FEASTS AND FESTIVALS
Hindus: Hindus have several religious holidays and festivals throughout the year but all are not commonly observed. Almost every month, there occurs a sana (a holiday), an utsava (festival), a Jayanti (birth-day) of a god, a saint or a hero or a jatra (fair). These are days for individual observances such as a vrata (vow) or upavasa (fast). These are indicated in a panchanga (almanac) which is kept in almost every Hindu house-hold but in their observance a person is led by the tradition of his family, sect, caste and local usage. The following is a chronological enumeration of the holidays in a year observed by
different sections of Hindus in Ahmadnagar district:—
Gudhipadva: The first day of Chaitra is called Gudhipadva, it being the new year day according to the Shalivahana Shaka (era) which is observed in the district. It is ushered in by house-holders by setting up in front of their houses a Gudhi, i.e., a bamboo pole capped with a small silver or copper pot and a new piece of cloth and a string of flowers hanging to it as a flag. To bathe early in the morning, to eat a mixture of gul, gram and neem-leaves, have a sumptuous meal at noon and in the evening to visit the leading temple and particularly in villages to hear the year's forecast (Varshaphala) by the village joshi are the activities of the people for the day.
Ramanavami: The birth-day anniversary of god Rama, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu and the hero of the Ramayana is celebrated with festivity on the 9th day of Chaitra. On that day people gather together in holiday-dress in Rama's temple. Exactly at 12 noon, the Haridas announces the birth of Shri Rama by tossing gulal (red powder) and the people join him. The idol of Rama is cradled. The ceremony closes with arati, distribution of Sunthavada and tirthprasad and in the evening again kirtan and bhajana follow in praise of Rama.
Hanumana Jayanti: On the 15th day of Chaitra exactly at sun-rise a festival is arranged in the temple of Hanumana to celebrate his birth. Thus from the first day of Chaitra to the 15th every night there is kirtan in honour of Rama and his loyal devotee Hanumana.
Gauripuja: In the month of Chaitra starting from the bright third and on a convenient day, Brahman suvasinis hold in their homes the ceremony of haladikunku in honour of the goddess Gauri. The idol is decked with flowers and lights are set before it. Women neighbours and friends are invited and presented with haladikunku, wet gram and fruits are laid in their laps. This is observed in most Brahman house-holds and also other high caste Hindu house-holds and women are busy exchanging visits during the whole month. The bright third of Vaishakh is the last day for the haladikunku rounds when the goddess Gauri is supposed to go to her maher (mother's house).
Akshaya-tritiya: The third lunar day of Vaishakh is known as Akshayatritiya. This day is one of the three most auspicious days of the year and peasants begin their field-activities in expectation of the rains.
Vatapurnima: The full-moon day of Jyeshtha is known as Vatapurnima. This is observed by married Hindu women as a day of prayer for their husband's long life and happiness. They observe fast, worship the banyan tree and distribute vayans (special offerings) to Brahmans and Suvasinis.
Mahaekadashis: The eleventh day, both of the bright and dark half of every month, is known as Ekadashi, a day of prayer and fasting.
The two occurring in the bright halves of Ashadha and Kartika are considered to be very important; they mark the beginning and the end of Chaturmasa (four holy months) and are considered specially sacred and observed as fast and prayer days by a very large number of people, including women and children. Followers of the Varkari sect make it a point to be present at Pandharpur on those days.
A number of fasts, feasts and festivals occur in the month of Shravana. On all the Mondays of this month, as they are sacred to Shiva, his devotees fast part-time and enjoy a feast in the evening. The Fridays which go by the name of Sampad Shukravars (prosperous Fridays) are particularly observed by women with a worship of goddess Lakshmi drawn on a small earthen pot. On every Tuesday in Shravana, every newly-married girl worships Mangalagauri for five successive years.
Nagapanchami: The bright fifth of Shravana is observed as Nagapanchami day by Hindus when in many a house a naga (cobra) drawn on a pat by sandal-paste or earth is worshipped and a feast enjoyed. In the villages, activities like digging and ploughing which are believed to hurt snakes are completely suspended and the day is spent in festive gatherings of sports and games. In the after-noon women in their holiday-dress dance round in a ring, keeping time to a song which they sing in chorus.
Narali-purnima: On the full-moon day of Shravana comes Narali-purnima (coconut-day). In the evening after a hearty afternoon meal, men and children go in a procession to the river-side and to propitiate god Varuna, the presiding deity of all waters, offer coconuts to the water-stream. Because of the auspicious position of the Shravana constellation that day, followers of Yajurveda and Atharvaveda in particular observe it as a day of upakarma or as popularly known Shravani ceremony, when sacred fire is kindled, oblations are offered to it, panchagavya is sipped and the old sacred thread is discarded in favour of a new one. This observance is, however, falling into disuse.
Janmashtami: On the dark eighth of Shravana comes Janmashtami, a festival in honour of the birth-day of Shri Krishna. Many people observe a fast on this day, worship the idol of Krishna at mid-night and celebrate the birth with the distribution of sunthavada. The next day is observed as Dahikala day. Youths and groups of boys fancy themselves as Krishna's play-mates and hold frenzied dances.
Pithori Amavasya: The no-moon day of Shravana is known as Pithori Amavasya which is observed by women as a vrata, particularly women who are childless or whose children are short-lived.
In villages this day is observed by the agricultural communities as a Pola day. In some places it is the full-moon day. On this day they
worship clay-images of bullocks, paint their horns, feed them sweet dishes and allow them complete rest. In the evening, they take out a procession of decorated bullocks from outside the villages to its principal temple.
Ganesh Chaturthi: The bright fourth day of Bhadrapad is Ganesh Chaturthi. A painted clay-idol of Ganapati specially bought for that day is installed, worshipped and offering of modaks is made. Modaks are rice-flour cakes stuffed with coconut kernel scrapping and
gul. The idol is kept in the house from one and a half day to five or seven days according to practice in the family. It is then immersed in a well or a river or a pond. A special feature of this worship is that in towns apart from the function in the families, it is also celebrated on a community scale by public contribution and with the added attraction of religious and semi-social programmes held each day during the festival.
Gauri: Conjoined with the Ganesha festival, on the third or fourth day after Ganesh Chaturthi women hold a feast for three days in honour of Parvati or Gauri, the mother of Ganesha. A brass or clay mukhavata (face image) of the goddess is duly installed near the idol of Ganapati, worshipped and then ceremonially immersed on the third day.
Haritalika and Rishi Panchami: On the third and fifth lunar days of Bhadrapada come Haritalika and Rishipanchami which are observed as days of fast, particularly by Brahman women. The first is kept by married women and girls in honour of Haritalika (goddess Parvati) who successfully resisted her father's wish to marry her to God Vishnu and married God Shiva whom she loved. The second is observed by elderly women in honour of ancient sages (rishis). On that day they do not eat anything that is produced by the labour of cattle or any other animal, but eat only fruits and vegetables grown by human labour.
Pitrupaksha: The dark of Bhadrapada known as Pitrupaksha (fort-night of the fore-fathers) is held sacred to the spirits of the ancestors. On the day of this fortnight which corresponds to the death-day of the father, a sapinda shraddha is held. The ninth day known as avidhavanavami is kept for rites in honour of un-widowed mothers. The fifteenth day known as Sarvapitriamavasya is reserved for all ancestors whose worship may have been left out.
Navaratra and Dasara : The Navaratra festival begins from the first day of Ashvina and lasts for ten days, the first nine days being known as Navaratra (nine nights) and the last day as Dasara or tenth. An earthen jar filled with water with coconut on the top is worshipped in the name of the goddess Ambabai. On the tenth day, weapons and field tools are worshipped. Children worship their books. A function of the worship of Sarasvati is arranged in schools and there is a feast in every house. In the afternoon, the villagers go as far as the boundary
of their village in a procession and their leader, usually, the head-man worships Apta or Shami tree with the help of a Brahman priest and on their return, they exchange apta leaves or Shami leaves or gold as they are called on that day with relatives and friends. Seemollanghana is the name given to the ceremony of crossing the village-border.
Kojagiri Purnima: The full-moon day of Ashvina is known as Kojagiri Purnima. Fresh crop produce is used for making khir, i.e., milk, sugar and the fresh crop specimens. On this account, this day is also known as Navanna Purnima. To celebrate this day, people take their supper in moon-light, drink sugared and solidified milk and play at dice till late at night.
Diwali Festival: The Diwali or Deepavali Festival signifying " a feast of lights " starts from the 13th dark half of Ashvina and lasts for four to five days. During this period, every evening panati lamps are lighted in all frontages of houses and every nook and corner inside including the latrines and cattle-sheds. The thirteenth of the dark half of Ashvina is known as Dhanatrayodashi. It is spent in general house cleaning and preparation of sweet dishes. On the 14th all members of the house rise early in the morning and take abhyanga bath. The whole day is spent in merry-making and eating sweet dishes at home and at friend's house and at night fire-works are let off. On the no-moon day, there is again a feast and in the evening there is the worship of goddess Lakshmi. Merchants and traders hold this Lakshmipujan on a considerable scale and invite friends and patrons to the puja and pansupari. The next day which is the first day of Kartika marks the beginning of the commercial year and is called Balipratipada after the demon king Bali. Wives wave arati to their husbands and get presents. The last day of the Diwali festival is Bhaubeeja when sisters invite brothers, feast them, wave an arati and receive presents.
Tulashiche Lagna: On the 12th lunar day of Kartika comes the festival of Tulashiche Lagna. The holy basil plant usually found enshrined on a pedestal in the back-yard is married that evening to an idol of Krishna. Parched rice and pieces of coconut kernel are distributed. With the marriage of Tulashi the Hindu marriage season opens and from that day agriculturists start partaking new tamarind, new avalas (phyllianthens emblica) and new sugar-cane.
Tripuri-purnima: The bright 15th of Kartika known as Tripuri-purnima or Deo Diwali is celebrated in honour of Shiva's victory over the demon Tripurasura and is celebrated that evening with the lighting of lamps in the niches of Dipmals (lamp-pillars) in front of temples.
Makara Sankranta: The day the Sun enters Makara (the zodiac
sign of Capricornus) which as a solar incident occurs usually on January 14 but on an uncertain tithi in the month of Pausha, is celebrated as Makara Sankranta. It is marked with a feast in the afternoon and in the evening men and women dressed in new clothes, visit friends and relatives and offer them tilgula or halva (sesame sweet) as greetings of the season.
The day previous to Sankranta is called Bhogi on which a special dish called khichadi (rice and mug pulse boiled together with salt and other condiments added) is offered to the gods and eaten. The day following Sankranta is known as Kinkranta. Among Brahmans, for the first year after her wedding, a newly-married girl celebrates the day with lutane (free distribution to Suvasinis of auspicious articles). This may also take place on any day up to Rathasaptami, the seventh day of Magha.
Mahashivratra: On the dark thirteenth or fourteenth of Magha comes Mahashivratra (Siva's great night) which is observed by devotees of Shiva with a fast and worship. The night is spent in singing devotional songs and the next morning after worshipping the god, all partake of a feast.
Shimga or Holi: The last festival of the year is Shimga or Holi. In villages, the advent of Shimga is eagerly awaited both by the young and the old. The main day of the feast is on the full-moon day of Phalguna, but boys start holiday activities from the fifth day of the bright fortnight. In the afternoon of the full-moon day, after feasting on puranpoli cakes, it is customary for villagers to go into bushlands and cut a long pole which is called the holi and bring it in a procession to the village. The stump of the last year's pole is dug out and the new pole is fixed in its place. A stone is worshipped at the bottom of the pole and fuel and cowdung-cakes, together with what has remained of the previous year's pole are piled in a heap and set on fire. The next day known as dhulwada is also observed as a holiday. There used to be much boisterous and rowdy indulgence in an exchange of mud-slinging and wayward pranks on this day and generally during this festival. But that has disappeared totally from urban areas too. The dark fifth is observed as Rangapanchami. Red-coloured water is thrown at each other on that day.
Muslims: The principal Muslim festivals are the Muharram and the two Ids. The month of Muharram is the first month of the Muslim year of which the first ten days are devoted to mourning for the death of Hussain and his family. This is observed indifferently by Shias and Sunnis and the proceedings with the Sunnis as at any rate have now rather the character of a festival than a time of sorrow. Models of the tomb of Hussain called tazias or tabuts are made of bamboo and paste-board and decorated with tinsel. These are taken in procession
and deposited in a river on the last and great day of Muharram. Women who have made vows for the recovery of children from illness dress them in green and send them to beg and men and boys dress themselves as tigers by painting go about mimicking as a tiger for what they can get from the spectators.
Ramzan Id: The Id-ul-Fitr, commonly known as Ramzan Id or the breaking of the fast, is held on the first day of the tenth month Shawwal. Throughout the preceding month of Ramzan, a general fast is observed. On this day, the people assemble dressed in their best clothes and proceed to an Idgah, a building erected outside the town. They escort the Kazi or some Muslim gentleman of high position to the Idgah who then leads the prayers. A sermon in Arabic in praise of the Id is read by the Kazi standing on the pulpit, wooden staff in hand, in imitation of the Prophet. When the prayer and sermon are over, the people return to their homes and spend the rest of the day in feasting and merriment.
Bakr-Id: The Id-ul-Azha or Id-ul-zoha, the feast of sacrifice, better known as Bakr-Id, is held on the tenth day of the last month of the year Zil-Hijjah. On this day as on the other Id, the people assemble for prayer at the Idgah. On returning home, the head of the family takes a sheep or a cow (or a camel) to the entrance of his house and sacrifices it, repeating the formula, in the name of God, " God is Great" as he cuts the throat of the animal. The flesh is divided, two-thirds being kept by the family and one third given to the poor in the name of God. This is the occasion on which Muhammedans offend Hindu feeling by insisting on killing a cow, probably because in their view there is more religious merit in killing a cow than a goat. But in several cases, they give up this right to kill a cow in order to avoid stirring up feelings between the two communities.