Hindu festivals are numerous and held throughout the year. The themes or reason for celebrating can range from an event in a Deities life to a deed of a Mythological Hero. The festivals are held according to dates reckoned by the Hindu calendar which has been used since 1000 BCE. This calendar uses one complete cycle of the moon to represent a month. This means that the Hindu religious year only has 354 days. It takes 365 days for the Earth to complete one solar cycle and to compensate for the difference the Hindu calendar adds an extra month after every 30 months. This is a Religious Calendar used to determine festival dates and in their everyday lives, Hindus use the Gregorian Calendar.
Holi (Festival of Colour) is held between Febuary and March and lasts for two days. The festival is of ancient Aryan origin and was originally called Holika. According to Hinduism, Prahlada upset his father, Hiranyakashipu, by his continuance of the worship of Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu's sister, Holika was given the task of placing Prahlada into a fire as punishment. Holika, who had a magical shawl that made her impervious to fire was burnt to death but Prahlada emerged from the fire unharmed. Vishnu had demonstrated his desire to help those who worship him. In essence it is a "spring rites" festival that all Hindus celebrate without distinction to caste, sex or age. Participants throw coloured water and powder over each other and the use of bawdy language and provocative acts is a common feature of this festival. The Holi festival is also a celebration of the god Kama-deva. The provocative nature of the festival is a reflection of the passions that Kama-deva is said to represent. Spring is traditionally believed to start the next day. The festival starts with bonfires being lighted on the eve of Holi and Hindus symbolically throw something that represents the year gone by into the bonfires. There are Holi songs that are sung and the Dholak drums are played. The throwing of coloured powder and water starts on The second day (Dhulhendi). The many themes of the festival: renewal, sexual desire and the triumph of good, is found with variations all over India. The festival is mentioned in the Vedas and Puranas and is represented in Indian art.
Diwali (Festival of Light) is held between October and November and lasts for five days. This festival heralds in the Hindu New Year. It is celelbrated by the lighting of oil lamps that are floated on rivers, placed outside houses or temples. The symbolism of the oil lamp, is one of illumination of the soul (Atman). Fireworks, paper lanterns, the sharing of sweets and worship also form part of the celebration. Diwali is also a Harvest festival; the season for growing crops has ended and winter is about to commence. In Ancient India this meant the closing of annual business accounts and a time to offer prayers for a bountiful crop next year. Hindus also celebrate the story of King Rama's return to his kingdom Ayodhya after a fourteen year exile and the lighting of ghee (clarified butter) lamps by the people of Ayodhya in celebration. King Rama is considered by Hindus to be the seventh avatar of Vishnu and a standard of virtue and morality. Indian scholars have speculated that Rama may have been an early great King of India who was later deified.
Makar Sankranti is a festival that marks the end of winter and the start of the agricultural growing season . It is held on the 14th January (Gregorian Calendar) and is associated with the Sun deity: Pratyaksha-Brahman. The Makar Sankranti is a solar festival and the lunar Hindu calendar doesn't determine its date therefore it is one of the few festivals held on the same day every year. The Gita reveals that Lord Krishna took for his first disciple, the manifested Sun divinity Pratyaksha-Brahman. The festival is celebrated all over India under many names and with reigonal customs determining the rites. For Hindus that make the pilgrimage to the river Ganges during this festival; it is considered an auspicious act to bathe in the holy river during the festival. In the Punjab, Makar Sankranti is celebrated with bonfires and in Gujarat, kite flying has become very popular.
Kumbh Mela is a pilgrimage festival. It draws together millions of Hindus to the holy rivers where it is held every twelve years. Hindu holy men from all the different sects attend and some suspend their ascetic practices to be there. For Hindus it is considered auspicious to be blessed by the holy men during this festival. To bathe in the rivers associated with the festival is believed by Hindus to cleanse the soul of past sins. The festival is held when Jupiter and the Sun and Moon are in a particular alignment. The date of its origin is lost in time but it is recorded in Puranic literature therfore making it an ancient ritual. Kumbh is the Sanskrit word for "pot" and Mela means "festival". The reference is in relation to a "pot of nectar" that was the creation of ancient Gods and demons who sought immortality. The nectar was considered so precious and valuable that the Gods hid it in four places. Some of the nectar was spilled at each place therefore consecrating the land and Hindus attend with the belief that the festival locations are sacred and divine.