Date varies. Begins March 19, 2011.

It’s the day that puts the ‘holi’ in holiday. Holi literally translates to “burning”, but fire isn’t the most prominent image of the festival. Holi is all about color. Colored powders, colored waters fly through the air as celebrants young and old ‘colorize’ the world around them—by flinging powders and streams at their friends, neighbors, and any passersby.

Holi is a joyous celebration, though somehow the editor of the piece below has spliced it into a Bollywood horror film. (Are there Bollywood horror films?) I can hear the Hollywood producers pitching it now… Slumdog Millionaire meets 28 Days Later.

Do NOT wear your best clothes on Holi as the video below demonstrates.

Holi Festival: Street Action

Other Holi festivities are more ceremonial, but the words “muted” and “tame” don’t fit into any of them.

Holi is a Spring celebration. One legend corelates the holiday with an evil king named Hiranyakashipu. The king forbade his son Prahlad from worshipping the god Vishnu. Prahlad refused to do so, so the king challenged Prahlad to sit with Prahlad’s wicked aunt Holika—who was believed to be impervious to fire—on a burning pyre.  To everyone’s surprise, it was Holika that burned and not Prahlad, who remained unharmed.

During Holi, the rules that govern Hindu society throughout the year are somewhat relaxed. Class, caste, status and gender become secondary distinctions to the bright magenta, orange, red, green and every-other-color-of-the-rainbow powders covering everyone’s skin and clothes.

Holi falls on the full moon of the month of Phalguna.


Maha Shivaratri

Date varies. New moon (13th) of Phalgun.

February 20, 2012

March 10, 2013

Give it up to Shiva today. The new moon of Phalgun (that’s today) is known as Maha Shivaratri in the Hindu religion. To the adherents of Shaivism, who worship Shiva as their primary god, today is the holiest day of the year.

Shiva gets a misleading rap as The Destroyer. It sounds cool and daunting, but is only half accurate. Being the Destroyer, Shiva is also the agent of transformation and dissolution that makes recreation possible.

Shiva’s often pictured as blue.  One time Indra was trying to regain his wealth and prosperity—taken by an angry sage. Brahma suggested churning the Ocean of Milk to create the “Nectar of Immortality.” But during the churning of the Ocean, a great poison called Halahala was released, deadly to all living things upon the earth. Shiva was summoned to save the world by drinking the Halahala. He wasn’t killed, but his throat became permanently blue.

Shiva is one part of the Hindu triumvirate. The other two parts are Brahma, the creator of the universe, and Vishnu, the preserver of it.

Today is considered by many to be the day Shiva married Parvati.

Shiva and Parvati
Shiva & Parvati

Shiva is at times ascetic, at others hedonistic. When Shiva was in one of his ascetic moods, Parvati tried seducing him but with little luck. The god of desire, Kama, was sent in on Parvati’s behalf to lure Shiva from his asceticism and ignite his more lustful side. Kama used the sounds and scents of spring at her disposal. It worked, but Shiva repaid Kama by burning him to ashes with his middle eye. [Caveat Matchmaker!] Shiva and Parvati were later married in a grand celebration. Kama was resurrected when Shiva embraced Parvati, and the sweat from her body mixed with Kama’s ashes.

According to legend, “their lovemaking is so intense that it shakes the cosmos, and the gods become frightened. They are frightened at the prospect of what a child will be like from the union of two such potent deities.”

The couple have a child named Ganesha, pictured with the trunk of an elephant. The three are often pictured together. Shiva and Parvati reflect the perfect balance of the universe. Parvati represents harmony in nature and the power to create and nourish.


(posted March 2008)

Martyrdom of Gandhi

January 30


Today Indians recall one of the darkest days in their country’s history, while schoolchildren in Spain learn about Dia Escolar de la No-violencia y la Paz, (School Day of Non-Violence and Peace). The holiday marks the tragic assassination of Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, whose non-violent methods helped India gain independence from Great Britain, and inspired leaders from Martin Luther King Jr. to Nelson Mandela.

I believe that Gandhi’s views were the most enlightened of all the political men in our time…We should strive to do things in his spirit: not to use violence in fighting for our cause, but by non-participation in anything you believe is evil.

Albert Einstein

If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought, and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony…Gandhi resisted evil with as much vigor and power as the violent resister, but he resisted with love instead of hate. True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power. It is rather a courageous confirmation of evil by the power of love.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

His life has inspired me ever since I was a small boy. Ahimsa or nonviolence is the powerful idea that Mahatma Gandhi made familiar throughout the world. But nonviolence does not mean the absence of violence. It is something more positive, more meaningful than that, for it depends wholly on the power of truth.

The Dalai Lama

Mahatma Gandhi came and stood at the door of India’s destitute millions, clad as one of themselves, speaking to them in their own language…who else has so unreservedly accepted the vast masses of the Indian people as his flesh and blood…Truth awakened Truth.

Rabindranath Tagore

Mahatma Gandhi will always be remembered as long as free men and those who love freedom and justice live.

Haile Selassie I

There is no religion higher than Truth and Right-eousness.

If all men realized the obligation of service (as an eternal moral law), they would regard it as a sin to amass wealth; and then, there would be no inequalities of wealth and consequently no famine or starvation.

There is an indefinable mysterious power that pervades everything. I feel it though I do not see it. It is this unseen power which makes itself felt and yet defies all proof because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. But it is possible to reason of the existence of god to a limited extent. Even in ordinary affairs we know that people who do not know who rules or why and how He rules and yet they know that there is a power that certainly rules. In my tour last year in Mysore I met many poor villagers and I found upon inquiry that they did not know who ruled Mysore. They simply said some God ruled it. If the knowledge of these poor people was so limited about their ruler I who am infinitely lesser in respect to God than they to their ruler need not be surprised if I do not realize the presence of God – the King of Kings. Nevertheless I do feel as the poor villagers felt about Mysore that there is orderliness in the universe, there is an unalterable law governing everything and every being that exists or lives.

Mahatma Gandhi

The Spanish observance of the Indian civil rights leader’s death was established by Spain’s Education Secretary Lorenzo Vidal in 1964.

Saraswati: Original Supermom

5th day of the month of Magh

January 28, 2012

“India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all”.

Will Durant, The Case For India

In many religions throughout history women have been associated with wisdom and knowledge, which doesn’t explain why men have generally run the place, but may explain the state into which they’re run it.

The Greek goddess of wisdom was Athena. In the Gnostic tradition that honor belonged to Sophia, Mother of Creation, who is the root of our word sophistication. In Judaism it was Eve, not Adam, who ate first from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. And in Christianity all the virtues, including Prudence are personified as women.

But in Hinduism, which influenced all of the above, the goddess of wisdom, arts, and learning is Saraswati. Saraswati is among other things the consort of Brahma, the god of creation.


In typical supermom style, Saraswati has four arms, all of which are full. Each arm symbolizes one of the four components of the human personality with regards to learning: mind, intellect, alertness and ego. She gracefully juggles a sacred manuscript in one hand, a rosary in another, and with the other two she plays music of life and love on a stringed instrument known as a veena. She is usually pictured sitting atop a lotus flower, with a peacock or a swan by her feet.

On the fifth day of the fortnight after the new moon of Magh, Hindus celebrate Vasant Panchami, to worship the Goddess Saraswati. It falls in late January or early February.

On this day young schoolchildren learn their first words, in honor of the goddess of learning, knowledge and speech.

Saraswati is invoked as a muse by artists conducting creative endeavors. In olden times Saraswati was invoked prior to a play by theater managers who prayed for the quick and articulate tongues of their actors.

“India has two million gods, and worships them all. In religion all other countries are paupers; India is the only millionaire.”

Mark Twain

Republic Day – India

January 26

Today is Republic Day in India.

Although India gained independence from Britain in 1947, the Constitution was officially adopted on January 26, 1950, marking the Republic of India as a sovereign nation with complete autonomy.

The date January 26th was chosen in remembrance of “Poorna Swaraj Diwas,” when the Indian National Congress declared independence on January 26, 1930.

Guests of Honor at recent Republic Days have included King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Russian President Vladimire Putin, and Nicholas Sarkozy, President of France.

The Republic Day parade in New Dehli is a combination of cultural pride and military strength, symbolized by three fighter jets that fly over the ceremony each year.

Republic Day is for all Indians, regardless of religion or region. Still, sectarian tensions are high on Republic Day and security is heightened throughout the country.

Indian Army - Madras regiment - Republic Day

BBC: India’s Republic Day in Pictures
Kashmir view from 2007
India’s 59th Republic Day

Pongal – Day 3 – Mattu Pongal

January 16

Mattu Pongal, the third day of the Pongal festival of southern India, is dedicated to the animals of the world, particularly cattle.

The legend goes, Shiva told his bull Basava, or Nandi, to inform the people of the world that they should eat once a month and bathe daily with an oil massage.

Evidently, Bull was not the best messenger. He told the people to eat daily and bathe once a month.

When Shiva heard this he was furious, so he forced Bull to return to earth and help the people plow, where he’s been ever since. That way they’d have food enough to eat each day.

There’s a belief in western society that Indians “worship” the cow. This is a misconception, perhaps propagated by the activities on Mattu Pongal. On this day cows do get the royal treatment: they’re bowed down to, painted, decorated with care, and they are offered Pongal, the rice dish for which the festival gets its name. The cows are symbolic of all animals on earth.

But they are not worshipped in the English sense of the word. Cows are considered special in the sense that they cannot be slaughtered. Part of the reason for this is that the cows already give so much back to the people through their milk. Another historical, practical reason may have been that the killing of the best cows for their meat reduced the genetic diversity of the herd.

A third, more controversial theory is that in the Sanskrit of the Vedas the word Go, meant “light” or “sense” as well as “cow.” Thus, the phrase “Protector of the Brahmanas and the Light” was interpreted as “Protector of the Cow.” [But this sounds to me like the story of the Catholic priest who, after a life of being celibate (no sex), goes to up heaven and gets to read Jesus’s original instructions on how to live the life a priest. He’s furious when he reads the original translation: “A priest should be pure and celebrate.”]

At any rate, Holy Cow is misleading. More like “Venerated Cow.” As Gandhi put it:

“One can measure the greatness of a nation and its moral progress by the way it treats its animals. Cow protection to me is not mere protection of the cow. It means protection of all that lives and is helpless and weak in the world.



Why is the cow sacred?






January 14

Today is the first day of Uttarayan, the 6-month season which lasts from January 14 to July 14 in India.

The festivals that celebrate the changing of the season go by many names in India. Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Lohri, and so on. They coincide with January 13th/14th in the Gregorian calendar.

The reason why Makar Sankranti is celebrated more than any other is that it marks the day the Sun starts moving north and the auspicious half of the year is characterized by increasing daylight. Of all the heavenly bodies, the Sun is the most glorious and the most important to life – and the Festival Marak Sankranti is one of the most important and happy feasts in its honor. It is the time when winter begins to loosen its grip and the days begin to grow warmer and warmer. — from Indian Festivals and Events

© Achim Pohl

Sankranti means, literally, to change direction, or to go from one place to another, and Makara (a crocodile/snail/elephant hybrid) refers to the Indian predecessor of the Greek constellation Capricorn. Thus, January 14th in India marks the day the sun begins to move from Sagittarius to Capricorn in the north.

The winter harvest festivals are celebrated in different ways among the one-billion plus people who make up the cultures of India. In the south January 14th is only the first day of a four-day holiday known as Pongal, named for the special rice dish associated with the harvest festival.

Indians in Gujarat celebrate with feasts and kite festivals in which the colorful skies help waken the gods who hibernated through winter. The largest of these is the International Kite Festival in Ahmedabad.


Photos of Ahmedabad Kite Festival

High Flyers of Gujurat


January 14

Pongal – Day 1

Day One of Pongal is called Bhogi or Bogi, and is dedicated to the storm god Indra. Indra is the leader of the Devas–the gods and celestial beings that watch over the heavens and control the elements–such as wind, fire, rain, and air. Indra’s weapon is the thunderbolt. In that way he is similar to the Norse Thor, though his status is higher. Indeed, Indra is the subject of roughly 250 hymns and stories in the Rigveda, more than any other deity. He is incredibly handsome, but he has more vices than any other god. (Maybe that’s why he makes for such good stories!) And he never turns down a good cup of soma (the “Red Bull and vodka” of the gods.) Which would explain why the weather is the way it is.

Indra idol

He is known for his strength and smarts in slaying the dragon Vritra, which represents chaos and non-existence. It is one of the most famous battles in Hindu mythology. In defeating Vritra, Indra separates and supports the heavens and earth.

He is not as revered in modern Hinduism as he once was. This is partly attributed to his character flaws–his mistakes catch up to him and his power reduced–and partly due to the rising influence of gods such as Shiva, Vishnu and Devi. (And maybe we just aren’t as at the whim of the weather as we were in Indra’s prime.)

Bhogi is a day for family. Houses are cleaned and scrubbed top to bottom and all extra clutter is set aside, (the original Spring cleaning) and surfaces are prepared for decoration with a specially-prepared rice and paste concoction, Kolam, adorned with red mud.

In the fields freshly-harvested rice is cut with sickles anointed with sandalwood and paste. A bonfire is lit and all aforementioned “clutter” from the house is burned, along with agricultural waste. The fire symbolizes staying warm during the “last lap of winter.”