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15th March, 2019 14:29 IST

We will be celebrating three religious festivals, writes ABAN BANA

S o fortunate are we to live in India, home to nine world religions, where we can celebrate festivals, the joy of diversity and togetherness — in Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism and Baha’i.

This year, on March 20th/21st, we will be celebrating three festivals.It also happens to be a full moon day. It is the day of the vernal equinox, equalising day and night, when the sun crosses the celestial equator and the days grow longer and brighter. In the northern hemisphere, it is considered to be the first day of Basant, when spring is welcomed with hope and optimism.

Holi, the spring festival of colours, is also the eternal story of good overcoming evil. King Hiranyakashipu’s son Prahlad, was an ardent devotee of Vishnu. The annoyed king bade his sister Holika to sit in a fire, with Prahlad on her lap. Holika had a boon that no fire could consume her. But, it was Prahlad who remained unharmed whereas Holika was reduced to ashes. On the full moon night of Holi, people light a bonfire of Holika Dahan, and dance and sing Holi songs around it, invoking that incident.

The following day, people step out into the streets, spraying passersby with colourful powders and coloured water, all in good cheer. At festive gatherings, people eat and celebrate together, and some consume bhang that lightens the mood. All this ends at noon. In the evening people put on fresh clothes and visit neighbours and friends. Today, environment-conscious people use organic, plant colours, or simply water, for the revelry. Lassi is drunk, instead of bhang.

Another festival that begins a day earlier and continues the next day has its origin in Judaism. It is the festival of Purim, falling in the Jewish month of Adar. The story can be read in the Book of Esther. The good Persian king, Ahashverosh, and the evil one, Haman, hold a lottery and cast lots (Purim). Haman’s plan is to kill the Jews in the kingdom. The wife of Ahashverosh, Queen Esther, reveals that she is of Jewish origin, and joy returns to the kingdom. The festival of Purim is celebrated by reading from the Book Of Esther, by distributing food and almsgiving, partaking of the festive meal and participating in public celebrations and festivities, with masks, costumes, music and food, which includes the triangular pastries — known as Haman’s pockets — which are very popular with children.

The third religious festival, which falls every year on March 21,is Jamshedi Navroz, meaning ‘New Day’. This seasonal festival, which has its origin in the Zoroastrian religion, has been celebrated for millennia in Iran, in some neighbouring countries and also in India. It is the first day, Hormuzd Roj of the first month, Farvardin Mah, of the Fasli, seasonal Calendar. King Jamshed, Yamakshita, reigned with wisdom, truth and justice. He brought about many social and cultural changes, including the change from a society of hunter-gatherers to one of agriculture, animal husbandry and home culture. He proclaimed that the world, in which we live, has to be transformed, through righteousness and good actions, into one which is blessed by the life, light and warmth-giving forces of the Sun.

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