Major Festivals of Punjab
The most colorful and hilarious of all the festivals, which are celebrated in, Punjab is Hola Mohalla. Each year, spring is ushered in by the Sikhs with the celebration of a vigorous and colorful festival at Anandpur Sahib. The festival is slated for the day after Holi and is called Hola Mohalla.
It was here at Anandpur Sahib that Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last guru, instituted the pahul (baptism of the Khalsas), and elected the panj pyare (the beloved five), and militarized his followers into the order of Nihangs (warrior-mendicants) at this site.
This festival of the Nihangs held at their headquarters Anandpur Sahib began as a counterpart to Holi. Though it almost did away with the throwing of colors, nonetheless, it is more colorful.
Martial arts like archery, sword fencing, fancy horse-riding, tent-pegging, and the deft handling of other contraptions of offence and defense are displayed by the Nihangs. Spectacular and thrilling acts of dare-devilry nimbly executed are performed. The festivities close with a ceremonial procession taken through the township. The langar (community feast) is open through the day and lasts as long as there are any takers.
Dressed in along tunic of bright deep blue, an elaborate turban, sometimes of enormous size, at times banded with strips of bright yellow, armed with weapons of one’s liking – bows and arrows, spears, swords and shield, muskets, guns or what have you – the Nihang displays his skills at this festival of valor, a pageant of the past.
The festivals held in honor of the Sikh Gurus are called Gurupurabs. They are well spread over the year but there are three important ones. On the full moon of Kartik the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak is celebrated by the devotees with great ardor. Two days earlier a non-stop reading of the Adi Granth is started. At different places religious congregations are held and hymns from the Granth Sahib are chanted. Large processions and are taken out through the towns. At night buildings are illuminated. The birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh is also celebrated in a similar manner. The third important Gurupurab is the one associated with the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev.
The festivals connected with the lunar days, Ekadashi (eleventh lunar day), Pooranmashi (full moon), and Masya (new moon) occur every rnonth. Similarly, Sankranti, when the sun enters the new Zodiac sign, is celebrated on the first of every month of the Vikrarmi era with great gusto. It is also an occasion to prepare and eat the nicest of foods.
In the Punjab, where the Vikrami era is followed, the year begins with Chet (March-April). On the first of this month the arrival of the new year is celebrated by the performance of a ritual of taking the new corn, known as ann nawan karna. Sheafs of new corn are roasted and then the parched grain is eaten. Everyone must have a bath on the new year day, and put on new clothes. Delicacies like kheer and halwa are prepared and eaten.
It is one of the most popular festivals of the Punjab, with fairs held at various places. Baisakhi, the first day of the month of Baisakh (April/May) is New Year’s Day, going by the Saka calendar. It corresponds to April 13th of the Gregorian calendar. Essentially it is a North Indian harvest festival, for it is the day when the reaping of the rabi (winter crop) begins. The jubilation at a bountiful harvest becomes the reason for celebration.
Through celebrated all over North India, it is nowhere as colorful as it is in Punjab, India’s granary. The joy of the energetic Punjabis is manifest in the strenuous folk dance, the Bhangra. This dance usually enacts the entire process of agriculture from the tilling of the soil through harvesting. As the beat of the dholak (drum) changes, the sequences progress. The dance movements express ploughing, sowing, weeding, reaping and winnowing. The final sequence shows the farmer celebrating the harvest.
Though in real life the farmer has to toil hard in order to win grain from the soil, this dance shows him performing his labors with grace and ease, a smile to his lips. Women too join the men, both at reaping during the day, and in the many dances and folk songs at evening. Baisakhi has a special significance for the Hindus. It is believed that the Ganga descended to the earth on this auspicious day. The Kumbha is held every twelve years at Hardwar on this occasion.
For the Sikhs the day has a deep religious meaning. At Anandpur this day in 1699 AD, the tenth and last Guru, Gobind Singh, baptized the Sikhs into the Khalsa, meaning the Elect. This baptism of the sword, called pahul, led to the creating of the panch pyare, the Beloved Five. The Sikhs became a militant order so as to meet the challenges of persecution at the hands of the Mughal rulers. The Khalsa was to adopt the panch kakkas, (the five K’s), Kesh (unshorn hair), kanga (small boxwood comb in their hair), kaccha (a pair of shorts), kara (a steel bangle), and a kirpan (a short dagger), which have since become their distinctive signs. The Guru enthused their valor by calling them Singh (lion), now a suffix to every Sikh’s name. To commemorate the day of the initiation of the sword, a large number of Sikhs flock to Harmandir Sahib (the Golden Temple, Amritsar), their major shrine. They take a dip in the holy Amrit sarovar (pool of nectar), the lake in the midst of which the Golden Temple stands. Religious service follows in the form of Akhand Paath – an end chanting of the holy
On the eleventh day of the bright half of Jeth (May-June) falls Nirjala Ekadashi, which is better known in the Punjab as Nimani Kasti. Hindus, especially women, observe fast on this day and smear the body with powdered sandalwood. This fast is very hard to keep because for the whole day one has to abstain even from water. Charitably inclined people put up stalls for free distribution of sweetened and chilled water.
Teeyan, a festival of the rainy season, is celebrated on the 3rd of the bright fortnight of Sawan (July-August). The four months from Harh (June-July) to the first half of Assu (September) are called Chaumasa. During this period the sky generally remains overcast and the weather shifts between sultriness and rainfall. Rains bring the longed-for relief to the heat-stricken Punjabis, and the rhythm of the little and big drops of rain instills in them the enthusiasm which must seek expression in fun and frolic. A newly-married girl looks forward to the rainy days when a brother or some other male relative from the parental home may come to escort her to her father’s place. This reversal from bride to being just a daughter again is such a liberating and thrilling experience that it cannot be put into words. One day before the Teeyan, girls apply henna to their hands and feet, and on the day of the festival they put on their best clothes and go out to the fair. The fair resounds with the songs of love and the rhythm of dance. The songs are known as Teeyan songs. The Giddha dance has become a regular and most enchanting feature of this festival. At home women make kheer, a dish specially associated with Sawan.
In Bhadon, on the day of the full moon, the Rakhi festival is celebrated. On this day sisters tie the multicolored thread on the right wrist of their brothers. So long as a sister has not tied the rakhi to her brother, she is not supposed to eat anything. After she has done so she offers some sweets to her brother and he in return gives her some gift or money. Rakhi is meant to remind the brother of his promise to protect his sister whenever she needs this protection. The true origin of this festival is, however, lost in antiquity.
The Dussehra festival, as in most other parts of India, is celebrated in a big way. This festival marks the victory of good over evil. Big tall effigies of Ravana, Kumbhkarna and Meghnath are burnt at a large number of places. During the Nauratas Ram Lila is organized at innumerable places in the State. This song and drama has, from year to year, contributed largely to the continuance of the tradition of folk-drama in India
In Kartik, on the fourth lunar day falls Karva Chauth. On this day married women observe a fast and pray for the long life of their husbands. Sometimes even unmarried girls observe this fast and pray for their husbands-to-be. In a way this is the mother-in-law’s day too, because it is customary on this day for the daughter-in-law to present her offerings-(Baya) in the form of money and eatables.
On the eleventh lunar day in this month falls the festival of Devuthan (waking up the deities). Metal plates are beaten in order to awaken the deities who are supposed to go to sleep between the summer harvest and the first ploughing after the start of the autumnal rains.
Earthen lamps or candles are lighted over buildings all over the State. People celebrate the festival with great gusto. Houses are white-washed days ahead of it, new clothes are purchased and sweets of all kinds are prepared. People worship Goddess Lakshmi with an offering of sweets and silver coins. Thereafter they distribute sweets among friends and relatives. It is believed that on this night Goddess Lakshmi in the company of Vidmata (goddess of fate) takes a round of every house and wherever she takes a fancy, she bestows immense prosperity.
In the Golden Temple of Amritsar, Diwali is celebrated with great eclat. Earthen lamps are lighted all round the holy tank and their undulating reflections in the water look extremely fascinating. Sikhs started celebrating Diwali at Amritsar from the time of their Sixth Master, Guru Hargobind. When he rescued fifty-two rajas from imperial detention in the fort of Gwalior and reached Amritsar, the residents there welcome him by illuminating the whole-city.
Lohri, which comes on the last day of Poh (December-January), is another extremely popular festival. A few days before it arrives youngsters get together in groups and go round their localities singing folk-songs connected with Lohri and collecting fuel and money for the bonfire. This is a special day for making offerings to fire. When fire is lit up in the evening, orthodox men and women go round it, pour offerings into it, and bow before it in reverence. The first Lohri for a new bride, or a new-born babe, is enthusiastically celebrated, and sweets are distributed.
One of the stories behind the celebration of this festival goes like this;
Somewhere between Gujaranwala and Sialkot in Pakistan now, there was a thick forest called Rakh. There used to live a Muslim Dacoit named Dulla Bhatti, the Robinhood of Punjab. He was brave, generous and provided maximum help to everyone in distress. During the reign of Jahangir, a middle class Hindu who was a jealous and a cunning man spread a rumor that his niece was very beautiful and would do credit to muslim harem. On hearing this, the mughal officers wanted to carry her off forcibely. The girls father was extreamly worried and sought the protection of Dulla Bhatti. Dulla at once got her married to a young Hindu boy at a simple ceremony in the forest.
He lit the sacred fire in keeping with the Hindu custom. Since there was no priest to chant the holy mantras, he broke into a hiliarious song composed extepore to add chear to the occasion. This song is sung even today on the occasion.
Next day after Lohri comes Maghi, also called Makar Yonkranti (entry of the sun in the sign or Capricorn). It is very popular with the punjabis. On this day fairs are held at many places. The people go out for a holy dip and give away a lot of charity. The special dish of the day is kheer cooked in sugarcane juice.