They are important for family life as the special preparations bring members of families together. Many festivals are very public events and bring the wider community together.
Divali is the Hindu new year and the festival of lights. The name means ‘cluster of lights’.
The festival is associated with the story of the Ramayana. Rama and Sita needed lights to guide them home after they had defeated the demon Ravanna.
Lakshmi is worshipped, as the goddess of wealth it is hoped that she will bring wealth to people in the new year, so houses are lit with Diva lamps to mark Lakshmi’s route to the house. The goddess often visits to bring presents for children.
Homes are decorated with bright lights, the house is cleaned and rangoli patterns (pavement drawings) are made with chalks. New clothes are worn and gifts exchanged.
As it is new year, business is settled and offerings made to Ganesh for good luck.
In Britain Divali is as special to Hindus as Christmas is to Christians. Good has won over evil and so we are encouraged to make a new start in life.
Holi is a springtime festival and is very joyful.
It is associated with the stories of Holika and Prahlad (which teaches us how important it is to be loyal to God) and Krishna (which celebrates his love for Radha and her surrender to Krishna, in the same way as we should surrender to God.)
Fires are burnt and offerings of grains, popcorn and coconut are thrown onto the fire.
Water and coloured powders are thrown over people. Everyone is included, whatever their caste.
In Britain, where big gatherings are harder, Hindu communities gather and hold a party, often with a bonfire.
This is an autumn festival celebrating the feminine aspect of Shakti. Devotion continues for 9 nights (Navaratri means ‘nine days’) and on day 10 the victory of Rama over Ravanna the demon is celebrated.
The goddess is worshipped in various forms – as spiritual force (Durga), giver or spiritual wealth (Lakshmi) and goddess of wisdom (Saraswati).
Women congregate in the mandir and dance to remember the gopis who danced all night with Krishna. The special dances at the festival are called garba and danga ras.
In India celebration of the festival varies but often includes fireworks and the community gathering together to see large paper and bamboo figures of Ravanna being set on fire.
In West Bengal the festival is called Durga Puja and images of Durga are carried through the streets.
In Britain the celebration can be very big and sometimes special halls are hired for the dancing.
Taking part in the Durga Puja
This video features Bettany Hughes who looks at the role of the female in modern Hinduism. She visits the Kamakhya Temple to learn about the Durga Puja. She discovers what the festival means to the people celebrating. She tells the story of the birth of the goddess Durga and her battle with the demon king. Then Bettany travels to Kolkata to join some young women and prepares for the festival. She discusses what they believe about the goddess and what the importance of the female in Hinduism. Bettany gives her respects to the goddess and joins the celebrations as the goddess is taken to the River Ganges. As they go they are joined by many others. The celebrations continue as Bettany watches the statue being carried into the Ganges and she shares her thoughts about the Durga Puja.