In the Indian culture, there was a time when there used to be a festival every day of the year – 365 festivals in a year. The idea behind this was to make our whole life a celebration. If today was ploughing day, it was a kind of celebration. Tomorrow was planting day, another kind of celebration. Day after tomorrow was weeding, that was a celebration. Harvesting, of course, is still a celebration. Today, due to lack of time maybe only thirty or forty festivals, or even lesser, are celebrated. This article talks about the significance of a few important festivals like Makar Sankranti or Pongal, Mahashivaratri, Diwali, Guru Purnima and Dussehra.
Between the 14th and 17th of January are the festivals of Makar Sankranti, or Pongal, as it is called in Tamil Nadu. There are different aspects to this festival. There is Bhogi, during which houses are cleaned, decorated, and in a way re-consecrated for the new year, using materials like mango leaves and the first cut of paddy to enhance the vibrance in the house. In this season, all the unnecessary things in one’s home are disposed of. You should make this clean-up an annual event. Even if some cleaning up is done on a daily basis, a few things pile up here and there without you being conscious about it. This piling up is not only of material things in our homes. Also in our minds, in our emotions, in our bodies, and in our consciousness, things pile up. This is the time to clean that up and start afresh in the coming spring, as spring is the best time to start life.
Apart from Bhogi, the Pongal celebrations also include Mattu Pongal, which honours all the animals that traditionally play an important role in agriculture. On this day, the bulls and cows that are at the centre of pastoral communities are decorated, pampered, and worshiped, as an expression of gratitude. On the next day is Kaanum Pongal, which is a community affair – this means going and seeing people.
So the Makar Sankranti or Pongal festivities have various ingredients of cleansing, of appreciating and expressing gratitude to all the creatures that are involved in our lives. It is also about getting involved with the community, which means it also has a social connotation. It is a time of festivity.
The fourteenth day of every lunar month, a day before the new moon day, is referred to as Shivaratri. On this day, there is a natural upsurge in the human energy system. The Shivaratri which falls in the month of Magha in the Indian calendar (February/March) is referred to as Mahashivaratri because particularly on this day, there is an assistance from nature to raise energies within the system. You should not be in horizontal positions, your spine, especially, should be in a vertical position so that the upsurge of energy is made use of for growth.
For people who live in family situations, Mahashivaratri is worshiped as Shiva’s wedding anniversary. The ambitious in the world see it as the day Shiva conquered all his enemies. For the ascetics, it is the day he became one with Kailash, that is he became Achaleshwara and merged with the mountain. After millennia of meditation, he became as still as a mountain and became a part of it, merging and preserving all his knowledge in Kailash. So ascetics see Mahashivaratri as a day of stillness.
Over 15,000 years ago, a yogi appeared in the upper regions of the Himalayas. No one knew where he came from and what his antecedents were – and he did not introduce himself – so they did not know his name. So he is referred to as Adiyogi or the first yogi.
Guru Purnima is that full moon day when the first yogi transformed himself into the Adi Guru – the first guru. He turned south – which is why he is known as Dakshinamurti – and the transmission of the yogic sciences to the seven disciples began. Thus, the first full moon of Dakshinayana is Guru Purnima, the day the first guru was born.
Guru Purnima signifies one of the greatest moments in the life of humanity. This is about transcendence and liberation, a possibility that human beings never knew. It does not matter what your genetics are, who your father was, or what limitations you are born with or have acquired, you can transcend all of that, if you are willing to strive. This day was recognised as such, and was one of the most significant celebrations in this culture for thousands of years.
It is time that a holiday is a day that is significant for us. At least, Guru Purnima should be a holiday so that people know the significance of it.
Navaratri, culminating with Dussehra, is a cultural festival of great importance and significance for all. It is a festival that is all about the goddess, or the feminine divinity.
The nine days of Navaratri are classified as per the three basic qualities of tamas, rajas, and sattva. The first three days are tamas, where the goddess is fierce, like Durga and Kali. The next three days are Lakshmi related – gentle, but materially oriented goddess. The last three days are dedicated to Saraswati, which is sattva. It is related to knowledge and enlightenment. Investing in these three will make your life in a certain way, you will be powerful in different ways. But if you go beyond all this, it is no longer about power, it is about liberation. After Navaratri, the tenth and final day is Vijayadashami – that means you have conquered all these three qualities. You participated in every one of them, but you did not invest in any one of them. You won over them. That is Vijayadashami, the day of victory. This brings home the message of how being in reverence and gratitude towards everything that matters in our lives, leads to success and victory.
Diwali is celebrated for various cultural reasons, but historically, it is called Naraka Chaturdashi because Narakasura, a very cruel king, was killed by Krishna a few thousand years ago. But why do we celebrate that today? If a man was killed – however evil he was – so long ago, it should not be relevant to us. But the relevance of Diwali is that it is an important inspiration for us to remove the negativities in our lives. Only by removing negativity will new clarity arise. Only when there is clarity, there is a new sense of light.
It is in this context that Diwali is the Festival of Lights – every town, city and village is lit up with thousands of lamps everywhere. But the celebration is not just about lighting lamps outside – an inner light has to come. Light means clarity. Without clarity, every other quality that you possess will only become a detriment, not a gift, because confidence without clarity is a disaster. And today, too much action in the world is performed without clarity.
Like the dark clouds which brood in the gloomy atmosphere, not realising that they are blocking the sun, a human being does not have to bring any light from anywhere. If he just dispels the dark clouds that he has allowed to gather within himself, light will happen. The Festival of Lights is just a reminder of that.