Customs and Festivals

Customs

Garlanding

Flower garlands are generally offered as mark of respect and honour. They are offered to welcome the visitors or in honour to the God and Goddesses. The garlands are generally made with white jasmine and orange Marie gold flowers. They are weaved in thread tied in the with the help of a knot.

Bindi or Potu

A bindi is an auspicious mark worn by young girls and women. Bindi is derived from bindhu, the Sanskrit word for dot. In Tamil Nadu we call it potu. It is usually a red dot made with vermilion powder which is worn by women between their eyebrows on their forehead. Considered a symbol of Goddess Parvati, a bindi signifies female energy and it believed to protect women and their husbands. Traditionally it is a symbol of marriage, it has also become decorative and is worn by unmarried girls and women as well. No longer restricted in colour or shape, bindis are seen in many bright colours and in different shapes and designs. They are also made of coloured felt and embellished with coloured glass or glitter.

Nose Pin

Many Indian women wear a pin on their nose studded with stones, called a nose pin. A symbol of purity and marriage, the nose pin is today adorned

Mangalsutra or Thali

It is a necklace made of black beads, worn by married women. It is the Indian equivalent of the western wedding ring. The mangalsutra is tied by the groom around his brides neck. The black beads are believed to act as a protection against evil. The married women wear this to protect their marriage and the life or their husband. In Southern India, the mangalsutra is called thali. It is a small gold ornament strung on a yellow cotton cord or a gold chain.

Festivals

Pongal

It is the celebration of the harvest which is observed for three days in Tamil Nadu. The first day is the Bhogi Pongal which is celebrated as a family festival. Surya Pongal, the second day, is dedicated to the Sun (surya). When Pongal (rice cooked in milk and jaggery) is oiled by women and offered to the sun friends greet one another by asking "Is it boiled?" and the answer given is "It is, it is" followed by great rejoicing. Mattu Pongal, the third day is a day dedicated to the worship and veneration of cattle (mattu). The pongal that has been offered to the local deities is given to the cattle to eat. The cattle are bathed and decorated. Coloured balls of the pongal are also made and left in the open for birds.

Thai Pusam

This festival usually takes place in the temples dedicated to Kartikeya or Mariamman where trenches of burning coal are laid out for the devotees to walk over. It has been seen that people who volunteer to undertake this experience with faith, come away unharmed and unscathed. The chief priest of the temple and the twelve hero-youths, who are to perform this feat, first go out in a procession from the temple to bathe, smear themselves with turmeric, powder, and begin the dance. Then they walk over a long pit covered with burning coals and come out unscathed. This is followed by singing and feasting which continues till late night.

Mahashivratri

On the 14th night of the dark hall of Magh occurs the festival of Mahashivratri, the great night of Lord Shiva. The devotees stay awake throughout the night offering their prayers to Lord Shiva. They offer special food made from the fruits of the season, root vegetables and coconuts to Lord Shiva. Having observed the requirements of the all night fast, devotees eat the prasad offered to Shiva. Special celebrations are held in some of the major Shaivite temples at Varanasi, Kalahasti (Andra Pradesh) and Chidambaram (Tamil Nadu).

Elephanta Festival

This festival is held across the Mumbai harbour, on the Elephant Island, near the world renowned elephanta Caves. This feast of music and dance, celebrated under the stars, transforms the entire island into a large auditorium.

Diwali

The festival of lights is one of the most beautiful of Indian festivals. It comes 21 days after Dussehra and celebrates the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after his 14-year exile. Homes are decorated, sweets are distributed by everyone and thousands of lamps lit in houses all over the country making it a night of enchantment. Doorways are hung with torans (a decorative garland for the door) of mango leaves and marigolds. Rangolis (designs on floor) are drawn with different coloured powders to welcome guests. Worship of Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and fireworks and festivities are an essential part of the occasion.

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