Festivals, Fasting and Custom in Hinduism

Festivals Among Hindus

      There is no country or a religion in the world, in which so many festivals are celebrated. Almost each district and each temple, of any importance, has its own particular festival, taking place at some fixed period in the year; on certain auspicious days. India is a country of agriculturists and religionists. All festivals in India are based on agriculture or on religion. Its festivals, mainly that of Hindus, are a social gathering with religious sanctions, customs and traditions.

There is no country or a religion in the world, in which so many festivals are celebrated. Almost each district and each temple, of any importance, has its own particular festival, taking place at some fixed period in the year; on certain auspicious days. India is a country of agriculturists and religionists. All festivals in India are based on agriculture or on religion. Its festivals, mainly that of Hindus, are a social gathering with religious sanctions, customs and traditions.
Festivals Fasting & Custom in Hinduism

      Some festivals are celebrated throughout the country; in one form or the other and some are regional like Baisakhi and Holi in the Punjab. Hilly tribes have their own festivals. Festivals in Northern India differ from those in Southern India, but the basis remains the same, agriculture or religion. Some festivals are held throughout the community in the whole regions, but some are celebrated in certain temples only. But whatever it may be, there is a lot of jubilation on every festival. Devotion and thanks giving are in the mind of everyone. Festivals are awaited with interest and celebrated with great enthusiasm.

      Some festivals are celebrated in accordance with the change of seasons, as Basant Panchami; Holi in spring; Baisakhi at the start of summer; Teej during the rainy season; Dusshera at the end of summer and Diwali at the commencement of winter.

      At the time of harvests, the public, in particular the farmers and the merchants, are very happy with their produce and sales. So Baisakhi festival is celebrated with Bhangra dance when the wheat and maize crops are marketed; Barley and Rice produce joy and merriment in Dusshera and Diwali; Sugarcane and mustard crops add jubilation to Lohri and Basant festivals. Holi is a festival which has a basis as a remedy in diseases - air borne diseases like small pox, chicken pox which are said to have a preventive aspect by virtue of sprinkling dry powder colour (Gulal-Aveer).

      Most of the festivals have been celebrated through the ages, because of religious beliefs and events; as Dusshera on account of the victory of Rama over Ravana; Janmaashtami on Krishna's birthday; etc. Ratha Yatra is a festival restricted to Jagannath temple of Puri, and many festivals are especially held in temples in Southern India. In all festivals, as in other countries except Persia (Iran) there is enjoyment, merriment, new garments, music, dancing and feasting, although in some festivals, fasts are undertaken on that particular day.

      To describe all festivals is a huge task, which will require a volume by itself; so the main festivals have only been described in brief, in this multipurpose book on Hindu festivals, fairs and fasts.

      Even in Buddhism, in 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. festivals used to be celebrated. Giraggasamaja, a kind of festival, attended by Bhikshus, was celebrated in the Meghada Mandala (Gaya, Patna, district of Bihar) at its capital Rajagriha, during Buddha period. Another festival, held at Rajagriha was celebrated, where five hundred virgins offered a kind of cake. Another celebration was Nakkahattakila (sport of the starts); in which the rich took part. It was held at Rajgriha, lasted a week.


      Undertaking Fasts, on different occasions and for different purposes is an ancient practice among the Hindus in India. The fasts have religious importance and are in reverence to Gods and deities. Fasts ensure purification of the body and the mind. These ensure control of five senses of the human body. One sacrifices greed, hunger; crime, sin, ego, anger; sexual urge and violence, during the period of the fast and gradually develops control over himself with the ultimate aim of achieving salvation. Fasts, also help in maintaining a slim body, the preventive aspect of many diseases. During the fasts, one attends Sat eye Sangs, religious congregations, visits temples and listens to discourses and sermons by great religious teachers (Gurus).

      No Christian (Roman Catholic or Anglican), not even the most austere stickler for the most strict observance of every appointed period of humiliation and abstinence, can for a moment, hope to compete with any religious Hindu native of India, who may have entered on a course of fasting, abstinence and bodily maceration. Most of the fasts are undertaken on certain Lunar days; each lunation or period of rather more than twenty seven solar days, being divided into thirty of these lunar days, fifteen of which during the moon's increase (Krishna Paksha) constitute the light half of the month, and the other fifteen (Shukla Paksha) dark half of the month. In the Mahabharata, in reply to Yudhisthr's query; Bhishma replied that any person, who observes a fast, according to the scriptural rituals and conducts it through, gets salvation in all yugas (times). Angira, the great rishi (saint), in reply to Bhishma, replied, "There is no scripture better than the Vedas. There is no better teacher than the mother. Nothing is more beneficial than the Dharma and non-austerities are better than fasting." Gods gained Swarga (Heaven) because of undertaking fasts, Viswamitra undertook fasting for one thousand years, eating only one meal a day. The fruit from different fasts is as follows:

(1) Ashtmi and 4th day of Krishna Paksha: Freedom from diseases; healthy formation.

(2) Morning and Evening meals, not even water in between: gets Siddhi (miraculous supernatural powers) in six years.

(3) Only one meal daily for one year: Lives in Swarga for 10,000 years, then reborn as a great man.

      No one should undertake a fast for more than one month. During the course of fasting, non-violence, truth, control of senses are essential for all concerned. Those people, who undertake fasts and worship, God Almighty awards them salvation (liberation). The devotees, however; have to make sacrifices (charity; control of senses, good behaviour, moral thinking, etc.) It may be a path of tendency or of disencumbrance, but whatever pleases Sri Hari (Vishnu), that should be adopted. There is nothing compared to giving a cow in charity. If a cow, lawfully obtained, is given in charity; it is a bliss for the whole family. Some are very elaborate, involving offerings (oblations), gifts, magic, austerities and many other kinds of practice. A number of these serve the purpose of expiation, for there is a formulated set of rules on expiation, which complete with the punishments of the civil law, and in extreme cases, replace all other kinds of punishments.

      Among the Hindus, there are numerous fasts, undertaken on different auspicious occasions; Some of them are related to the festivals, which are also maximum in India. These are not all, but most of them observed in different parts of this vast religious country, among the Hindus.

Custom in Hinduism

      Every Country has some particular traditions. They are so interrelated with the culture and heritage of that country, that they become a mark of identification of that country or state. As an instance, Carnival immediately gives the recognition of Brazilian. The origin and reasons for such customs and ceremonies are so difficult to explain that even the sociologists of that country can hardly do so. However, an attempt has been made to trace their origin from authenticated sacred books of the East. Such customs and ceremonies, during the long course of the time, have become a part and parcel of the life of the people of a particular community and country. These traditions have become so rooted in the society that howsoever a modern man of scientific age may consider them unbelievable or superfluous, yet these continue since ages.

      Law is an important factor in the maintenance of social discipline in the society. The society recognizes many rules of behaviour which have been adopted by all. These include folkways, modes, and customs. Any breach, in the observance of these, is a social crime punishable by law or society. These rules are traditional and called customs in the society; based on long lasting traditions. For instance marriage is an institution, but there are different traditions for it, prevailing in different communities and tribes. Institutions are a skeleton of tradition, which by virtue of passing from one generation to another, have become permanent and in due course of time develop as customs, based mainly on behaviour rather than habit. Habit means "an acquired facility to act in a certain manner without resort to deliberation or thought". It is an individual phenomenon. Persons tend to react in the manner to which they have become accustomed. The acquisition of habit makes an action easy and familiar, relatively effortless and congenial. To break old habits (drinking, smoking, drug addiction and others leading to superstition and inactivity) of the individuals and establishing new habits in their place, requires cautious approach. As against habits, customs are a social phenomenon. A custom is formed on the basis of habit gaining the sanction and influence and therefore the social significance which is peculiar to it. Customs are social habits which through repetition become the basis of an order of social behaviour. Customs are those folkways that persist over relatively long periods of time, so as to attain a degree of formal recognition and so as to be passed down from one generation to another. As an instance the landlords were in the habit of distributing prizes and sweets in a jubilant mood, at the time of the ripening of the wheat crop. This habit of a few gradually became common and began to celebrated as the festival of Baisakhi.

      Origin of Customs: Different causes have been attributed to the origin of these customs and ceremonies. "Touch Wood" is a custom which has existed to ward off evil. As in the prehistoric time, the man was afraid of evil spirits, so this custom of touch wood took root. The horrified man commenced believing in lucky numbers, colours and auspicious occasions. Men in the ancient period, lived in dense forests and were afraid of wild beasts and animals, so they painted and carved their figures in their huts. In due course tattooing of animal figures on the body started. This traditional custom can now be seen on the shirts and jeans of the youngsters. Shaking hands or embracing each other is an old custom to assure friendliness and ward off fear, apprehensions and suspicions. Fairs and festivals provide an opportunity for the fulfilment of such customs. In ancient times, when fighting among tribes was common, showing of empty hands while shaking, assured the good intentions of each other. Use of face masks was a practice in some tribes. Removal of the mask and showing the face was a custom to assure the other against any evil designs. This custom, in due course, has changed to the removal of the hat and then replacing on the head or putting it in the armpit to assure good wishes. Use of face masks in dance (Kathakali dances) with faces painted in colours is common, as an old custom of avoiding evil. As the men in a tribe bore enmity with other tribesmen there was always a fear. So when any person from one tribe called on another man of other tribe, there was the practice of testing food in the presence of the guest, before serving the food to the guest. This custom has been generalized in the festivals, where all men feed together in a Gurudwara or a maha bhog.
      Sneezing is considered as unceremonious and it has become a custom to wait for a while, before starting out of the house. In olden times, plague was a common epidemic and the earliest symptom of it was sneezing. So a well wisher wished good, if anyone sneezed. Now this has become a custom and we say 'Excuse me' if we sneeze. These customs form an important part of the festivals. Travelling over long distances without adequate means of transport or food have given origin to the fasts, so common among Hindu women. On account of geographical differences, different practices have become customs. Persons living in hilly areas observe customs, similar to hilly area men of other countries, although they are under different cultures. The people living in Kangra valley have similar customs as those living in Nepal. Muslims in Kashmir valley wear clothes and ornaments, similar to those in Kangra-Kulu valley. These dresses, peculiar to a certain area, are now worn on the festivals and ceremonies in their full splendour and gaudiness. The customs among tribes depend on their capability; strength and courage. Persons living in dense forests, carried bows and arrows to fight against wild animals. It has now become a custom to carry it along at all times, particularly at the time of festivals.

      Repository of Social Heritage and Custom, in fact, is the repository of social heritage. It preserves our culture, transmits it to the succeeding generations, brings people together and develops social relationships among them. Enemies are turned into friends at observance of such customs in festivals. It is needless to say that Hinduism is alive today because of its customs, festivals and fairs.

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