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 January

 15 - Makara Sankranthi/Pongal

Makara Sankranti or Pongal is a three-day harvest festival and one of the most joyful events in the South. In Tamil Nadu, newly harvested rice with milk and jaggery is ceremonially cooked in a new pot and allowed to boil over. This preparation called Pongal is then served as prasad.

In Karnataka, the festival is called 'Sankranti', and cows and bullocks are gaily decorated and fed with 'Pongal' (a sweet preparation of rice). In the evening, the cattle are led out in procession to the beat of drums and music. Makar Sankranti marks the commencement of the Sun's journey to the Northern Hemisphere (Makara raasi), signifying the onset of Uttarayana Punyakalam, and is a day of great celebration.

 26 - Republic Day

 January 26 marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution in 1950 and is India's National Day and the most important day in its history. India had become a geographical entity on August 15, 1947 and in November 1949 the Constitution was written and adopted. But it was only on January 26 in the following year that India became a nation, in the true sense, with a constitution and elected representatives of the people. To commemorate this day, the celebrations in the State capitals are colourful. The celebrations in New Delhi, a magnificent parade of the armed forces and civilians, is followed by an impressive cultural pageant and a colourful folk-dance festival.

February

 12 - Bakr-Id (Id-Ul-Zuha/Id-Ul-Azha) Bakr-Id or Id-ul-Azha commemorates the ordeal of Hazrat Ibrahim (Abraham), who had been put to terrible test by God when he was asked to sacrifice whatever was dearest to him and he decided to sacrifice the life of his son. He blindfolds himself and cuts off his son's head, only to discover that his son is alive and a ram had been sacrificed instead. Since then, a ram or bakri is sacrificed in the name of Allah. In India, too, goats and sheep are sacrificed all over the country and prayers are offered.

 March

1 - Maha Shivaratri All over India, Maha Shivratri occurs on the 14th night of the new moon during the dark half of the month of Phalguna. On a moonless night in February every year, occurs the night of Shiva, the destroyer. This is the night when he is said to have performed the Tandava or the dance of primordial creation, preservation and destruction.

14 - Muharram

Muharram commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the holy Prophet Mohammed. It is observed by the Shi'ite Muslims, who take out processions of colourfully decorated 'Tazias', which are paper and bamboo replicas of the martyr's tomb at Karbala in Iraq. The processions are specially impressive at Lucknow. In parts of the South, tiger dancers--men painted over with stripes and wearing tiger masks lead the procession. Mourners beat their chests lamenting and grieving over the murder, accompanied by drum beats. Muharram is not a festival in the celebratory sense as it mourns the Karbala tragedy when Imam Husain, grandson of Prophet Muhammad, was martyred in the early days of Islamic history.

17 - Holi

 Holi, celebrated on the day after the full moon in early March every year is observed all over the north of India. It heralds the end of winter and beginning of spring. Men, women and children revel in throwing coloured powder (Gulal) and squirting coloured water using long syringes called 'pichkaris' on each other to symbolise the colours of the flowers and fields that are in bloom. Greetings and sweets are exchanged. There is much merriment, laughter and good natured horseplay with 'gulal', water balloons and even mud baths. There is no puja or worship associated with this festival, though some 'gulal' or color is smeared on the faces of the Gods, especially Krishna and Radha, at the commencement of the festivities. In some places, a bonfire is lit in the evenings and the celebrations continue with folk songs and dances.

 April

2 - Ugadi

 It is believed that the creator of the Hindu pantheon, Lord Brahma started the work of creation on this day - Chaitra suddha padhyami or Ugadi day. Also the great Indian Mathematician Bhaskaracharya's calculations proclaimed this day as the start of a new year, new month and new day from sunrise. Ugadi is celebrated with festive fervor in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

The Kannadiga New Year day Yugadi that falls in late March or early April is celebrated with devotion and delight. Ugadi, marking the beginning of a new Hindu lunar calendar is a day when mantras are chanted and predictions made for the new year. Traditionally, the panchangasrayanam or listening to the yearly calendar was done at the temples. Ugadi is also the most auspicious time to start new ventures.

On Ugadi day, people wake up before the break of dawn and take a ritual head bath, after which they decorate the entrance of their homes with a toran of fresh mango leaves signifying a good crop and general well-being. People also splash fresh cow dung water on the ground in front of their homes and draw colorful floral designs or rangolis. Usually the festival dinner starts with jaggery and neem leaves symbolic of joys and sorrows interwoven in life. In Karnataka, special dishes are prepared for the occasion called "puliogure" and "holige".

11 - Ramanavami

Lord Vishnu is worshipped in his human incarnation as Rama, the divine ruler of Ayodhya, on his birth anniversary known as Ramnavami. Ramnavami falls on the ninth day of the first fortnight of Chaitra (March-April). Worship starts with a ritual bath, chanting of Vedic mantras dedicated to Vishnu and offering flowers and fruit to the god. People often keep a fast throughout the day, breaking it only at midnight with fruit. In some parts of India, public gatherings called satsangs are organized to commemorate the birth of Rama, when excerpts from the Ramacharitamanas are recited.

15 - Mahavir Jayanthi

 Mahavir Jayanthi commemorates the anniversary of the birth of Vardhamana Mahavira, the twenty-fourth Tirthankara, more than 2,500 years ago, and the founder of Jainism. The festival attracts pilgrims from all parts of the country to the ancient Jain shrines at Girnar and Palitana in Gujarat. This religious event is largely observed by the Jains, by visiting sacred sites and worshipping the Teerthankaras. Jains in other places celebrate Mahavir Jayanthi by taking out a procession and distributing sweets and fruits to the poor and sick in hospitals.

 18 - Good Friday

Good Friday occurs between March 20 and April 23 on the Friday before Easter. It commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus. There are a few explanations as to why the holiday is known as "Good" Friday since it commemorates a sorrowful time in Christianity. Many churches have mourning services from noon until 3:00pm to symbolise Jesus' last hours on the cross. Some congregations also re-enact Jesus' procession to the cross in a ritual known as The Stations of the Cross.

 20 - Easter

Easter is the oldest of all Christian festivals. It embodies the spirit of life for devotees, as they recall the resurrection of Christ after his crucifixion. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring (Vernal) Equinox; and is usually between March 22 and April 25. It marks the transition from night to day, and from death to life and a time for joy and happiness. It also marks the end of Lent, the 40 day period of fasting and penance that the Christians undertake to remind themselves of the 40 days of fasting that Christ did in the desert.

 Many popular customs are a part of the festivities of the Easter week. An outdoor sunrise service, to symbolise the return of light to the world after Jesus' resurrection. People light long candles in churches and homes on Easter. People visit friends and relatives and exchange decorated eggs. The egg symbolizes new life breaking through the captivity of the hard egg shell. Probably a pre-Christian symbol, it was adapted to illustrate the release of Christ from his tomb. The popular Easter bunny or rabbit, an extraordinarily fertile animal, represents spring. There may be minor variations in the rituals observed by various peoples, but the spirit of joy and hope is universal.

May

1 - May

May 1st, International Workers' Day, commemorates the historic struggle of working people throughout the world. The international working class holiday; Mayday, originated in pagan Europe. It was a festive holy day celebrating the first spring planting. The ancient Celts and Saxons celebrated May 1st as Beltane or the day of fire. Bel was the Celtic god of the sun.

The modern celebration of May Day was born from the struggle for the eight-hour day in 1886. In Paris in 1889, the International Working Men's Association declared May 1st an international working class holiday in commemoration of the Matyrs of the 1886 strike. The red flag became the symbol of the blood of these matyrs.

15 - Milad-un-Nabi/Id-e-Milad

The Prophet was born on the twelfth day of Rabi-ul-Awwal, the third month of the Muslim year. His death anniversary also falls on the same day, the word 'barah' standing for the twelve days of the Prophet's sickness.

 Milad-un-nabi marks the birth of Prophet Muhammad, regarded as the finest model for humanity. It is believed that Muhammad was sent by God as the last messenger for the renaissance of Islam.

 16 - Buddha Jayanthi/Buddha Purnima

Buddha Purnima or Buddha Jayanti, the birth anniversary of the Buddha is celebrated on a full moon day in the month of Vaisakh. He was born on a full moon night in 536 BC and achieved enlightenment as well as nirvana on the same date. Prayers, sermons and recitations of Buddhist scriptures resonate in monasteries, religious halls and homes. The statue of the Buddha receives special attention and people offer it incense, flowers, candles and fruits. The Bodhi Vriksha (pipal tree) under which the Buddha attained enlightenment also receives a fair share of garlands and coloured flags. People also sprinkle milk and scented waters on its roots and light lamps around it. On this day, Buddhists wear only white clothes and gather in their viharas for worship and give alms to monks. Many spend their entire day at the vihara listening to discourses or invite monks to their homes. On Buddha Purnima, Buddhists refrain from eating meat and eat kheer which they share with the poor.

August

8 - Varahalakshmi Vratha

It is observed on the Friday before Shravan Purnima (full moon in August-September) by women to ensure longevity for their husbands and to beget healthy, good-natured and intelligent children. the women who observe this puja wear a sacred thread around their right hand or neck as a symbol of their vratha.

 15 - Independence Day

At the stroke of midnight, as India moved into August 15, 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, read out the famous speech proclaiming India's independence. The moment ended three centuries of British colonial rule. On this national holiday, the flag is hoisted and patriotic speeches are heard.

19 - Janmashtami/Gokulashtami/ Krishna Jayanthi

The birth anniversary of Lord Krishna, the incarnation of Vishnu and the author of the Bhagavad Gita (Song Celestial), is observed all over. It is celebrated with special eclat at Mathura and Brindavan where Lord Krishna spent his childhood. Night-long prayers are offered and religious hymns are sung in temples. Scenes are enacted from Lord Krishna's early life. Lord Vishnu is invoked in his human incarnation as Krishna on his birth anniversary in the festival of Janmashtami. The temples of Vrindavan witness an extravagant and colourful celebration on this occasion. Raslila is performed to recreate incidents from the life of Krishna and to commemorate his love for Radha.

 In South India, special rangolis are made out of rice batter. Apart from the usual designs, the significant symbol is a pair of small feet draw from the entrance of the house to the puja room, signifying the entry of the baby Krishna into each home. Snacks and food items believed to be the favorite of Lord Krishna are prepared with great care and offered to the idol before consumption.

 31 - Ganesha Chaturthi

 Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati is widely worshipped as the munificent god of wisdom. Ganesh Chaturthi is a festival in his honour and is celebrated in the states of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Clay idols of Lord Ganesha are lovingly brought home and worshipped with great devotion. In Maharastra, it is a community affair and people go from door to door to collect money for the festivities. This practice in now found everywhere. The money goes towards the making of the idol, the maintenance of the pandal and the expenses of the priest and the daily puja. After the idol is installed with due ceremony, aarti is done twice a day. A special sweet is prepared for every day. During fasts, til and jaggery are allowed and tea, coffee and water is also allowed. Prasad is usually modaks or pedas and other auspicious items that are believed to be favourites of Ganesha. The festivities come to an end on Anand Chaudas, when the idols are immersed in a nearby pond or river.

September

 8 - Onam

Kerala's most popular festival, celebrated with great enthusiasm, it is primarily a harvest festival. The most exciting part of the festival is the snake-boat race held at several places in the palm-fringed lagoons. One of the highlights of traditional Onam festivites is the aththa-poo, an auspicious floral decoration that is made in the compound of the house. Usually circular, it is often multi-tiered, and upto four or five metres across. It is decorated with leaves, flowers and petals of different kinds. A special feast called a sadhya is prepared for the occasion with at least 4 sweet dishes.

 9 - Ananth Chaturdashi

Anant Chaturdashi is a day with twin significance. On the one hand, it is the last day of the Ganesh festival, which begins with Ganesh Chaturthi. Chaturdashi, the tenth day after Ganesh Chaturthi, is the day when the idols of Ganesha are immersed in water. It is also a fast day for the Jains. During this festival, people perform pooja to the 24 tirthankaras at the temples and fast in order to purify themselves.

25 - Mahalaya Amavasya

 Amavasya, or the new moon, is the last day of the waning moon, and in the month of Ashvina, this day is dedicated to the remembrance or worship of the forefathers. According to the Vishnu Dharma Shastra, Amavasya is the day for the pitrus, or souls of the forefathers. The male members of the household feed a crow with vada and a mixture of rice, dal and ghee. The two weeks during these rites are considered inauspicious for the performance of any holy action, new enterprise or important purchases.

October

2 - Gandhi Jayanthi 

October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation. Special prayers are offered at the Gandhi Samadhi at Rajghat, Delhi and celebrations are held all over the country. People remember the service that Mahatma Gandhi has rendered to the nation and try to emulate his philosophy of helping oneself by helping others, his dream of acquiring self-sufficiency and his mission of building a strong nation. Children especially are reminded of Mahatma Gandhi and his contribution to the building of the Indian nation.

5 - Vijayadashami

Navaratri is the worship of the three divine goddesses, Saraswati (Goddess of learning and speech), Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth and prosperity), and Durga (Goddess of strength and courage). The tenth day is known as Vijayadasami which means the 10th day of victory. Some schools in India start on this day. Children first starting their education are taught some of the basics by a priest on this day.

26 - Diwali

The festival of lights is one of the most beautiful of Indian festivals. It comes 21 days after Dussehra and celebrates the return of Rama to Ayodhya after his 14-year exile. Countless flickering oil lamps and lights are lit in houses all over the country making it a night of enchantment. Worship of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and fireworks and festivities are an essential part of the occasion. Diwali, or Deepavali, is the embodiment of the festive spirit, gaiety and camaraderie to most Indians. And the reason is the simple philosophy behind it - dispelling darkness and ushering in happiness all around. The morning of Deepavali is dedicated to Balindra Pooja. A Balindra is moulded out of cow dung in a square shape. Shavanthi flowers are stuck on to it. This is worshipped as Balindra.

27 October-4 November - Navaratri

The nine day/night festival of Navaratri, is a worship of the nine avatars of Bhagawati. "Navaratri" actually means nine (Nava) nights (Ratri). In the homes where it is celebrated, each day a new avatar is worshipped. The most significant part of Navaratri is the setting up of an odd number of steps (usually 7 or 9) with a display of idols or dolls called Kolu. Every day a different rangoli is spread before the home and the house is stocked with auspicious objects - blouse pieces, fruits, sweets, kumkum, haldi, paan, bangles - to give away as gifts to visiting women. The food cooked during this festival is special and there is a different kind of dish every day which is served as prasad to guests. Delicacies like Obattu, Vada, Bisi Bele Bhaath etc and fried savouries of various kinds are also made. Chundal is made everyday.

Novermber

1 - Kannada Rajyothsava

The formation of the Karnataka State on the 1st of November 1956 is celebrated on this day. This is a state festival and citizens who have made a significant contribution to the state in various walks of life are honoured with the Rajyotsava Award.

8 - Guru Nanak Jayanthi

Gurpurab literally means 'festival of the guru'. The Sikhs celebrate ten Gurpurabs in a year. At each of these festivals, one of the ten gurus of the Khalsa Panth is honored. All Gurpurabs are considered auspicious and important but special significance is accorded to the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. The Sikhs believe that Guru Nanak brought enlightenment to the world, hence the festival is also called Prakash Utsav, the festival of light. The Granth Sahib is taken in processions through the city on top of a flower-bedecked van. On either side two men carry the Sikh Ensigns (Nishan sahib). Five men symbolizing the first five converts march in front of the van with drawn swords. Another feature of Sikh celebrations is the mass feeding at the Guru ka Langar (kitchen of the Guru) with chapatis called parshads , black daal and aaloo gobhi ki subzi and some kheer. After the paath, parshad made of coarsely ground wheat, water, sugar and desi ghee is distributed.

14 - Children's Day

November 14, the birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru is celebrated throughout the country as Children's Day. There are special rallies and cultural programmes for children.

26 - Ramzan

Ramadan is the 9th month of the Hijri calendar, during which a devout muslim fasts. On Id-ul-Fitr day, Allah is believed to open the door to Jannat (heaven) and close the door to Dozakh (hell). The fasting is a very important feature of this festival, undertaken to purify the body and soul. Before sunrise, the Sehari is performed, some soft foods are consumed and the fast for the day begins. In the evening, the fast is broken with dates, after which dinner is eaten. After dinner, the Namaz-e-Tarabih is offered which consists of reciting verses from the Quran. This fast is kept for a whole month (nearly 30 days). Then, at the end of the period after sighting the moon, Eid is celebrated. Early in the morning, Muslims bathe, wear new clothes, spray perfume on themselves, eat sewai and go to the Idgaah to perform the Namaz-Eid-ul-Fitr.

December

 25 -Christmas

Like elsewhere in the world, December 25 is celebrated in India too as the nativity of Jesus Christ with traditional joy and gaiety. In fact, it cuts across the confines of the church to spill over into the streets for all to participate. It is a time for merry-making and exchanging gifts, for Christmas cakes and puddings. The market places are all done up with tinsel and buntings and people masquerading as Santa Claus stalk customers, particularly children with gifts in the big cities. Decorated and glittering Christmas Trees and Stars are all over the place. For the devout, the celebrations begin on Christmas Eve. Carols are sung and various churches organise the midnight mass. The service on Christmas Day is attended by Christians dressed in new clothes. After the morning service is over, people assemble in their homes for family get-togethers.

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