From the Book
Fasts, festivals and ceremonies forms part of the religious practices in Hinduism and therefore the whole years is full of these activities. The Hindus have religious, social and hygienic elements in them as bathing and prayers are their essential parts. The first purpose of the fast is to obtain by this act of penitence the forgiveness of their sins; and the second to avert the malign influence of the stars; and the third to pray for the well being and progress of their family members.
Many festivals are seasonal; some celebrate the harvest or fertility of the fields; some commemorate the birth, inauguration, or victory of a God or hero. Some are dedicated to the phases of the moon, to eclipse, solstices, and equinoxes, to the stars.
Hinduism has secular tendencies with a unique system of ceremonies, which are expressive with symbolic performances and theological gestures. This book contains rich living traditions from different parts of India, local customs, rituals from birth to death. It gives a kaleidoscopic picture of the development of more than ten thousand years of Hindu traditions.
It includes information on Hindu wedding ceremonies, their meaning, significance and history. According to Hinduism the sage Svetaketu, (about 7,000 BC) stopped the once universally prevalent custom of indiscriminate sexual union. The Sage established the system of one man and one wife in marriage. In this way Hinduism had contributed a lot to the world by bringing marriage back to its legitimate state.
It is a reliable and a very readable reference work to anyone interested in anthropology and Hindu fast, festivals and ceremonies from birth to death.
RAMESH C. DOGRA received his M. Phil. At the University of London and has written sixteen books and many articles on many South Asian topics, particularly in the fields of Indology, Sikhism and Bhutan. He retired as Librarian (South Asian Studies), at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London in September 2002. in January 2003, New Year’s Honour List, in the UK he was awarded MBE (The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for his contribution to South Asian Studies.
URMILA DOGRA, a retired Civil Servant in London, has been associated with the research projects of Mr. Dogra since 1986. She is a co-author of seven books.
It is the world’s oldest, most tolerant and peace-loving religion, embracing about 83 per cent of the total population of over a billion in India. Like the term India, the term Hindu is of foreign origin. The people who lived near the river Sindhu were known as the inhabitants of Sindhu, and the Persians, who found difficulty in pronouncing an initial – s, called them Hindu. It embraces the whole of Indian thought from Rig Vedic times (10,000 BC). Hindus describe their religion as eternal (Sanatan). Hinduism is not a religion, as it consists of various faiths by the same pantheon. It has developed a great appetite for absorbing every kind of belief. The Indians believed in both monotheistic (One God) and polytheistic (many gods) i.e., powers of nature (sun, moon, air etc.) and worshipped them through prayers, hymns and sacrifice. Hindus beli9eve in the work Om, an auspicious and most sacred symbol of Hinduism, One Supreme God, the concept of incarnation (Avtar), righteousness, Murti Puja (worship of god through idol). Images are meant only as an aid to meditation and that is why the face and shape of the image changes according to the will of the artist who makes it. Hinduism believes in Ahimsa (non-violence), Truth, Doctrine of Karma (deeds, actions, Non-violence), Truth, Doctrine of Karma (deeds, actions) and four stages of life (studentship, marriage, retreat from married life and renunciation and doing good to others.)
The Vedas (10,000 BC) are holy books, which constitute the foundation of Hindu religion. There are four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sam and Atharva). Puranas, 18 basic puranas (old) religious literature), 6 Shastras (Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshik, Purvamimansa, and Vedanta), Dharama Shastra (Hindu law), Manu Smriti (another law book), Dharama Shastra (Hindu law), Manu Smriti (another law book), Bhagvad-gita (philosophy of life), Ramayana (adventures of Lord Ram) and Mahabharat (longest poem on War for justice and truth).
Fasts, festivals and ceremonies
Fasts forms part of the religious practices in Hinduism. Hindus are very found of celebrations and therefore the whole year is full of fasts and festivals than any other religion. Fasts have religious, social and hygienic elements in them as bathing and prayers are their essential parts. Monday fast is in honor of Lord Shiva or the moon; Tuesday is in honor of Hanuman; Wednesday in honor of Ganesh; Thursday for Saraswati (Goddess of learning); Friday in honour of Shukra Devta and other minor Gods; Saturday for the planet Saturn or the Mother Goddess or Hanuman and Sunday in honor of the Sun or the Mother Goddess. There are many other fasts connected with smaller deities, and a festive occasion may be observed with acts of fasting, worship, bathing etc.
The first purpose of the fast is to obtain by this act of penitence the forgiveness of their sins; and the second to avert the malign influence of the stars; and thirdly to pray for the well being and progress of their family members. A prudential motive may also have originally tended to as conducing to their bodily health.
Many festivals are seasonal; some celebrate the harvest or fertility of the fields; some commemorate the birth, inauguration, or victory of a God or hero. Some are dedicated to the phases of the moon, to eclipse, solstices, and equinoxes, to the stars. Some are celebrated in honor of Gods/Goddesses (Krishna, Vishnu, Shiva, Parvati, Karttikeya, Kaam, Dattatreya, Ganesh, Ram, Gauri Gayatri, Lakshmi, Sarasvati, and other deities). Many are dedicated to smaller deities (Nag Panchami, Hanuman Jayanti, Cows, rivers – Jamna and Ganges, hills, lakes, one’s guru, rishi, spirits, plants, chariots (Ratha Saptami), small pox etc.
Certain days are auspicious – if a full moon falls on a Thursday it is regarded as auspicious for charitable acts. A festival may be observed with acts of worship, fasting, bathing, fairs (Kumbh Mela), recitation of sacred hymns (Mantras), lighting lamps (Diwali), or feeding and offering gifts to Brahmins.
It is impossible to give a complete list of fasts and festivals as they vary from place to place and community to community. The important festivals and fasts are mentioned in this book. All the fasts and festivals are arranged alphabetically.
The social structure of the Hindus represents a unique system of its own, the principles of which are not found in the same measure anywhere else in the world. The Hindu ceremonies are expressive; contain symbolic performances, dramatic utterances and theological gestures. They give expression to aspirations and ideals of the Hindus. The main aim of the ceremonies is to secure the welfare and development of the personality of the recipient. Local customs, beliefs, traditions and manners are the sources of Hindu Dharma, ceremonies, rites and rituals. In this book only those ceremonies are mentioned which are performed in various stages of the life of an individual from conception to cremation.
The Vedas (10,000 BC) are recognized as the primary source of Dharma (righteous act or good code of conduct), traditions and practices of the Hindus. After the Vedas, Brahmanas are source of ceremonies, rituals and rites of Hindus. They also explain the purpose and meaning of the sacraments. Upnishads are mainly concerned with philosophical subjects, but they also contain references about childhood, students at the house of the guru, usefulness of the sacred Gayatri Mantra, acceptance of late marriages, unmarried pregnancy as sinful, contains many references to the naming system, and also describe hymns about cremation etc.
The first systematic treatment of the Vedic sacraments and domestic ceremonies are found in the Sutra literature (6 BC). The Grihasutras mentions all the ceremonies, rites, rituals and customs essential for a Hindu householder. These are the main sources of the ceremonies performed from pregnancy to cremation. The Dharmasutras (right, duty, law, religious custom and usage) deal with castes, and different stages of life. They contain rules about thread ceremony and marriage.
The Smritis (which is remembered) mention thread ceremony, marriage ceremony, and the worship of some deities at some occasions in life. The Puranas deal with ceremonies, customs and usages and fasts and feasts of the Hindus. Astronomical considerations that played an important part in the rituals are developed in the Puranas. In olden days the marriage ceremonies of the Greeks were similar to those of the Hindus in their broad out-lines.
Local customs have been recognized as one of the sources of Hindu ceremonies and rituals. That is why one finds a difference in marriage and birth ceremonies according to the taste and refinement of the local people concerned. But hymns at marriage and birth ceremonies are the same with slight variations in performing rites. Apart from some important and essential aspects of Hinduism, rituals from birth to cremation and Shradh ceremonies are included in this book.
Religious ceremonies are communicated to ladies by the parents and priests without reserve. I therefore requested my wife to be a partner in this book and help me in collecting materials and I am thankful to her for valuable help. We also thank the publisher for giving us an opportunity to publish the results of our research.
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