Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ram Navami Festival

The festival of Ram Navami is the celebration of birthday of the Hindu God, Shri Ram. Shri Ram was the seventh incarnation (Avatar) of Lord Vishnu and born in Ayodha, an ancient Indian city. The story of Lord Rama as told in the great epic Ramayana is one that most Indians know irrespective of caste, creed and religion. Lord Rama is a legendary figure, the epitome of all that is good and true, the man who vanquished the demon king Ravana. Lord Rama is not just a hero, but has been given the status of a god by the Hindus. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that his birth is celebrated year after year with great pomp and enjoyment on the ninth day after the new moon in Sukul Paksh (the waxing moon), which falls sometime in the month of April. Rama Navami is celebrated on the ninth day of Hindu month of Chaitra (April). Ram Navami marks the end of nine day long festival called Chaitra Navratri or Vasanta Navratri. On this auspicious day devotees observes fasting, visits temples to offer special prayers, takes religious processions and the special readings of Ramayana are also hold.

Lord Rama is revered by Hindus all over as the embodiment of truth, of morality, the ideal son, the ideal husband and above all, the ideal king. On the day of Rama Navami the birth of Rama is remembered for his prosperous and righteous reign.

So how is Ram Navami celebrated? 
Some people choose to fast on this day. The diet of such a person would include potatoes made in any form without haldi (turmeric), garlic, ginger or onion. He can also eat fruit and root vegetables of any kind. Curd, tea, coffee, milk, and water are also permitted.

Bhajans praising the exploits of Lord Rama, his loyal brother Lakshman and his devoted wife Sita are sung. The house is swept clean and pictures of Lord Rama, Lakshman, Sita and Hanuman are put on a dais in preparation for the puja. Flowers and incense are kept before the deities. There are two thaalis kept ready in the puja area. One contains the prasad and the other the items necessary for the puja like roli, aipun, rice, water, flowers, a bell and a conch.

First, the youngest female member of the family applies teeka to all the male members of the family. A red bindi is applied on the foreheads of all the female members. Everyone participates in the puja by first sprinkling the water, roli, and aipun on the gods and then showering handfuls of rice on the deities. Then everybody stands up to perform the arti at the end of which ganga jal or plain water is sprinkled over the gathering. The singing of bhajans goes on for the entire puja. Finally, the prasad is distributed among all the people who have gathered for worship.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Holi Festival

Colors of India

Holi is an ancient festival of India and was originally known as 'Holika'. Historians also believe that Holi was celebrated by all Aryans but more so in the Eastern part of India. 

The legend of King Hiranyakashipu is associated with the festival of Holi. This legend signifies the victory of good over evil, of devotion surpassing ambition. King Hiranyakashipu was an ambitious ruler, one who wanted absolute power so that he would be worshipped as God. When this wish was made known, the King's own son, Prahlad, refused to obey his father. Prahlad was an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu, and it was only to his Lord that he gave allegiance.

The proud King was enraged by Prahlad's disobedience and decided to punish him severely. He asked his sister Holika for help. It was believed that Holika was immune to fire and would never be burnt, so the King asked Holika to sit in the centre of a bonfire with Prahlad on her lap, so that the fire could devour him.

The bonfire was lit, and young Prahlad sat in Holika's lap, in its centre, praying to Lord Vishnu. His devotion saved him, leaving him untouched by the flames, but Holika was burnt to ashes. To mark this legend, huge bonfires are lit on the eve of Holi, especially in Bihar and the rest of North India.

Vrindavan and Lord Krishna's legend of courting Radha and playing pranks on the Gopis are also the essence of Holi. In Hindu mythology, Lord Krishna in his youth has been idealised as a lover, and it is the spirit of his lighthearted, mischievous passion of courtship that enters the Spring festival of Holi. Krishna and Radha are depicted celebrating Holi in the hamlets of Gokul, Barsana and Vrindavan, bringing them alive with mischief and youthful pranks. 

Holi was Krishna and Radha's celebration of love - a teasing, affectionate panorama of feeling and colour. These scenes have been captured and immoratalised in the songs of Holi: the festival that is also the harbinger of the light, warm and beautiful days of Spring.

Unlike all the other festivals of India, Hindu Holi festival is one such festival where one can put down the social taboos and indulge in the intoxicating drinks and sweets prepared by using opium. It is a festival of romance often represented by the love-play of Radha and Krishna. Brij Holi is famous all over the world for its gaiety in spirit. Each year, young and old, men and women, all indulge themselves in the spirit of colors and for once forget the social taboos. There are mouthwatering delicacies to savor such as 'Gujhias' and 'Papris' and there are interesting traditions and customs of Holi that have their own regional variances. We will also talk about making natural and healthy colors and safety precautions that one must take to enjoy Holi.