Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs – the four world religious traditions with roots in India, use a variety of inter-related lunar and solar calendars. Several important celebrations are associated with 10 days, April 12 through 22.
Thus begins the sacred Hindu period of ‘Vasant Navaratri’ (वसंत नवरात्रि,The Nine Holy nights of Spring). During the nine nights, Hindus fast and worship the Divine Mother in her nine forms. It culminates in the festival of Ramanavami.
The day is observed as the advent of Rama – a Prince, one of the many incarnations of the Divine worshipped by Hindus. In northern India and in Nepal, Hindus recite his edifying biography (the Ramayana) from cover to cover, taking turns, overnight and then celebrate his appearance on the ninth day. Rama is seen as an ideal son, king, brother and husband.
His inspiring actions, while he faced the challenges of his life are used as examples worthy of emulation by Hindus. Children are taught his story and are exhorted to be like him.
In some parts of peninsular India, the first day is celebrated as the New Year. Hindus in these areas eat dishes having six flavors to symbolize that human life is complex and ever-changing. We experience varied emotions, moods, circumstances just like flavors in the dishes. In western India, people place an inverted metal pot on a stick along with flowers, clothing and leaves to symbolize the rebirth of creation.
April 14 is called Vaisakhi in the north, signifying the harvest season for winter crops. For an agrarian society like India, it is a very joyous period. Therefore, many customs woven around these festivals give prominence to food items.
The second day is the New Year of Hindu and Sikh communities in coastal regions and the Punjab state in India. On this day, in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru of the Sikh tradition founded the martial community of the Khalsa to protect masses against tyranny of the Mughal invaders. On the third day, Hindus in eastern states and adjacent areas of Bangladesh also celebrate their new year.
The celebration is not confined to the India subcontinent alone. In Indonesia, Hindus of Bali who have lived there for centuries, observe a period of silence extending over a couple of days. In Pakistan, the Hindu community in its South East corner of Sindh celebrate the appearance of their patron saint Jhulelal in the eleventh century.
The sixth day is the birthday of saint Ramanujacharya, a prominent Hindu philosopher and interpreter of the four Vedas, that underpin the Hindu way of life. These books cover Devotion (Rig Veda), Music (Sama Veda), Rules of Civics and Family Life (Yajur Veda) and Astrology/Yoga (Atharva Veda). Indian classical music performed today has origins in the Sama Veda. Numerous interpretations and commentaries on Vedas are available in a set of books called the Upanishads.
One message that all the above festivals communicate is simply put in the Sanskrit phrase from one of the Upanishads: Vasudhaiva Kutubukam, ‘This World is One Large Family’ so inspiring for today’s world.