Religious Festivals – UPSC Notes – Art and Culture

Religious festivals are celebrations dedicated to specific communities following a particular belief system or religion. While there are generally no barriers for individuals of different faiths to participate, these festivals are typically centered around communities that share belief in a specific deity or phenomenon. For instance, Holi, predominantly a Hindu religious festival, is embraced by people of various faiths in India, a secular nation.

Religious Festivals – Historical Background

The Bamboo Festival of Chedi stood as a significant ancient Indian celebration observed by the people of that era. Participants would erect a bamboo pole and offer prayers to a deity, seeking the expansion of their city during this festivity.

Another ancient Indian celebration is the Holi Event, a week-long commemoration symbolizing the triumph of good over evil. Colorful clashes mark this occasion, with people joyously splattering each other with paint and colored water.

The roots of celebrating festivals in the Aryan Vedic tradition can be traced back to the Vedic era. In the Vedic scriptures and literature, a wealth of information is available regarding festivities dedicated to honoring gods, plants, rivers, and mountains. The observance of prayers, fasting, and their social and cultural significance collectively form an integral part of India’s diverse array of festivals.

Religious Festivals – A General Insight

Festivals hold a significant place in the calendars of various religious groups, including Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and others. These communities observe their festivals on specific days, either individually or collectively when their celebrations coincide.

These festivals are deeply rooted in the traditions of distinct religious communities, each adhering to a specific belief system. Across various religious denominations, important cultural celebrations mark the calendar year.

For instance, the global Hindu community comes together to celebrate the Diwali festival, highlighting the diversity and richness of religious festivals.

Religious Festivals – Hindu Festivals

  • Diwali
    • Diwali, also known as the ‘Festival of Lights,’ is celebrated by all Hindu groups in India and worldwide.
    • It occurs on the auspicious day of the ‘new moon’ in the Karthik month (usually October or November).
    • Also referred to as ‘Krishna Chaturdashi,’ it symbolizes Lord Krishna’s victory over the demon Naraka.
    • The day before Diwali is Naraka Chaturdasi, and the following day is Diwali, also known as Lakshmi Puja.
    • Diwali is renowned for the Chopad Puja, commemorating Lord Krishna’s sermon on Karma Yoga to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
  • Sharad Purnima
    • Celebrated 15 days before Diwali, Sharad Purnima marks the harvest season on the Navanna Purnima, or full moon night.
    • A unique custom during this festival is Kojagiri, where individuals sip saffron-colored milk.
    • In some regions, a torch-lit procession known as Chhabina carries the idol of Goddess Durga.
  • Holi
    • Known as the ‘Festival of Colours,’ Holi is celebrated across the country.
    • It symbolizes Indian culture and is observed by people of various religions and communities.
    • Different regions observe Holi in unique ways, such as Lathmar Holi in Vrindavan and Mathura, where women playfully beat their husbands with sticks.
  • Makar Sankranti
    • Honoring the Sun God, Makar Sankranti signifies the Sun’s arrival in the northern hemisphere.
    • Linked to the agricultural cycle, this festival is observed by rural farming communities.
  • Janmashthami
    • Commemorating Lord Krishna’s birth anniversary during the month of Shravan (July/August), Janmashthami is celebrated throughout the country.
  • Dussehra
    • Also known as ‘Vijaydashami,’ Dussehra is a national holiday in India, symbolizing Lord Rama’s victory over Ravana.
    • The festival is preceded by a nine-day fast known as ‘Navratri.’
  • Ram Navami
    • Observing Lord Rama’s birth anniversary in the months of March/April (Chaitra), this event is celebrated nationwide, with Ayodhya and Puducherry being significant regions.
  • Durga Puja
    • Similar to Dussehra, Durga Puja is celebrated by Bengali, Assamese, and other communities.
    • It commemorates Goddess Durga’s victory over the demonic ‘Mahisasura.’
  • Ganesh Chaturthi
    • Marking Lord Ganesha’s birth anniversary, this celebration occurs on the fourth day of the Bhadra month (August/September).
  • Mahashivratri
    • Annually honoring Lord Shiva, Mahashivratri is a day of celebration and prayer for health and happiness.
    • It falls on the fourteenth day of the Magha month (February or March).
  • Chhath
    • An ancient Hindu festival dedicated to Surya, the Sun God, Chhath is celebrated six days after Diwali on the sixth day of the lunar fortnight in the Kartik month.

Religious Festivals – Muslim Festivals

  • Eid-ul-Fitr
    • Celebrated globally, Eid-ul-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar.
    • People fast from daybreak to dusk throughout the entire month of Ramadan.
  • Milad-Un-Nabi
    • Also known as Barah-wafat, this festival commemorates the birth anniversary of Prophet Muhammad.
    • The Prophet was born on the twelfth day of Rabi-al-Awwal, the third month of the Muslim calendar, according to the Quran.
  • Muharram
    • Muharram is a solemn occasion that commemorates the tragedy of Hussain, the son of Ali.
    • Observed in Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, it is a time of mourning and reflection.
  • Shab-e-Barat
    • Known as the ‘Night of Emancipation,’ this event occurs between the 14th and 15th day of the month of Shaban.
    • According to Muslim tradition, fate is determined for every person on this significant night.
  • Shab-e-Miraj
    • Translating to the “Night of Ascension,” Shab-e-Miraj is a spiritual event.
    • Thought to be the night when the Holy Prophet ascended closer to the Almighty, it occurred on the 27th day of Rajab, two years before Hijra. The journey was not physical but held spiritual significance.

Religious Festivals – Christian Festivals

  • Christmas
    • Celebrated globally, Christmas commemorates the birth anniversary of Jesus Christ.
    • Observed every year on the 25th of December, the festivities begin with the Midnight Mass on the night of December 24th – 25th, marking the moment of Christ’s birth at midnight.
  • Easter & Good Friday
    • Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
    • According to the Bible, Jesus was resurrected three days after his crucifixion, symbolizing the triumph of life over death.
    • Good Friday, observed before Easter, marks the day of Jesus’s crucifixion and is a solemn day of reflection for Christians.

Sikh Festivals and Their Significance

  • Gurpurab
    • Commemorated worldwide by the Sikh community.
    • Gurpurabs mark the birth anniversaries of all ten Sikh gurus, with special emphasis on Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh.
  • Maghi
    • A yearly seasonal gathering for Sikhs.
    • Commemorated in Muktsar, Maghi honors the forty Sikh martyrs (Chalis Mukte) who resisted the Mughals.
  • Hola Mohalla
    • A significant holiday for Sikhs and the commencement of the Sikh New Year.
    • Typically held in Anandpur Sahib in March on the second day of the lunar month Chett.
  • Vaisakhi
    • Celebrated annually on the 13th or 14th of April.
    • Marks the Sikh New Year and the birth of the Khalsa Panth.
    • This spring harvest festival involves decorating Gurudwaras, holding kirtans, and various religious events.
  • Lohri
    • Commemorated on the 13th of January, a day before Makar Sankranti in the month of Magh.
    • While Lohri is originally a Hindu festival, for Sikhs, it holds significance as well, honoring fertility and the spark of life.

Jain Festivals and Their Significance

  • Mahavir Jayanti
    • Observed by the Jain community to commemorate Lord Mahavira’s birth anniversary.
    • Lord Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara and one of Jainism’s founders, is honored on the thirteenth day of Chaitra, the month of the rising moon.
  • Paryushana
    • Jains annually celebrate Paryushana, with the Svetambara sect observing it for eight days in Bhadrapada (August/September).
    • The Digambara sect extends the celebration to ten days.
  • Mahamastakabhisheka
    • A Jain festival held once every twelve years in Shravanabelagola, Karnataka.
    • Involves the holy bathing ceremony of Siddha Bahubali, son of Rishabhdev.
  • Gyana Panchami
    • Also known as “Knowledge Day,” Gyana Panchami is celebrated on the fifth day of Kartika.
    • The day involves the presentation and reverence of the Holy Scriptures.
  • Varshi Tapa or Akshay Tritiya Tapa
    • Commemorates Rishabhdev, the first Jain Tirthankara, who fasted for a total of 13 months and 13 days.
    • His fasting concluded on the 3rd day of the light fortnight of the Vaishakh month in the Jain calendar.

Buddhist Festivals and Their Significance

  • Buddha Purnima
    • Also known as Buddha Jayanti, it commemorates the birth of Lord Buddha.
    • Observed throughout April and May, it holds significance in North-east India.
    • Referred to as Saga Dawa (Dasa) in Sikkim and Vishakha Puja in the Theravada tradition.
  • Songkran
    • A Buddhist festival observed during mid-April, akin to spring cleaning.
    • People engage in washing clothes, cleaning homes, and joyfully sprinkling fragrant water on monks.
  • Ploughing Festival
    • Commemorates Buddha’s first enlightenment at the age of seven while observing ploughing with his father.
  • Ullambana
    • Celebrated from the first to the fifteenth days of the eighth lunar month.
    • Believed to open the gates of hell on the first day, allowing ghosts to enter the world for fifteen days.
  • Losar Festival
    • A significant holiday in Arunachal Pradesh, marking the Tibetan New Year.
    • Especially resonant in regions with significant Tibetan and Buddhist populations.

Sindhi Festivals and Their Significance

  • Chaliho Sahib
    • A Sindhi community event where a forty-day fast is observed in July and August.
    • The fast is dedicated to Lord Jhulelal, and the occasion culminates in a Thanksgiving Day celebration.
  • Cheti Chand
    • Sindhi New Year is celebrated worldwide on the first day of Chaitra.
    • Commemorates the birth of Jhulelal, the patron saint of Sindhis.

Parsi Festivals (Zoroastrian)

Jamshedi Navroz

  • Celebrated by the Parsi community as the New Year’s celebration.
  • Falls on Roj Hormuzd, the first day of the first month (Mah Farvardin) in the Shahanshahi calendar.

Zarthost No Deeso

  • Observed on the eleventh day of the tenth month (Khorshedroz, Daemah) in June.
  • Commemorates the death anniversary of Prophet Zoroaster.


  • Takes place on the Parsi Calendar’s last Gatha day.
  • A day for expressing regret for the crimes committed throughout the year.


Fairs and festivals in India encompass a vibrant and joyful array of activities, symbolizing the cycles of birth, death, and renewal. These celebrations honor the births and exploits of gods, goddesses, heroes, heroines, gurus, prophets, and saints. In the contemporary context, Indian festivals are celebrated with heightened enthusiasm globally. The festivities include a diverse range of enjoyable activities, from fundamental prayers to religious ceremonies and cultural customs. The rich tapestry of Indian festivals continues to be a source of joy and celebration for people worldwide.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Religious Festivals

  1. What are the 6 religious festivals of India?
    • Popular religious festivals in India include Diwali, Ganesh Chaturthi, Holi, Dussehra (Hindu festivals), and Eid ul-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, Mawlid an-Nabi (Islamic festivals).
  2. What is the meaning of religious festivals?
    • A religious festival is a special time of importance marked by adherents to a particular religion. These festivals are commonly celebrated on recurring cycles in a calendar year or lunar calendar. The science of religious rites and festivals is known as heortology.
  3. What are the objectives of religious festivals?
    • Religious festivals aim to teach individuals, especially children, about the importance of family, tradition, and values. They provide insights into the culture and principles of a particular religion. Additionally, religious festivals often seek to inculcate understanding, tolerance, and love through various practices.
  4. Which religion has the most festivals?
    • Hinduism recognizes the birthdays and milestones of hundreds of deities, as well as commemorates events such as the changing of seasons, harvest, and lunar phases. As a result, Hinduism is often considered to have a significant number of festivals compared to other religions.

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