Festivals

Diwali

DhanTeras: Many of India’s festival are based on and have significance in agriculture. Cattle are very important part of agriculture. On DhanTeras farmers worship their cattle. The horns of cattle and oxen are coloured red and prashad made from sesame seeds is distributed as sesame symbolises the productivity.

Kali Chaudas: Kali Chaudas is known as NarkiChaturdashi. Lord Krishna killed demon Narkasur today and liberated 16,100 maidens from his prison. To save their honour, Lord Krishna later married all these maidens and took them to Dwarika. In verse 127 of Shishapatri, Lord Swaminarayan has asked Acharya MaharajShree to perform ritual worship of Hanuman on this day. To keep this in mind, Hanumanji is worshipped in all our temples on this day. Legend has it that on the eve of the first anniversary of His coronation, Lord Ram was giving appropriate and suitable gifts to all who helped Him in the battle against demon Ravan. Lord Ram gave a very expensive pearl necklace to Hanuman. On receiving the necklace, Hanumanji started breaking open all the pearls. On being asked why, he said he is looking for Lord Ram in each pearl as he did not want anything which is devoid of Lord Ram. Sitaji asked him if his body has Lord Ram in it. Hanuman opened his chest by his hands and showed Lord Ram in his heart. Lord Ram was very pleased with this devotion and asked hanuman for a boon. Hanuman asked to be always present wherever and whenever the Leelas of Lord Ram are being sung. As people are still singing Lord Ram’s Leela till today, Hanuman has become immortal. This day is considered the second birth of Hanuman as a great devotee. Since then Hanumanji is worshipped on the day Kali Chaudas.
Diwali: This is the day when Lord Ram returned to Ayodhya from 14 years of exile in forest. Residents of Ayodhya decorated their homes and city with lights. They let go of fireworks in pleasure. Since that day we celebrate Diwali in similar fashion. The darkness of moonless night of Diwali symbolises our ignorance and lightening of lamps the knowledge. We should look inwards in our hearts and remove our ignorance. On this day we also worship Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. Traders do symbolic Puja of their account books.
New Years Day: This day marks Lord Ram’s coronation after His triumphant return to Ayodhya. We greet each other and wish them a happy and prosperous New Year. Children like receiving monetary gifts today. To show the gratitude towards mountain, which sustains rural agricultural society, Lord Krishna organised special Puja of Govardhan Mountain. The mountain of different varieties of food was offered in worship. The word “AnnKut” literally means the mountain of food. Today, we offer food to God as a thanksgiving service.

Vasant Panchmi
Today heralds the start of Vasant (Spring) season. The trees start new growth after the lull of winter. Hibernating animals make their way out of their holes back to the ground. It is one of the important festivals in our Sampraday. On this day in V.S. 1882 Lord Swaminarayan had written Shikshapatri. In all our temples we recite Shikshapatri and offer prayers to it. Today is the day to remind us to observe all orders of Shikshapatri. Lord Swaminarayan has said in verse 207 that persons who do not obey Shikshapatri in full are not His true devotees.
Dussera/Vijya Dashmi
When Lord Ram, Sita and Laxman were fulfilling the promise given to His mother Kaikeyi, demon Ravan kidnapped Sita. The battle between the armies of Lord Ram and Ravan ensued. This battle lasted 9 days without any conclusive result. On the tenth day, Lord Ram killed Ravan. This day is celebrated as “Vijya Dasmi” – the victory day. It signifies the victory of good over evil. After losing everything in the game of dice, Pandavs have taken shelter, in disguise in the Kingdom of Virat. Duryodhan was trying his best to unmask the Pandavs. He declared war on kingdom of Virat in the hope that Pandavs will come to assist the king of Virat and in doing so, they would be recognised. Arjun took up the challenge and went to fight. Before going to the battlefield, he retrieved his weapons from a secret hideout and performed the Puja of his weapons. This day also happened to be Dussera. On this day warriors worship their weapons.
Janmastmi
About 5000 years ago King Ugrasen ruled Mathura. He had a son, Kans and a daughter Devki. Kans loved his sister very dearly. On Devki’s wedding, Kans acted as a charioteer of bridal carriage. On the way back from the wedding, Kans heard the prophecy from the sky, “O Kans! The eighth child of your sister will bring your death.” Kans got scared and foolishly thought of a plan to ward off the death. He prisoned his beloved sister and her husband, and killed every child born to them. All along, Kans forgot one thing; you cannot avoid death. Everyone has to die one day. And the prophecy cannot be untrue. Nonetheless, Kans killed his seven nephews. The eighth child to born of Devki happened to be God Himself. On His birth, He asked His father Vasudev to take Him to Gokul and bring back the daughter born to Nand and Yashoda. In the morning, when the news of the newly born was given to Kans, he grabbed the daughter and proceeded to kill her. As he was about to kill her, she escaped from his hands and flew skyward. Departing, she said to Kans, “O fool Kans. Your killer is already born, and beyond your reach.” Though, Lord Krishna was born at midnight in prison of Mathura, His birth was announced in Gokul the next morning. He spent eleven years in Gokul – Vrandavan before proceeding to Mathura to kill Kans and turn prophecy into truth. In accordance with the edict of Shikshapatri, satsangis fast today and celebrate His birthday with pomp and festivity.
Guru Purnima
Guru Purnima is very important for Shree Swaminarayan Temple Willesden. 14 years ago on this day, the new Willesden temple was inaugurated and the idol of Balswarup Ghanashyam Maharaj was installed and consecrated by His Holiness Acharya MaharajShree. This was the first purpose built Hindu temple to be built from the foundation in the UK. Besides, this is an important festival for all Hindus. Today we worship our Guru. It is said one cannot gain full knowledge without the help of good Guru. Upanishad says, “The guru is Brahma, Guru is Vishnu, guru is Shiv. Indeed the guru is another form of God. I bow to you, guru”. Without guru, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to reach God. Therefore Sage Tulsidas says in Ramayan, “If ever God and guru are standing together, first bow to guru. Because guru has helped us realise God.” To show our appreciation and gratitude, we should worship our guru on this day. By worshipping guru, we are not in any way being dishonest with God. God Himself has sanctioned guru worship on this day. Guru may be equivalent of God, but how do we find the right guru? Lord Swaminarayan has done us a great favour by giving us guru in form of Acharya Maharaj. He installed two Acharyas as gurus of all satsangis.
Shivratri
This day usually falls on the 14th day of the dark half of the lunar month. However, once a year in the month of Magha (Feb -March) is the festival of Mahashivratri – meaning the great night of Lord Shiva.
At the beginning of the universe, Lord Shiva was born from the brows of Brahma. So, till the ultimate annihilation of the universe, Lord Shiva, like Brahma, remains in the same form. (There are no incarnations of Brahma and Lord Shiva). He is the third of holy triumvirate and responsible for the destruction of the universe. He is also known by other names as Shankar, Mahadev, Rudra, Sadashiv, Bholanath etc. As the result of the churning of the ocean, poison arose first from the ocean. Nobody was prepared to touch the deadly poison.
The Puranas contain many stories describing the origin of this festival. According to one, during the samudra manthan, a pot of poison emerged from the ocean. This terrified the gods and demons as the poison was capable of destroying the entire world, and they ran to Shiva for help. To protect the world from its evil effects, Shiva drank the deathly poison but held it in his throat instead of swallowing it. Because of it, his throat turned blue, and he was given the name Neelakanth, the blue-throated one. Shivaratri is the celebration of this event by which Shiva saved the world. Lord Shiva is very benevolent demigod. He is very easy to please, so demons used to do his penance to get boons from Him. Since then He has become known as the god of demons.

The birthday of Lord Shiva. In common with Ramnavmi and Janmashtami, Swaminarayan Bhagwan has asked us to observe the fast today (verse: 79). Short history of Lord Shiva At the beginning of the universe, Lord Shiva was born from the brows of Brahma. So, till the ultimate annihilation of the universe, Lord Shiva, like Brahma, remains in the same form. (There are no incarnations of Brahma and Lord Shiva). He is the third of holy triumvirate and responsible for the destruction of the universe. He is also known by other names as Shankar, Mahadev, Rudra, Sadashiv, Bholanath etc. As the result of the churning of the ocean, poison arose first from the ocean. Nobody was prepared to touch the deadly poison.
Lord Shiva, on the instruction of Narayan Bhagwan drank that poison without swallowing it beyond his throat. Thus He saved the world from the effects of the poison. As a result of this, His throat turned blue, and He became known as Nilkanth. (Nil means blue and kanth means throat). During the time in forest, Swaminarayan Bhagwan was known as NilkanthVarni. (Swaminarayan Bhagwan was of dark complexion). Shiv means benevolence. Lord Shiva is very benevolent demigod. He is very easy to please, so demons used to do his penance to get boons from Him. Since then He has become known as the god of demons. Swaminarayan Bhagwan mentions Lord Shiva at five places in Shikshapatri.
Lord Swaminarayan has recognised Lord Shiva as one of the five reverend demigods (verse: 84). In verse 47 He has asked us to consider Lord Shiva and Narayan as equals. Lord Shiva is also known for his great renunciation. He prefers to live in cemetery rather than in grand palaces. He smears ash on his body and wears skin of tiger rather than fancy cloths. He uses snakes as necklace and bracelet. Lord Swaminarayan praised him as the best of devotees in Vachanmrut. Once during the journey through the forest, Nilkanthvarni did not get anything to eat for three days. Lord Shiva along with his wife Parvati came to feed Nilkanthvarni.

Holi
The word Holi is derived from the demoness, Holika. She was the sister of Hiranyakashyapu, a demon king, who having defeated the Gods proclaimed his own supremacy over the Universe. Enraged by his son, Prahlad’s ardent devotion to Vishnu, Hiranyakashyapu decided to punish him. He took the help of his sister, Holika, who was immune to damage from fire. Holika carried Prahlad into the fire but a divine intervention destroyed her and saved Prahlad. Thus Holi is celebrated to mark the burning of the evil Holika. It is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil, and is commemorated by burning huge bonfires on the eve of Holi as its symbolic representation.
Makar Sankranti
Makar literally means ‘Capricorn’ and Sankranti is the day when the sun passes from one sign of the zodiac to the next. The Sankranti of any month is considered auspicious as it signifies afresh start. However Makar Sankranti is celebrated in the month of Magha when the sun passes through the winter solstice, from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn. This feast is celebrated on January 14th, and is the only feast of the Indian calendar which is not celebrated on a fixed day of the lunar month. On this day the sun enters the constellation of Makar and begins to move towards the north.
Akshey Tritya
The third day (Tritya) of the waxing moon (shukl paksh) of the month of Vaisakh is an auspicious day. It is believed that the Satyug and the Treta Yug both began on this day and so it is very auspicious to begin any new ventures and businesses on this day. Any act whether it is a fast, worship, austerities or charity, carried out on this day are believed to be very fruitful.
This day is considered even more auspicious if it falls on a Monday or under the planet Rohini. The Lord Vishnu is invoked on this day by enthroning his image or his picture and by offering of water soaked grams, gram pulse and crystallized sugar and by sprinkling Tulsi water while performing Aarti. Many people also take a dip in the river Ganga on this day. Different kinds of things are given in charity and can be, rice, salt, ghee, sugar, vegetables, tamarind, fruit and clothes.
In Mahabharata, Sri Krishna explains the significance of this day to Yudhistar in the following manner. He describes this day as being most pious and is called `Yugaadi Trity’ because Satyug commenced on this day. Laying stress on the importance of the day, Krishna narrated the story of a poor godly Brahmin, who in spite of his poverty and having a big family to support, never shirked his religious duties and good actions. He observed this day with great faith and piety every year and as a reward for his faith became the king of Kushavati in his rebirth.
Naag Pancham
According to the Hindu mythology, the Lord Vishnu is shielded under the hood of a cobra and so the snake has been an object of devotion in India for a long time. Nag Panchami is celebrated in honour of Naga Deva, the snake god and this day is marked by the worship of snakes. The word Naga literally means ‘serpent’ and the word Panchami means the ‘fifth day’. Nag Panchami, the festival of snakes is celebrated on the fifth day of the bright fortnight in the month of Shriven. It is observed to minimize the danger of snakebites in the monsoon months. Na Panchami itself is celebrated differently in different parts of India and also by the various communities. In South India, people make images of snakes from cow dung and place them on either side of the entrance to their house as a sign to welcome the snake god, Nag Deva.
Ganesh Chaturthi
The basis of the celebration is found in the Puranas. One day Parvati was taking bath. She wanted someone to watch outside. She got the idea of making an idol out of the dirt that came from her body. She placed the idol outside. Then her husband Shankar came. The idol dutifully did not allow him to enter. Shankar was furious. In an instant he severed the head of the idol Parvati finished her bath and came out. She explained to her husband the reason for placing the idol before the door. It was an idol of her own making. In fact the idol was her son (“manas putra”), and consequently also Shankar’s son. Shankar felt sorry for what he had done. His servant Gan was standing nearby. Shankar ordered him to go and bring the head of the first living being he would meet. The servant saw an elephant, and he at once cut his head and took it to Shankar. Shankar joined the elephant’s head to the body of Parvati’s son. “Gaj’ means elephant and “anan” means head, so Parvati’s son became known as “Gajanan”. Shankar made him the deity of his armies and thus his name became Ganesh (“Gan” = army, “Ish” = god).