Most popular festivals in India

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The Biggest Festivals of India
India has many religions and hundreds of customs and festivals. Many of these festivals are shared by communities across the country, albeit with variation on their history, theme and method of celebration. Here are the most famous festivals of India.
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Diwali is India's famous Festival of Lights usually celebrated in October or November. It is a five day Hindu festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil. In North India, Diwali is celebrated to commemorate the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana. In South India it is a celebration of the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon Narakasura.

Hindu households begin preparing for Diwali nearly two weeks in advance. Homes are cleaned thoroughly, oil lamps and electric lights are bought, the prayer room is set up and mithai (indian sweets) and flowers are stocked up. On the actual days of Diwali, India lights up with the collective celebrations of millions of devout homes all over. Lights are kept on the whole night, and doors are kept open for as long as possible to welcome the Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth) who is said to visit people's homes on Diwali, bringing with her prosperity and financial luck for the New Year. Very often, people draw little feet outside their homes, as a way of showing the path to their homes to the Goddess. After prayers, firecrackers ring loudly into the night, lighting up the sky.
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Holi is the festival of colours usually celebrated in March. During Holi, people light bonfires, burn effigies of the evil Holika, smear each other with coloured powders and drench each other with water and water balloons!

The mythological origins of this festival, like Diwali, vary from North to South. In the south, this festival is a depiction of the fate of Kama Deva - the God of Love and Lust. It is believed that he had once aimed an arrow at his wife Rati, but missed and ended up hitting Lord Shiva instead. Lord Shiva was enraged, and his third eye opened, burning Kama to ashes on the spot. Rati was grief-stricken, and Lord Shiva, feeling guilty for having widowed her, granted her the ability to see her husband, albeit never again in the flesh.

In the North on the other hand, Holi celebrates the victory of devotion and purity over wickedness and ego. There was believed to be a King who ordered that every man in his land worship him as God. All complied but his son. The king was so incensed that he kept trying to kill his son, but to no avail, as the Lord Vishnu, who the son had accepted as his ultimate master, had granted him protection against his father's evil designs. It is believed that one day, the King's sister Holika, who herself had been granted a boon that made her fire-proof, offered to take the prince onto her lap and set herself ablaze. However when she did that, she burnt to death on the spot and the prince was saved, as her boon only protected her and not her evil designs. And so, on the day before Holi, effigies of Holika are burnt amidst much jeering and celebrations!
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Maha Shivaratri
There is a legend about a time when the Asuras (demons) and the Gods joined hands to churn out Amrut (the nectar of life) from the depths of the ocean, using a mountain and a snake as a rope. Among the things that came out, was a pot of poison. This poison was so potent that it had the power to destroy the whole universe. When they realized what they had done, all the Gods and Demons ran in different directions to save themselves as none among them had the power to stop the spreading poison. On the request of the Gods, Lord Shiva went to the spot and drank the poison. Shocked, his wife Goddess Parvati tightened a noose over the neck of the Lord and managed to stop the poison from entering his body below the neck. However, the poison was so potent that it changed the colour of his face and neck to blue.

Shivaratri literally means the great night of Shiva or the night of Shiva. Devotees flock to shiv temples by the thousands and offer Bael or Bilva/Vilvam leaves to Lord Shiva. While some Hindus abstain from food for the whole day, others allow themselves one meal. People cluster around Shiva temples and after bathing, smear their bodies with holy ashes and keep reciting prayers to Lord Shiva. Extensive singing and dancing takes place to enable people to stay awake all night. Bhang (cannabis) is also consumed as part of the celebrations.
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Ramadan / Eid-ul-fitr
Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting, during which Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and having sex during daylight hours. Ramadan is intended to teach Muslims about patience, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to God. Muslims fast as a tribute to God and offer more prayer than usual. Compared to the solar calendar, the dates of Ramadan vary, moving backwards by about eleven days each year depending on the moon. Thus, fascinatingly, a person will have fasted every day of the Gregorian calendar year in 34 years' time. Muslims believe Ramadan to be an auspicious month as it is believed to be the month in which the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Islamic prophet, Muhammad. During the Ramadan month, the evenings are filled with feasting and festivities. The roads in Muslim localities get lined with vendors of eatables of all kinds and the feasting continues late into the night with entire families coming out to partake in the festivities.

Eid marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. "Eid" means "festivity" while Fitr means "breaking the fast". Eid celebrates the conclusion of the 29 or 30 days of dawn-to-sunset fasting during the entire month of Ramadan. On Eid, Muslims wish each other Eid Mubarak, wear their best clothes and perfumes, eat some sweet food, and then rush off to offer prayers.
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Raksha Bandhan celebrates the bond of affection between brothers and sisters. The name 'Raksha Bandhan' refers to 'a bond of protection'. On this day, brothers make a promise to their sisters to protect them from all harm and sisters pray to God to protect their brother from all evil. This one day festival generally falls in the month of August. Sisters do a small puja for their brothers, and tie a colourful and often ornately decorated thread called a Rakhi on their wrist. Brothers on their part must pledge to look after their sisters till their dying breath and sweeten the deal with a gift of some kind!
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Navaratri/Durga Puja

Navaratri/Durga Puja

Navratri, the festival of nights, lasts for 9 days with three days each devoted to worship of Ma Durga, the Goddess of Valor, Ma Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Ma Saraswati, the Goddess of Knowledge. During the nine days of Navratari, feasting and fasting take precedence over all normal daily activities amongst the Hindus. Evenings give rise to the religious dances in order to worhip Goddess Durga Maa. Gujaratis perform their traditional dances 'Garba' & 'Dandiya-Raas' during Navratri. The women-folk dance in a circle, singing 'Garbas' or traditional songs. Young men-women wear colourful traditional dresses and play Garba with great enthusiasm. The mood of Navratri is very colourful & unique.
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Dussehra is a Hindu festival that celebrates the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana. It also symbolizes the victory of Goddess Durga over the buffalo demon Mahishasura. Thus, it is basically a celebration of the triumph of good over evil. Dussehra is celebrated on the tenth day of the Hindu autumn lunar month of Ashvin, which falls in September or October of the Western calendar. The first nine days are celebrated as Navratri. The entire ten day period is marked with much fasting, feasting, singing and dancing. Dusshera also marks the unofficial end of the summer season and the onset of the winter season.
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Krishna Janmashtami

Krishna Janmashtami

The birth of Lord Krishna (a re-incarnation of Lord Vishnu) is celebrated on the eighth day of a lunar fortnight in August-September, hence the name Janmashtami (birth + eighth day). Lord Krishna was said to be a mischievous child who loved milk, butter and ghee, and so women fast and make milk based sweets of all kinds and offer it to the Lord. They also visit temples or set up prayer rooms at home and pray to Lord Krishna.

One custom of Janmashtami is Dahi Handi. This is celebrated with enormous zeal and enthusiasm. A clay pot filled with buttermilk is hung very high above the ground. A human pyramid of men, who have trained for weeks prior to this event, then attempts to reach the height of the pot. The topmost person on the human pyramid attempts to break the handi by hitting it with a blunt object. When that happens, coconut water or buttermilk is spilled over the entire group, symbolizing their achievement through unity. Handis are set up around the city, and groups "Govinda Pathaks", travel around in trucks trying to break as many handis as possible during the day in order to reap the rich rewards that come with successfully breaking the highest handis!
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Ganesha Chaturthi

Ganesha Chaturthi

Ganesha Chaturthi is celebrated to mark the birthday of Lord Ganesha. Lord Ganesha or Ganpati is one of the most popular deities in the Hindu religion. He is worshiped by both Shiva worshippers and Vishnu worshippers as he is considered to be an avatar of both Shiva and Vishnu. Even Buddhists and Jains have faith in Ganpati. In the run up to this festival, a large number of idols are made of clay or metal in all possible sizes; sometimes even up to twenty feet in height. People buy these idols of Lord Ganesha and install them in their houses. They then worship the idol for anything up to eleven days, after which the idols are taken out in extravagant ceremonial processions, through the streets of the town/city (mostly in the state of Maharashtra) and immersed into the river, sea or well. In recent years, pandals vie for the title of best pandal, by trying to outdo each other in terms on the size of the idol, the amount of money and jewelry offered to it and the number of devotees they can attract!
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Baisakhi is an ancient harvest festival celebrated across the northern Indian subcontinent, especially in the state of Punjab. It is also celebrated as the Sikh New Year and the founding of the Khalsa Panth.

The history of Baisakhi celebrations can be traced back to 1699. Guru Gobind Singh, the then Guru of the Sikhs, called on the historic Baisakhi Day congregation of Sikhs at Keshgarh Sahib near Anandpur on March 30, 1699. Thousands of people had assembled seeking their Guru's blessings. Guru Gobind Singh came out of the tent carrying an unsheathed sword. After a powerful speech meant to infuse courage among the congregated masses, he said that every great deed was preceded by a great sacrifice and called upon people who were prepared to give their lives. On the Guru's third call, a young man offered himself. The Guru took the man inside his tent and reappeared alone with a bloodied sword. He then asked for another volunteer. This was repeated another four times until a total of five Sikhs had gone into the tent and the Guru had come out without them each time. Everyone present was stunned at the thought that their guru had killed five innocent Sikhs. At this point, the Guru presented all the five men before the people. Every one present was surprised to see all five men alive and wearing turbans and saffron-coloured garments. These five men were called Panj Piara or 'Beloved Five' by the Guru. That day ended on a celebratory note, and the tradition is carried forth to this day.

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