1. 15 January 2016- Pongal
Observed by: Tamilians
-Thai Pongal or Pongal is a harvest festival celebrated by Tamil people at the end of the harvest season. Pongal is a four day festival which usually takes place from January 13 to 16 in the Gregorian calendar i.e., the last day of the Tamil month Maargazhi to the third day of Tamil month Thai.
It is one of the most important festivals celebrated by the Tamil people in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the Indian Union Territory of Puducherry, and Sri Lanka.
In Tamil, the word Pongal means “overflowing” which signifies abundance and prosperity. On the day of Pongal, at the time of sun rise there is a symbolic ritual of boiling fresh milk in a new clay pots and when the milk boils over and bubbles out of the vessel, people shout “Pongalo Pongal!” They also say “Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum” meaning “the commencement of Thai paves the way for new opportunities” is often quoted regarding the Pongal festival. Thai Pongal is mainly celebrated to convey the appreciation and thankfulness to the Sun as it act as the primary energy behind agriculture and a good harvest. It is the Surya Mangalyam. Tamilians decorate their homes with banana and mango leaves and embellish the floor with decorative patterns drawn using rice flour.
2. Saturday, 23 January 2016- Thaipusam
Observed by: All Lord Murugan devotees
-Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (January/February). It is mainly observed in countries where there is a significant presence of Tamil community such as India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Mauritius, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar.
The word Thaipusam is a combination of the name of the month, Thai, and the name of a star, Pusam. This particular star is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates the occasion when Mother Parvati gave Murugan a Vel “spear” so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman. There is a misconception among people that Thaipusam marks Murugan’s birthday; however, it is believed that Vaikhasi Vishakam, which falls in the Vaikhasi month (May/June), is Murugan’s birthday.
3. 7 March 2016 – Maha Shivaratri
-Maha Shivratri (the ‘Great Night of Shiva’) is a Hindu festival celebrated every year in reverence of Lord Shiva. It is also known as the birthday of Lord Shiva. The Maha Shivratri festival, also popularly known as ‘Shivratri’ or ‘Great Night of Lord Shiva’, is observed on the 13th night/14th day in the Krishna Paksha every year on the month of Falgun according to the Hindu calendar. It marks the convergence of Shiva and Shakti. Maha Shivratri is celebrated on the Krishna Paksha Chaturdashi of Hindu calendar month Maagha which falls in February or March as per the Gregorian calendar. Of the twelve Shivaratris in the year, the Maha Shivarathri is the most holy.
The festival is principally celebrated by offerings of Bael or golden apple or Bilva/Vilvam leaves to Lord Shiva, all-day fasting and an all-night-long vigil (jagarana). All through the day, devotees chant “Om Namah Shivaya“, a sacred Panchakshara mantra dedicated to Lord Shiva. In accordance with scriptural and discipleship traditions, penances are performed in order to gain boons in the practice of Yoga and meditation, in order to reach life’s highest good steadily and swiftly. On this day, the planetary positions in the Northern hemisphere act as potent catalysts to help a person raise his or her spiritual energy more easily. The benefits of powerful ancient Sanskrit Mantras such as Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra increase greatly on this night.
On Maha Shivratri, Nishita Kala is the ideal time to observe Shiva Pooja. Nishita Kala celebrates when Lord Shiva appeared on the Earth in the form of Linga. On this day, in all Shiva temples, the most auspicious Lingodbhava Puja is performed.
4. Wednesday, 23 March 2016- Holi
-Holi is a spring festival also known as the festival of colors or the festival of love. It is an ancient Hindu religious festival that has become popular with non-Hindus as well.
It is primarily observed in India, Nepal, and other regions of the world with significant populations of Hindus or people of Indian origin. Recently, the festival spread to parts of Europe and North America as a spring celebration of love and colors.
Holi celebrations start with a Holika bonfire on the night before Holi where people sing and dance. The next morning is a free-for-all carnival of colors, where all participants play, chase and throw colors at each other with dry powder or colored water in the streets, parks, or outside temples and buildings. Some people carry drums and musical instruments. Bhang, made from cannabis leaves, is commonly consumed during Holi. In the evening, people adorn formal attire and visit friends and family.
Holi celebrates the arrival of Spring and is celebrated at the approach of vernal equinox, on the Phalguna Purnima (Full Moon). The festival’s date varies every year, per the Hindu calendar, and typically comes in March or February per the Gregorian Calendar.
5. April 22, 2015 – Hanuman Jayanti
Hanuman Jayanti or Hanumath Jayanti is celebrated to commemorate the birth of Hanuman, the Vanara god, widely venerated throughout India. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the Shukla Paksha, during the month of Chaitra (the Chaitra Pournimaa).
Lord Hanuman is an ardent devotee of Lord Rama, and is worshiped for his unflinching devotion to the god. From early morning, devotees flock Hanuman temples to worship him.
Hanuman Jayanti is an important festival of Hindus. Hanuman is the symbol of strength and energy. Hanuman is said to be able to assume any form at will, wield rocks, move mountains, dart through the air, seize the clouds and rival Lord Garuda in swiftness of flight. He is worshiped in folk tradition as a deity with magical powers and the ability to conquer evil spirits. The devotees visit temples and apply tilaka of sindoor to their foreheads from Hanuman’s idol as Hanuman himself was of that color. A few thousand years before Ramayan time (in the latter part of Tretayuga – 2 million years ago), several divine souls came to Earth and modified the bodies of ape like creatures through evolutionary methods (genetic mutation) so that the animals could play the role of vehicles for these divine souls. That’s how Vanara race with reddish orange color (hues of deep orange and light red) was established before the Ramayan time. Hanuman was born into this Vanara community and was in reddish orange color. So in all the Hanuman temples we see Hanuman colored in different hues of reddish orange color.
6. April 14 2016 – Vishu
Observed by: Malayalees
-Vishu is a Hindu festival celebrated in the Indian state of Kerala usually in the second week of April in the Gregorian calendar.
Vishu is celebrated with much fanfare and vigor in all parts of Kerala. It is considered a festival of light and fireworks, and decorating lights and bursting of firecrackers (Vishupadakkam) is part of the celebration. Other elements of Vishu include buying of new clothes (Puthukodi) for the occasion, the tradition of giving money called Vishukkaineetam, and the Vishu feast or Sadya, which consist of equal proportions of salty, sweet, sour and bitter items. Feast items include Veppampoorasam, Mampazhappulissery, Vishu kanji and Vishu katta.
The most important event in Vishu is the Vishukkani, which literally means “the first thing seen on the day of Vishu after waking up”. The Vishukkani consists of a ritual arrangement of auspicious articles intended to signify prosperity, including rice, fruits and vegetables, betel leaves, arecanut, metal mirror, yellow flowers called konna (Cassia fistula), holy texts and coins, usually in the prayer room of the house. This is arranged the night before Vishu and is the first sight seen on Vishu. On Vishu, devotees often visit temples like Sabarimala Ayyappan Temple or Guruvayur Sree Krishna temple to have a ‘Vishukkani Kazhcha‘ (viewing) in the early hours of the day.
7. 14 September 2016 – Onam festival
Observed by: Malayalees
-Onam is a harvest festival celebrated by the people of Kerala, India. It is also the state festival of Kerala with State holidays on 4 days starting from Onam Eve (Uthradom) to the 4th Onam Day. Onam Festival falls during the Malayalam month of Chingam (Aug – Sep) and marks the commemoration of Lord Vamana, avatar of Lord Vishnu and the subsequent homecoming of King Mahabali. Onam is reminiscent of Kerala’s agrarian past, as it is considered to be a harvest festival.
8. 5 September 2016- Ganesh Chaturthi
-Ganesha Chaturthi is the Hindu festival celebrated on the birthday (rebirth) of the lord Ganesha, the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati.
It is believed that Lord Ganesh bestows his presence on earth for all his devotees during this festival. It is the day when Ganesha was born. Ganesha is widely worshiped as the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune and traditionally invoked at the beginning of any new venture or at the start of travel. The festival, also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi (“festival of Ganesha”) is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhaadrapada, starting on the shukla chaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon period). The date usually falls between 19 August and 20 September. The festival lasts for 10 days, ending on Anant Chaturdashi (fourteenth day of the waxing moon period).
9. August 18, Thursday 2016- Raksha Bandhan
-Raksha Bandhan is a Hindu festival that celebrates the love and duty between brothers and sisters; the festival is also popularly used to celebrate any brother-sister like loving protective relationship between men and women who are relatives or biologically unrelated.
Raksha Bandhan is an ancient festival, and has many myths and historic legends linked to it. For example, the Rajput queens practiced the custom of sending rakhi threads to neighboring rulers as token of brotherhood. On Raksha Bandhan, sisters tie a rakhi (sacred thread) on her brother’s wrist. This symbolizes the sister’s love and prayers for her brother’s well-being, and the brother’s lifelong vow to protect her.
10. 25 August, 2016- Krishna Janmashtami
-Krishna Janmashtami is an annual commemoration of the birth of the Hindu deity Lord Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu.
The festival is celebrated on the eighth day (Ashtami) of the Krishna Paksha (dark fortnight) of the month of Shraavana (August–September) in the Hindu calendar. Rasa lila, dramatic enactments of the life of Krishna, are a special feature in regions of Mathura and Vrindavan, and regions following Vaishnavism in Manipur. While the Rasa lila re-creates the flirtatious aspects of Krishna’s youthful days, the Dahi Handi celebrate God’s playful and mischievous side, where teams of young men form human towers to reach a high-hanging pot of butter and break it. This tradition, also known as uriadi, is a major event in Tamil Nadu on Gokulashtami. Krishna Janmashtami is followed by the festival Nandotsav, which celebrates the occasion when Nanda Baba distributed gifts to the community in honor of the birth.
11. December 12, 2016- Karthikai Deepam
-Karthikai Deepam is a Hindu specially Hindu Tamils and Hindu Telugu festival. The festival is observed in every home and every temple, and falls in the month of Karttikai (mid-November to mid-December) as per Tamil calendar. This occurs on the day when the moon is in conjunction with the constellation Karthigai (Pleiades) and purnimai. This constellation appears as a group of six stars in the firmament in the shape of a pendant from the ear.
Many legends and lyrical poetry have grown round this star. The six stars are considered in Indian mythology as the six celestial nymphs who reared the six babies in the saravana tank which later were joined together to form the six faced Lord Murugan. He is therefore called Karthikeya, the one brought up by the Karthigai nymphs. Houses and streets are lit up with rows of oil lamps (Deepam) in the evening of the festival day.
12. 30 October, Sunday 2016- Diwali
-Diwali, also called Deepavali or the “Festival of Lights”, is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in autumn every year. The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. The festival preparations and rituals typically extend over a five day period, but the main festival night of Diwali coincides with the darkest, new moon night of the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartik. In the Gregorian calendar, Diwali night falls between mid-October and mid-November.
Before Diwali night, people clean, renovate and decorate their homes. On Diwali night, Hindus dress up in new clothes or their best outfit, light up diyas (lamps and candles) inside and outside their home, participate in family puja typically to Lakshmi – the goddess of wealth and prosperity. After puja (prayers), fireworks follow, then a family feast including mithai (sweets), and an exchange of gifts between family members and close friends. Diwali also marks a major shopping period in nations where it is celebrated.
Diwali is an official holiday in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore and Fiji.
13. 7 August 2016- Nag Panchami
-Nag Panchami is a traditional worship of snakes or serpents observed by Hindus throughout India and also in Nepal. The worship is offered on the fifth day of bright half of Lunar month of Shravan (July/August), according to the Hindu calendar.
On the Nag Panchami day, cobras and snakes are worshipped with milk, sweets, flowers, lamps and even sacrifices. Images of snake deities made of silver, stone, wood, or paintings on the wall are first bathed with water and milk and then worshipped. Fast is observed on this day and Brahmins are fed. The piety observed on this day is considered a sure protection against the fear of snake bite. At many places, real snakes are worshipped and fairs held. On this day digging the earth is taboo as it could kill or harm snakes which reside in the earth. On this occasion doorways and walls outside the house are painted with pictures of snakes, auspicious mantras (spells) are also written on them. It is believed that such depictions will ward off poisonous snakes.