Sankrant means the passing of the sun from one Zodiac sign to the other. People exchange greeting and good wishes on this day, which marks the Sun's passage from the Tropic of Dhanu (Sagittarius) to Makar (Capricon). Sweet and crunchy ladoos made of sesame and jaggery are the favourite treats. People enjoy flying different kites in the sky.
A three-day harvest festival, Pongal is one of the gayest events in South India. In Tamil Nadu, the newly harvested rice is ceremonially cooked. In Mysore, the festival is called Sankranti. In villages and towns, cows and bullocks are gaily painted and decorated and fed on Pongal (a sweet preparation of rice). In the evening, the cattle are led out in procession to the beat of drums and music. In some towns of the South, the festival is climaxed by a kind of bull-fight in which young men try to wrest bundles of currency notes from the horns of a ferocious bull. At Tenali in Andhra Pradesh, there is a thrilling cart-race.
Republic Day, which marks the anniversary of the adoption of India's Constitution (January 26, 1950) is an important national occasion. In the state capitals, colourful pageants and parades are held. The most spectacular celebrations are held in New Delhi, where a magnificent parade of the Armed Forces and civilians is accompanied by an impressive cultural pageant. This is followed by a colourful folk dance festival by troupes from different parts of India.
Observed by Muslims to commemorate Prophet Ibrahim's offer to sacrifice his son at the bidding of the Lord. Prayers are offered at mosques. Feasting and rejoicing follow. The festival of Bakri Id is also known as Id-ul-Azha. It is celebrated on the 10th day of the Muslim month Zil-Haj.
The festival of Shivratri is celebrated by Hindus throughout India in the month of Phalguna (February-March). It is the main festival in honour of Lord Shiva.
Moharram, which commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Mohammed is observed by Muslims throughout India. Impressive processions of colourfully decorated Tazias, which are paper and bamboo replicas of the Martyr's tomb at Karbala, are taken out. The processions are specially impressive at Lucknow. In many parts of South India, tiger dancers -- men painted over with stripes and wearing tiger masks -- lead the procession.
Among the most colourful of India's festivals is Holi, observed all over India. It is a festival in which men, women and children revel in throwing coloured powder and squirting coloured water on their friends. Greeting and sweets are exchanged. It is celebrated every year in the month of Phalguna (February-March).
Christians observe Good Friday as the day on which Jesus laid down his life for the good of humanity. Services and recitals of religious music are held in the churches.
The Resurrection of Christ is celebrated with fervour by members of the Christian community. The occasion is solemnised in some parts of the country by processions being taken out.
'Gudhi' - the bamboo staff with a coloured silk cloth and a garlanded goblet atop - symbolises victory or achievement. Maharashtrians erect gudhis on Padwa, the first day of the Hindu new year. People welcome the new year with gudhi worship and distribute prasad comprising tender neem leaves, gram-pulse and jaggery.
The Cheti Chand festival is observed by Sindhis in honour of Shri Amarlal, also known as Uderolal, in the month of Chaitra (March-April).
The festival of Ramanavami is celebrated throughout India to commemorate the birth of Shri Rama.
Vardhamana Mahavira, the twenty-fourth spiritual head (Tirthankara) of Jainism, was born on this day more than 2,500 years ago. For the Jains it is a day dedicated to his memory. The anniversary attracts pilgrims from all parts of the country to the ancient Jain shrines at Girnar and Palitana in Gujarat. Jains observe Mahavir Jayanti in the month of Chaitra (March-April).
Celebrated as Buddha Jayanti, the day marks the birth, enlightenment and the Mahaparinirvan of the Buddha.
This day marks the anniversary of the attainment of India's Independence (August 15, 1947) and it is celebrated with solemnity in all parts of the country. The National Flag is hoisted with due ceremony at special functions.
Raksha Bandhan, celebrated in India in the month of Shravana (July-August), is an age old festival which strengthens the bond of love between brother and sister.
The festival of Janmashtami is observed in the month of Bhadra (August-September) in honour of Lord Krishna who was born on this day at Mathura. It is celebrated with eclat at Mathura and Vrindavan where Lord Krishna spent his childhood. Night-long prayers are held and religious hymns are sung in temples. Scenes are enacted from Lord Krishna's early life.
This festival is celebrated throughout India in the month of Bhadra (August-September) in honour of Lord Ganesha.
The birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, is celebrated with great devotion all over the country.
Dussehra and Durga Puja:
Dussehra, one of the most popular festivals of India is celebrated all over the country for ten days in the month of Asvina (September-October). The Navaratri festival ends with Dussehra to celebrate Rama's victory over Ravana. Every region celebrates this ten-day festival in a special way. In North India, it is 'RamLila' and consists of plays, recitations and music which recall the heroic and moral deeds of the legendary hero, Rama. In Kulu, against the backdrop of now-covered mountains, villagers dressed in their colourful best assemble to take out a procession of local deities, with pipes and drums in attendance. In Mysore, the festival is celebrated with pomp and pageantry reminiscent of medieval times. In Bengal and other parts of Eastern India, Dussehra is celebrated as Durga Puja. Images of the goddess are worshipped for ten days and on the last day are taken out in procession and immersed in a river or the sea.
The Karwa Choth festival is observed in all Hindu families exclusively by married woman in the month of Kartika (October-November).
Diwali, the festival of lights, is observed in honour of goddess Lakshmi in the month of Kartika (October-November). One of the happiest of Indian festivals, Diwali is an occasion of great excitement and rejoicing all over the country. Every city, town and village is turned into a fairyland with thousands of flickering oil lamps and electric lights illuminating homes and public buildings.
The birthday of free India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, is celebrated throughout the country as Children's day. Groups of children participate in rallies and cultural programmes.
Guru Nanak Jayanti:
Also known as Gurupurab, it is the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak who founded the Sikh faith. For two days and nights preceding the festival the Granth Saheb (Scriptures) is read. On the day of the festival, the Granth Saheb is taken out in a grand procession. The celebrations at Amritsar are the most impressive.
Celebrated to mark the end of Ramzan -- the Muslim month of fasting -- it is an occasion for feasting and rejoicing. The faithful gather in the mosques to say prayers. Friends and relatives meet to exchange greetings.
This is Hindu Solar New Year Day observed in many parts of the country. It is a religious festival when people bathe in rivers and go to temples to offer worship. For the Sikh community, Baisakhi is of special significance. On this day in 1699, Guru GobindSingh organised the Sikhs into the 'Khalsa'. In Punjab, farmers start their harvesting operations on this day with great fanfare.
The festival of Nag Panchmi is celebrated throughout the country in the month of Shravana (July-August).
This day is the birth anniversary of Prophet Spitaman Zarathusatra (Zoroaster), who was born at the beginning of the first millennium B.C. This is one of the most important festivals of the Parsi Community.
Kerala's notable festival is Onam, celebrated with great enthusiasm. It is primarily a harvest festival observed not only in every home but also out in the open, against the backdrop of lush green tropical vegetation in which the region abounds. The most exciting part of the festival is the snake-boat race held at several places on palm-fringed lagoons.
The birth anniversary of Jesus Christ is celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike, with special enthusiasm in big cities like Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta, where shops and homes take on a festive air. Families get together around decorated trees and gifts are exchanged. On Christmas Eve, midnight services are held in churches.