Hinduism Festivals
by
Amanda Lucia
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 November 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0175

Introduction

The annual calendar for Hindus is punctuated with festivals; it is often said, “twelve months, thirteen festivals” or similarly “eight days, nine festivals.” Festivals, including public ceremonial and celebratory events, are documented in some of India’s most ancient texts. Whether their current expressions are modern inventions or not, many of these festivals often aim to conjure the aura, and the accompanying authority, of religious antiquity. Historically, festivals have been means to celebrate special occasions, markers of sacred time and space, means to consolidate political power and reify community identity, ways to invoke the divine or nature in daily life, methods of marking the passage of time, and releases for social unrest and discord. They can also be connected to life-cycle rituals performed to sanctify social bonds and transitions. For believers, Hindu festivals designate moments of divine intercession into the mundane realities of daily living wherein everyday occurrences become sacralized and life takes on symbolic meaning. Here the gods become present, are made manifest, and intervene on behalf of humanity. Festivals include some combination of sacrifice, absolutions, offerings, and a wide variety of ritual practices and prayerful recitations. In some festivals, these actions are symbolic and in others, they are palpably material. Witnesses have often become captivated by the extraordinary sensorium of Hindu festivals, which are replete with music, art, drama, food, smells, crowds, and general exuberance. They are also inherently public, usually occurring simultaneously in domestic, temple, and public spheres. The combination of their public expression and their multisensory nature has drawn the attention of outsiders in both positive and negative ways. During the Colonial Period, the British viewed Hindu festivals as spectacular but dangerous social extravagances that needed to be curtailed and controlled, lest the Hindus proceed with hook-swinging and public drownings for the sake of ritual fulfillment. The colonial government took careful notice of Hindu public festivals because they were also important times for the populace to gather together and these crowds could engage in political agitation or nationalist organizing. After the demise of colonialism, festivals remained important sociopolitical events that had the potential to incite communal violence. Today, in the Hindu Diaspora, festivals have become important moments that express communal solidarity in the presence of daily experiences of cultural dislocation among minority Hindu communities. From ancient accounts to modern expressions, the celebrations of Hindu festivals continue to define and unite Hindus worldwide, setting them apart as a distinctive religious community operating within intricate symbolic systems during these moments of heightened access to divinity.

General Overviews

Hindu festivals are numerous, exceptionally diverse, and often regionally specific. For this reason, there are relatively few examples of recent scholarship that attempt to tackle the topic as a whole, in the sense of a general overview or introduction. However, confining its analysis to South India, Younger 2002 offers an effective fieldwork-based study of fourteen different festivals. Otherwise, the topic has been addressed in both its multiplicity and particularity, through edited volumes and special issues of journals. Sax 1995 confines his study to an analysis of the Indic term līlā (play) and its theological and practical implications; his edited volume includes rich analyses of festivals as theatres of divine play. The compilations Welbon and Yocum 1982 and Toffin 1982 provide useful, theoretically engaged introductions and allow for each of the individual articles to delve into particularities and regional distinctions. The remainder of the references in this section are valuable Indic sources that may not have followed contemporary developments in western scholarship, but contain rich treasures of textual citations and astrological information that may not be available elsewhere.

  • Hüsken, Ute, and Axel Michaels, eds. South Asian Festivals on the Move. Weisbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2013.

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    This edited volume focuses on public festivals with an emphasis on bodily and spatial movement as they are affected by and products of globalization. The essays are theoretically rich and demonstrate anthropological attention to the local. Many of the articles focus on South India and Sri Lanka, with some attention to Diaspora. Includes illustrations.

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  • Lall, R. Manohar. Among the Hindus: A Study of Hindu Festivals. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 2004.

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    First published in 1933 (Cawnpore, India: Minvera), this overview provides a detailed account of a variety of Hindu festivals, including details of common practices, numerology, astrological analysis, and mythology. Its judgmental authorial tone is emblematic of the period, but it contains useful information based in the author’s experience and personal inquiries.

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  • Raghavan, Venkatarama. Festivals, Sports and Pastimes of India. Ahmedabad, India: Institute of Learning and Research, 1979.

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    A sweeping study of the festivals of India revealing textual references to festivals in the Vedas, the Artharva Pariśiṣṭas, the Epics, Nibandhas and Dharmaśāstras, Kāma Sūtras, Purāṇās, and others. The author argues that many of the most famous festivals of India emerge from ancient origins. Includes references to Indic sports.

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  • Satprakashananda, Swami. “Folk Festivals of India.” Midwest Folklore 6.4 (1956): 221–227.

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    This brief article gives an introductory descriptive account of the multiple facets of religious festivals of South Asia. The author, a Vedanta Society swami, focuses primarily on Hindu festivals, but includes some Muslim festivals and articulates the differences between secular and devout participants. The conclusion includes an unusually placed rationalization of caste, but the piece is generally helpful.

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  • Sax, William S., ed. The Gods at Play: Lila in South Asia. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

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    This edited volume focuses specifically on līlā, with the first half dedicated to theological discussion and the second to its practical enactments. It is a valuable resource for analyzing the textual sources that elucidate the metaphysics of play and the contemporary ritual theaters in which various līlās converge with religious festivals.

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  • Toffin, Gérard. “Les Fêtes dans le monde hindoue.” L’Homme: Revue française d’anthropologie 22.3 (1982): 5–119.

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    Includes articles on Nepalese variations on Hindu festivals, including analyses of space and time (in Nepal), the relationship of particular festivals to caste (in Andhra Pradhesh), structural analysis of Newar communal festivals, and the roles of high-caste women (Nepal). These articles aim to interrogate Hindu festivals within the sociological analysis of festivals initiated by Durkheim, Van Gennep, and Caillois.

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  • Welbon, Guy R., and Glenn E. Yocum, eds. Religious Festivals in South India and Sri Lanka. New Delhi: Manohar, 1982.

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    An edited volume that analyzes the “special time” demarcated by Hindu festivals. The collected essays address the annual Hindu festival calendar, historical and textual accounts of festivals, and ethnographic accounts that situate contemporary festival enactments within their sociohistorical contexts. All essays focus on South India and Sri Lanka, spanning both village and urban contexts.

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  • Younger, Paul. Playing Host to Deity: Festival Religion in the South Indian Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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    A detailed ethnographic account of a wide variety of religious festivals of South India, including Sri Lankan and diasporic examples. This well-researched text includes details about each festival’s mythical roots, sociopolitical context, and contemporary enactment. While some Christian festivals are included, the majority of festivals discussed are of Hindu origin.

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Textbooks

Recently, textbooks introducing Hinduism have shifted their focus from presenting primarily historical and textual accounts to an emphasis on lived and popular religion. This shift in focus has resulted in a significant increase in introductory-level discussions of both domestic and public aspects of Hindu festivals. Fuller 1992 was one of the first textbooks of Hinduism to introduce this focus on popular Hindu religious practice; the text shows how festivals become temporal punctuations that are integral to the annual cycles of Hindu worship. Huyler 2002 includes a visually stimulating collection of photographs that will engage students with their intensity and beauty. In Falk 2006, the author tells stories and anecdotes that subtly introduce the contours of lived Hinduism. In Hawley and Narayanan 2006, two leaders in the field come together with a powerful edited volume that compiles both previously published and unpublished essays, three of which detail important Hindu festivals. Most recently, one of the senior ethnographers of living Hinduism has published an introductory textbook, Flueckiger 2015, that includes a substantial chapter on Hindu festivals and artfully balances public and domestic spheres as they symbiotically create the intricacies of lived Hinduism. Michaels 2015 also engages theoretically in the field of ritual studies and attends directly to festivals as ritually significant events.

  • Falk, Nancy Auer. Living Hinduisms: An Explorers Guide. Belmont, CA: Thompson Wadsworth, 2006.

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    This introductory textbook focuses on lived religion and includes two chapters (5 and 6) that reference festivals. Its written style combines oral history and ethnography to create personalized stories of observances of Hindu festivals, including ritual worship, vrats (ritual fasts), jagrans (night-long worship celebrations), music, and recitations. Includes helpful bibliographies at the close of each chapter.

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  • Flueckiger, Joyce. Everyday Hinduism. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015.

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    An introductory textbook aimed at revealing the lived religion of the Hindu traditions, this ethnographically focused account includes a substantial chapter on Hindu festivals (chapter 5). The author skillfully tacks between intimate domestic rituals and practices and elaborate public displays to show the variety and significance of festival worship.

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  • Fuller, C. J. The Camphor Flame: Popular Hinduism and Society in India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

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    An introductory text that focuses on popular Hindu religious practice. References to Hindu festivals occur throughout the text, but chapter 5 in particular analyzes the Navaratri festival as a ritual of kingship, with special attention to the relationship between human king and royal deity. Chapter 6 includes useful accounts of village festivals. Both chapters consider regional differences and include mythological accounts.

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  • Hawley, John Stratton, and Vasudha Narayanan, eds. The Life of Hinduism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

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    This introductory edited volume welcomes readers into Hindu religious practice as it is personally experienced in the rituals of everyday realities. The relevant chapters on Diwali, Holī, and Rām Līlā are reprints of Om Lata Bahadur, McKim Marriott, and Linda Hess’s previously published essays, respectively, but to have these important works collected together in one volume is a valuable resource.

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  • Huyler, Stephen P. Meeting God: Elements of Hindu Devotion. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.

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    This introductory text connects students with tactile, personal, and immediate experiences of Hindu religion. Chapters 6 and 7 both focus on festivals and the importance of temple processions, calendrical celebrations, and ephemeral rituals. Replete with vivid photographs, the author shows how religious festivals interlace domestic, temple, and public spheres.

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  • Michaels, Axel. Homo Ritualis: Hindu Ritual and Its Significance for Ritual Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

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    This text offers a productive theoretical engagement at the intersection between Hindu studies and ritual studies. While much of this engagement with Hindu rituals can relate to festivals, the text particularly addresses playful rituals (līlā) in Part 2 and temple festivals, pilgrimages, and processions in Part 3.

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Encyclopedias, Guides, and Manuals

This genre is more practical than academic, but nevertheless many of the references listed here contain important information about the details of rituals that are difficult to find in academic sources. With the exception of the encyclopedic Roy 2005 that lists brief descriptions of various Hindu festivals, the other sources are manuals and guidebooks that aim to assist those who would like practical instructions on how to celebrate Hindu festivals. Bahadur 1998 is directed toward the newly married housewife, who may struggle to keep her family ritually compliant without the assistance of her own familial mentors, while Sitaraman 2007 shows acute awareness of the struggles to maintain Hindu religious traditions while living in the Diaspora context of Toronto. Both works offer assistance for dislocated Hindus who wish to celebrate festivals with their accompanying rituals in traditional fashion and, along with Jagannathan 2005, provide detailed information about recipes, rangoli patterns (decorative and auspicious designs), clothing, the most auspicious moments, suggested activities, decorations, and so on.

  • Bahadur, Om Lata. The Book of Hindu Festivals and Ceremonies. 2d rev. ed. New Delhi: UBS, 1998.

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    This detailed manual aims to be a resource for the modern Hindu housewife, so that she may learn how to conduct appropriate domestic ritual actions for festival occasions. Pan-Indian in scope, this unusual explanatory account reveals the intricacies of the domestic arenas of public festivals, including ritual and decorative requirements and recipes.

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  • Jagannathan, Maithily. South Indian Hindu Festivals and Traditions. New Delhi: Abhinav, 2005.

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    An introductory guidebook to South Indian Hindu festivals, this manual provides practical information about zodiac signs and planetary movements that determine auspicious occasions, life-cycle rituals, and communal festivals. It includes theological descriptions of Hindu beliefs and mythology, and includes the useful addition of recipes significant for particular festival occasions.

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  • Kothare, Balaji Sitaram. Hindu Holidays. Bombay: Times Press, 1904.

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    Contains short descriptions of the majority of traditional Hindu festivals, including astrological timing, appropriate ritual actions, food consumption, and conventional practices. A significant portion of the text is dedicated to relating the relevant Hindu myths that have inspired each festival.

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  • Roy, Christian. Traditional Festivals: A Multicultural Encyclopedia. 2 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 2005.

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    A helpful informational and comparative resource on the festivals of many religions and regions. This encyclopedia includes entries on many of the most significant Hindu festivals and provides information about regional variations, mythological basis, and contemporary practices.

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  • Sitaraman, Soumya Aravind. Follow the Hindu Moon: A Guide to the Festivals of South India. 2 vols. New Delhi: Random House India, 2007.

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    This multivolume reference manual provides practical information for the celebration of Hindu festivals; includes extensive glossaries. Volume 1 includes instructions for assembling necessary ritual elements, appropriate ritual worship, mantras for special occasions, suggested activities, and associated myths. Volume 2 provides calendrical information, specific myths, recipes, patterns for creating kolams (drawing patterns in rice flour), and ritual etiquette.

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Performance Studies

The field of performance studies has developed some of the most valuable contributions in the theoretical literature that can be applied easily to the study of religious festivals. In such analyses the festival becomes a social theatre and the persons involved the actors. Sometimes this is evoked in the most sociological of its interpretations, following the seminal work of Erving Goffman, meaning that all humans are actively engaged in presenting and performing their identities in social arenas. This theoretical premise has been adopted and expanded upon fruitfully in a host of disciplines, including Gender studies, queer studies, cultural studies, and religious studies. Mason 2009 artfully builds on these theoretical foundations with a rich investigation into the festival theatres of Rās Līlās in Vrindavan, as does Sax 2002 in his study of the Pāṇḍav Līlā. However, taking the lens of performance studies to such rituals is not without controversy. Philip Lutgendorf (1993), in his review of Kapur 1990, cited under Micro-Studies of Particular Festivals, questions the efficacy of such analyses because they overlook the emic view, wherein many South Asian audience members do not view those persons representing Krishna, etc., in līlā performances as actors, but rather as actual divinities, manifested on earth. Lutgendorf suggests that to consider the līlās mere representations—that is to say, as performances that are agentively constructed by human actors—misses their meaning and significance for the throngs of Indian audiences in attendance. This is an important point of controversy because it reveals long-standing tensions in the study of religion as to whether to privilege emic and etic views, and the difficulties inherent in the imposition of theories created by western scholarship upon non-Western peoples. Other contributions focus less on the theoretical implications of performance studies and telescope more directly to the theatrical and musical performances enacted during festivals. Pechilis 2009 is an artful piece that transitions between the author’s work on the history and hagiography of the female saint, Kāraikkāl Ammaiyār, and her ethnographic work at a contemporary performance of her hagiography. The important edited volume Jacobsen 2008 notes the importance of display in the religious festival cultures of South Asia, and several key articles discuss the politics of traditional festival processions when they are enacted in Diaspora.

  • Clothey, Fred W. Rhythm and Intent: Ritual Studies from South India. Madras, India: Blackie, 1983.

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    A study of South Indian ritual including chapters on festivals. Viewing festivals as complex symbol-systems, the author divides Hindu festivals into ecofests, festivals commemorating astronomical or seasonal events, and theofests, festivals celebrating an event in the life of a deity; includes descriptions of Skanda-Ṣaṣṭi, Paṅkuni Uttiram, and the Yākam.

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  • Dibia, I. Wayan. “Odalan of Hindu Bali: A Religious Festival, a Social Occasion, and a Theatrical Event.” Asian Theatre Journal 2.1 (1985): 61–65.

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    This short article focuses on the Odalan festival among Hindu populations in Bali. The author focuses attention on the social interactions among community members as they prepare the festival, their processions, and a variety of performing arts that are highlighted for the duration of the festival, in particular dance-dramas, both religious and secular.

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  • Jacobsen, Knut A., ed. South Asian Religions on Display: Religious Processions in South Asia and in the Diaspora. New York: Routledge, 2008.

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    Focused on processions of multiple religions of South Asia, but contains several accounts of Hindu festival processions. Includes important theoretical contributions regarding religion on display, and accounts of life-cycle rituals and large-scale festival occasions. Ranges from India to the far reaches of the Diaspora.

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  • Mason, David. Theatre and Religion on Krishna’s Stage: Performing in Vrindavan. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230621589Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This rich theoretical contribution to performance studies resides at the intersection of religion and theatre. It situates performer and audience in their mutual expressions in the Rās Līlās, the dramatization of Krishna’s childhood and adolescence, during Holī in Vrindavan. The author historically contextualizes his ethnographic data by including Indic songs, ślokas, hymns, and myths.

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  • Pechilis, Karen. “Experiencing the Mango Festival as a Ritual Dramatization of Hagiography.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 21.1 (2009): 50–65.

    DOI: 10.1163/157006809X416814Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article is an ethnographic account of the dramatization of the hagiographical account of the 6th century female saint, Kāraikkāl Ammaiyār, in the coastal town of Kāraikkāl in Tamilnadu during the annual mango festival. It is based in a first person ethnographic narrative that emphasizes the importance of “moments of awe” generated by bhakti.

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  • Raj, Selva, and Corinne Dempsey, eds. Sacred Play: Ritual Levity and Humor in South Asian Religions. New York: SUNY, 2011.

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    Focused on ritual levity and play in religious environments, this volume includes two important chapters on religious festivals, Holī (Sanford) and Durga Puja (McDermott). The authors suggest that myth, ritual, and humor suspend common conceptions of time and encourage festival participants to recalibrate their understandings of divinity and its relation to the world.

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  • Sax, William S. Dancing the Self: Personhood and Performance in the Pāndav Līlā of Garhwal. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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    An account of the Pāṇḍav Līlā, the theatrical performance of episodes from the Mahabharata, as enacted through the stories, songs, and theater of village residents of Garhwal, a region in the central Himalayas of northern India. This ethnography provides adroit theoretical analysis and first person experiences of the month-long festival and its various participants.

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Art and Music

Hindu religious festivals are intricately connected to performance and the arts, as noted in the Introduction to Performance Studies. Many festivals include long sessions of recitations with musical accompaniment and concerts designed to invoke religious emotions and provide entertainment. The prominence of mythological literature in Hinduism has also spawned a litany of theatrical performances, like the various līlās, wherein the adventures of the gods are brought to human audiences through public enactments, often with elaborate staging, costumes, and conventions. Many of the relevant studies of theatrical performance can be found in the previous section, Performance Studies. In this section, several articles focus particularly on music, for example Skelton 1971 offers a somewhat technical article on the nagaswarm, a traditional South Indian musical instrument, and Widdess 1994 focuses on the resurgence of dhrupad, a traditional form of religious vocal art-music. Also from ethnomusicology, Brown 2014 brings the conversation to the Diaspora, revealing how the kirtans of the Hare Krishnas continue to attract large audiences into the Hindu fold, even if they do not share their religious views. Festivals are not only performed, they are also represented. Bearce 1965 draws readers into the commissioned miniature paintings of the Rajput world of the 18th century, showing how the British and Europeans influenced miniature paintings of five popular festivals. While there are scores of sources that elucidate art and music in Hinduism, these limited references focus directly on festivals while attending to their respective art forms and analyses.

  • Bearce, George D. “The Festivals of Mewar: The Interaction of India and the West in Early Nineteenth-Century Indian Painting.” Studies in Romanticism 4.3 (1965): 121–142.

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    Examines five Rajasthani miniature paintings depicting the festivals of Teej, Dasehra, Karga S’hapna, Gangore, and Holī, which were painted by court painters in Udaipur during the reign of the Rana Bhim Singh (1778–1828). Discusses the role of James Tod, the British political agent in Rajasthan (1818–1823), and other British and European influences on Rajasthani miniature paintings.

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  • Brown, Sarah Black. “Krishna, Christians, and Colors: The Socially Binding Influence of Kirtan Singing at a Utah Hare Krishna Festival.” Ethnomusicology 58.3 (2014): 454–480.

    DOI: 10.5406/ethnomusicology.58.3.0454Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article suggests that kirtan is the primary factor that binds together people of different faiths at the Hare Krishna celebrations of Holī in Spanish Fork, Utah. There, the Holī festival attracts upwards of 65,000 attendees to the ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) temple for color play, the majority of whom are Mormon youth.

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  • Skelton, William. “The Nagaswarm and the South Indian Hindu Festival.” Asian Music 2.1 (1971): 18–24.

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    An ethnomusicological account of the role of the nagaswarm, a traditional South Indian musical instrument, and its role in the festivals, with a particular focus on the Tattamangalam festival for Lord Ayyappan in Kerala. The paper details the instrument, the method of playing it, its accompanying instruments, and its role in South Indian processions and festivals.

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  • Widdess, Richard. “Festivals of Dhrupad in Northern India: New Contexts for an Ancient Art.” British Journal of Ethnomusicology 3 (1994): 89–109.

    DOI: 10.1080/09681229408567228Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article analyzes the revival of dhrupad, a traditional form of religious vocal art-music, in the 1970s and 1980s in Banaras and Vrindavan. The author shows how the revival of dhrupad as a genre of religious music was constructed by aligning its performance with annual Hindu festivals (Śivrātri in Banaras and Holī in Vrindavan), wherein performances could be offered to God without monetary reward.

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Time and Calendrical Festivals

Festivals in multiple cultural contexts have been analyzed with special regard to time. The French Sociologist, Emile Durkheim, suggested that festivals were special events that united society in a common celebratory purpose. Festival time and space were sanctioned as sacred, as opposed to and distinct from the profane realm of daily reality. Roger Caillois built upon Durkheim’s influential thesis suggesting that festivals signified moments of collective cleansing, the death and rebirth of the society, the purging of the social body. Festival time stood apart and distinguished from the ordinary passage of time; during festivals the ordinary revolutions of time stood still and recalibrated until the closure of the festival, when they would resume once more. In the Indic context, conceptions of the particularities of festival time hold heightened significance because festivals are viewed as signifiers of important astrological and calendrical moments wherein the space between humanity and divinity is temporarily reduced. In other words, at particular moments in the lunisolar calendar, the divine is closer to the human. In these particular moments, humans use the rituals and ceremonies of festivals to invoke divinity, supplicate divinity, sacrifice to divinity, and many believe that divinity is made manifest on earth more easily. Indic astrologers and numerologists have developed a science of calculating precisely when these special moments occur on an annual cycle, and there have been many works composed by western scholars attempting to analyze this indigenous lunisolar annual cycle with reference the Gregorian calendar; see Freed and Freed 1964 and Stanley 1977. Anthropologists in India began their queries with the distinctive focus on village life, and many studies documented the annual cycle of festivals in efforts to more easily view the punctuations of religious time among villagers throughout the year; see Freed and Freed 1998, Hanchett 1988, Lewis 1956, and Östör 1980. Hindu communities living in the Diaspora must negotiate within the conventions and legal regulations of the host society, which sometimes constrain festivals to weekends and toward nontraditional modes of production, performance, and conclusion; see also Nye 2015, cited under Diaspora.

  • Freed, Ruth S., and Stanley A. Freed. “Calendars, Ceremonies, and Festivals in a North Indian Village: Necessary Calendric Information for Fieldwork.” Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 20.1 (1964): 67–90.

    DOI: 10.1086/soutjanth.20.1.3629413Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This is an instructive paper on Indian lunisolar systems, which determine the timing for Hindu festivals. It includes useful conversion charts indicating lunar to Gregorian correlation, zodiac names of lunar and solar months, lunar months under Amanta and Purinmanta systems, and the annual festival cycle in Shanti Nagar, a village in northern India near Delhi.

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  • Freed, Stanley A., and Ruth S. Freed. Hindu Festivals in a North Indian Village. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1998.

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    A traditional anthropological account of the calendrical festivals of a North Indian village that identifies various rites, their mythological importance, and their socioreligious context. Based in fieldwork conducted in 1958–1959 and 1977–1978, the authors present the annual religious festivals as rites of intensification that aim to insure individual and communal well-being.

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  • Hanchett, Suzanne. Coloured Rice: Symbolic Structure in Hindu Family Festivals. Delhi: Hindustan Publishing, 1988.

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    This anthropological work provides an ethnographic account of the annual family and folk festivals of residents in the villages of Karnataka. Festivals described include: Gauri, Prati, Piriyapattanadamma, Pitra Paksa, anthill festivals, and cobra festivals. Rich in detailed analysis, this contribution includes both material descriptions and commentary on symbolic meanings. With contributions by Stanley Regelson.

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  • Lewis, Oscar. “The Festival Cycle in a North Indian Jāṭ Village.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 100.3 (1956): 168–196.

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    This paper narrates the annual Hindu festival cycle in a northern Indian village in the southern Punjab region. It is a product of mid-20th-century anthropology and thus it is concerned particularly with caste and village life, but it includes useful details revealing the intricacies, practical details, songs, and rites of the annual festivals.

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  • Mukherji, Abhay Charan. Hindu Fasts and Feasts. Allahabad: Indian Press, 1918.

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    This compilation of articles that first appeared in The Pioneer or The Leader (1913–1914) provides detailed descriptions of twenty of the most popular Hindu festivals. Each entry includes the astrological justification for the auspiciousness of the festival, its significance, and common practices. Due to its antiquity, the text provides valuable insights into early 20th-century practices.

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  • Östör, Ákos. The Play of the Gods: Locality, Ideology, Structure and Time in the Festivals of a Bengali Town. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

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    A detailed anthropological study of the annual festivals of a Bengali village, with a particular focus on the worship of Shiva and Durga. This careful ethnography emphasizes emic accounts and argues that festivals are complete social facts that can illuminate other more commonly addressed culturally constituted domains, such as caste or kinship.

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  • Stanley, John M. “Special Time, Special Power: The Fluidity of Power in a Popular Hindu Festival.” Journal of Asian Studies 37.1 (1977): 27–43.

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    This article focuses on the Somavati Amāvasyā festival at Jejuri within the broader context of conceptions of auspicious time and devotion to Khaṇḍobā in the Deccan. The author shows how the religious experiences of the festival are focused primarily on the renewal of power because of belief in the fluidity of Khaṇḍobā’s power at that time.

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  • Underhill, M. M. The Hindu Religious Year. New York: Oxford University Press, 1921.

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    This early anthropological work begins by detailing the Hindu calendar year in terms of traditional astrology and numerology and auspicious versus inauspicious times. The chapters devote attention to important solar and lunar festivals, deity-centered festivals to Vishnu and Shiva, and animistic festivals. The author suggests that these are pan-Indian celebrations, whereas the final chapter lists festivals that are particular to Maharashtra in detail.

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Politics, Communalism, and Power

Hindu festivals, particularly the ones that include accompanying processions, are often means to demarcate spaces of control and to signify the importance, if not the supremacy, of the deity or the Hindu community that has its procession through the streets or region. Raj and Dempsey 2002 offer several chapters (2–5) in their edited volume that consider how festivals enact, express, and construct Hindu-Christian relations and Hindu-Christian hybridities. Good 1999 shows how the temple procession during the Pankuni Uttiram festival in a South Indian town demarcated cosmic space as it also mapped earthly territories and thus when the procession was interrupted, the consequences for believers were dire and resulted in communal violence. Although there are some festivals wherein Muslims and Hindus share devotions, as described in Mohammad 2013, more often Hindu festivals can become collective expressions of Hindu social solidarity and communalism, expressed in opposition to Muslim populations in India. Historians of contemporary religion in India will inevitably recall how L. K. Advani’s Rath Yatra campaign in 1990 was integral to inciting the violence that occurred at Ayodhya in 1992. Similarly, Jones 2007 shows how festival procession routes can accelerate tensions between Hindus and Muslims and Fuller 2001 shows how the festival and its accompanying processions are used to disseminate Hindutva ideology in Chennai and its surrounding regions. Consideration of Bhattacharya 2007 is particularly interesting here because the author argues that the festivals surrounding Durga Pujas in 18th- and 19th-century Calcutta effectively secularized Hindu religious practices into indices of civic identity. If this is the case, then its suggests that Hindu leaders (whether they present Hinduism as a secularized civic identity or as a militantly communalistic ideology) have been using the public displays of festival occasions for centuries as a means to present themselves as the dominant cultural and religious power in Indian society.

  • Ananthanathan, A. K. “Temple, Religion and Society.” East and West 43.1–4 (1993): 155–168.

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    This short article focuses on devotional festivals to Murukan in Tamil regions of southern India and Sri Lanka. The author employs Emile Durkheim’s theory of “collective representation” to argue that worship of Murukan cannot be separated from Tamil culture and that festivals are expressions of that social solidarity.

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  • Bhattacharya, Tithi. “Tracking the Goddess: Religion, Community, and Identity in the Durga Puja Ceremonies of Nineteenth-Century Calcutta.” Journal of Asian Studies 66.4 (2007): 919–962.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0021911807001258Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article traces the development of Durga Pujas in the sociopolitical context of 18th- and 19th-century Calcutta, arguing that the festival pujas were vital to the “secularization” of Hinduism, that is the dissemination of Hindu traditions into the public sphere, and they became indices of a civic identity which promoted social cohesion.

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  • Fuller, C. J. “The ‘Vinayaka Chaturthi’ Festival and Hindutva in Tamil Nadu.” Economic and Political Weekly 36.19 (2001): 1607–1616.

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    Supplies an account of the Vinayaka [Ganesha] Chaturthi festival in Chennai and surrounding Tamil Nadu. The author argues that the exponential growth of the public festival (1990–2000) resulted from a Hindu nationalist campaign that aimed to unify Hindus into a single majority community and to normalize and disseminate Hindutva ideology.

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  • Good, Anthony. “The Burning Question: Sacred and Profane Space in a South Indian Temple Town.” Anthropos 94.1–3 (1999): 69–84.

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    This article deals with a riot that occurred during the Hindu festival Pankuni Uttiram in the South Indian town of Kalugumalai in 1895. The author shows how the temple procession during the festival aimed to recreate sacred cosmology through the town’s geography and how the interruption of this sacred mapping instigated communal violence.

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  • Harnish, David D. Bridges to the Ancestors: Music, Myth, and Cultural Politics at an Indonesian Festival. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006.

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    A broad ethnographic study of the Lingsar festival of Lombok, situated within the social context of ethnonationalist politics of Indonesia. The annual festival, called Pujawali, aims to promote communal prosperity, but it also has become a forum to revisit and reorder the past, to legitimize ethnicities and cultures, and to redefine social identities.

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  • Jones, Reece. “Sacred Cows and Thumping Drums: Claiming Territory as ‘Zones of Tradition’ in British India.” Area 39.1 (2007): 55–65.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2007.00715.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article analyzes communal violence between Hindus and Muslims with attention to the importance of spatial considerations. It includes an analysis of the communal riots that ensued after the late 1890s as a result of Hindu festival processions playing music as they passed in front of newly built mosques, as both religious groups attempted to claim territory.

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  • Mohammad, Afsar. The Festival of Pīrs: Popular Islam and Shared Devotion in South India. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199997589.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An ethnographic account of Muharram in Gugudu, a village in Andhra Pradesh, this text shows how local Islam becomes inclusive and hybridized with Hindu practices. Muslims and non-Muslims perform the pilgrimage that accompanies the festival, and Muslims and Hindus share a blended repertoire of Hindu and Islamic devotional practices.

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  • Raj, Selva, and Corinne Dempsey, eds. Popular Christianity in India: Riting Between the Lines. Albany: SUNY, 2002.

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    Section 1 of this edited volume focuses on festivals and rituals, with chapters by Joanne Punzo Waghorne, Margaret Meibohm, and two chapters by Selva Raj. Each scholar addresses the boundaries of Christianity, particularly Catholicism, and Hinduism as they are enacted and redefined through festival occasions and lived aspects of ritual practice.

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Gender

Many studies of festivals have viewed them as necessary social venting systems that provide the weak with semicontrolled environments for the expression of their accumulated despair, anger, and resentment against the powerful. Bakhtin 2009, famously analyzed popular festival culture in the European Middle Ages and Renaissance, showing how common people criticized and parodied the rich and powerful during festivals, whereas such microaggressions would not have been tolerated elsewhere. Several Hindu festivals easily lend themselves to this analytical suggestion. Holī, for example, usually exhibits these types of social inversions; it is a festival wherein men humble themselves before women, the old before the young, the high caste before the low caste; see McKim Marriott’s chapter in Hawley and Narayanan 2006, cited under Textbooks. Although they are not precisely termed “festivals,” there are also entire genres of gatherings, such as jagrat, night-long worship of the goddess, that can also be viewed as special communal spaces for women to gain social standing, power, and independence from the confines a highly patriarchal religious system of Hinduism. Raheja and Gold 1994 is a classic work that ethnographically engages with intimate women’s spaces of ritual and communal expression. While not precisely focused on festivals, these communal gatherings are highly influential ritual spaces. With regard to festivals, Hauser 2005 in particular shows how the Thakurani Jatra festival, also held at night, opens up a communal space created and dominated by women worshipping the goddess; both the jagrat and the Thakurani Jatra include possession rituals. Davis 2005 turns toward traditional women’s arts as they are enacted during festivals, showing how women create female-centered commentaries through song, dance, and storytelling. Unfortunately, as is often the case, studies that address festivals with direct attention to gender are usually focused on women alone, which reinforces assumptions of male normativity. However, McDermott 2011 helpfully turns our attention to Bengal, the region most famous for goddess worship in India, and looks at how festivals in honor of the goddess have shaped Bengali identity for both men and women.

  • Bakhtin, M. M. Rabelais and His World. Translated by Hélène Iswolsky. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.

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    In this seminal work, Bakhtin focuses on the popularity of parodies, farce, and inversions of social hierarchies that were enacted with impunity during festivals during the European Renaissance. Originally published Moscow: Khudozhestvennia literatura, 1965.

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  • Davis, Coralynn. “‘Listen, Rama’s Wife!’: Maithil Women’s Perspectives and Practices in the Festival of Sāmā Cakevā.” Asian Folklore Studies 64.1 (2005): 1–38.

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    This article narrates the Sāmā Cakevā festival in Bihar and Nepal, a festival unique to Maithil society. Sāmā, the wayward daughter of Krishna, is the focus of the festival and the author shows how women and their expressive traditions of song, dance, and folklore dominate the festival through female-centered commentaries that articulate women’s subjectivities.

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  • Hauser, Beatrix. “Travelling through the Night: Living Mothers and Divine Daughters at an Orissan Goddess Festival.” Paideuma: Mitteilungen zur Kulturkunde 51 (2005): 221–233.

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    This article engages nocturnal processions during the Thakurani Jatra in Orissa, a biennial festival in honor of the goddess Budhi Thakurani. The nocturnal procession occurs during the highest potency of the goddess and up to ten thousand women have a procession through the streets, some becoming possessed by the goddess until the procession culminates at the temple at dawn.

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  • McDermott, Rachel Fell. Revelry, Rivalry, and Longing for the Goddesses of Bengal: The Fortunes of Hindu Festivals. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.

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    A detailed ethnohistory of Bengali Durga, Jagaddhātri, and Kali pujas spanning from colonial regulations to contemporary enactments in the Diaspora (1781–2008). This exceptional account focuses on why these particular festivals and pujas have become central to Bengali identity, and identifies specific cultural themes that continue to reinforce their religious importance today.

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  • Raheja, Gloria Goodwin, and Ann Grodzins Gold. Listen to the Heron’s Words: Reimagining Gender and Kinship in North India. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

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    This book focuses particularly on women-only spaces through deep ethnographic engagement with songs, storytelling, and ritual actions of village women in North India in the 1970s and 1980s. Through an analysis of women’s expressive genres, the authors reveal how gender and gender-specific communal expressions influence moral norms and traditional conventions.

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Colonial Period

As was mentioned in the Introduction, colonial officials and the ethnographers who served under them were often captivated by the public expressions of Hindu religiosity that occurred during festival occasions. Their interest in public festivals was both a matter of cultural curiosity and control. Festivals represented volatile moments of collective social activity, activities that could be passive or agitating, religious or political, submissive or transgressive—or more often than not, intricate combinations of all of the above. For much of the colonial period, Hindu religious leaders were also potential political leaders, and their activities were heavily monitored, which impacted the famous Kumbh Mela, as described in Maclean 2008. Knowledge about Hindu festivals became an initial means of controlling these potentially volatile environments, and multiple studies were produced in efforts to do just that. Through these early ethnographic accounts, many of which were commissioned by colonial officials, audiences in India and England became exposed to the “exotic” practices of Indian Hindus but also became abhorrent of Hindu rites and ceremonies that British officials deemed immoral (and thus requiring containment). In addition to ethnographic accounts that were produced by interested orientalists (Crooke 1914 and later works by the same author in 1915 and 1923) and those commissioned by the colonial government, such as Gupte 1919, other accounts were produced by missionaries for missionary society audiences in efforts to further expand (and fund) their endeavors on the subcontinent (Stevenson 1920). Each of these textual productions reveals a complex combination of attraction and abhorrence that has colored the discourses about Hinduism in the West with an orientalist hue that continues to exert its influence.

  • Crooke, W. “The Holī: A Vernal Festival of the Hindus.” Folklore 25.1 (1914): 55–83.

    DOI: 10.1080/0015587X.1914.9718804Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This is an early 20th-century ethnology that offers a comparative description of various Holī celebrations of South Asia based in travelogues and colonial accounts. It is both an interesting historical document and a unique window into the ritual practices of Holī festivals of the time, showing distinctive regional variations. Crooke also wrote similar articles on Dasahra in 1915 and Diwali in 1923.

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  • Gupte, Rai Bahadur B. A. Hindu Holidays and Ceremonials, with Dissertations on Origin, Folklore, and Symbols. 2d rev. ed. Calcutta: Silma, Thacker, Spink, 1919.

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    A commissioned work, conducted by the author under the auspices of his title as Assistant Director of Ethnography for India. The text aims to preserve Indic festivals under the belief that they will soon be eclipsed by modernity and gives detailed descriptions of various festivals and ceremonies, each listed alphabetically.

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  • Lewis, J. P. “Folklore from North Ceylon.” Folklore 6.2 (June 1895): 176–185.

    DOI: 10.1080/0015587X.1895.9720297Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This somewhat brief article provides a colonial era account based in first-person experiences of the festivals of northern Sri Lanka in 1890. This descriptive narrative includes temple celebrations, dances, possessions, pujas, and ritual actions and their accompanying myths.

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  • Maclean, Kama. Pilgrimage and Power: The Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, 1765–1954. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195338942.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the most carefully researched works concerning the Kumbh Mela and the relations between Hindu ascetic sects and the British colonial government. Maclean argues convincingly that the Kumbh Mela, in its current form, is a recent and politically charged event, as opposed to a timeless religious one (as is often purported).

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  • Murdoch, John. Hindu and Muhammadam Festivals. Rev. ed. New Delhi: South Asia Books, 1991.

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    Building on the initial documentary endeavors of Sir William Jones, this reprinted colonial account aims to fill in details of the calendrical festivals with a focus on Bengal. Reading against the grain of colonial biases, it includes useful historical reports of religious festivals as they were performed and mythologized in the 19th century.

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  • Stevenson, Alice Margaret. The Rites of the Twice Born. London: Oxford University Press, 1920.

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    A missionary account that aims to introduce novices to India into local religious customs, this volume includes a chapter (12) on the festivals of the Hindus. It provides a reasonable account of Hindu practices, but is also an interesting historical document that provides a window into the views of missionaries in the early 20th century.

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  • Wilson, H. H. “The Religious Festivals of the Hindus.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 9 (1847): 60–110.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0035869X0015614XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This descriptive account aims to build upon the initial entries made by Sir William Jones in Volume 3 of the Asiatic Researches (Gale Ecco, Print Editions, reprinted 2010). The author catalogues a great variety of Hindu festivals, inserting his prejudices alongside his perceptions, often in a comparative mode. The article is effective as both an introspective look into orientalist perceptions of Hindu festival rituals and the rituals themselves.

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Geography and Ecology

Hindu festivals grow and develop in particular regions, cultivated and nurtured in distinct geographies. There are particular flora and fauna that are indigenous to specific areas, and those natural substances often become symbolic within the rituals inherent in Hindu festivals. Careful attention to the geographies and ecologies of the regions wherein festivals originate and thrive can illuminate important meanings for their existence, as can be seen in Barua 2009 in the case of Assam. Historically, annual festivals have been intricately connected to natural phenomena; whether the annual seasonal changes or agricultural cycles (harvest, planting, and so on), festivals have long marked specific phases of the natural world. Meyer 1937 makes this argument most directly, whereas the remaining resources analyze how festivals are impacted by their environments and shifts in their environments in particular. For example, Vickery 1976 explains how increased motor traffic on the roadways has diminished participation in Holī celebrations in Kathmandu. A recent well-funded project conducted by the South Asia Institute at Harvard University sent multiple teams of scholars to the Kumbh Mela at Prayag (Allahabad, India) in 2013 to analyze how the “ephemeral megacity” was able to create a sustainable environment working with the forces of nature. Mehrotra and Vera 2015 celebrates the Kumbh Mela as a feat of public health and engineering, which by all accounts it was. Alas, even such a magnificent temporary city could not stand the torrential downpours of February 16, 2013, which washed away much of the festival, but occurred after the Harvard team had collected most of their data for their volume. Sanford 2011 suggests that the mythological tales of Balaram and the Yamuna River can teach all of humanity important lessons about the perils of environmental degradation and agribusiness. These references remind readers that festivals are inherently local events that occur in specific geographical and environmental contexts.

  • Barua, Maan. “The Ecological Basis of the Bihu Festival of Assam.” Folklore 120.2 (2009): 213–223.

    DOI: 10.1080/00155870902969400Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This short article analyzes the ecological context of Bihu, the festival of the New Year, as it is performed in Assam. It includes descriptions of flora and fauna significant to the festival and accounts of rituals of cattle worship and fertility rites, as well as the ecological context of daily life in Assam.

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  • Mehrotra, Rahul, and Filepe Vera, eds. Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Megacity. Berlin: Hatje Cantz, 2015.

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    The South Asia Institute at Harvard University initiated this study focusing on the “pop-up megacity” of the Kumbh Mela at Prayag in Allahabad in 2013. This cross-disciplinary inquiry drew together scholars from public health, urban studies and design, business, technology and communications, and religious and cultural studies to analyze the infrastructure of the festival; includes excellent photographs.

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  • Meyer, J. J. Trilogie Altindischer Mächte und Feste der Vegetation. Zurich: Max Niehan, 1937.

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    This substantial work divides Hindu festivals into those which centralize the deities Kama, Bali, and Indra. In each section, the author devotes significant attention to linking the festivals discussed to growing seasons, and argues that the festivals derive their origins from primitive responses to phenomena in nature (death, birth, animals, plants, and so on). Draws on both ancient scriptural sources and accounts of early 20th-century festival celebrations.

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  • Sanford, A. Whitney. Growing Stories from India. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011.

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    This book envisions new narratives surrounding modern modes of food production that can escape the environmental degradation offered by mass agribusiness. The author addresses this through multiple investigations of the narrative of Balaram and the Yamuna River, including two particularly salient chapters on the festival of Holī (chapters 5 and 6).

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  • Vickery, A. Roy. “Holi Celebrations in Kathmandu, 1974.” Folklore 87.2 (1976): 220–222.

    DOI: 10.1080/0015587X.1976.9716039Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This short article seeks to explain why Holī has decreased in significance in Kathmandu. The author suggests that the increase in motor traffic on Kathmandu’s roadways, the increase in European styles of clothing, and “hooliganism” are the three primary reasons for the decline in Holī celebrations.

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Diaspora

When Hindus in the diaspora context develop stable and financially viable communities, temple construction is one of the first initiatives that leaders often undertake. Once the fundraising is complete and the newly constructed temple is consecrated, the calendrical year of rites, rituals, ceremonies, celebrations, and festivals can commence. As a result, the newly established Hindu community unwittingly confronts its host nation in the diaspora context with large crowds, loud music, processions, and the accompanying logistical ramifications: parking, public health permits, food service permits, requests for road closures, and so on. In many cases, these Hindu religious festivals are supported and celebrated as expressions of a vibrant multicultural society, while in other cases the responses are much more complex. See Baumann, et al. 2003 for a comparative analysis of three different European diasporic contexts. In other cases, smaller new religious movements, such as the Hare Krishnas (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) become unlikely representatives of Hinduism in general and may find themselves either embraced by the local community as in Brown 2014, or fraught with legal battles as in Nye 2015. Collectively, these references suggest that Hindu festivals become important signifiers that are able to express communal identity when they are enacted by minority Hindu populations in the diaspora context, as in Harnish 2006, Jha 1976, and Kelly 1988; see also Collins 1997, cited under Micro-Studies of Particular Festivals. Hindu festivals, with their public ceremonies and processionals, become opportunities to render the minority community visible, to express its internal solidarity, and to imprint itself onto the multicultural fabric of the host nation.

  • Baumann, Martin, Brigitte Luchesi, and Annette Wilke, eds. Tempel und Tamilen in zweier Heimat: Hindus aus Sri Lanka im Deutschsprachigen und Skandinavischen Raum. Würzburg, Germany: Ergon, 2003.

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    This book presents multiple facets of Tamilian and Sri Lankan Hinduism as it is expressed and navigated in the diasporas of Germany, Switzerland, and Scandinavia. The volume reveals that because temple festivals draw such extensive crowds and produce colorful fanfare and noise, they become a particularly important locus of cultural interaction in the public sphere within the host cultures.

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  • Brown, Sarah Black. “Krishna, Christians, and Colors: The Socially Binding Influence of Kirtan Singing at a Utah Hare Krishna Festival.” Ethnomusicology 58.3 (Fall 2014): 454–480.

    DOI: 10.5406/ethnomusicology.58.3.0454Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author, a Mormon student at Brigham Young University in Utah (United States), analyzes the annual Hare Krishna celebrations of Holī in Spanish Fork, Utah. At their temple in Spanish Fork, ISKCON devotees invite massive crowds (65,000), most of whom are white Mormons, to their temple for color play and chanting the mahā mantra annually.

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  • Couteau, Jean, and Georges Breguet. Time, Rites and Festivals in Bali. Jakarta, Indonesia: BAB Publishing, 2014.

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    A richly detailed, fascinating study of Balinese conceptions of time, through mythic accounts, calendars, and festivals as markers of time. The section on festivals includes calendrical festivals and life-cycle rituals, complete with detailed accounts, traditional drawings, and photographs of their contemporary enactment; an excellent coffee table and reference book.

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  • Harnish, David D. Bridges to the Ancestors: Music, Myth, and Cultural Politics at an Indonesian Festival. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006.

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    A broad ethnographic study of the Lingsar festival of Lombok, situated within the social context of ethnonationalist politics of Indonesia. The annual festival, called Pujawali, aims to promote communal prosperity, but it also has become a forum to revisit and reorder the past, to legitimize ethnicities and cultures, and to redefine social identities.

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  • Jha, J. C. “The Hindu Festival of Divali in the Caribbean.” In Special Issue: East Indians in the Caribbean. Edited by Rex Nettleford. Caribbean Quarterly 22.1 (1976): 53–61.

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    A synopsis of the Diwali festival in Trinidad highlighting local variations and particularities, with a comparative view toward celebrations on the subcontinent. Includes songs, puja rituals, as well as details of the festival’s transition from a limited celebration conducted with makeshift supplies into a national holiday.

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  • Johnson, Henry. “‘Happy Divali!’: Performance, Multicultural Soundscapes and Intervention in Aotearoa/New Zealand.” In Special Issue: Musical Performance in the Diaspora. Edited by Tina K. Ranmarine. Ethnomusicology Forum 16.1 (2007): 71–94.

    DOI: 10.1080/17411910701276526Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An account of Diwali celebrations in Auckland, New Zealand, this article articulates the festival as a space of multicultural contact, wherein displays of religious and cultural identity form the nucleus of performance. Through music, dance, and cultural performances, the diasporic population creates an event that is distinctly of New Zealand while it recognizes its Indic roots.

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  • Kelly, John D. “From Holī to Diwali in Fiji: An Essay on Ritual and History.” Man n.s. 23.1 (1988): 40–55.

    DOI: 10.2307/2803032Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article explains why Diwali has replaced Holī in importance in Fiji. The author suggests that this shift is likely the result of parallel shifts in the Indian Fijian economy from rural to urban, the rise of a bourgeois middle class, the influence of Hindu missions, and the influence of Christian missions and European attitudes.

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  • Nye, Malory. Multiculturalism and Minority Religions in Britain: Krishna Consciousness, Religious Freedom, and the Politics of Location. London: Routledge, 2015.

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    An extended analysis of the legal contestations surrounding ISKCON’s Bhaktivedanta Manor in Britain, in particular the controversy that emerged from the massive crowds who attended its annual Janmashtami festival celebrations. The author engages legal discourses to interrogate ideals and the limits of multiculturalism, religious freedom, and religious minority rights in the diasporic context.

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Micro-Studies of Particular Festivals

Because Hindu festivals are so multifarious and diverse, many important studies focus on a single festival and analyze a particular aspect of it in detail. Some of these studies telescope even further by focusing on a particular festival as it is enacted in a particular region. For example, Barnouw 1954 focuses on the Ganapati festival, a pan-Indian festival, but restricts the inquiry to its enactment in Pune. By limiting his scope of inquiry, the author is able to focus on the specific influences of early-20th-century Indian nationalism, and the political actions of Bāl Gangādar Tilak. Similarly, Eschmann, et al. 1978 focuses on the Jagannāth chariot festival in Orissa as one part of a comprehensive study of Orissan regional religious traditions that provides an invaluable contribution to the field. Dubey 2001 also benefits from the editor’s extensive firsthand knowledge of the Kumbh Mela as a lifelong resident of Allahabad and as a scholar of religions intimately connected to the annual melas at Prayag. Each of these studies is conducted by authors with considerable knowledge and experience of the particular festival that they address. Sometimes they conduct a limited inquiry aimed at describing the festival as a worthy topic in itself and other times they include intricate analyses of the theoretical relevance of their data to parallel lines of inquiry (i.e., Fuller and Logan 1985 and Kapur 1990. Other selections provide valuable resources because of their comparative perspectives, wherein their authors recognize that Hindu festivals are rarely bound by religious community and often Jains and Buddhists have participated in and negotiated with the most popular pan-Indian festivals, such as Diali and Holī; see Gode 1945 and Cort 2013, respectively.

  • Barnouw, Victor. “The Changing Character of a Hindu Festival.” American Anthropologist n.s. 56.1 (1954): 74–86.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.1954.56.1.02a00070Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A mid-20th-century anthropological account of the ten-day Ganapati (Ganeśa) festival in Pune, including narrations of both domestic and public activities. This descriptive account includes a section on the festival’s historical context that links the contemporary public festival to Bāl Gangādar Tilak and early-20th-century Indian nationalism.

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  • Collins, Elizabeth Fuller. Pierced by Murugan’s Lance: Ritual, Power, and Moral Redemption Among Malaysian Hindus. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1997.

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    This study of the Thaipusam festival associated with the worship of the South Indian deity Murugan interprets the festival by focusing on the intersecting angles of its social and economic contexts in Malaysia. The author shows how the emphasis and interpretation of the festival differs according to social station and caste identity of community members. Includes detailed study of ritual practices.

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  • Cort, John E. “‘Today I Play Holī in My City’: Digambar Jain Holī Songs from Jaipur.” International Journal of Jaina Studies (Online) 9.7 (2013): 1–50.

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    This article analyzes Digambar Jain responses to the communal festival of Holī. It shows how orthodox Jain admonished the transgressive festival as antithetical to Jain principles of ahimsa, but also how Digambar Jains (like their Hindu counterparts) composed songs that provided an allegorical reading of Holī that aimed to tame and reframe the festival in the 17th–19th centuries.

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  • Dubey, D. P., ed. Kumbh Mela: Pilgrimage to the Greatest Cosmic Fair. Allahabad, India: Society for Pilgrimage Studies, 2001.

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    This text is difficult to obtain, but it is important nevertheless. Includes an historical analysis of the Kumbh Mela, drawn from Hindu scriptural references, inscriptions, travelogues, and colonial accounts. Includes astrological calculations and contemporary accounts based in the editor’s significant experience observing the festival. The primary text is in English, but some footnotes and textual references are left untranslated in Sanskrit and Hindi.

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  • Eschmann, Anncharlott, Hermann Kulke, and Gaya Charan Tripathi, eds. The Cult of Jagannath and the Regional Tradition of Orissa. New Delhi: South Asia Institute, 1978.

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    This rich history of the worship of Jagannāth in Orissa spans analysis of ancient sources to contemporary expressions. Provides substantial information as to its historical, social, and religious context. It highlights the annual Jagannāth chariot festival, which is supported by a substantial temple base and pilgrimage tradition and is a significant religious festival.

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  • Fuller, C. J., and Penny Logan. “The Navarātri Festival in Madurai.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 48.1 (1985): 79–105.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0041977X00026987Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article recounts the unusual complementarity between Navarātri (Durga Puja in Bengal, Dasarā in Karnataka) festival celebrations at the Mīnākṣhī Temple and in private homes in Madurai. Provides deft theoretical analysis of various components of the festival, including the tying of cords, cooling rituals, decorations and adornment, the hair-washing ritual, symbolism, and sacrifice.

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  • Gode, P. K. “Studies in the History of Hindu Festivals—Some Notes on the History of Divālī Festival—(Between c. AD 50 and 1945).” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute 26.3–4 (July–October 1945): 216–262.

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    This account attempts to trace the history of Diwali in Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist contexts, from scriptures, inscriptions, art, and indigenous and colonial accounts. It includes a useful timeline of non-Purāṇic scriptural references to Diwali (and its presumed equivalencies) beginning in 50 to 400 CE and continuing to 1613–1883.

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  • Hein, Norvin. The Miracle Plays of Mathurā. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972.

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    This book focuses on Hindu religious drama by drawing information from ethnographic research among performers in the Vaiṣṇava center of Mathura. Hindu religious dramas are not quite festivals, but some, such as Rām Līla and Rāslīlā, share common characteristics and thus scholars can benefit from this analytical lens.

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  • Kapur, Anuradha. Actors, Pilgrims, Kings and Gods: The Ramlila at Ramnagar. Calcutta: Seagull, 1990.

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    An ethnography that details each day of the Rām Līlā of Banaras. It provides a helpful tool to analyze the Rām Līlā as a festival with multiple, simultaneous performance arenas, which attracts crowds of ten to one hundred thousand observers. This book builds on earlier works by Linda Hess (see Hawley and Narayanan 2006, cited under Textbooks), Lutgendorf 1991, and Hein 1972.

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  • Lutgendorf, Philip. The Life of a Text: Performing the Rāmcaritmānas of Tulsidas. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

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    This book details dramatic performances of the popular Hindi literary classic, the Rāmcaritmānas, as they are enacted in the north Indian Hindu holy center of Banaras. These dramatic performances are not exactly festivals, but there are commonalities and intersections between the two cultural expressions that make Lutgendorf’s seminal work vital for the field.

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