How Do We Celebrate Festivals?

Path to Siva Commentary, Lesson 64


Festivals are times of intimate devotion and communion with God and the Gods. The shakti of the Deity is stronger during festivals. Take advantage of the best time to get intense blessings for your life. Understand the tradition and nature of the festival. In preparation fasts are observed, vows are taken, scriptures are studied, pilgrimages are made.

Hinduism Today, The Hindu Festival Media Initiative.

Unedited Transcript:

Good morning everyone. This morning we're reading from Path to Siva, Lesson 64:

"How Do We Celebrate Festivals?

"Hinduism is celebratory by nature. Hindus miss no opportunity to set mundane matters aside and join with family, friends, neighbors and strangers alike to feast and have fun, to renew the home and the heart and, most importantly, draw nearer to God. Festivals are perhaps more impressive and varied in Hinduism than in any other religion. The devout Hindu knows these are times of profound mysticism, when God and the Gods touch our world, revitalize our souls, lighten karmas and bless our families. Yet, festivals do even more than this. They are essential to the perpetuation of religion, periodically reigniting the spark of zeal and devotion in the community. They provide the spiritual public square where Hindus engage with one another to affirm shared values and enjoy life's intersections. Before each celebration, vows are taken, scriptures are studied, pilgrimages are made and fasts observed in preparation. Such acts of intimate devotion bring the devotee closer to the Gods and keep him on the path to his inmost Self. As each festival begins, solitary worship becomes a collective ritual, with millions of people taking their places in a creative choreography. Every festival is special and unforgettable in its own way. Thus Hindus are reminded of their faith by the sounds, scents, colorful decorations and the wild medley of tastes laid out for the feast. Mind and emotions are saturated with Hinduism as sacred mantra prayers are intoned, the spiritual teachings are recounted by saints, and the Gods are praised in melodious bhajans. Each Indian village and each global community lends a little of its unique culture to how a festival is celebrated, creating almost endless variations. Recently, with the growing Hindu population outside of India, festivals have acquired an international dimension. What could be more entertaining, alive, vibrant and yet pious and rich in symbolism than a Hindu festival?"

Have Gurudeva's quote:

"Festivals are special times of communion with God and Gods, of family and community sharing and sadhana... We strive to attend each major festival, when the shakti of the Deity is most powerful, and pilgrimage to a far-off temple annually."

That's a very important aspect of festivals there that Gurudeva's mentioning. " ...the shakti of the Deity is most powerful..." Think that has meaning in two different ways that come to mind off hand. One is that if you're trying to get closer to a Deity, the festival is an excellent time to do that cause the shakti of the Deity is stronger. So its a wonderful time to move yourself closer to a Deity, to get more attuned to a Deity if that's your goal. And then, if you are attuned to the Deity it's the best times to get intense blessings from that Deity for you life. In other words, in the Hindu perspective, every day's a bit different when it comes to the Deity. Meditation, every day seems to be the same but when it comes to the Deities it's different. And we need to be sensitive to that and realize that they're more accessible on some days than others; take advantage of that.

Terms of celebrating festivals I remembered that Hinduism Today published "The Hindu Festival Media Initiative" what we called it in 2010. It's on the Hinduism Today website. It gives a good overview of Hindu festivals, of course festivals of all denominations. Fifteen of them are listed as the major festivals. And what struck me is the diversity of the festivals; they're quite different. So we have Hindu New Year, Guru Purnima, Varalakshmi Vrata , Krishna Jayanti, Ganesha Chaturthi, Navaratri, Diwali, Skanda Shasti, Pancha Ganapati, Vaikunta Ekadashi, Sankranti or Pongal, Thai Pusam, Holi, Mahasivaratri, and Rama Navami.

Fifteen major festivals and we did articles on them designed to be published in both newspaper format and magazine format which are on the website. Very nice resource.

The first thing I noticed in going through the list is there's lots of them we don't celebrate. So, why is that? Well because different festivals relate to different denominations of Hinduism. So that in itself is kind of unique that's its so denominational. We have these festivals but we don't celebrate them, others do and then we have festivals we celebrate, they don't celebrate. It's kind of unusual in that way. We get to see the denominational nature of Hinduism.

And then the other point I noticed is they're different in the way that they're celebrated. Take two that are very different: Diwali and Mahasivaratri.

Diwali is known for lots of food, lots of sweets. The joke is that everybody in New Delhi becomes diabetic for the two weeks of Diwali, so many sweets. Whereas, you take Mahasivaratri and we're fasting, right? So it's very different. Everyone is acting like a monk for one day. So one day a year where everyone is a monk. That's how I look at it. Doing the disciplines of a monk. Very opposite. Diwali is a family time, a time of outer celebration and Mahasivaratri is a very inner time, a time of going within. Then even in the festival to the same Deity, you take Thai Pusam and Skanda Shasti which are both on the list. Thai Pusam is a time of penance and carrying kavadi. Very intense penance. Whereas we don't do that in Skanda Shasti. Skanda Shasti is more a, a would you say, six days of discipline and it's a bit more inner than Thai Pusam but you're getting close to Murugan in a different way. Whereas, Thai Pusam you're really experiencing penance.

And in Mauritius as the article says, the lesson says, each country has its variations. In Mauritius, I've never been there during Thai Pusam but celebrate it for ten full days. Ten days of penance. Whoa! Very serious activity there.

The point being, different festivals are quite different and we need to understand the festival; it's an opportunity to get closer to the Deity. So we need to understand the tradition behind it and to do the right thing at the right time by understanding the nature of the festival and as the lesson points out, it's not just the festival, says: "Before each celebration vows are taken, scriptures are studied, pilgrimages are made and fasts observed in preparation."

So we don't just do something on the day itself, necessarily, we prepare for it in some way. Lead up to it.

Those are my simple thoughts on festivals.

Thank you very much.

Photo of  Gurudeva
Meat-eating contributes to a mentality of violence, for with the chemically complex meat ingested, one absorbs the slaughtered creature's fear, pain and terror.
—Gurudeva