- Category A: Sarvesh Mahadik
- Category B: Ramya Ramanathan
- Category C: Anwita Wadekar AND Sivapriya Marimuthu
- Category D: (special Mention) Kavala Gana Sanjeev
(By Sarvesh Mahadik)
‘Festival’ itself brings joy, celebration, enjoyment, and a much-needed break from monotonous life. These are special occasions celebrated for many reasons, with traditions spanning thousands of years. From the ancient Greeks honoring their gods and goddesses with music and feasting, to the ancient Romans celebrating the fertility festival Lupercalia, to the Middle Ages and Europe’s Christmas and Easter holidays, we see that different cultures have various ways of celebrating. Nowadays, festivals such as Oktoberfest in Germany, La Tomatina in Spain, Holi and Diwali in India, Carnival in Brazil, Mardi Gras in the USA, Songkran in Thailand, Lantern Festival in Taiwan, and the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival in China, are celebrated all over the world. Celebrating festivals is a joyous way to learn about different cultures, as well as your own, and to commemorate special moments in life. Oktoberfest, for instance, began in Germany to celebrate the marriage of Bavaria’s Prince and Princess. During the festival, locals and visitors alike participate in parades, carnivals, listen to traditional music and feast on scrumptious food. La Tomatina, another popular event which is from Spain, originated when a group of young people joined a parade and the party-goers threw tomatoes from a nearby stand. This tradition has since become a fun way for people to have fun and make memories with friends. In India, Holi and Diwali are two major festivals. Holi celebrates the victory of good over evil and is also known as festival of colors, and Diwali marks the triumph of light over darkness. These festivals involve lighting lamps, exchanging sweets, singing, dancing and more. In Brazil, Carnival is a vibrant and joyous celebration of life and community. It is celebrated to say goodbye to winter and welcome spring. People of all ages come together to appreciate the joy of the season through music, food, and parades. Mardi Gras in the US is believed to have originated from ancient pagan rituals and is a time for families and friends to come together and revel in joy. Songkran in Thailand is an important Thai New Year celebration that marks the start of a new Buddhist year. People take part in a variety of activities to honor the new season and New Year. The Lantern Festival in Taiwan is a chance to spread joy and promote peace. During the festival, people light lanterns, symbolizing hope and good intentions, enjoy traditional music and food, and embrace the spirit of forgiveness. Lastly, the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival is a delightful way to welcome in the New Year with friends and family. This festival began in 1963 and has grown into a grand celebration of ice and snow sculptures and lots of fun activities. In conclusion, festivals are a wonderful opportunity to come together with our friends, families, and communities to celebrate our heritage through traditional music, food, and dance. By honoring our traditions, we are ensuring that they will be preserved and passed down for future generations to come!
(By Ramya Ramanathan)
The Indian Festivities: The Essential Role of Festivals in Indian Culture
India is currently a melting pot of many different cultures, religions, and traditions, and the festivals it celebrates reflect this diversity. Since ancient times, Indians have celebrated events such as Diwali, and Pongal, and the same festivals are still practiced today with great popularity. Indian festivals are secular in nature, celebrating not only religious but also seasonal and historic events. The influence of tradition and India’s diverse demographic have established festivals as a vital element of the Indian psyche. Festival celebrations have contributed hugely to India’s cultural growth and boosts tradition, community, and morale.
A fundamental concept of Indian civilization is tradition; respecting the past has been a defining point in Indian culture for centuries. However, the modern world has brought a new emphasis on change and innovation. Though this is not necessarily a bad thing, it is still essential to keep in mind that maintaining a balance between praxis and progress is fundamental to the development of society; celebrating traditional festivals is a way to continue to preserve an aspect of Indian heritage while also embracing societal growth. For example, Diwali is celebrated today via traditional Diya oil lamps as well as firecrackers and sparklers.
While the will to stay in touch with one’s heritage is a factor in what keeps festivals alive, another equally important factor is community. While religious festivals are simply a means of worship for an idol or deity when taken at face value, they manage to bring crowds of people together. Demographically, India is very diverse; the different skin tones, beliefs, religions, and even the smaller subsections of those religions make it a unique country. Although religion has been an obstacle in interreligious communication in the past, today all of India partakes in festivals like Diwali and Holi regardless of religious differences. Though they were initially conceived to be exclusive to one religion, they now signify something other than a religious practice. They signify acceptance, and cross-cultural unity– concepts that don’t belong to any group.
Festivals also celebrate important people and events in history. These festivals– Gandhi
Jayanti, Independence Day, and Republic Day– have become an eagerly anticipated component in boosting national pride and patriotism in the people. Schools and streets across the country tout bold, colorful displays of orange, white, and green to celebrate Independence Day, and parades boasting the same colors are thrown for republic day. Gandhi Jayanti is celebrated by paying respects and lighting candles in Ghandiji’s memory. What is so important about these gestures is that they are not restricted to a single group– the entire nation comes to honor India together. They eradicate the differences between people if only temporarily, and encourage everyone to be proud of being Indian.
The cultural importance of celebrating festivals is unmistakable. The demographic of India is very diverse, and its festivals reflect that diversity through how they are celebrated and the values they inspire. Celebrating these festivals is a fundamental part of the Indian identity, and defines who we are as Indians.
Raksha Bandhan – The Bond between Siblings
(By Anwita Wadekar)
Rakhi is a Hindu holiday celebrating the bond between brothers and sisters; it may aptly be called brother-sister day. Rakhi is an abbreviation for Raksha Bandhan, which translates to ‘bond of protection’ in the original Sanskrit language. It is observed on the day of the full moon in the Hindu month of Shravana, which normally falls in either July or August. It’s celebrated all across India, but mainly in the northern and western parts.
Rakhi has multiple origin stories, mostly from Hindu mythology, two of the well-known ones are about Roxana & King Porus and the other is about Draupadi & Lord Krishna. The story about Roxana and King Porus was from the time of 326 BCE. Alexander the Great invaded India. Roxana was his wife and was concerned for his safety, so she requested that the Paurava King Porus not harm her husband on the battlefield and sent him a rakhi. On the battlefield, King Porus remembered the promise and didn’t attack Alexander. The King lost the battle but respected him. Alexander appointed King Porus as governor of his kingdom and let him rule over part of his kingdom.
The story between Krishna and Draupadi is from the ancient epic of Mahabharata. It narrates how Krishna cuts his finger, and Goddess Draupadi tears a piece of her sari and ties it around his wound because she feels as close to him as she would have to a real brother. Krishna, moved by her gesture promises to look out for and repay her someday. It is this story that inspires Indians to perform a ritual on Rakhi where sisters put tilak onto their brothers’ foreheads and then tie a thread bracelet onto their brothers’ wrists. This bracelet is a symbol of love and good wishes for each other’s success and happiness. The sisters then perform aarti and the brothers offer the sisters a gift and a promise to protect them from harm.
Traditionally, the festival of Rakhi only celebrated the bond between brothers and sisters. However, in modern society, this festival may be celebrated between siblings regardless of their gender, or even amongst close friends with whom we share a sibling-like bond. Additionally, in the old days, women were considered to be weaker and dependent and may have been appropriate to interpret the “bond of protection” as a brother’s duty to protect his sister. But now, when women are equally strong and independent; siblings, family members, and friends must pledge to support and care for each other. In other words, the bond of protection should be woven around all sibling-like close relationships and friendships.
I celebrate Rakhi with my brother and a little cousin, who does not have any siblings of his own. I am his big sister, and I am glad to have a close, sibling-like relationship with him. Rahki is a very sentimental holiday and all children should be able to participate. After all, it’s a festival to show gratitude, love, and appreciation towards family and friends.
(By Sivapriya Marimuthu)
15% of the world’s diverse population practices Hinduism. Deities act as guides for devotees towards a virtuous path. Of 330 million, Lord Narasimha remains a prominent deity, signifying victory over persecution and the destruction of evil. Pratapaditya Pal once wrote, “Lord Narasimha is the destructor of not only external evil, but also one’s inner evil: the body, speech, and mind.” Narasimha Jayanti cherishes Lord Narasimha’s birth. Annually, 1.2 million Hindus worldwide celebrate this divine holiday on Vaisakh Chaturdashi.
During it, dance and drama enactments of the life of Lord Narasimha unfold. Long ago, Lord Vishnu killed Hiranyakashipu’s elder brother for terrorizing the world. Enraged, Hiranyakashipu vowed revenge against Lord Vishnu. He prayed to Lord Brahma, asking for immortality. However, Lord Brahma refused, so Hiranyakashipu cleverly invented a boon to preserve his life. He requested to not be killed in the sky, on earth, in water, inside a house, or outside of a house. Hiranyakashipu asked to never be killed by a man, Deva, animal, or Asura. And, he chose to never die during daytime or nighttime, or by any celestial or divine weapons. Generously, Lord Brahma agreed.
While in the womb, Prahlad heard Narada’s chants, and throughout his childhood, Prahlad’s teacher was Narada. Consequently, Prahlad became a sincere devotee of Lord Vishnu. Unfortunately, Hiranyakashipu resented this devotion and warned his son to renounce Lord Vishnu. Despite warnings, Prahlad continued his worship and Hiranyakashipu attempted to kill Prahlad. But, he repeatedly failed.
Lord Vishnu is the protector of the universe. He safeguards his devotees, including Prahlad, ensuring their peaceful existence. For this, Lord Vishnu incarnated on earth to annihilate evil, protect civilians from cruelties, and establish dharma. Lord Narasimha is Lord Vishnu’s 4th incarnation on earth. He has a lion’s face and a human-like torso. His avatar was taken during the Krita Yuga: the Golden Age.
During Narasimha Jayanti, countless devotees fast and worship Lord Narasimha. Furthermore, they chant hymns dedicated to the Lord and read stories about him from the Bhagavata Purana. It is widely believed that offering prayers to Lord Narasimha mitigates one’s sins, cures their diseases, and wards off any negative influences of planets and evil forces. Additionally, it grants one the fulfillment of honest desires in respect of longevity, wealth, and success. Often, Lord Narasimha is depicted with a fierce look and bulging eyes. He has four to sixteen hands each carrying different weapons, including a mace, discus, conch, and an ax. One free hand, of his, will always be in the Abhayamudra: the blessing posture. At times, he is illustrated seated calmly with Goddess Lakshmi.
As humans, devotees often face excruciating scenarios; however, they always remain confident with Lord Narasimha. He instills hope within his devotees. When praying, devotees understand, like Prahlad, Lord Narasimha will save them too from danger. Overall, devoting time and energy towards Lord Narasimha is essential. He is countless devotees’ savior and constantly protects the universe.
CATEGORY D (Special Mention):
Festivals or Family Ties
(By Kavala Gana Sanjeev)
“Holi Colors or Diwali Glow,
Your Smile brightens the show,
When we celebrate with you beside,
We belong, we are one and that’s our pride.”
Festivals reflect our tradition and culture. It means fun, smiling faces, lots of food but at the end of the day it’s a way to bring family together, whether it’s your own family, community family, friends, or a new stranger in life.
We are all leading a busy lifestyle with everyone running the rat race and always on the go to reach our goal. There is a cloud of stress, passion, success, failures and always an air of needing our loved ones around us which does not happen often.
Festivals are like that fresh breeze of air wherein you can relax, contribute to your loved ones, friends, community so that everyone can relish the spirit of the season. It brings back a lot of childhood memories of buying new clothes, the lighting of your dream home and the kitchen filled with the yummy aromas of various delicacies being made at home.
Some of the key aspects of the festivals which enhance family ties are a sense of vows, respect, commitment, and social messaging.
The likes of Raksha Bandhan, wherein a brother from core of his heart vows to always protect and take care of his sister, Karva Chauth festival, wherein a wife prays to Goddess for long life of her husband and the couple does fasting – sort of mutual respect, Deepawali which spreads the message of victory of good over evil are some examples which show festivals truly strengthens the family ties and keeps it cemented for ages to come and also brighten the society.
One of the exciting events that brings families together to be pleased about the occasion is the embellishment and lighting up of the house. Not only is it an excuse to clean and refurbish your home while having fun, but it is also an opportunity that allows you to spend quality time with your loved ones and do something rewarding. We can even create Rangoli designs and patterns and set up candles, lamps, and lights in and around our house. This will surely make an impression on people when they visit our home and observe the effect of our hard work.
The festivals are also a great time to take a vacation with all your family members, travel to a near or distant location for unwinding yourselves, to see the sights and sounds of the festive season in a new location.
It’s a moment to worship the god or goddess, perform all rituals and duties in traditional manner, visit the temple together and seek blessings for the family. The festivals give us an opportunity to get back to the roots from our materialistic world.
To conclude, ‘A family that celebrates, eats, and prays together, stays together.’