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Wedding-rituals » Indian-customs » Indian-festivals-071023
Understanding The Cycle Of Indian Festivals
Understanding The Cycle Of Indian Festivals The Indian festival cycle starts from the festival of Maha Shiv Ratri and culminates in the joyous festival of lights - Diwali. It is a cycle or journey that takes every individual from Kalyug to Satyug...

The Hindu festivals we celebrate with much enthusiasm are nothing but a celebration of the spin of one great cycle of time into another.

This interesting, yet largely unspoken fact about Maha Shiv Ratri, Holi, Rakhi, Janamashtami, Navratras, Dussehra, Diwali and the Indian lunar New Year, is what connects each festival to the next. Our series of annual festivities then becomes a scheme representing many souls' en masse spiritual journey towards enlightenment - enlightenment that ensures the richness of life that prevails at the start of the next cycle of time, or in every Satyug.


Diwali, the festival of lights, actually represents the culmination of this journey, light being a metaphor for enlightenment. But to understand this better, let's backtrack to the beginning...

All spiritual journeys start from ignorance - best symbolized by darkness, or night. The festival of Maha Shiv Ratri is what marks an initial awakening from deep slumber, or loss of spirituality at the fag end of Kalyug. Popularly understood to be the night when Lord Shiva revealed himself, it also signals a return to spirituality. The festival, in short, sets in motion a transition from one cycle of time to the next - Kalyug to Satyug.

By embarking on the spiritual path, every spiritual traveller accepts God's canopy of protection, a fact so well described in the story of Prahlad who by opposing his father (the King), incurred his wrath and was considered fit to be burnt. Yet when his sister tried to burn him by entering a fire with a protective flame-repelling shawl around her shoulders to ensure her own safety, all that happened was that a gust of wind blew the shawl off Prahlad's sister and onto him. Prahlad lived, his sister perished.

Holi's proverbial bonfire is also symbolic of purification - the aim of every spiritual seeker. What about the colours of Holi? Decades ago, merry-makers only used variants of gulal (red) - a colour suggesting awareness hence used by priests to smear tilaks. The multicoloured version of Holi that is now in vogue only evolved as awareness of the significance of the festival waned.

Such is the reality of our world! Just as brothers sometimes turn foes or choose to live in far-away lands, where they are too distant to be of help when you need them. Fortunately though, sometimes kind-hearted male strangers or 'Rakhi' brothers go out of their way to protect you.

Although Rakhi is commonly thought of as the festival wherein sisters tie a thread on their brothers' wrists and receive a gift (!) in return, the spiritual significance of Raksha (safeguarding) Bandhan (bond) is much deeper.

It's all about being each others' spiritual protectors, so as to keep going on the path of personal transformation and evolution. Spiritual growth depends on your being able to constantly celebrate universal brotherhood, or true Rakhi, because only then, can humanity usher in a new age.

Thus follows the festival of Janamashtami, symbolizing the birth of the first 'pure' soul of the new age, or baby Lord Krishna, mesmerizing all those who set eyes upon him by his magnificent aura of purity.

Lord Krishna's advent marks a step closer to the turn of the cycle of time. Traditional tales describing his birth in difficult circumstances indicate that he is born before world transformation is complete.

Hence arises the need for a final push of effort, symbolized by the Navratras - when the powers of God in the form of the universal mother or Durga, are invoked. Durga, literally meaning the remover of miseries, is worshipped as female energy or Shakti, the force that helps God in his act of creation.

The Navratras are divided into three sets of three days each to adore different aspects of this supreme Goddess - Shakti, Laxmi, and Saraswati, to ingrain spiritual power, spiritual wealth and wisdom. Only then does intoxicating, zealous dancing follow - on the last night of the Navratras - denoting the joy of accomplishment of a seeker who has almost reached his destination.

Dussehra marks the last inner battle - to test the power of virtue to prevail over vice - represented allegorically by Ram and Ravan. But this battle takes place both in the phenomenal world - as manmade and natural calamities - as well as in the mind.

After that, there is only happiness and joy. Diwali, the festival of lights that traditionally stands for Ram's return to the kingdom of Ayodhya, is a celebration of a return to enlightened living, of souls prepared to enter yet another cycle of time. Practically, we celebrate this as the commencement of the Indian lunar New Year.

So lest I forget - as you celebrate Diwali with a renewed spirit, all the very best for a Happy New Year!
Charu Bahri
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