Sunday, 18 January 2009

Fesivals of World Religions

To explore herewith some of the world's religions and their most sacred festivals...

The Baha'i Faith is the youngest of the world’s independent monotheistic religions, founded in Iran in 1844 by Baha'u'llah.The Nineteen Day Fast was instituted by Baha'u'llah, who stated that if capable, Baha'is between the ages of 15 and 70 should fast 19 days a year by abstaining from food or drink from sunrise to sunset.

The annual fast takes place during the Baha'i month of Ala (meaning Loftiness), which is from 2 to 21 March on the Gregorian calendar. The month of Ala immediately precedes the Baha'i new year. The period of fasting is therefore viewed as a time of spiritual preparation and regeneration for a new year's activities. The Nineteen Day Fast brings together the Baha'is for prayer, reading of scriptures, and for a sense of community.

The Festival of Ridvan is the most sacred Baha'i holiday and is celebrated from 21 April to 2 May. It commemorates the anniversary of Baha'u'llah's declaration in 1863 that He was the Promised One of all earlier religions. Soon afterwards, Baha'u'llah went into exile - to Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey). Baha’u’llah spent 12 days in a garden in Baghdad visiting with His followers. He named the garden Ridvan, which means "Paradise" or "good pleasure" in Arabic. When He entered the garden, Baha'u'llah proclaimed the Festival of Ridvan. Baha'u'llah's arrival in Ridvan and his announcement of the Festival of Ridvan mark the moment when the essence of the Baha'i Faith was expressed.

Every year on 15 February, Buddhists celebrate Nirvana Day, a day also known as Parinirvana. Nirvana Day is the celebration of Buddha's death when he reached total Nirvana, at the age of 80.

On Nirvana Day, Buddhists think about their lives and how they can work towards gaining the perfect peace of Nirvana. Nirvana is believed to be the end of rebirth and is the ultimate aim of Buddhism. It is reached when all want and suffering is gone.

The day is celebrated in various ways throughout the world. In monasteries Nirvana Day is treated as a social occasion. Food is prepared and some people bring presents such as money, household goods or clothes. Some Buddhists will read passages from The Paranibbana Sutta which describes the last days of Buddha, while others may reflect on those who have recently passed away.

Wesak or Vesak – Buddha Day - is the most important day in the Buddhist calendar. It marks the Buddha’s birthday, enlightenment and death. In Japanese Buddhism, 8 April marks the birth of the Buddha, 8 December his enlightenment and 15 February his death.

Easter is the oldest, holiest and most important Christian festival. It is the sacred celebration of Christ's resurrection from the dead. Easter also marks the end of Lent – the period of six weeks leading up to Easter.

According to Scripture, Jesus came back to life, or was raised from the dead, three days after his death on the cross. The death of Jesus Christ, by crucifixion, is commemorated on Good Friday. It is on the Sunday, Easter Sunday, that Christians celebrate the resurrection.

Christians believe that through his death, burial and resurrection, Jesus paid the penalty for sin.

Why Easter eggs?
Easter eggs are symbolic of new life. Christians believe that, through his resurrection, Jesus defeated death and sin and offers people the promise of eternal life if they follow his teachings. The festival of Easter, however, stretches back to pre-Christian times, too. It gets its name and some symbols, including the Easter Bunny, from the Pagan Spring Equinox festival, which is a celebration of Spring and also of new life. There is also a tradition for Christians to be baptised at Easter, which celebrates new life in God.

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, who Christians believe is the Son of God. The Gregorian calendar widely used in the West is based on his birth date: the years denoted BC are those before the birth of Christ and the years AD are those after Christ's birth, from the Latin 'Anno Domini' meaning 'in the year of our Lord'.

The word Christmas comes from the words 'Christ' and 'mass'. 'Christ' means 'the chosen one' in Greek, and is used by Christians to describe Jesus as they believe he was chosen to be God's son. As for the '-mas' part, this refers to the 'mass' or church service held to thank God for the birth of Christ.

Holi – the Festival of Colours - is the most vibrant Indian festival, when distinctions of caste, class, age or gender are set to one side for Hindus. It marks the coming of spring, and is a celebration of new life and the seasons. Some Hindu families hold religious ceremonies, but for many, Holi is more a time for fun than religious observance.

Some believe the origin of the festival lies with Krishna who was very mischievous as a young boy and threw coloured water over the gopis (milkmaids) with whom he is believed to have grown up. This developed into the practical jokes and games of Holi.

To this day Hindus celebrate Holi by smearing each other with paint and throwing coloured water at each other, all in a spirit of celebration. White clothes are worn, which makes the paint more obvious. Bonfires are lit and parents make sure they carry their babies to protect them from demons.

The most well-known Indian festival, Diwali, means as much to Hindus as Christmas does to Christians.

Diwali is a five-day celebration which occurs during October/November in the Gregorian calendar. The word Diwali means "rows of lighted lamps" and the celebration is often referred to as the Festival of Lights because of the common practice of lighting small oil lamps and placing them around the home, in courtyards, gardens, and on roof-tops and outer walls as a greeting to Lakshmi, goddess of wealth. The festival of Diwali is often celebrated with huge firework displays and the exchange of sweets. As with other Indian festivals, Diwali signifies many different things to people across the country, because there are many regions in India.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, a month Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to sunset.

Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection, prayer, doing good deeds and spending time with family and friends. The fasting is intended to help teach self-discipline, self-restraint and generosity, and to teach awareness of the suffering of the poor, who may rarely get to eat.

Ramadan is also a celebration of when the Quran was revealed, and reading the Quran during this month is an important part of observing the month.The end of the fasting period is marked by celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr. It is obligatory for Muslims to give a set amount of money to charity for the celebration, in order to help the poor and needy to also observe festivities.

Eid-ul-Adha, the Celebration of Sacrifice, is the second most important festival in the Muslim calendar. It marks the end of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. It takes place on the 10th day of the last month of the Islamic calendar. Although only pilgrims to Mecca can celebrate it fully, Muslims everywhere mark the occasion.

The Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam; all physically fit Muslims who can afford it should make the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia at least once in their lives.

Eid-ul-Adha also marks the occasion when Allah ordered Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son Isma'il as an act of obedience to God. As Prophet Ibrahim was about to kill his son, Allah intervened by providing a lamb as the sacrifice.

Passover is one of the most important festivals in the Jewish year. It is a time Jewish people remember how the Israelites left slavery behind them when they left Egypt, where they had been under the rule of Pharoah, the King of Egypt, until Moses led them out over 3000 years ago.

On several occasions Pharoah refused Moses' request to release the Israelites. Moses warned the King that God would send 10 plagues on Egypt if Pharoah refused to let them go. The plagues were: blood, frogs, gnats, flies, blight of the liverstock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and the death of the firstborn. The final plague was the death of the first born. God told Moses that the Israelites should mark their doorposts with lamb's blood so that God could 'pass over' their houses and spare them from this plague. This is why the festival is called Passover.

On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Jewish people fast for 25 hours. The period is for reflections on the past year and to ask God's forgiveness. It's a chance to make up for wrongs of the past year and to make a commitment to not repeat those sins.

During the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah (which marks the first and second days of the Jewish new year) and Yom Kippur – known as The Days of Repentance of Days of Awe – everyone has the opportunity to put things right with other people before asking for forgiveness.

Yom Kippur begins at sunset, and the start of the fast is marked with a big meal. The day is spent in continuous prayer for forgiveness. It ends with Neilah service, which literally means 'the closing' of the gates of heaven. Yom Kippur is the only day in the year that there are five services in the synagogue.

Baisakhi, also spelled Vaisakhi, marks the Sikh New Year and celebrates the founding of the Sikh community, known as the Khalsa.

In 1699, Sikhs from all over the Punjab gathered together to celebrate the Hindu harvest festival of Baisakhi. It was here that Guru Gobind Singh came out of a tent carrying a sword and asking whether anyone was prepared to sacrifice his life. A young Sikh came forward and disappeared into the tent with the Guru. Then the Guru reappeared alone with his sword covered in blood and asked for another volunteer. This was repeated another four times until a total of five Sikhs had gone into the tent with him. Eventually all five emerged from the tent alive with Guru Gobind Singh, wearing turbans. They became known as the Panj Piare, or 'Beloved Five'. This is how the Amrit ceremony came into being and these five Sikhs became the first members of the Khalsa.

Sikhs celebrate Guru Nanak’s birthday with an Akhand Path, a reading of the Sikh holy scriptures, by decoration with flowers and flags, singing, eating and praying.

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