Holidays and Regular Observances

Are there other important cyclical observances based largely on celestial signs?

Every three years Hindus gather from all over India in one of four sacred cities (Hardvar, Prayaga, Ujjain, and Nasik, each on a different sacred river or confluence) for a huge religious fair called a Kumbha-mela (“grain-pot festival”). The mythological connection in the name is its reference to the kumbha, or vessel, from which drops of the nectar of immortality fell as the demons rested on their flight from the gods, making the four cities holy. Every twelve years, a series of astrological conjunctions make the gathering at Prayaga (known by Muslims as Allahabad) particularly auspicious. Since about the eighth century, travelers have made organized pilgrimages to the four cities to attain forgiveness of sins for themselves and eighty-eight generations of ancestors by bathing in their sacred waters. Four times each year, corresponding to the two solstices and two equinoxes, Hindus celebrate particularly important events in the solar calendar. The beginning of every solar month is auspicious because of the sun’s move into a new sign of the Zodiac. But the winter solstice is the most important because it signals the lengthening of days and the beginning of the solar year.


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