5 Amazing Hindu Festivals For Foreigners

by Sankalan Baidya
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There is no other country in this world where festivities and work, food and culture, politics and daily life, growth and poverty, divinity and extremism are more juxtaposed than that in India.

Surely, India is a land of wonders that are beyond words. It is a land of heritage, it is the cradle of human civilization, it is breeding ground of science, it is an epitome of epic resilience, it is the land of spirit and what not…

Everything about India sums up in a few simple words:

“India is perennial and Indians are the undulating forebearers of humanity from antiquity that transcend into modern times”.

This Indian spirit of rippling changes contrasting with undeterred traditions are rightly upheld by some of the amazing Indian festivals that an unassuming traveler from across the globe can encounter in the subcontinent.

Here is a list of 5 most amazing Indian festivals that a foreign traveler must experience to peek into the true spirit of India, to understand its true culture and to smear his or her soul with the true essence of India. Let’s begin…

Amazing Hindu Festivals – 1: Dipawali or Festival of Lights

Evil and good have persisted since antiquity. Every culture has its own version. Some say there’s Devil and there’s God. We Indians say – there are only Good Deeds and Bad Deeds.

Goods give us salvation and help us unite with the Paramatman (the God who manifests himself or herself in every thing we know – humans, animals, trees, stones, water, air etc.) and Bads throw us in a never-ending cycle of life and death until we do Good and unite with Paramatman.

Amazing Hindu Festivals

In India, Dipawali (often spelled as Deepawali or pronounced as Diwali) is a festival that signifies the triumph of good deeds over bad deeds.

To draw and analogy of Christian beliefs (if at all one attempts to do so), this festival – the festival of lights denotes the triumph of God (good) over Devil (bad).

The origins of the festival can be traced back to the epic ‘Ramayana’ where diyas (baked clay oil lamp shaped in form of a cup) and fireworks were used for guiding Lord Rama through darkness when he returned from his exile. He returned on the night of dark moon lunar phase.

Amazing Hindu Festivals

Today, Dipawali is celebrated on the night of dark moon lunar phase usually in October or November. Every Hindu household will light up their house with lines of diyas or candles or electric lights.

Each house and each building will be wearing the ornaments of light, creating a spectacle to behold. The extravaganza of lights is mere display. The true essence is that light (good) triumphs over darkness (bad). Every dark corner of a house will have a diya or a candle.

Firecrackers, sweets and family reunion are common sights. Family member or just a neighbor – this festival brings everyone close and everyone is greeted with a smile, forgiving and forgiven. It is unity in stark contrast of the diversity among people.

Amazing Hindu Festivals – 2: Holi or Festival of Colors

This list can never be complete without the mention of Holi – the festival of colors. This is the day when India becomes colorful like no other day in the year and no other place in the world. The dazzling display of colors, Holi signifies a lot of things – rooted deep in Indian culture. More than stories, there’s a meaningful essence to this festival that no one can every ignore.

So, what really does Holi mean? Here is what it means:

Triumphant good and defeated evil – there’s a story behind this. Once Lord Vishnu saved Prahlaad, his follower from burning on a pyre. However, Prahlaad’s evil aunt called Holika (who was supposed to be unharmed by fire) was burned.

Krishna’s mischief: This legend states that Lord Krishna who had a dark blue skin was worried that Radha, his love, will not accept him. So, he mischievously put colors on her face to make her like himself.

The first story speaks of victory of good over bad and hence, is celebrated in form of bonfire the night before Holi.

Amazing Hindu Festivals

The second story is all about mischief and love. The colors used today perfumed powders made of natural or artificial substances and is applied on everyone – man, woman, child. There is no restriction of age or gender. The colors destroy social status and unite everyone in mischiefs and fun and love.

It signifies that humans, irrespective of caste, creed, gender, social status etc. are all the same and should live harmoniously, helping each other, erasing differences and bringing souls together.

The major colors of Holi are red, yellow, blue and green but other colors are also available. These four main colors have their own significance:

Red – Signifies fertility and love and celebrates the love of Lord Krishna and Radha.

Yellow – Signifies healing of souls that are beat down by daily problems and hatred that humans have in their souls.

Blue – Signifies purity and clarity. It represents dynamism. It is the skin color of Lord Krishna who had all the features. He was pure. He was clear. He was dynamic and he showed people how to live a good life.

Green – Signifies new beginning, a new harvest, the coming of the spring after a severe winter. It symbolizes Nature – the manifestation of Paramatman.

Amazing Hindu Festivals

Holi is played with both dry colored powders and colored water. Irrespective of the state, the festival of Holi or the festival of colors is just one of the liveliest festivals with deep significance that India has to offer to this world.

Amazing Hindu Festivals – 3: Durga Puja

Yet another of amazing Indian festivals is Durga Puja. Yes, India knows about Durga Puja but it is mostly celebrated in Bengali dominated areas.

The true grandeur of Durga Puja can only be seen in Kolkata that was formerly known as Calcutta. This is THE BIGGEST festival for the Bengalis where people worship the divine celestial energy – Adi Shakti – the better half of Lord Shiva himself.

It is known from Hindu scriptures that every living organism in this world is alive because of Adi Shakti as she resides in them in form of energy that channels through their bodies.

The celebration of Durga Puja is more about celebrating the woman power – a worship of the warrior face of Adi Shakti in form of Maa Durga.

Amazing Hindu Festivals
Making of Goddess Durga Idol

The essence is again the same – triumph of good of evil as Maa Durga was the goddess who slain Mahishasura – the face of evil. So, powerful was Mahishsura (because of the boons he received from gods) that no god could defeat him. It is then that all the gods together requested Adi Shakti to appear.

Mahishasura couldn’t be defeated by any male and hence, a goddess was called upon. All gods gave their weapons to Goddess Durga, who held them in her 10 hands while holding the Trishul of Lord Shiva in her right primary hand. Only Adi Shakti can wield the Trishul of Lord Shiva and hence, it became her primary weapon of destruction.

For those who think that 10 hands of Maa Durga is something ridiculous and impossible, here is something technical that you should know.

As of now, the physicists around the world are wondering and pondering on the possibility of multiverse and higher dimensions. The Vedas of India have already spoken of such higher dimensions and that Gods live in such dimensions that we cannot perceive as humans.

Adi Shakti is the life force of the universe and hence, present in every dimension. Her 10 hands represent the various dimensions that’s beyond the reach of mere humans. Remember that Hinduism (the deformed name of Sanatana Dharma) is immense and vast and its true knowledge cannot be gauged by the face value of what one sees.

One needs to open up, give up dogmas and indoctrinated beliefs in order to even understand a fraction of Hinduism’s boundless knowledge.

Amazing Hindu Festivals
An artistic pandal of Durga Puja

So, coming back to Durga Puja, it is a sight to behold. Spread over 5 days of celebration, Kolkata essentially becomes biggest open-air art gallery of the world where artistic pandals dot the cityscape in almost every nook and corner.

The world knows that Bengali culture is one of the richest when it comes to filmmakers, artists and writers. So, it is not unnatural to witness some of the most exquisite artworks in pandals that inspire awe and admiration.

No words can ever describe the sheer beauty of such pandals that take artistry to a grand new dimension.

Oh yes! The art-gallery remains 24×7 accessible and there’s food fiesta everywhere. Some of the most delicious foods that Kolkata has to offer just hoards around every corner, leaving people with limitless choices.

Amazing Hindu Festivals – 4: Ganesh Chaturthi

Lord Ganesha – son of Lord Shiva and Mata Parvati (Maa Durga, Adi Shakti, Maa Kali) – is considered as Pratham Pujya (the first god to be worshiped before any other god).

This was the boon given to Lord Ganesha by Lord Shiva himself, who is considered as the supreme God of Hinduism. No doubt, Ganesh Chaturthi counts as one of the most amazing hindu festivals.

Amazing Hindu Festivals
Ganesh Chaturthi – Procession

The elephant head of Lord Ganesha is symbolic and the story of how Lord Ganesha gets his elephant head may sound a little ridiculous but there is a far deeper significance to it.

It is difficult to explain everything in this simple article. All we will like to say is that Lord Ganesh symbolizes good fortune. It is considered auspicious to worship him before starting a journey or starting a business endeavor.

He is also considered the remover of all obstacles and no wonder, Lord Ganesha is one of the most beloved and revered gods of Hinduism.

In case you want to know about the real moral of the story of Lord Ganesha, feel free to drop us a message and we will be happy to explain it through the comments section.

Coming to Ganesh Chaturthi, the festival is celebrated across India and it spans over a period of 11 days. While the first 10 days are essentially the days of celebration and worship, the 11th day is known as the Ananta Chaturdasi.

On this day, the idols of Lord Ganesh are paraded across streets in long processions and eventually immersed in sea or river or a large water body.

Amazing Hindu Festivals
Ganesh Chaturthi – Visarjan

Despite the fact that Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated across India, the most grandeur of all celebrations take place in Maharashtra. Telangana is yet another state where the spectacle of Ganesh Chaturthi is a sight to behold.

The final immersion in water is known as Visarjan or Nimarjan and that is something we cannot describe with mere words. Come and see it for yourself. Only when you see, you can truly understand the grand scale of the Visarjan.

Amazing Hindu Festivals – 5: Mahashivaratri

There are three class of people who celebrate it across India. They are:

The family people – who look at Mahashivaratri as the marriage anniversary of Lord Shiva or Mahadev (Greatest or Supreme of all Gods).

The ambitious people – who look to overcome all adversaries and conquer everything to achieve their ambitions because they look it as the night when Lord Shiva conquered every single enemy he had.

The ascetics – who look at the night Mahashivaratri as the night of stillness.

In Hinduism, Lord Shiva is worshiped as God by some while others don’t worship him as God. They look upon him as the Adi Guru – the first guru of the world from whom all the knowledge transcended into this universe.

Mahashivaratri for the ascetics is the night when after millennia of meditation, Lord Shiva became absolutely still. So, this is the night of stillness.

Amazing Hindu Festivals

What is the significance of this stillness? Ever wondered why modern science today is pondering on the thought that everything in this world – from stars to planets to galaxies to mere humans and stones and animals and trees – everything is nothing but a million manifestation of a single energy form?

Yes, that is what Hinduism answers as Lord Shiva. There are two things you need to know:

“That Which Is” – this is the creation and existence – everything we see.

“That Which Is Not” – this is Shiva.

What does that mean? Some night, look at the sky. You will see stars and constellations. You will barely notice the vast emptiness, the void that holds those stars and constellations and celestial bodies.

In Hinduism – Shiva is that vast emptiness. He is the void. Everything in this world resides in his lap. Modern science says everything in this world comes from nothing and everything in this world goes back into nothing.

Here nothing means the void and the emptiness, which is nothing other than Shiva.

So, Mahashivaratri is the celebration of that stillness, that void, that nothingness, that darkness that is omnipresent. Even a star burns to give light. This means that light needs a source to appear.

Darkness on the other hand needs nothing. It is its own source. Nothing stops it. It is everywhere. That is Lord Shiva. He is everywhere. He is omnipresent.

Amazing Hindu Festivals
Ice Shiva Lingam at Amarnath Cave

So, Mahashivaratri is the celebration that lasts all night. One is required to stay awake, stay still and experience something. But experience what?

This is where a bit of science coincides with religion. Mahashivaratri is the night when planet Earth’s northern hemisphere is positioned in such a way when there is a surge in energy.

This is the night when with a vertical spine, one can experience that energy, absorb that energy that can help one to overcome problems, gain success and most importantly, attain spiritual enlightenment.

So, Mahashivaratri has multiple significances and the celebrations take place at grand scale. While this may sound a unusual, the things used to worship Lord Shiva are just as simple as bilva leaves and water.

That’s enough for one who is worshiping with utmost devotion to the very source of creation.

Experience it and only then can you really understand what it is. No matter how much we write, we cannot give you the knowledge you seek. Only you can find it. Open up and be enlightened.

Image Credits:

  • Diwali Images: 1, 2
  • Holi Images: 1, 2
  • Durga Puja: 1, 2
  • Ganesh Chaturthi: 1, 2
  • Mahashivaratri: 1, 2

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