Festivals & Faiths -Fahmida Mehreen
All over the world, festivals — colourful and joyous celebrations — bring people together. There are hundreds of festivals that bring thousands, and even millions of people, together for communal prayers and spiritual enlightenment. Some festivals attract homogenous people while some others heterogeneous communities.
There are vibrant parades, bountiful feasts, and unlimited excitement that reverberates among the people.
There are some religious festivals that are widely and commonly known. One such festival is Eid Ul Fitr, celebrated by the Muslims after month-long fasting in the month of Ramadan. The festival is held on the first day of the month of Shawwal, the tenth month according to the Islamic calendar. Another big festival for the Muslims is Eid Ul Adha, celebrated in the month of Dhul Hijjah; it is also referred to as ‘Tabaski’, honoring the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) to sacrifice his son Ismael (RA) as an act of obedience to Allah’s command. Muslims across the world sacrifice animals like cows, goats, sheep, camels, etc. to attain the satisfaction and blessings of their Lord. On both the occasions, special prayers called Salaatul Eid is performed in open Eidgah or mosques. After prayers, Muslims exchange greetings among themselves and wish Eid Mubarak to all.
Christmas is one of the renowned religious festivals of the Christians. It is celebrated on 25th of December as the birthday of Jesus Christ, whom they believe to be the son of God. Special prayers are held in churches and banquet feasts are hosted at homes. Christmas is considered to be a mass service also known as Communion or Eucharist, where Christians remember that Jesus died for them and then came back to life. The first Christmas was celebrated in Rome in 338 AD, but it did not become a prominent festival until the 9th century.
Next comes the birthday of Gautama Buddha, which is celebrated by the Buddhist community in different parts of the world. In Bangladesh, we call it ‘Buddha Purnima’ when on the occasion it is expected to be a full-moon lit night. It is most commonly held in Southeast Asia where the Buddhist community is the largest. Prayers are held in temples and like all other festivals, special foods and delicacies are served. The holy event takes place to commemorate the birth, enlightenment, and death of Siddhartha Gautama; all these important events are said to have happened on the same day at different phases of his life.
Hindus have a large number of religious festivals. Amidst them, the major festivals are Diwali (the festival of lights), Holi (the festival of colours), Onam (celebrated with boat race and tug of war), Maha Shivaratri (the great night of Lord Shiva), Krishna Janmashtami (the birthday of Krishna), Makar Sankranti (the sun enters the Capricorn part of the zodiac on 14th January every year), Ganesh Chaturthi (dedicated to the birthday of Lord Ganesh), Navratri, Dussehra and Durga Puja (centres around the goddess Durga), Rama Navami (the day marking the birth of Lord Rama), and Ugadi (primarily celebrated in the South Indian states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Telangana). All these festivals are held in different parts of India and Indian communities in different parts of the world. Each festival has its own specialty, essence and values. On some of the occasions, people observe fasts during the day and night respectively. On other occasions, special foods are cooked and served. Predominantly, vegetarian foods and sweets are served on the special occasions.
Like Hindus, Jews also have a long list of religious festivals. The prime Jewish festival is Rosh Hashanah which is the celebration of Jewish New Year. The day is spent with festive meals and quiet meditation and prayers. Yom Kippur is another Jewish festival which is regarded as the Jewish Day of Atonement. It is the most solemn day of the Jewish year and is a day devoted to start a New Year with a clean slate through self-assessment. Sukkot is a celebration of fall harvest by the Jews. Shemini Atzeret is the 8th day of assembly in literal sense, which marks the end of Sukkot with a prayer for annual rain.
Then comes the Simchat Torah, which marks the end and beginning of Torah reading cycle. Hanukkah is a religious occasion when freedom from oppression and darkness is celebrated by the Jews. Tu B’Shevat is the Jewish New Year of trees that connects the Jews with the natural environment. Purim is celebrated to protect the Jews from the diabolical plot of destruction as referred in the Book of Esther. Passover is a festival of freedom that marks the Hebrew exodus from Egypt ages ago. Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) is when the Jews commemorate the loss of millions of Jews in the holocaust. Then, there is the Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) which is a day commemorating the soldiers who have lost lives fighting for Israel’s independence and defending its security. Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) celebrates the modern State of Israel. Lag B’Omer is a holiday that marks the 33rd day of the 49-day “Omer” period between Passover and Shavuot.
Shavuot is a festival which is also known as the ‘the festival of first fruits’ is celebrated to give Torah to Jewish people. Tisha B’Av is a day when the Jews observe fast as a way of remembering the day when the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BC and 70 AD was destructed. Tu B’Av is a festival, when Jews celebrate love.
Now, other than these more or less known festivals of the world, there are many other religious festivals that are less known but are celebrated in different countries and communities of the world with grandeur and dignity. One such festival is Spain’s Semana Santa or the holy week. It is celebrated in all cities in Spain. The biggest and the most boisterous celebrations are held in the southern region of Andalucía, particularly in Seville, Granada and Málaga. This seven-day celebration is on the last week of Lent, which is the week directly before Easter. On each day of the week, large crowds gather until around 3 O’clock in the morning, dressed in their best, to take part in processions. From children to adults who dress uniformly in the typical nazarenos, or penitential robes, Semana Santa and its processions include local Spanish volunteers celebrated by Catholic religious brotherhoods and fraternities as a tribute to the Passion of the Christ. Millions of people come to Spain each year to celebrate this auspicious occasion and is debatably the largest Catholic celebration in the world.
Songkran is the one of the most popular festivals in Thailand, celebrated by the Buddhists every year. It falls from 13th to 15th of April each year and is the Thai New Year’s national holiday. It coincides with Aries on the zodiac chart and happens to be the new year of several South Asian calendar. It also analogously associates with the Buddhist solar calendar. Locals and tourists come down on streets with water guns, buckets, balloons and hoses to participate in the world’s largest water fight during Thailand’s hottest month. The madness of water takes over the country. While people are at the risk of soak down, foreigners and law enforcement seem to be the favourite targets.
Kandy Esala Perahera is celebrated in Sri Lanka to honour the scared tooth relic of Lord Buddha and the four guardian gods. Sri Lanka’s Kandy Esala Perahera festival features stylish outfits, fire-breathing dancers, musicians, jugglers and lavishly embellished elephant floats. It is held every year in August for ten days, gradually increasing its indulgence, ending with the traditional diya-kepeema ritual held at the Mahaweli River in the Getambe village of Kandy. The astounding closing ceremony brings in hundreds of elephants and thousands of performers. This is a must-see religious festival for anyone visiting the Indian Subcontinent or Southeast Asia.
Japan’s Obon Festival, also known as ‘the festival of dead’, is a Japanese Buddhist celebration to honour familial spirits and is considered one of the most noteworthy Japanese customs. The celebration date varies depending on the region, it typically lasts of three days in the month of August. Hundreds of beautifully lit lanterns are seen during this time along with or toro nagashi, either floating in the sky or down rivers leading to the ocean. It is the Japanese tradition of setting off their ancestors’ spirits. Customary dances known as Bon-Odori and a massive bonfire set in the hills of Kyoto takes place on the last day of the celebration.
Día de los Muertos is a festival in Mexico and some parts of the US. It is also known as the ‘day of the dead’, and is a holiday similar to the Obon festival in Japan, in which families gather to pray and remember those they have lost. The popular sugar skull art is the most common ritual of the festival that highlights elaborate designs to beautify the headstones of the deceased. The festival usually falls at the end of October, and lasts for three days. The nature of celebrations varies depending on the regions with merriments like beautifying of altars, delivering satirical epitaph poems known as Calaveras, live music and processions.
Rio Carnival in Brazil is another auspicious celebration of the world. It is not just celebrated in Brazil but also in many other countries but at a fairly smaller scale. It is deliberated as ‘the greatest show on earth’ and successfully attracts at least five million people annually. It was originally a Christian and Greek Orthodox festive season which occurred for five days preceding Lent, which coincidently venerates the ferociously sweltering Brazilian summer. Brightly dressed samba dancers line up by the side of the streets along with carousers, hovers and decorations. Representing the different neighborhoods of Rio, the best samba schools partake in a competition for a grand prize. It is also a must see festival when visiting South America.
Ouidah International Voodoo Festival is held in Benin on 10th of January each year. It is a truly unique festival that focuses on the originating of voodoo in this region and nearly 80% of the population still professes this religion. Benin and other western African countries still practice it as a base for morality, politics and social order of surrounding villages while voodoo is a religion that has been demonized by other cultures for centuries. Specialists and disciples come together to commemorate the estimated 60 million people who lost their freedom during the Atlantic slave trade at the festival with activities and sights including animal sacrifices, dances, colourful clothing, lively music and talismans markets.
For 32 years, the Sinulog Festival is a traditional celebration in Cebu City in Philippines, held every third Sunday of January to honor the Santo Niño i.e. Child Jesus. It is considered to be the first and the Queen of all festivals in Philippines. The festival consists of street parties happening before and after the night of the main festival. The main festival varies from location to location and other places like General Santos City, Kabankalan City, Maasin City, Balingasag Misamis Oriental, Cagayan de Oro City, Butuan City and Pagadian City also have their own version of the festival in honor of Santo Niño. This event symbolizes the basis of Sinulog dances which plays up the coming of the Spaniards and the presentation of the Santo Niño to the Queen. Queen Juana holding the Santo Niño in her arms and using it to sanctify her people who were often afflicted with sickness believed to be caused by demons and other evil spirits is a popular tradition of the festival. From different parts of Cebu and the rest of the Philippines, pilgrims make their yearly journey to the church to take part in the procession and festival. The first Sinulog parade was held in 1980, which was organised by Dávid Odilao, the then Regional Director of the Ministry of Sports, and Youth Development. It contained of students attired in Knitted Filipiniana costumes, dancing the Sinulog to the beating of drums.
Timkat is an Ethiopian Orthodox celebration that symbols the Epiphany or baptism of Christ. It is a three-day celebration in cities and towns of the country with the most popular one occurring in Gondar. Thousands of pilgrims dressed in white robes and carrying a replica of the Ark of the Covenant march from each of the city’s churches to the royal bathing pool known as Fasiladas’ Bath. The waters of the pool are blessed and celebrants take to the water to renew their baptism vows after a candlelit night watch. The remaining part of the festival is dedicated to feasts and dancing. It is held from 18th to 20th January each year.
Fez Festival of World Sacred Music, a spiritual Moroccan festival that has been held every year for more than a quarter of a century in Fez, Morocco, attracts musicians and dancers from all over the globe. It is a prodigal fiesta for nine days when Iranian Sufi chanters, dancers from America or groups singing sacred Gaelic hymns are witnessed to perform. Presentations take place outside, in the city’s Jnan Sbil Gardens or in the historic plaza in front of the Royal Palace. Beside the performances, an array of Moroccan street goods is served during the celebrations. The festival takes place in June on varying dates.
Curee Salee and Wodaabe Gerewol are festivals held in Nigeria where every year members of the nomadic Wodaabe tribe gather near the desert town of Ingall to rejoice the end of the rainy season with the Cure Salee festival. It happened to take place in the month of September in different parts of Nigeria. The male beauty pageant is the most attractive part of the festival. It is called ‘Gerewol’ in which the men dress in attractive outfits and make-up to perform traditional dances. They compete to please female judges and many matches are made during this age-old courtship ritual. The weeklong festival also includes camel races, livestock parades, and feasting.
The list of the mentioned kind of festivals are unlimited. Every nation, culture, ethic group, and religion has various celebrations. People from the same religion may have different festivals to celebrate in different parts of the world depending on the community and the society they reside in. Also, because of the differences in religious practices numerous festivals take place. No matter which religion one follows, it is always a delight to be a spectator of other religious festivals. Not only does that open the door for us to know different cultures, but it also brings us closer to people from other community. The human kind is one race and there is nothing greater than humanity. Hence, knowing people and their happiness can never be undermined. Thus, while we enjoy our own festivals and celebrate our own identities and religions, let us not forget about the others and definitely show interest in knowing what the other people like us are celebrating over.
Sometimes some festivals can be used to spread religious faiths. Sometimes some festivals are used to make people oblivious to the oppressions, irregularities, corruptions etc of the regimes in power around the world.