Here are some webpages that have lists of Hindu holidays. There is sometimes disagreement about exactly what day the holiday is. That is because of a few reasons:
- The day in India might be different in other parts of the world because of time zones
- Some holidays continue over a few days
- The dates are calculated based on a different calendar from the Roman one, translating it over can create differences
If you want to attend a local event for these holidays, check in with nearby temples to see when they will be holding services.
http://festivals.iloveindia.com/hindu-festivals.html (many great details here on rituals, games, foods, etc. for each holiday)
Some of the holidays on this list are major, others minor. Some are celebrated by virtually all Hindus, others by only some regions. There are many, many holidays celebrated in India and not all of them are Hindu, but in general Hindus tend to observe every and all celebrations available, so it isn’t always clear which events are Hindu!
Ganga Dussehra: This holiday commemorates the river Ganges, which is the manifestation of a Goddess. On this day you can wash away your “sins” in the river. For those celebrating outside India, bathe in pure water and perform a puja to Ganga and Shiva. It is auspicious to offer ten items of food, a mixture of fruit and black sesame seeds.
Rath Yatra This is also known as the “car” festival. Deities are paraded on chariots and the rumor is that the word “juggernaut” originates from this practice, as Lord Jagannath is a figure connected to this festival.
Guru Poornima A day dedicated to honoring Vyasa, one of the original sages, and gurus in general. It is celebrated by waking early and meditating on the guru. Holy ascetics are fed and served. This is an opportunity to rededicate one’s self to one’s spiritual pursuits. It is a day for studying, reading, chanting, and possibly fasting.
Naga Panchami Naga is a word for snake, and in particular a mythological creature, a snake of great proportions sometimes with magical powers, which is quite dangerous. This festival is celebrated in parts of India and may have origins in various different stories. One is that Krishna defeated a great Naga on this day. Another is that a king established this festival to please the Naga who were capable of controlling the weather. Another says that a young woman stopped a cycle of revenge between her family and the Nagas by worshiping the snakes. It is celebrated the most in Nepal but also in Southern India. Women may make puja to snake homes and also married women might visit their birth family’s home.
Rakhi / Raksha Bandhan This is a celebration of siblings. Brothers make promises to protect their sisters and the sisters ritually tie on their wrists sacred red thread bracelets. The sister will offer aarti to the brother and mark his forehead with tilak before tying the string and then the brother will give money, sweets, or some other gift to the sister.
Krishna Janmashtami Krishna’s birthday! This is a big holiday and we celebrate by going to the local Hare Krishna temple, which puts on a big event. Celebrations usually include plays acting out parts of Krishna’s life, sometimes pots of butter suspended high in the air and human pyramids to reach them. Images of the baby Krishna are put out and sometimes placed in cradles or swings. Hindus fast and wait up until midnight, when Krishna is said to have been born. At midnight there is dancing, singing, and exchanging of gifts.
Ganesh Chaturathi Ganesha’s birthday! In preparation for this festival, statues of Ganesh are created (this is a great holiday to do with kids, and they can make their own clay or play-dough statues. Even better if it’s made of material that is bio-degradable). The festival lasts for 10 to 12 days and on the last day, the statues are carried through the streets, worshiped, and submerged in rivers. During the days of the festival, the new Ganesha statues are worshiped with Shhodashopachara, 16 ways of worship. Offerings of coconut, jaggery, 21 modakas, 21 durva blades of grass and red flowers are made, the statue is anointed with kumkum and sandalwood paste, and Vedic hymns are chanted. On the last day, some people submerge the statue at home in a bucket (so as not to pollute lakes and rivers) and then use the clay in their garden. The submersion represents a farewell to the God as he journeys home, taking the misfortunes of the worshipers with him.
Navratri This is a festival celebrating the Goddesses. Three days are dedicated to three different Goddesses: Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati.
Dussehra The last day of Navratri is in some areas a celebration of the defeat of Ravana by Rama and in other areas it is a celebration of the defeat of the demon Mahishasura by Goddess Durga.
Karwa Chauth This is a festival for spouses to express gratitude for one another. Married women observe a fast all day until the moon rises and this fast is meant to help ensure the longevity of their husbands. Unmarried women may also fast for the sake of their future husband. At the end of the fast, it is the husband who feeds his wife her first bite and first sip of water. He also might give her a gift. Women spend the day gathered together in a big group, telling stories and singing. Some might wear their wedding dresses. (This festival is most common in northern India) See my description of my first Karwa Chauth.
Diwali (sometimes in October) Called the “festival of lights” and sometimes the Hindu New Year (though that depends on the region and community), Diwali is the big holiday that wraps of the main holiday season of the Hindu year. Another name for it is Deepavali. It lasts five days and it is a time for making new goals, starting fresh in life, and welcoming in wealth for the new business year. Deepavali means row of lights and this festival involves lighting lamps everywhere, showing the triumph of good or evil.
- Dhan Teras
- Govardhan Puja
- Bhai Duj
- Chhath Puja
Pancha Ganapati (A recent holiday made to substitute for Christmas)
Lohri (Punjab region)
Pongal (South India)
- Mattu Pongal