RELIGIOUS HOLY DAYS AND FESTIVALS
Hindu festivals are mostly seasonal festivals. They are fixed according to
the Hindu Lunisolar Calendar. Their occurrences, according to the Western
calendar, vary within a month from year to year as does the Christian Easter.
General days of festival are numerous but lesser festivals and fasts are
observed only by the more devout Hindus.
Probably the most widely celebrated festivals are those occurring in the
autumnAshiva is observed in September or October, and Diwali or
Dipayali is celebrated in October or November. Dipayali is by origin a
New Years festival. During this festival, lamps are ceremonially lit, house
fronts are illuminated, and presents are exchanged. Sacrifices described in
the Vedas and purification by bathing are also features of most Hindu
At least once a year, each Hindu temple of any importance holds its own
festival. This festival is celebrated by dancing, singing, and reciting religious
stories in the temple. Outside the temple, a procession forms and proceeds
through the city, An image of the Hindu deity being honored is usually
carried by members of the procession.
Modern festivals are mostly connected with the worship of the great
gods, Shiva, Vishnu, and Shakti. Many festivals are associated with a place
of pilgrimage which is sacred to a deity, Members who make these pilgrim-
ages often assume the caste mark, which is painted on the forehead and
sometimes on other parts of the body, to indicate the persons affiliation.
There are many other festivals of varying importance, and all Hindus,
whatever their affiliations, are usually ready to take part.
LIFE CYCLE RITES
Religious activity is centered in the home. Much time is spent in listening
to religious literature, read aloud or recited. Rites requiring the help of a
trained Brahman are performed by a mahatma or purohita (minister) serving
a family or group of families.
The personal ceremonies associated with birth begin from the conception
of the child; rites are performed with the participation of the pregnant
mother, to ensure the safe arrival of a male child. The birth ceremony
(jatakarma) should take place before the cutting of the umbilical cord. Ten
days after birth, the ritual impurity of mother and child is removed, and the
child is named.
Various minor rites take place in infancy; more important is the rite of
upanayana, originally performed among the three higher classes but now
largely confined to Brahmans, celebrated about the time of puberty. At this
ceremony, a boy is invested with the sacred thread (upavita or yajnopavita),
which he should wear over his left shoulder throughout his life, He is taught
the Savitri or Gayatri verse of the Rig-Veda, which is repeated at all religious
rites and ceremonies, and he is then qualified to study the Vedas and has the
status of an Aryan.