Hinduism is a religion that originated in the subcontinent of India. It has no known founder and is a mix of diverse beliefs and traditions. Hinduism is considered the world's oldest religion and has approximately a billion followers, making it the world’s third most practiced religion, after Christianity and Islam. Approximately 890 million Hindus live in India. Other countries with large Hindu populations include Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Diwali is the festival of lights for Hindus and Sikhs. The celebration lasts for five days and is marked by sweets, fireworks and lights. It celebrates the triumph of good, light and knowledge over evil, darkness and ignorance. Diwali celebrates a good year of harvesting and honors the Goddess of Wealth.
Diwali usually takes place in October or November, but the date is different each year because it is based on the Hindu calendar. During this holiday, all buildings are adorned with many Diyas, which are oil lamps. It is believed that the lamps guide Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, to the homes of Hindus. Hindus thank Lakshmi by opening the windows of their houses and by drawing images of lotus flowers. They also draw colorful patterns on the floor called Rangolis. During Diwali, Hindus give and receive gifts — especially sweets. They also celebrate with feasts and gambling.
Maker Sankranti is celebrated in January and it is the first Hindu holiday on the western calendar. It is observed in different ways in various regions of India and occurs when the sun goes into the zodiac sign of Makar, which makes the days longer.
Hindus in Maharashtra and Gujarat celebrate by flying kites. However, in Punjab, Makar Sankrant is called Lohri and they celebrate by making make large bonfires, having sweets and throwing rice. It is called Kicheri in Uttar Pradesh, where Hindus bathe in the rivers. The festival is called Pongal in Southern India, where it is celebrated for three days. Hindus in that region present rice boiled in milk to the God of Rain on the first day and the God of the Sun on the second day. They bathe cows and adorn them with flowers on the third day to honor their hard work in the fields.
Maha Shivaratri celebrations honor Shiva, destroyer of the universe. Unlike other Hindu celebrations, this one is celebrated the night and day before the new moon.
Hindus celebrate the night of Maha Shivaratri on the night that Hindu folklore says that Shiva performed a dance called the "Tandav." The new moon symbolizes Shiva. Shiva's followers prepare certain foods to offer him and the next morning they eat the offerings. Young women hope that by fasting in honor of Shiva, he will give them nice husbands. During the night, Hindus pray and sing to honor their lord.
One of the Hindu traditions during Maha Shivaratri is to bathe a sculpture of Shiva with water, honey and milk before rubbing it with sandalwood paste and adorning it with flowers.
Shiva can come in five different forms. Some of these forms are good, while others are bad. The five forms are Rudra, "the roarer," Mahadeva, "the great god," Nataraja, "the lord of dance," Bharaiva, "the terrible," and Sundareshvara, "the beautiful lord." Shiva can appear dancing, meditating or as an inanimate sculpture with multiple pairs of hands.
Holi is the Hindu festival of colors. It marks the beginning of spring and all that spring symbolizes. Holi is not a religious holiday, although it does have a religious history. It is most commonly celebrated in Northern India and usually takes place in February or March. During this time (known as Phagun) Hindus build bonfires to help get the evil spirits out of the air and celebrate with gifts of food. It is a very happy time when Hindus are all recognized as equal with no difference in wealth, gender or age.
Holi is called "The Festival of Colors" because people paint each other and throw dye and colorful powder all over their bodies. The colored powder that they throw during the festival is called Gulal. Children use toy objects to put paint on friends and family. They do this because when everyone is covered in paint, it symbolizes that there is no class distinction and everyone is the same. Holi used to celebrate fertility and harvest, but the holiday also now honors Hindu legends.
Ram Navami takes place in April and celebrates the birth of Lord Rama. On this holiday, Hindus clean and decorate their houses with fruits and flowers. The youngest girl in the house leads the prayers (called puja) by putting a red mark (called a tilak) on her family. They put an image of Rama as a baby in a cradle, and at midday, they remove the cover of the cradle and feed a special food (called Prasad) to him.
Raksha Bandan celebrates love for comrades and brothers. Hindus celebrate it when there is a full moon. This usually takes place in August. Raksha means "protection" and Bandhan means "to tie." During this festival, sisters put a bracelet called a rakhi on their brothers' wrists as a symbol of their love and affection for them. The priests put rakhis on the wrists of members of their congregation and women put rakhis on the wrists of the prime minister. When a woman puts a rakhi on a man, the man has a duty to protect her. The bracelets usually have many colors and the people say a chant in Punjabi or Sanskrit once the bracelets are tied.
Janmashtami is a festival celebrating Krishna's birth. Krishna is the god that Hindus worship the most. They celebrate his birthday in August, eight days after Raksha Bandhan. The celebration lasts two days.
The first day is called Krishnashtami or Gokulashtami. The second day is called Kalastami or more popularly Janmashtami. Hindus usually do not sleep during these two days. They sing songs called bhajans and fast for the first day. They perform many songs, dances and plays of Krishna's childhood to worship him.
Navaratri is a fun and religious holiday in October. During this time, Hindus from all over India put aside their daily chores and prepare for Navaratri, a nine-day celebration honoring three goddesses of the religion: Durga, the goddess of valor; Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth; and Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge. Hindus dedicate three days of celebration to each of the three goddesses, which are the incarnations of Goddess Shakti (the Mother Goddess).
During Navaratri, some people fast or only eat fruit once a day. During these nine days, people who are not fasting can go to any temple in India at any time to get free food. Hindus come from all over India to feed the goddesses on the last day and pray in the temples. The festival comes to the end on the tenth day of Vjay Dashmi or Dussehra, when the idols of the Goddess Shakti are tossed into the river to mark the end of Navaratri.
Reviewed by: Nancy Brown, Ph.D.
Last reviewed: July 2019