Hindu Festivals: Manifestation of the Hindu Society and Culture
Throughout history, human civilization were influenced by numerous religions that carry with it a specific set of beliefs and customs, and philosophy that guided people how to live their lives on earth. Early world religions are characteristically Eastern or traditionalist, in their approach, such as Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism. These old world religions have bee influential in changing and developing many facets of human civilization, particularly in developing social interaction among people and cultivation of culture that is unique and characteristically derived from the dominant and prevailing religion in a society.
Hinduism, as an old world religion, is considered as the cradle of civilization for most South Asian countries, particularly India, where Hinduism was born as early as 1500 B.C. It is evident that India as a nation is greatly influenced by Hindu philosophy and culture. The way of life among Indians, such as the kind of food to eat, what actions and behavior are desirable or undesirable, and the perceptions about life and death are just few of the many aspects that illustrate Hinduism's effect not only as a religion, but also as a culture and way of life in Indian society.
Just like most world religions, Hinduism contains four important elements that serves as the 'pillars' or foundations of the religion: texts, philosophy, gods, and worship and ritual. Texts involve material sources that show the Hindu tradition through myths, stories, legends, and anecdotes. Usually, these texts are embedded with Hindu teachings, functioning as both religious document and literary work as well. Philosophy, on the other hand, can be both written and oral, and illustrates through the Hindu context the important beliefs and attitudes in life that Hindus must adapt to. Example of philosophy is the popular phenomenon of the Hindu belief in karma (new birth determined by the accumulated merit and demerit that result from all the actions that the soul has committed in its past life or lives) (Microsoft Encarta 2002). Hinduism is polytheistic, thus, Hindus worship and venerate numerous gods for various occasions and purposes. However, two gods figure in Hinduism as the most important: Shiva, the god of destruction, and Vishnu, the god of creation.
Lastly, that last element that reflects Hinduism as a form of society and culture is the worship and ritual traditions of the Hindus. Worship and ritual traditions are perhaps the most dynamic and unique character of Hinduism. Rites of passage such as the haircutting for young boys and purification for young girls upon entering adolescence are examples of rituals performed by Hindus at the early stages of human life and development. However, these rituals are individualistic in its character, and rituals performed in groups and by the Hindu community are considered the most elaborate and manifest forms of Hindu worship and faith.
That is why Hindu festivals are the most popular form of collective worship, where people of the same religious faith and belief gather together to venerate and worship their gods, and interact with each other. Hindu festivals vary depending on the areas where Hindus are situated, but there are major festivals where Hindus, particularly Indians, celebrate as holidays and national festivals. The following texts discusses the different kinds of festivals celebrated in Hinduism, how these festivals are conducted, and the essence of these festivals to the growth of the Hindu community individually and collectively.
Hindu festivals are primarily based on cosmic philosophy, where time and timelessness are main beliefs subsisted to by Hindus as they prepare for their collective worship rituals: "From time are all creatures produced. Through time they grow, through time they fade. There are indeed to kinds of brahman: time and timelessness" (Klostermaier, 1994:325). In Hinduism, the ultimate impersonal reality, from which everything comes and to which it returns, is based on the universe, and its time and timelessness. This means that Hindu life is never-ending, where life turns to death only to begin life once again under a different living form (the principle of karma).
The most popular festivals celebrated among Hindu communities are the following: Ganesha festival, Krishna's birth, Rama festival, and Hindu New Year's Day. Ganesha festival or Ganesa caturthi is celebrated in the fourth day of the bright half of the month (based on Hindu calendar) where "asceticism and devotion is a way…