goddess to get her blessings. (January).
SHIVARATRI is celebrated with great zeal throughout the country. The devotees remain awake throughout the night. There are fairs around famous Shiva temples. (Feb-Mar). This day of fasting is dedicated to Lord Shiva, who danced the Tandava on that day. The chanting of the mantras and anointing of the Lingams follow Temple processions.
A gay abandon, a riot of color, song and dance, characterize the HOLI -the spring festival that is held on the day preceeding the full moon night in March-April. It is one of the most exuberant of the Hindu festivals. It marks the end of winter. On the night before Holi, bonfires are built to symbolize the destruction of the evil demon Holika. It is mainly a North Indian festival. In Maharastra it is called Rangapachami and is celebrated with dancing and singing. People sprinkle liquid color and throw color powder on one another. Lord Krishna, when he was an infant sucked life out of a demoness, Putana who was commissioned by the Kamsa, an unjust King to kill him. The festival celebrates this fete.
The birth anniversary of Mahavira Jain, the last of the 24 Jain Tirthankaras who was responsible for revival of Jainism is celebrated as MAHAVIR JAYANTHI during March-April.
RAMANAVAMI- this day is celebrated as the birth anniversary of Lord Rama, during March- April.
GANGAUR: This Rajasthan festival honors Shiva and Parvathi.The Rajasthani women dress brightly and sing and dance. This is during March- April.
Christians celebrate GOOD FRIDAY, which marks the crucification and death of Jesus Christ, all over the country. (April-May).
BUDDHA POORNIMA, -the sacred full-moon night, that on three different years saw Gautama Buddha's birth, his achieving enlightment and his nirvana are a sacred day for Buddhists throughout the country. (May-June). This is called the "Triple Blessed Festival". Monks carry their sacred books and carry out processions.
The great Car festival or RATH YATRA of Lord Jagannath at Puri, Odisha, commemorating Krishna's journey from Gopa to Mathura is celebrated during June/July.
TEEJ- Rajasthani festival, it denotes the onset of monsoon. Idols of Goddess Parvati are taken around the streets amidst singing and dancing in June-July.
RAKSHA BANDHAN, the tying of love symbols round the wrists of brothers by sisters is observed around July - August. The brothers reciprocate with gifts. Some people also worship the sea-god deity Varuna on this day.
NAG PANCHAMI- This festival is dedicated to Ananta, the serpent upon whose coils Vishnu rested between Universes. Offerings are made to snake images.
JANMASHTAMI, Lord Krishna's birth is a nation-wide festival marked by both Joy and devotion. (August).
INDEPENDENCE DAY- this is on August 15th marking the anniversary of India's independence from the British. The Prime Minister addresses the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort.
DRUKPA TESHI- This festival marks the first teachings given by the Buddha. It is held on the fourth day of the sixth month. (August).
GANESH CHATHURTHI, the birthday of Lord Ganesh, the son of Lord Shiva and Parvathi comes during Aug - Sept. It is widely celebrated all over India. Images of Ganesh are worshipped and later these images are taken out in a procession to be immersed in the sea. Ganesh Chathurthi is considered to be the most auspicious day of the year.
SHRAVAN PURNIMA - after a day long fast, high class Hindus replace the sacred thread they wear. This comes during August - Sept.
ONAM - festival of Kerala with its famous Boat races also comes during this season. (Aug- Sept).
PITRAPAKSH - the first fortnight of the month of Aswin is devoted to the ceremony of Shraddha - the propitiation of dead ancestors by various pujas and oblations. Festivities of all sorts are avoided during this period. (Sept-Oct).
October 2nd is celebrated as GANDHI JAYANTHI all over the country remembering the great father of our country. Prayer meetings are held in the Raj Ghat in Delhi where the Mahatma was cremated.
The festival that marshals behind it a great intensity of emotion is the DASSERA or DURGA PUJA that generally falls in the month of October. Rama worshiped Mother Durga on the eve of his expedition to Lanka. The festival commemorates this event. In the city of Calcutta alone over a thousand images of the Goddess Durga are worshipped. It is called Durga Puja in West Bengal and in Gujarat, Navratri.
GOVARDHANA PUJA- this is a Hindu festival dedicated to their holiest animal, the cow. (Oct-Nov).
In the month of KARTHIK (Oct-Nov) on the new moon day, millions of lamps adorn the Hindu homes, from the hut to the palace; millions of crackers are burst and rockets illuminate the sky. It is the celebration of DIWALI, a nation wide festival of lamps. The festival celebrates the glorious return of Rama to Ayodhya. That day people dress festively, make presents to each other of betel nuts and areca nuts, visit the temples, give alms and play with one another. This is the happiest day of the Hindu calendar, celebrated on the 15th day of Karthik. In all, the festival lasts for 5 days. On the first day, the houses are cleaned and the entrance is decorated with colorful Rangolis. Day two is dedicated to Krishna's victory over Narahasura, a legendary tyrant. Day three, the people worship Goddess Lakshmi. This marks the new account year for many companies. Day four commemorates the visit of the friendly demon Bali. On the fifth day men visit their sisters to put a tikka on their forehead. Diwali is also called the festival of sweets as people exchange sweets.
BHRATRI TIKKA-, the second day of the bright half of the month of Karthika is the festival when the sisters honor their brothers in token of which they apply sandalwood or saffron paste on their foreheads as a symbol of protection from evil. They receive gifts from them in return. (Oct-Nov).
NANAK JAYANTI: On this day during Nov- Dec, the birthday of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion is celebrated.
Speaking of festivals, the first to come to the mind is the KUMBH MELA, for it is the biggest religious festival in the world. It is held every third year at Nasik and Ujjain, and every twelfth year at Prayag and Haridwar. Its origin can be traced to an exciting episode that had taken place in the mythical age. Once the Gods and the Demons decided to churn the Ocean and bring nectar out of it, which would make them immortal. When the nectar emerged the Gods and the demons struggled to have control over it, that the nectar fell of f the KUMBHA -the jar at the aforesaid places. (Dec- January).
There are numerous other festivals, localized or prevailed over large areas, but mostly originating from a mythical past. Then there are the religious festivals like the MUHARRAM- 10 days long commemorating the martyrdom of Mohammed's grandson, Immam Hussain. (April), MILAD_UN_NABI (June-July), BAKRID- commemorating Abraham's attempt to sacrifice his son Ishmael, and ID- celebrating the end of Ramadan, (January), Ramadan (30 days of fasting) of the Muslims and the CHRISTMAS (December) and EASTER (March-April) of the Christians, which are also celebrated with equal fervor.