Vasant beckons spring. Scattered amongst the ripening wheat are the bright yellow flowers of mustard. Tender blossoms appear on the mango tree and 'song is bestowed upon the bird'. On that day everyone wears a special shade of yellow. The festival is dedicated to Saraswati, goddess of learning and the arts.
After about two months comes Holi, the very end of our cool season. It is a festival of colour, truly democratic and egalitarian. All barriers are down, all inhibitions shed. Boys and girls, men and women of all ages, all castes, and all classes participate. None is high and none is low. Anyhow, when a person is plastered with colour he is not easy to identify. On the eve of Holi bonfires are lit and Holi itself is celebrated by the throwing of colour, by gaiety and noise, one could even say, by wild abandon. In time the festival has also become associated with the 'Lila' of Radha and Krishna and has inspired some of our most sensuous poetry.
Of all the seasons it is the Sawan (Monsoon) which has evoked the largest number of songs. This is not strange, for summer in the plains of North India is long and hot. As months go by anxious eyes scan the sky. It is a time for renewal. Swings are hung at all likely places and women and children are seen swinging high into the branches overhead accompanied by joyous singing.
Raksha Bandhan - the bracelet of protection - is a festival belonging to the old days of chivalry. If the gift of a bracelet sent by a girl was accepted by a man, he henceforth became her adopted brother, pledged to support her in times of stress or war. Today it is just a ritual, though a charming one.
Close on its heels comes Janmashtami, the birthday of Lord Krishna, and the most beloved of all gods. The Krishna legend has caught the imagination of our own people and now of many abroad. Krishna is intensely human. He's everybody's child, full of mischief. Stories of his pranks are recounted as recent happenings. As an ardent lover, he inspires our poets and artists, our music and dance.
Ganesh is the god of wisdom as well as of good fortune. As a granter of boons he is worshipped at the beginning of every prayer and auspicious occasion. Ganesh's birthday (Chaturthy) falls at the end of the monsoon and is marked by special festivities after which is image is immersed in the nearest river or the sea.
Every year in autumn, at the time of the full moon the Rajputs gather to honour Lord Brahma, the god of creation at the temple of Pushkar. This is the only temple dedicated to the god in the country.
The female as Shakti (Perennial Energy) has a central place in Indian tradition and Durga is its militant form. She is the Mother and at the same time the destroyer of evil forces. Her festival Dussehra heralds the new planting season and also celebrates her victory over the demon buffalo Mahishasura. These are also the days of the Ram Lila, an enactment of the story of Lord Rama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and the hero of the epic Ramayana. It is extraordinary how this ancient story written in Sanskrit by Sage Valmiki and the people's spoken Hindi by poet Tulsidas and in other languages by renowned poets has permeated the hearts of our people and is relived year after year. On the day of Dussehra effigies of Ravana the king of Lanka are burnt at nightfall marking the celebration of the victory of Rama over Ravana symbolizing the victory of good over evil. 20 days later comes Diwali, the most beautiful of all festivals. It is dedicated to Lakshmi the goddess of prosperity. All buildings from the palatial to the humblest are illumined with millions of twinkling oil lamps, now being replaced by electricity, which though cleaner is not half-pretty. At dusk the sky is lit up and air reverberates with fireworks.
States have special harvest festivals such as Bihu in Assam, Onam in Kerala and Pongal in Tamil Nadu. The main attraction of Onam is a boat race on rivers swollen by the monsoon. At Arnamulla the long boats compete in speed on the Pamba River where water jousts are held. Each boat painted in the colors of its proprietor or village is manned by a hundred oarsmen, who chant in rhythm to speed up the beat of the paddles.
Kerala is a land of strange beliefs and of all of India it is here that pre Aryan customs have best been preserved. North of Malabar, the feasts of Therayattam are held from January to March. Masked dancers execute what seems to be a synthesis of all the different cults rendered to Devi the Great Goddess and to the ancestors. From daybreak to dusk masked divinities dance without ceasing. At Trichur, Pooram the feast of the Shaivite temples is enthusiastically celebrated in April or early May. The festival attracts millions of spectators to watch the celebrated procession of elephants in battle formation. Musicians play all day. Beating their drums in frantic rhythm, clashing their cymbals or blowing their bugles.
The Muslims celebrate Eid twice a year and is an occasion for functions of communal harmony. There is also the Prophet's birthday. Ramzan is a month of prayer and fasting.
The Sikhs observe the birthdays and days of martyrdom of their Gurus. The birthdays of Buddha and Mahavira are similarly observed.
For official and work purposes we follow the Gregorian calendar, but Hindu and Muslim festivals are calculated according to the Lunar calendar, so the dates change every year. Different groups of observe different New Years. For the Gujaratis Diwali marks the eve of the New Year. The Parsis celebrate Nauroz on 21 March, the same as in Iran. The Kashmiri Hindus New Year is the same as the 'Gudi Padwa' of Maharashtra, the Ugadhi of Karnataka and Andhra. Everyone has a different type of celebration. The Punjabis have Baisakhi, which falls on 13 April. Bengal and Assam observe the 1st of Baisakhi, which falls around the same time.