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Customs & festivals of India

India is a land of festivals and fairs. Every day of the year there is a festival celebrated in some part of the country. Some festivals welcome the seasons of the year, the harvest, the rains, or the full moon. Others celebrate religious occasions, the birthdays of divine beings, Saints, and gurus (revered the teachers), or the advent of the new year. A number of these festivals are common to most parts of India-however, they may be called by different names in the various parts. Or, may be celebrated in a different fashion.

Makar Sankranti marks the commencement of the sun's journey to the Northern Hemisphere and is a day of celebration all over the country. Wherever there are rivers or the sea, people take a dip in the waters on this day and worship the sun. Also known as Gangasagar Mela, on this day, people come from all over India for a ceremonial cleansing in the River Hooghly, a distributory of the Ganges, near Calcutta. In Gujarat, Makara Sankranti is celebrated by the flying of kites.

Republic Day is India's great national festival. The celebrations are most colourful in Delhi, the capital. On January 26th there are parades of the three armed forces, followed by floats and dancers from all parts of the country.

Vasant Panchami is a festival in honour of Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom and learning.

Maha Shivratri is the height of the worship of the great Shiva, the third deity of the Hindu trinity. The pious stay awake all night and chant prayers. Usually there are fairs near temples for the entertainment of villagers during the daytime.

Holi is the spring festival and is celebrated with enthusiasm wherever there are cold winters and the end of the frost heralds the advent of spring.

Jamshed-i Navroz is the New Year's Day for the Parsi community who adhere to the Falsi calendar and celebrate with feasting. It goes back to the time of ancient Persia.

Mahavir Jayanti commemorates the birth anniversary of Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, a highly ascetic and austere religion that places great emphasis on Ahimsa, or non-violence. It is a day of prayer. There are celebrations in all Jain temples and pilgrimages to Jain shrines.

Easter and Good Friday follow the same pattern of reverence and gaiety as in the West.The Christians spend the day with fast and abstanence .

Baisakhi. All over the north the solar new year's day is observed on this day, which is also the new year's day of Tamil Nadu. For Hindus, it also denotes the days of the descent of the Ganges to the earth, and people take dips in rivers, For Sikhs, it is of special religious importance as the day of the formation of the Singh, who converted the Sikhs into a martial race. It is also the harvest festival of the Punjab and is celebrated with dances and gaiety.

Ram Navami is the day of Rama's birth and is celebrated as a day of great piety, with the chanting of prayers and the singing of ballads.

Id-ul-Fitra or Ramzan- Id marks with feasting and rejoicing the end of Ramzan (Ramadan), the Muslim time of fasting.

Raksha Bandhan is an integral part of the Hindu family structure whereby a woman ties a rakhi or decorative thread on the wrist of her brother to remind him to protect her if the need arises. The festival is celebrated as Coconut Day in Maharashtra as the monsoon seas are calmed by coconuts thrown to Varuna, the god of waters.

Independence Day, August 15, commemorates the day in 1947 when India achieved freedom. It is celebrated all over the country with meetings and flag-hosting ceremonies.

Janamashtami celebrates the birth of Krishna, the eighth incarnation on earth of Lord Vishnu. It is celebrated by fasting followed by feasting and merriment. Processing and floats are taken out and Ram-Lila, the folk dances of Krishna, are danced with great fervour, especially at places associated with the life of Krishna.

Id-ul-Zuha or Bakra-id celebrates the sacrifice of Hazrat Ibrahim, who willingly agreed to kill his son at the behest of God. To celebrate the event Muslims sacrifice one animal per family or group of families. There are prayers in mosques, feasting, and rejoicing. New clothes are worn and visits and greetings are exchanged.

Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated in honour of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god who is worshipped the remover of obstacles. In Maharashtra, huge images of Ganesha are carried in procession. On specific dates in the following ten days, these images are immersed in the sea or rivers with thousands of worshippers dancing and singing after them.

Navaratri/Dussehra/Durga Pooja. Navaratri, the Festival of Nine Nights, is celebrated in honour of the goddesses Durga, Laksmi, and Saraswati. The tenth day, Dussehra, commemorates the victory of Rama, of the epic Ramayana, over Ravana.

Diwali or Deepawali, the festival of "rows of lights", is the most important of all Hindu festivals. It is believed that it was on this day that Rama entered Ayodhya after 14 years of exile. Deepavali is also celebrated as Naraka Chaturdashi, the day when the demon of darkness and dirt, Narakasura, was destroyed by Krishna. The celebrations commence with a purifying oil bath and the lighting of lamps, symbolic of the spiritual light pervading the earth and the destruction of darkness and ignorance.

Gurpurab: The birth anniversaries of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism (October-November), and of Guru Gobind Singh, the last Guru (December-January), are important festivals of the Sikhs. In addition to the reading of the holy verses, the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book, is carried in procession.

Christmas is widely celebrated all over India and is specially interesting in Goa and Kerala, where some of the local culture has been absorbed into the festivities.

Special Local Festivals: In addition to the festivals celebrated all over the country, there are local ones that are celebrations of special events like the New year, harvest, birthdays of saints, etc. Some are temple festivals, religious events accompanied by music, dance, and gaiety. In many temples, images are taken in procession in chariots pulled through the street by devotees. Most temple festivals are accompanied by village fairs, cattle, camel, or elephant fairs, and last three days to a month.

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