There are a great number of Hindu religious festivals held throughout the kerala. The festivals typically celebrate events from Hindu mythology, often coinciding with seasonal changes. There are many festivals which are primarily celebrated by specific sects or in certain regions of the Indian subcontinent.
Deepavali (Diwali) or the ‘Festival of lights’ is perhaps the most beautiful of all Indian festivals. It falls on the preceding day of the New Moon in the Malayalam month Thulam (October – November).
It is celebrated in commemoration of the destruction of the demon called Narakasura by Lord Krishna. As Lord Krishna killed Narakasura on the Chaturdasi day (the fourteenth lunar day) it is also known as Narakachaturdasi. The people of Dwaraka greeted Lord Krishna with illumination and rejoicing in honour of his victory over Narakasura. The darkness of the Chaturdasi night compelled them to use many lamps on the occasion, and subsequently the illumination became a part of this celebration.
Diwali is the day when King Rama’s coronation was celebrated in Ayodhya after his epic war with Ravana, the demon king of Lanka. By order of the royal families of Ayodhya and Mithila, the kingdom of which Sita was princess,the cities and far-flung boundaries of these kingdoms were lit up with rows of lamps, glittering on dark nights to Welcome home the divine king Rama and his queen Sitha after 14 years of exile. Worship of Lakshmi, fireworks and festivities are an essential part of the occasion.
Another Legend is that on this day Lakshmidevi the Goddess of wealth and good fortune,emerged from the ocean of milk called the Ksheer Sagar. She brought with Her wealth and prosperity for mankind.On that day, Lakshmi Pooja was performed to honour Her and as such, every year on Diwali day, Hindus perform Her prayer and worship.The making and distribution of various sweets and total vegetarian foods are the order of the day.This practice is alive and well to this very day.Many people believe that Goddess Lakshmi,visit the homes of devotees on this day. Worship of Lakshmi is performed in the evening.
Still another legend is that Vishnu gave the festival to the Vaisyas, whoare traders, by tradition, and people who tend cattle and cultivate the land. It honours Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and good fortune and consort of Vishnu. It is celebrated with worship, ceremonial displays of lights, and fireworks to chase away the spirits of the deceased. It is also a time for financial stocktaking as well as for the exchange of gifts. The rich merchant communities of western India celebrate this festival in great style and throughout India all traders open new account books for the coming year on this day.
It is believed that ‘ bali ‘ on Karkidaka vavu will appease spirits of the ancestors and bring good fortunes and prosperity. The rites are performed according to the Hindu custom and usually, it is performed in a Theertha ghat. Necessary arrangements at the various locations will be made by the Devaswom Board authorities/the Viswa Brahmana Sabha/the Viswa Hindu Parishad. The ritual usually began at 5 a.m. and extended up to 12 noon in almost all the major ghats.
Some of the important Theertha ghats:-
The bali on Karkidaka vavu began at the Triveni Sangamom at Pampa on the foothills of Sabarimala at 5 a.m. Every year hundreds of people perform the `bali’ at the Parthasarathy Temple; Sree Sankaranarayana Swami Temple, near Kottangal, in Mallappally taluk.
Thirumullavaaram and Mundakkal beaches in Kollam city and at the Ashtamudi Veerabhadraswamy Temple, Thanni Devi Temple, on Alapad beach and at Palaruvi waterfalls in the district.
The `bali’ is also held at the Kattoor Mahavishnu Temple ghats, near Cherukol, Sasthamkoikkal kadavu, in Ranni-Angady, Vettoor Mahavishnu Temple ghats, near Konni, Tricherpuram Subrahmaniaswamy Temple ghats in river Manimala in Mallappally, Cherukol Elavaum-madhom temple ghats, near Kozhencherry, Thrippara Temple ghats in Pathanamthitta, Thondara kadavu in Kuttoor, Vallamkulam Ganapathi kadavu, Keecherival kadavu at Valanjavattom, near Thiruvalla, and the Pandalam Valiyakoickal Sastha Temple ghats in the district.
Mahasivarathri is cellebrated in Kumbam (Feb-March). It commemorates the day on which Lord Shiva consumed Kalakuda visham (the deadly poison) to save the world from destruction. The main celebration of the day is offering of special poojas and abhishekhams, and cultural programs in all the Shiva temples. The Sivarathri festival on the banks of River Periyar at Alwaye, is one of the most spectacular local festivals of Kerala, which attracts thousands of pilgrims from all over the country.
The great night of Lord Siva.
The word meaning of Mahasivarathri is `the great night of Lord Siva. The Mahasivarathri is considered a very important day for fast and Siva worship.
The history/legends about Mahasivarathri are :-
It is to commemorate the day on which Lord Siva consumed the kalakutavisham to save the world from destruction. The mother Parwathi worshipped Lord Siva with great devotion and the Lord Siva pleased by Her prayer and blessed Her. She asked for the benefit of all the creatures that in future whoever worships the Lord on the siva ratri day with devotion, theyshould also be blessed and should be given the ultimate liberation and it was granted.
When Brahma and Vishnu fought between themselves as “who is the greatest”, Lord Shiva appeared before them as a pillar of fire. They were not able to find the starting and end of that pillar. This day is Thirukkaarthikai, Brahma and Mahavishnu repented for their mistake and prayed to Lord Siva for forgiving their sin, worshiping the Siva lingam that was the form of the flame. In the night of Sivarathri Lord Siva appeared before them and blessed them. Devotees pray the God throughout the night of Siva rathri. Every month in Krishna paksha chathurdhasi (fourteenth monday) is called masa Shiva rathri,the one that comes in the month of “Masi” (mid February to mid March) is called Maha Shiva rathri.
The annual Sivarathri festival held on the banks of Periyar at Alwaye is one of the most colourful local festivals of Kerala. The pilgrims keep awake the whole night and return home next morning after performing Bali.
It is popularly known Saraswathy Pooja. Saraswathy is known as goddess of Knowledge.
The Navarathri means Nine nights and is celebrated all over India. In some places it is called Dussehra, in some other places `Kalipuja’ or `Saraswathi Puja’ and in still others, `Ayudha Puja’ and is because the Divine Mother is worshipped in her different manifestations namely Durga, Saraswathi, Kali, etc. The Puja in connection with Navarathri is known as Bhuvaneswari puja that means, the worship of `Universal Mother’.
The festival is celebrated during September-October. The last three days of the Navarathri are called Durgashtami, Mahanavami and Vijayadasami, and they are considered more sacred than the other days for Devi worship.
During these days, Saraswathi puja and Ayudha Puja are performed. The Goddess Saraswathi is worshipped as the Goddess of Learning, the deity of Gayathri, the fountain of fine arts and science, and the symbol of supreme vedantic knowledge. The importance of Ayudha Puja (the worship of implements) on this occasion may be due to the fact that on the Vijayadasami day, Arjuna took back his weapons, which he had hidden in a Vani tree in order to lead a life in disguise for the promised period of exile. It is believed that one who begins or renovates his learning to work on the Vijayadasami day will secure a grand success as Arjuna did in Kurukshetra war.
On the Durgashtami day a ceremony called Poojavaipu is performed in the evening. The books and grandhas (holy books)and tools are tastefully arranged with a picture or an image of Goddess Saraswathi in front. Then a Puja is performed to Saraswathi during which fruits, beaten rice, roasted paddy (malar), jaggery etc, are offered to Her. These offerings are distributed among those present when the Puja is over. Just before the Pujavaipu, all studies and work are suspended.
On the Vijayadasami day after a Puja in the morning, the Books and implements are removed from the room and this ceremony is called `Puja Eduppu’. The time for the break up of the puja marks the beginning of learning and work. Learning and work commence at this auspicious moment.
‘Ezhuthinu Iruthu’ or ‘Vidyarambham’ is performed at this auspicious day. The children for the first time are given instructions to write the first few alphabets on rice or sand and according to custom only after this ceremony child becomes entitled to write or read.
Vishu is one of the most popular festivals of Kerala. Vishu falls on the first of Medam (March-April), which is the Malayalam New Year’s Day. Since it is considered propitious to view good things on this day for year round good fortune, Vishu morning is an important time. The heart of this festival of Kerala is the preparation of the kani.
The Malayalam word kani literally means “that which is seen first,” so “Vishukkani” means “that which is seen first on Vishu.” Arranged in the family puja room the night before by the mother in the family, the Vishukkani is a panorama of auspicious items, including images of Lord Vishnu, flowers, fruits and vegetables, clothes and gold coins.
Akshatam, a mixture of rice and turmeric, which is divided into halves of husked and un-husked rice, is placed in a special bowl called an uruli. The uruli traditionally is made of panchaloham, an aggregate of five metals. Panchaloham being symbolic of the universe, which is comprised of the five great elements:earth, water, fire, air and space. A nice cloth is inserted into a highly polished brass kindi (a spouted puja vessel used for pouring sacred water). The val-kannadi, a special type of mirror with an extremely long and thin handle, is also inserted into the kindi. The kindi is then placed in the uruli on top of the rice.
Two deepams, which are fashioned from the two halves of a split coconut, are also kept in the uruli.The lighting of the deepam welcomes God into our lives and is also symbolic of spiritual knowledge,the remover of the darkness of ignorance.
Gold,both in colour and in coin,is central to the Vishukkani. Kanikkonna, a golden yellow flower associated with Sri Krishna is used liberally throughout the puja room.
A spiritual book, such as the Bhagavad Gita, should be made part of the arrangement. The book is the pramanam,the instrument used for attaining the eternal, non perishable wisdom of the Rishis,as well as a symbol of that knowledge itself.
The grandmother or mother who arranges the Vishukkani lead the family members blindfolded to the puja room, where she will allow them to take in the auspicious sight. Upon opening one’s eyes, one is overwhelmed with the glorious darshan of the Lord. The mirror,which is symbolic of Bhagavati (Devi), not only increases the lustre of the Vishukkani via the reflection it offers, but also shows our own face, reminding us that God is not someone sitting in the heavens upon a golden throne, but the pure consciousness that is our true nature.
Vishukkaineettam, the distribution of wealth, is another aspect of the festival. It should be given freely and accepted with reverence. On Vishu, the highly affluent families will not only give money to their children but also their neighbours, perhaps the entire village.
Vishukkani points to a year of abundance,both spiritually and materially. Food, light, money, knowledge,all should fill our life. As in other Indian festivals, a great feast at home is the high point of celebrating Vishu in Kerala.