Holidays and Regular Observances

Do Vaishnavites observe unique feasts in honor of Vishnu or his avatars?

Rama Navami (Rama Ninth, during Chaitra in early spring) celebrates Rama’s birthday. During a nine-day festival celebrants attend a lengthy retelling of the massive epic Ramayana. A related feast occurs on the fifteenth of Shravana, a full moon celebration of Rama’s crossing over to Lanka to rescue Sita. Two major feasts focus on Krishna. Krishna Janmashtami (“Birthday Eighth” during the dark half of Shravana) in late summer, celebrates Krishna’s birthday. For a full seven days devotees reenact events from Krishna’s life. The festivities culminate with a fast and midnight worship on the seventh day, the eve of the birthday. Naga Panchami (“Serpent Fifth,” so named because it occurs on the fifth day of Shravana’s bright half) comes in late summer and recalls one of Krishna’s many victories over embodiments of evil, his dispatching of the serpent demon Kaliya in the river Jumna. Although the evil demon in this case is a serpent, the fast and feast celebrate the grace represented by other cosmically beneficial serpents as well. Several feasts also recall other specific avatars. For example, on the full moon of Karttika some Vaishnavites celebrate Vishnu’s descent as the savior-fish Matsya.


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