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Sacred Days and Festivals
THEIR OBSERVANCES AND BENEFICIAL EFFECTS

Like every major world religion. Hinduism has pro­claimed certain days of the week as sacred. The Jews ob­serve the Sabbath. Muslims observe Friday as their day of special prayer and the Hindus follow the lunar calendar, which is based on the waxing and waning of the moon.

The month is divided into two; the fortnight follow­ing the full moon day is called krishnapaksha and the fort­night succeeding the new moon day shuklapaksha. The full moon day is termed Purnima and the new moon day is termed Amavasi.

Both these days are sacred to the Hindus and they are enjoined by the scriptures to observe fast, or at any rate take only light food in the night.

Our scriptures proclaim that the Cosmos is re­flected in man. It is a scientific fact that man is essentially made of the same elements as the surface of the earth and in the same proportion. Since man is composed of 80% liquid and 20% solid as the surface of the earth, the gravitational pull of the moon on human beings is at its highest on full moon day, just as the gravitational pull of the moon is at its highest on the ocean-high tide and low tide in scientific terms. This gravitational pull of the moon on human beings affects the composition of the body elements, particularly the Water content. This leads to emotional imbalances in human beings, making them tense, irritable and violent. Hence the term lunatic which is derived from the word luna’ meaning moon in Latin.

Our ancients obviously recognised the effect of the moon on human behavior as it waxed and waned. It Is well-known that the mentally unstable are susceptible to vio­lence during the full moon and new moon days - to wit: New York’s ‘Son of Sam” committed murder on eight nights, five of them during the new or full moon days.

The wise men that they were, our ancients sought a way to combat the evil effects on human behaviour during the full moon and new moon days. They found that light food on these days would lower the acidic content in our system, which helps human beings to retain their mental balance. By fasting or taking light food the whole system is given a rest. By praying man would not allow his emotions to run wild. When the system is at rest psychologically also there is rest in man. He feels comfortable physically and psychologically and will not be prone to irritation and outburst of temper. Hindus also observe fasting on Ekadashi, the eleventh day of the fortnight and also on Saturdays. This is intended to give a rest to the digestive system In the human body, so that the stomach muscles can easily throw out the toxic contents of the food without strain.

Fasting is a sort of-Self discipline. When we keep fasts for a purpose, we act on the faith that our prayers will be answered. Faith is positive thinking: so the chances are that what you wish for will come to pass.

For the Hindu, each day of the week is governed by a planet. Sunday by the sun: Monday by the moon: Tuesday by mars: Wednesday by Mercury: Thursday by Jupiter: Friday by Venus: Saturday by Saturn. This shows that the ancients were fully aware about the planets, with the sun in the centre.

Our ancients prescribed worship of these planets as they were aware of their gravitational influences on the subconscious of man. By worshipping them, man is at­tuned to their influences, thereby helping him to get a control over his mental activity.

Since the general run of men are normally not adequately mentally developed to grasp the inner significance of the scientific and hygienic reasons of these obser­vances, our ancients prescribed them as part of their religious duties. Thus, even though the masses may not be aware of the “why” of them, still they derive benefits from the observances. For the same reason, our ancients abjured eating of flesh and recommended vegetarian diet. Eating Vegetarian food was recommended for physiological rea­sons as well as moral ones.

The moral viewpoint of the vegetarians’ belief is based on the theories of Ahimsa and Karma. Ahimsa believes In non-aggression and non-violence on any living creature and the law of karma proclaims that we are the builders of our own destiny and that from good deeds joy shall come and from evil deeds, suffering.

Since meat-eating would necessitate the slaughter of animals which is a violation of the ahimsa theory, vegetarians do not indulge in non-vegetarian food as they do not want to increase their karmic debts by partaking of flesh.

The physiological reason is that meat increases the acidic content in our blood, which results in the lowering of the amount of carbon dioxide.

Eating vegetables has the opposite effect: the acidity is reduced and carbon dioxide pressure in the lungs is increased, thereby reducing the amount of oxygen going to the brain.

The yogis claim that a vegetarian diet is conducive to meditation, may be because the five senses (sight, hearing, sound, smell & touch) are less active due to less oxygen reaching the brain and the stilling of the mind is a very important prerequisite for a person who wants to maintain equanimity of mind.

Today, new biological discoveries tend to show that flesh eating is not essential for good health and some biologists are even of the opinion that flesh eaters are more susceptible to illness than vegetarians.

The ancient Hindus were however not fanatic about whether to eat meat or abstain from it but looked more Into the practical aspect.

A Certain sect of Hindus. the Sindhis, are told to eat fish only on the day of the new moon.

As mentioned earlier, the moon has an effect on the tides of the ocean, hence on the fishing. There are certain kinds of fish that tend to come to the surface during that time. The catch of the fish is easier. Fish, being a perishable commodity, is better consumed as soon as possible. So if you are not a vegetarian, would it not make more sense if you eat fish on new moon day when fish would probably be cheaper and fresher? Of course, I am talking of the time when this custom started when cold storage, as we know it, did not exist.

Certain sections of modern English-speaking Hindus believe that one should not eat fish during the months that have no ‘R’ in it i.e. May. June. July. August. Note that the months coincide with rainy months in India during which fishing is a problem.

As a matter of fact many Hindus observe the “Chaumasa”. During these months, when they are vegetar­ians and have their fast and prayers.

Because of the rainy season, vegetables are plentiful and fresh. Besides most of our important Indian festivals fall during these months namely Ramzan, Nagapanchami, Dussera, Nariel purnima, Janmastami, etc.

Festival Days:

The number of festival days in the Hindu calendar is legion. But each festival serves a purpose.

Mythology & Folk-lore are the means by which our ancient tried to impart spirituality to the masses.

Some of the most Important festival days of Hindus are: Deepavali, Ramanavami, Shivarathri, Krlshnajanmastami and Vinayakachaturthi. Just as na­tional days are observed to remind the people of the great men who helped free the country from foreign yoke and who underwent untold hardships and even made the supreme sacrifice to serve as inspiration to later generations so also the festival days are observed so that we may be reminded of the exemplary lives of the “Avatars” (Godlike men) and their exploits.

Ramanavami is a day on which Sri Ramachandra was born. Endowed as he was with all the thirty-two lakshanas (the thirty two virtues which characterise the perfect man), even today after many millennia he serves as an inspiration to countless number of Hindus. Valmiki’s Rama was an ideal son, ideal husband, ideal brother and ideal king. Walter Whitman sang: “The lives of great men all remind us how to make our lives sublime”.

When we worship Sri Rama on Ramanavami day we believe that we shall be able to fulfill our duties to the members of our family and society as well as he was able to.

Deepavali is the festival of lights. The word “Deepavali” is a Sanskrit compound made up of two simple words. “Deepa” means light and “AvaIi” means a row. Hence the word means a row of lights. The festival is associated with many legends and beliefs. One is to commemorate the kllling of Narakasura, a notorious demon, by lord Krishna.

Narakasura, however, because of his previous store of virtue, had been granted a boon at the moment of his death. He asked that his death might ever be commemo­rated as a day of feasting.

Hence Deepavali is known as “Naraka Chaturdasi”.

The fireworks that are burst during Deepavali symbolise the use of fiery weapons used during the war that Krishna waged against the demon, It is day of rejoicing as the people were saved from atrocities of the demon.

Mostly among the North Indians it is believed that Deepavali is the day on which Sri Rama returned from his 14 years of exile in the forest, after having got rid of various demons who made life hell for the sages and common people.

It symbolises the victory of good over evil since it symbolises the triumphant return of Rama to his kingdom. It is celebrated with lamps and lights to welcome him back to his throne.

On Deepavali day the member of the mercantile community open and worship new account books and ledgers. This is because during Deepavali the Sun enters its second course and passes Libra, which is represented by the balance or scale.

During Deepavali, spring cleaning is done as it is believed that the Goddess of wealth Lakshmi would enter a clean, bright and cheerful house.

Whether the Goddess Lakshmi come to the house or not, the fact remains that a lot of lost items are found during the cleaning up of nooks and corners and lot of dirt is removed from the house, the breeding ground of infectious germs.

Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated to commemo­rate the birth of Sri Krishna. Sri Krishna is a deity with whom one feels easier to identify with, He is so endearingly human and lovable, and yet is deep enough to expound the Immortal Bhagvad Gtta - a philosophy which is true to life In every respect, ever fresh every time one reads it and always a guide In every circumstance.

Holi is the festival of colour: it heralds the advent of spring and symbolises the spirit, young at heart. During Holi, people let themselves go in sheer abandon and sprinkle ‘gulal’ (coloured powder) on one another.

In a society where decorum is so much observed and rules are strictly laid down as to how one ought to behave with elders and relatives, the above festival is essential as it affords an opportunity to give free play to one’s pent-up emotions.

Trespass of decorum is excused on that day and enemies become friends once more.

Holi commemorates the death of Holika, a demoness, again denoting the victory of benign forces over evil ones.

The burning of dead wood and rubbish, while reminding us of the legendary fact that Holika was con­sumed by flames, has the practical purpose of outdoor spring cleaning.

The smearing of colour on one another has the symbolic meaning that we ought to start with a new resolution. We ought to put a new dye on our personality. We ought to change intolerance and hostility into feelings of love, friendship and brotherhood.

Sivaratri is celebrated to commemorate the mar­riage of Lord Shiva with Parvati. The whole night is spent in prayers & singing devotional songs. One should remember that it is not enough to be awake physically during the night but also endeavour to awaken from the sleep of ignorance in which we seem to be seeped so deeply.

Vinayakachaturthi is the festival of Ganesh. The idol of Ganapati who is considered the “Remover of obstacles” is brought home and deeply revered by family and friends. After days of devotional songs and prayers, it is immersed in to the water. This festival induces camaraderie and brings together the community into a mood of spiritual festivity and cheer.

India being a vast, colourful country has innumer­able other festivals. Some celebrate the victory of good over evil: others are based upon instances in the life of several deities in the Hindu pantheon: still others are connected with spring, the season of love plentiful ness in nature. But all promote togetherness in the hearts of people and induce them to put aside their petty differences for a while and join together in brotherhood and love.

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