Forgotten Festivals: Hindu Religious Year

PUBLISHED ON: INDICTODAY

Hinduism is a religion of festivals. A festival is all about happiness, social interaction, tradition, and faiths. Nothing brings people unitedly and together as festivals do. Festivals always bring enthusiasm, celebrations, happiness, and when it is a Hindu festival, it is always engrossing and eventful. There are more festivals celebrated in Hinduism than any other religion in the world. A festival is a belief which not only makes us who we are but it binds us together, and most important its responsibility is to pass it on from one generation to another.

How Many Festivals?

Present-day Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world. A survey reveals that 95 percent of Hindus believe in God. However, the number of festivities celebrated by Hindus is a complicated theology. Hinduism has many traditions, philosophies, heritage, saints, and scriptures. Hindus worship many gods, deities, demigods, and legends and so are the festivals in Hinduism. Together it creates a complex structure. The Hindu religious year covers festivals for all of its gods, goddesses, elements of life and nature around us. Although, many of these festivals we do not recognize and are hardly remembered. Some of the major Hindu festivals celebrated are Deepavali, Holika, Navratri, Durga Puja, Dasara, Dhanteras, Ganesha Chaturthi, Janmashtami, Pongal, Shivaratri, Baisakhi, Chhath Puja, Makar Sankranti, Karvachauth, Ram Navami, etc.

The list of festivals is fairly long and complicated.

When we try to understand and segregate the festivals, one of the most obvious divisions might be something like:

Solar and Lunar Festivals: Festivals like Makar Sankranti, Ratha Saptami, Pana Sankranti, Nav Varsha (Gurdi Pardwa), Itu puja, Svastika Vrata, Holika, Kojagari, Mitra Saptami, Yugadi, Shravani Purnima, Somvati Amavasya, Rishi Panchami, Chhath Puja, and many more…the list continues.

Puranic God Festivals: Festivities such as Ganesha Chaturthi, Deepavali, Holika, Navratri, Durga Puja, Gowri Habba, Hanuman Jayanti, Jagadhatri Puja, Saraswati Puja, Lakshmi Puja, Annakuta, Ananta Chaturdashi, Dhantrayodashi, Vinayaka Chavithi, Janmashtami, Pushpadola, Govidadvadasi, Govardhana Pratipada, Govinda Dwadashi, Rasayatra, Bali Pratipada, Kartika Purnima, Ram Navami Kartikeya, Tripuri Purnima, Sharad Purnima, Jagannath Yatra, Champa Shashti, Maunya Vrata, Ghantakarna Puja, Kala Bhairava, Twelve Lingam festivals, Mahashivaratri, Sita Navami, Shasthi Devi, Radhaastami, Ratha Yatra, and many more.

Tutelary Deities Festivals:Similarly like Annapurna Ashtami, Shashthi festival, Mahanisha Puja, Rambha Tritiya, Pithori Amavasya, Bhavani Utpatti, Bhaidooj, Narak Chaturdashi, Savatri Vrath, Vishwakarma puja, Vyasa Puja, Manasa Panchami, Sravani Purnima and many more.

Plants, Animals, and Others: These include some prominent festivals like Raksha Bandhan, Nag Panchami, Bargada Amavasya, Ganga Utsav, Govatsa Dwadashi, Bendur Festival, Vat Purnima, Tulsi Vivah, Pitrapakshya, Ancestors festivals, and many more.

The Forgotten Festivals

Most of the festivals mentioned are celebrated dating from the second century BCE. Despite all the effort made for thousands of years and ages, to preserve numerous religious festivals, still many have been forgotten, especially in the last century. There were many more festivals and fairs celebrated in Hinduism in the ancient and medieval periods of which we find no trace at present. And mostly in the last century, they have almost ended. These were the popular and important festivals of Hinduism. Some of them had great significance and were celebrated across India in many regions and we can find proof of them till the last century. But we cannot find these festivals today and people are not even aware of such events or rituals. Some of the essential forgotten festivals from ancient India are as follows. 

Madana-Trayodashi was also known as Kama Trayodasi. This festival was celebrated on Chaitra Sukla Paksha on the thirteenth day. This was the festival of Love. Madana and Rati were considered as the god and goddess of love. Madana is the son of Krishna and Rukmini. In this festival, the pair of love god and goddess was worshipped with flowers, songs, and dances in ancient times. This festival was mostly celebrated in the whole of northern India and some parts of South India in the medieval period.

In some parts of India, it was the day dedicated to Lord Shiva. There is an interesting story of how Lord Shiva was awakened from meditation with the help of God Madana to save the world. Madana Utasava is also celebrated in honor of God Madana. This ancient festival was performed annually with an enormous celebration as a love festival between husband and wife. The husbands were supposed to make their wives happy on this auspicious day. This festival is no longer celebrated. It was slowly overtaken by Holi which occurs one month earlier before this festival and as a rival festival.

Alakshmi Puja (meaning “not Lakshmi”): Alakshmi puja is mentioned in connection with the Rig Vedic goddess as Nirrti in Padma Purana. Alaksmi puja used to be done on the day of the new moon in the Kartik month at dusk specifically. She is represented as an elder sister to Goddess Lakshmi. Similar to Goddess Lakshmi, Alaskhmi emerged from the ocean at its churning by the gods and asuras, but no one was prepared to accept her.

Alakshmi Goddess

Finally, she was given a place where bones and ashes were cremated, where men lie and husbands and wives always fight. God Alakshmi was worshipped with black flowers and brooms. In ancient times people used to worship Alakshmi with devotion so she spared them from visiting her. This worship was done before the Lakshmi puja on Diwali with dedication and commitment. It was considered before Goddess Lakshmi came, Alakshmi should be sent away from the house. After the whole house is cleaned on Diwali this Alakshmi puja was to be performed. It is still important to purchase brooms on Diwali in some parts of India. But this puja is missed now on Diwali throughout India.

Shashthi: Goddess Shashthi is considered as the female deity who takes care of newborn babies, children’s health, and from all infantile mishaps. She is also the deity of vegetation and reproduction and is widely regarded as the benefactor and protector of children and deity of every household. In different parts of India, this festival was celebrated with different names and in different months but all on the sixth day of the Hindu month. Ashoka Shashthi was celebrated on Chaitra Shukla paksha, the sixth day in northern India. On this day women drink water from six flower-buds of the Ashoka tree to secure the well-being of their children.

Goddess Shashthi

References to this goddess appear in Hindu scriptures as early as the eighth and ninth century BCE, in which she is associated with children as well as the Hindu war-god Skanda. In Bengal and South India, it was known as Aranya Shashthi that falls on Jyeshtha Shukla paksha again on the sixth day. Women used to walk in natural forests, collect and eat only fruit and offer prayers to the Shashthi goddess for strong and beautiful children. Then Khas Shashthi was celebrated on Paush Shukla paksha, the sixth day. A fast was observed on this day and the goddess was worshipped for long life and preserving their children. This was an important festival celebrated with great zeal similar to Karva Chauth and Chhath.

Bhishma Ashtami: This festival was celebrated on Magha Shukla paksha on the eighth day, It was considered as the anniversary of the death of Bhishma, who was one of the exceptional heroes of the Mahabharata and played a pivotal role in the war between the Pandavas and Kauravas.

Bhishma did not marry to have any rival for his stepmother’s children. This festival was recognized by the whole nation and by all castes. Many rituals were performed during noon in memory of Bhishma. On this day in the evening, boiled rice was offered in water. It was considered that by performing this ritual the sins men committed in that year would be diminished and it purified their souls. This was a major festival in India, but it is not an important event anymore and has been lost completely.

Svastika Vrata: This was another significant devotion performed during the Shravan period for four consecutive months in the rainy season, every evening. Women from the house used to draw Svastikas for good luck. This Swastika was worshipped daily for four months. At the end of the season, a Brahman(from the upper caste) was presented with a gold or silver plate of the swastika symbol. This worship was connected with the worship of the sun and was performed from the ancient period in Bharatvarsh. This was also an essential festival and was celebrated with great fervor but not anymore.

India is and was always a land of festivals, but in the twenty-first century we are not aware of various religious festivals and we now celebrate limited ones. The festivals we celebrate are just for comfort and posting pictures on social media. We tend to neglect many of our festivals. And the reason for neglecting them is that the present generation has stopped believing in ancient festivals and the older generation has stopped discussing their significance. Gradually more and more such festivals are vanishing every day. And if it outlasts the same way, then in the next few decades we will forget many more festivals of our chronicle…

How our ancient rishis preserved the Vedas flawlessly

Published on: Pragyata   

The ancient sacred scriptures of Hinduism were not found engraved on a native rock, embossed on cast metal, papyrus material, or any birch bark manuscripts. In Hinduism, we do not have any founder or any emergence dates like with the Semitic religions or even Indic offshoots like Buddhism or Jainism. We also do not know the any events. So questions comes, how far we need to go to find traces of Hinduism.

What we find in Hinduism is a huge volume of ancient sacred texts preserved by great seers for several millenniums. These rishis passed down their vast knowledge and our heritage from century to century from their deep memories. This knowledge was transferred through many ages by the teachers to their disciples, without ever writing them down and was later organised by Veda Vyasa rishi.

The word Veda (वेद) is made from the word ‘Vid’ which means “knowledge” in Sanskrit are the oldest sacred text available. This is the reason why Vedas as termed as ‘Anantha vai Vedaah’ (अनंता वै वेदा:), i.e. Vedas are infinite. All other scriptures in Hinduism are derived or inherited from the Vedas. Vedas are also called as Anaadi (अनादि), one which has no beggining or end and hence eternal. Vedas are the primary and authoritative source of knowledge and are also known as Shruti literature, one “which is heard and should be remembered” by the rishis from god.

As the bedrock of Hinduism, we all know the authoritative division of the Vedas is fourfold: Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda, and Atharvaveda. This sacred knowledge is passed through generations, ages, millenniums without any slightest alteration and adjustment in it. But questions come how it is possible even?

These scriptures and sacred texts are so enormous that if we take the Rigveda alone, it is mentioned it had from 5 to 21 Shakhas (शाखा) in the Vedic period. Shakhas can be said as branches or schools. Out of all the Rigveda’s branch names mentioned in the scriptures; only one is to be said is available today, known as Shakala (शाकल). Combined mantras found in the Rigveda is more than 10500 (the present-day partitioning of Rigveda is done in ten different mandalas marked from 1 to 10). Ponder the number of sacred scriptures and texts which would have been available during the ancient period if alone the Rigveda was so enormous.

How would it have been possible to memorise the enormous number of mantras, suktas with the correct sound, melody, and tone in Vedic scriptures? How did our ancient seers/rishis pass down the sacred scriptures, vast knowledge for many centuries without even the slightest alteration and modification in them? This almost seems impossible, if we consider how in the present day we fumble after practising the mantras for decades.

Even UNESCO has declared the Oral Tradition of Vedas in India as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” in the year 2003.

Taking one part of mantra which we all know “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (वसुधैव कुटुम्बकं) which appeared in the Maha Upanishad (Chapter 6, Verse 72) and “means the world is one family”. The  complete mantra of this is:

”अयं बन्धुरयं नेति गणना लघुचेतसां उदारचरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकं ”

A slight change in the one accented syllable/tone will entirely change the meaning of the sentence. So the question is, how did ancient seers preserve these scriptures orally for so many centuries.

To find the solution to this, ancient seers developed unique ways to preserve these eternal mantras. They used different styles of recitation methods. Some of these techniques which are still known to us are called as padapathas (पदपाठ). These recitation methods were designed in such a way that the scriptures and sacred texts, their pronunciation including the Vedic pitch and accent were memorised perfectly while maintaining the purity of the text. Some of the most common methods of reciting are Samhita, Jata, Pada, Krama, Sikha, Rekha, Danda, Ratha, Dhwaja and Ghana.

They were designed in such a way that accuracy in recitation and transmission of Vedas from one generation to the next generation was accurately preserved. Some of these techniques are mentioned below:

Samhita (patha): In this method, syllable and complete mantras were chanted in the original form with no special pattern or changes adopted. Recitation of words leaping with its original phonetic sound, tone rules of chorus and intonation.

Jata (patha): In this, every two adjoining words/Shabd (शब्द) in the mantras were first recited in their original sequence, then repeated in reverse, and finally repeated again in the original sequence. The recitation proceeds throughout the mantra as next words are introduced. Example => word1, word2; word2, word1; word1, word2; word2, word3, word3, word2, word2, word3 and so on.

Prakrti (patha): This recitation was marked by a conscious pause after every word, and after any special grammatical codes embedded inside the text; this method suppresses and restores each word in its original intended form.

Krama (patha): In this step by step recitation was followed, where syllable combined are paired successively and sequentially. Then the mantras were recited. the first word of the mantra is added to the second, the second to the third, the third to the fourth and so on, until the whole sentence of the mantras is completed. If we try it would be as word1, word2; word2, word3; word3, word4; and so on.

Ghana (paṭha): In this method, each syllable is repeated up-to 13 times in a format such as:

word1; word2; word2; word1; word1, word2, word3; word3, word2, word1; word1, word2, word3;

word2, word3; word3, word2; word2, word3, word4; word4, word3, word2; word2, word3, word4;

word3, word4; word4, word3; word3, word4, word5; word5, word4, word3; word3, word4, word5;

word4, word5; word5, word4; word4, word5, word6; word6, word5, word4; word4, word5, word6;

What is really depressing now is that despite so much effort put in by the ancient seers to preserve these Vedas, for many millennia for the benefit of mankind, presently even with all our modern technology and preservation technique only a very limited number of people know or have the inclination to greasp these great scriptures.

Published Date : 29 Apr 2020