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Home > History of Festivals
History of Festivals

Epigraphical evidences prove that festivals have been celebrated in India since Vedic times. The Aryans conquered India around 1500 B.C. and cultural integration with the local population took place. Later, certain pre-Aryan aspects of worship began to dominate. Ancient literature also gives references to festivals celebrated to honour deities, rivers, trees, mountains, serpents, the advent of monsoon, the end of winter or the spring.

History of FestivalEpigraphical evidences prove that festivals have been celebrated in India since Vedic times. The Aryans conquered India around 1500 B.C. and cultural integration with the local population took place. As time passed, some of their own gods lost importance and festivals in their honour died out. Later, certain pre-Aryan aspects of worship began to dominate. At the same time, the tribal people who had their own cults and worshipped serpents and other such entities and natural elements, came under the influence of the Hindus and started worshipping the Hindu deities.

Ancient literature gives references to festivals celebrated to honour deities, rivers, trees, mountains, serpents, the advent of monsoon, the end of winter or the spring. Apart from fasting and prayers, there used to be dramatic performances, music congregations, dances, chariot races, gambling, wrestling matches, boat races and animal fights in which rams, wild bulls, elephants, oxen, horses and even rhinoceroses were included. There were Yajnas (sacrificial fires), where milk, clarified butter and somaras (an alcoholic drink) were offered to the gods before being consumed by the people. Flowers were offered to the gods and were also worn by men and women. Such occasions were called samaja (a gathering of people), utsav (a festival) and yatra (pilgrimage or temple-chariot procession).

Many local festivals are celebrated in villages and every village has its guardian deities. They are propitiated on fixed days and could be the gramadevatas (village deities), or the grahadevatas (evil spirits). The former is propitiated for protection and the later, in appeasement. Goddesses associated with diseases like smallpox, or women, who immolated themselves on the funeral pyres of their husbands and became satis, were worshipped as devis (goddesses). Regular festivals were held to honour them, to seek their protection or give thanks for the favours received.

It could be that people needed a break from the monotony of daily chores, and that the festivals were occasions when they wore their best clothes, jewellery and flowers, sang, danced and feasted. Feasting has always been a part of festive occasion and the people in ancient times, like us, enjoyed them.
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