A Solstice is when the sun either reaches the highest or lowest point in the sky depending on where you are in the world. It is an astronomical event that happens twice, once in summer and once in winter, each year when the Sun reaches its highest position in the sky as seen from the North or South Pole. During Solstices the tilt of the axil of the Earth (with respect to the Sun) is the maximum at 23° 26′.
Solstices occur on 20th or 21st June and 21st or 22nd December each year. During summer the day of the solstice is the longest day of the year and during winter the day of the solstice is the shortest day of the year. When the North Pole is tilted furthest away from the sun this is when the winter solstice exactly occurs.
During June it is Summer Solstice in the Northern hemisphere and Winter Solstice in the Southern hemisphere. In other words on June Solstice it is summer time in the UK, the USA, Canada, Russia, India, and China and it is the longest day of the year while it is winter time in Australia, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand and South Africa and it is the shortest day of the year.
Similarly during December it is Winter Solstice in the Northern hemisphere and Summer Solstice in the Southern hemisphere. In other words during December Solstice it is winter time in the UK, the USA, Canada, Russia, India and China and it is the shortest day of the year while it is summer time in Australia, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand and South Africa and it is the longest day of the year.
To avoid any confusion Solstices are preferably referred as June Solstice (Northern Solstice) and December Solstice (Southern Solstice). Winter Solstice is also known as Hibernal Solstice. Throughout history, the solstice is seen as a marking point and signal for ancient cultures to harvest or start their animals mating.
Christmas is an annual commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ and a widely observed cultural holiday, celebrated generally on December 25 by billions of people around the world. Christmas is both a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon. For two millennia, people around the world have been observing it with traditions and practices that are both religious and secular in nature. Christians celebrate Christmas Day as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, a spiritual leader whose teachings form the basis of their religion. Popular customs include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church, sharing meals with family and friends and, of course, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive.
St. Nicholas was a Bishop who lived in the fourth century in a place called Myra in Asia Minor (now called Turkey). He was a very rich man because his parents died when he was young and left him a lot of money. He was also a very kind man and had a reputation for helping the poor and giving secret gifts to people who needed it. Because of his kindness Nicholas was made a Saint. St. Nicholas was exiled from Myra and later put in prison during the persecution by the Emperor Diocletian. No one is really knows when he died, but it was on 6th December in either 345 or 352. In 1087, his bones were stolen from Turkey by some Italian merchant sailors. The bones are now kept in the Church named after him in the Italian port of Bari.
In the 16th Century in northern Europe, after the reformation, the stories and traditions about St. Nicholas became unpopular. But someone had to deliver presents to children at Christmas, so in the UK, particularly in England, he became ‘Father Christmas‘ or ‘Old Man Christmas‘, an old character from stories plays during the middle ages in the UK and parts of northern Europe. In France, he was then known as ‘Père Nöel‘. In some countries including parts of Austria and Germany, present giver became the ‘Christkind‘ a golden-haired baby, with wings, who symbolizes the new born baby Jesus. In the early USA his name was ‘Kris Kringle‘ (from the Christkind). Later, Dutch settlers in the USA took the old stories of St. Nicholas with them and Kris Kringle and St Nicholas became ‘Sinterklaas‘ or as we now say ‘Santa Claus‘!
In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. Unfortunately, the Bible does not mention date for his birth (a fact Puritans later pointed out in order to deny the legitimacy of the celebration). Although some evidence suggests that his birth may have occurred in the spring (why would shepherds be herding in the middle of winter?), Pope Julius I chose December 25. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century. By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia. Today, in the Greek and Russian orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated 13 days after the 25th, which is also referred to as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. This is the day it is believed that the three wise men finally found Jesus in the manger. By holding Christmas at the same time as traditional winter solstice festivals, church leaders increased the chances that Christmas would be popularly embraced, but gave up the ability to dictate how it was celebrated.
In the early 17th century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe. When Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645, they vowed to rid England of decadence and, as part of their effort, cancelled Christmas. By popular demand, Charles II was restored to the throne and, with him, came the return of the popular holiday. After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870. Today, in the Greek and Russian orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated 13 days after the 25th, which is also referred to as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. This is the day it is believed that the three wise men finally found Jesus in the manger.
English New Year starts on 1st of January, the first day of modern Gregorian calendar also called as Western Calendar and Christian Calendar. Gregorian calendar was reformed in year 1582 to the Julian calendar and stored January 1st as a New Year Day. Gregorian calendar is widely adopted by most of the countries and celebrates January 1st as New Year Day as well as December 31st as New Year’s Eve.
The celebration of the new year on January 1st is a relatively new phenomenon. The earliest recording of a new year celebration is believed to have been in Mesopotamia, c. 2000 B.C. and was celebrated around the time of the vernal equinox, in mid-March. A variety of other dates tied to the seasons were also used by various ancient cultures. The Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians began their new year with the fall equinox, and the Greeks celebrated it on the winter solstice.
The early Roman calendar designated March 1 as the new year. The calendar had just ten months, beginning with March. The first time the new year was celebrated on January 1st was in Rome in 153 B.C. (In fact, the month of January did not even exist until around 700 B.C., when the second king of Rome, Numa Pontilius, added the months of January and February.) The new year was moved from March to January because that was the beginning of the civil year, the month that the two newly elected Roman consuls (the highest officials in the Roman republic) began their one-year tenure but the new year was still sometimes celebrated on March 1.
In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar introduced a new, solar-based calendar that was a vast improvement on the ancient Roman calendar, which was a lunar system that had become wildly inaccurate over the years. The Julian calendar decreed that the new year would occur with January 1, and within the Roman world, January 1 became the consistently observed start of the new year.
In 1582, the Gregorian calendar reform restored January 1 as new year’s day. Although most Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar almost immediately, it was only gradually adopted among Protestant countries, e.g. The British did not adopt the reformed calendar until 1752. Until then, the British Empire and their American colonies still celebrated the new year in March.
Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-1945 C.E.) was born on 23rd January 1897 in Cuttack, Orissa. He is famously known as Netaji. Netaji was one of the prominent leaders who struggled for India’s Independence from British rule. He is most famously known for building Indian National Army with Japanese support.
Netaji’s famous slogan “You give me blood, I’ll give you Freedom” has continued to inspire many even today. He was strongly influenced by Swami Vivekananda’s teachings and was known for his patriotic zeal as a student. He also adored Vivekananda as his spiritual Guru.
When he started schooling came out brilliant and scored top ranks throughout his study in school and university and completed his BA in Philosophy with a first class score in 1918. His father sent him to England to appear for the Indian Civil Service Examination as he wanted him to become a civil servant. Bose was placed fourth with highest marks in English. But his urge for participating in the freedom movement was intense that in April 1921, Bose resigned from the coveted Indian Civil Service and came back to India.
He joined the Indian National Congress, and also elected as the president of the Youth wing party. He had been a leader of the younger, radical, wing of the Indian National Congress in the late 1920s and 1930s, rising to become Congress President in 1938 and 1939. He was expelled from Congress leadership positions in 1939 due to differences with Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
Netaji always believed that non-violence would never be sufficient to secure independence and advocated violent resistance. On the outbreak of the war Bose protested against Viceroy’s decision to declare war on India as he advocated mass campaign of civil disobidience.
He escaped from India in 1941 for Germany to work for India’s independence and travelled to a number of countries, including Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, so as to seek alliance with each and to attack the British government in India. He went to Singapore to lead the Indian Independence league in 1943 and re built Indan Azad Hind Fauj or Indan National Army. Under his leadership, thousands of ex-prisoners and civilian volunteers from Malaya (Malaysia) and Burma joined the army, and together they fought to drive the British imperial rulers out of the country.
Along with the Japanese army they brought independence to Andaman and Nicobar Islands and came all the way to Manipur in India. He established the Azad Hind Radio station in Germany and led the Indian nationalist movement in East Asia.
Sources reported that death of Subhash Chandra Bose was caused after his overloaded Japanese plane crashed and Bose suffered third degree burns. After his death several conspiracy theories surrounded his death.
Although it was believed that Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose died in a plane crash on 18 August 1945, his body was never recovered. There have been many theories put forward regarding his disappearance. The government of India has set up a number of committees to investigate the case and come out with truth.
Most recently, in April 2017, someone named Sayak Sen issued a Right to Information (RTI) application asking about Gumnami Baba — the identity that many claim Netaji had taken up after surviving the plane crash. The RTI application also asked if the government has any information about Netaji’s whereabouts after August 18, 1945. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) responded to RTI saying that the government, after considering reports from various commissions, has concluded Netaji had indeed died in the 1945 plane crash.
India commemorates the day of 26th January as Republic Day when Constitution of India came into force in 1950. It is the same day when Declaration of Independence was promulgated by the Indian National Congress and this day were chosen to honor that event. This day celebrates the anniversary of the Constitution of India and the transition of India from a British Dominion to a republic on 26th January, 1950. After getting freedom from the British rule on 15th August 1947, India was headed by King George VI till the constitution of India came into force on 26th January 1950. On this day India is declared as a democratic republic nation. Dr. Rajendra Prasad was elected as the first president of India.
It is one of the three national holidays of India, including Independence Day and Gandhi Jayanti. Being a gazetted holiday all government offices and most businesses are closed on Republic Day.
Republic Day is celebrated with a great pride and enthusiasm throughout India. The main parade takes place in the national capital New Delhi, at the Rajpath before the president who unfurls the national flag. The parade starts from the Raisina Hill near the Rashtrapati Bhavan (President’s Palace), along the Rajpath, India Gate and on to the Red Fort. The different regiments of the Army, the Air Force and the Navy participate in the parade with all their finery and official decorations. The President of India, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Armed Forces, takes the salute and addresses the nation. Celebrations are also held in state capitals where the Governor of the state unfurls the national flag.
Vasant Panchami, also spelled Basant Panchami, is a Hindu spring festival. It is observed on the fifth day of the Indian traditional calendar month of Magha, which typically falls in the Gregorian months of January or February. This day is dedicated to Saraswati, the Goddess of knowledge, music, arts, science and technology. Goddess Saraswati is worshipped on Vasant Panchami. Vasant Panchami is also known as Shri Panchami and Saraswati Panchami.
People worship Goddess Saraswati to get enlighten with knowledge and to get rid of lethargy, sluggishness and ignorance. This ritual of initiating education to children is known as “Akshar-Abhyasamor Vidya-Arambham/Praasana” which is one of the famous rituals of Vasant Panchami. Schools and colleges arrange pujas in the morning to seek blessing of the Goddess.
Purvahna Kala, which is the time between the sunrise and the midday, is considered to decide Vasant Panchami day. Vasant Panchami is celebrated on the day when Panchami Tithi prevails during Purvahna Kala. Due to which Vasant Panchami might also fall on Chaturthi Tithi. Many astrologers consider Vasant Panchami as Abujha (अबूझ) day which is auspicious to start all good work. According to this belief whole Vasant Panchami day is auspicious to perform Saraswati Puja.
The colour yellow has a great significance in the celebration of Vasant Panchami. It is believed to be the symbol of blossoming flowers of mustard. Yellow attire is therefore worn by the followers of Saraswati. Moreover, the sweets and dishes prepared for the festival are usually yellow and saffron in color.
Another legend behind Vasant Panchami is based on the Hindu god of love called Kama. It is remembered as the day when Parvati approached Kama to wake up Shiva in Yogic meditation since the Maha Shivaratri. The other gods support Parvati, and seek Kama’s help to bring Shiva back from his meditation to do his duties in the world. Kama agrees and shoots arrows, made of flowers and bees, at Shiva from his heavenly bow of sugarcane in order to arouse him to pay attention to Parvati. This initiative is celebrated by Hindus as Vasant Panchami.
Guru Ravidas (1377-1527 C.E.) was a famous saint of the Bhakti Movement. His devotional songs and verses made a lasting impact upon the Bhakti Movement. Guru Ravidas is also known as Raidas, Rohidas and Ruhidas.
According to historians Guru Ravidas was born during 1377 C.E. at Mandhuadhe in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. There is controversy on the exact birth date of Ravidas. According to some scholars it was year 1399 when Guru Ravidas was born. As per Hindu calendar Guru Ravidas was born on Magha Purnima. Hence his birth anniversary is celebrated on Magha Purnima as per Hindu lunar calendar.
His belief in one God and his unbiased religious poems won him numerous followers. In fact, around 41 of his poems were included in the religious text of the Sikhs, “Adi Granth” or “Guru Granth Sahib”. Those poems were compiled by the fifth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Arjan Dev. The Sant was a thinker, a socio-cultural reformer, a traveller, a spiritual figure, and, most important, a humanist who dedicated his whole life to the banishment of a treacherous caste-system. He openly denounced the notion of a Brahminical society (where Brahmins are perceived as supreme beings) and even established Begumpura, a state sans any hierarchical system of caste or creed. Guru Ravidas said, “If God actually resides in every human being, then it’s quite futile to segregate persons on the basis of caste, creed and other such hierarchical social orders.” He opposed the myth that caste plays a very important role in establishing a relation with God. He was of the belief that God is omnipresent, and anyone with a clear conscience and “bhakti” can reach God through simple prayers.
Widely known as Raidas, Guru Ravidas was an eminent figure in the Bhakti Movement which started in North India around the 15th century. His birthplace is now known as Shri Guru Ravidas Janam Asthan and it is a major place of pilgrimage for the followers of Guru Ravidas.
Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati was the legendary catalyst who changed the tide of times. He is heralded as the grandfather of Indian Freedom Movement giving birth to the concept of ‘Swadesh‘. His call for ‘Back to the Vedas’ in late nineteenth century ushered in a widespread social and moral transformation worldwide which continues till today.
Tankara, a town in Saurashtra of the present Gujarat State, There lived a wealthy brahmin, Karshanji Laiji Tiwari by name; he was also the tahsildar of Tankara. His wife, Amrith bai, was a beautiful and virtuous woman. She was like a mother to all the villagers. In 1824, a son was born to the couple. They named. him Moolashankar. According to the custom of the place, he was also called Dayaram. This child was to become famous as Maharshi Dayananda. When he attained the age of five, Moolashankar’s education started. At the age of eight, his Upanayana Samskara (being invested with the holy thread) was performed. The boy used to perform religious rites like ‘Sandhyavan dana’ with devotion. He had a very good memory. By the time he was fourteen he had learnt by heart the Yajurveda, the scriptures and the upanishads.
Maharshi Dayananda Saraswati authored more than 70 works in all, including a 14 volume explanation of the six Vedangas, 9 volumes of Rigveda Bhasya and 4 volumes of Yajurved Bhasya. His most important and referred works are Satyarth Prakash, Sanskarvidhi, Rigvedadi Bhashya Bhumika, Rigved Bhashyam (up to 7/61/2) and Yajurved Bhashyam.
Maharshi completed his vedic studies under Swami Virjanand in 1864. Thereafter, he travelled across India till 1874 AD for Vedic propagation and learning. Maharshi’s first major authorship was Panchmahayajya Vidhi in 1874 AD. The Paropkarini Sabha located in the Indian city of Ajmer was founded by the Swami himself to publish and preach his works and Vedic texts in 1882.
Maharshi passed away in 1883; at that time his Rig Veda Bhasyam was only more than half way. But within his short span of 10 years of work, he created a vast, deep and research based literature on the Vedic lore.
Shivaratri is great festival of convergence of Shiva and Shakti. Chaturdashi Tithi during Krishna Paksha in month of Magha is known as Maha Shivaratri according to South Indian calendar. However according to North Indian calendar Masik Shivaratri in month of Phalguna is known as Maha Shivaratri. In both calendars it is naming convention of lunar month which differs. However both, North Indians and South Indians, celebrate Maha Shivaratri on same day.
According to one story from Puranas, during the samudra manthan, a pot of poison emerged from the ocean. This terrified the Gods and demons as the poison was capable of destroying the entire world, and they ran to Shiva for help. To protect the world from its evil effects, Shiva drank the deathly poison but held it in his throat instead of swallowing it. This made his throat turn blue, and he was given the name Neelakantha, the blue-throated one. Shivaratri is the celebration of this event by which Shiva saved the world.
According to another legend in the Shiva Purana, once the other two of the triads of Hindu Gods, Brahma and Vishnu, were fighting over who was the superior of the two. Horrified at the intensity of the battle, the other gods asked Shiva to intervene. To make them realize the futility of their fight, Shiva assumed the form of a huge column of fire in between Brahma and Vishnu. Awestruck by its magnitude, they decided to find one end each to establish supremacy over the other. Brahma assumed the form of a swan and went upwards and Vishnu as Varaha went into the earth. But light has no limit and though they searched for thousands of miles, neither could find the end. On his journey upwards, Brahma came across a Ketaki flower wafting down slowly. When asked where she had come from, the Ketaki replied that she had been placed at the top of the fiery column as an offering. Unable to find the uppermost limit, Brahma decided to end his search and take the flower as a witness. At this, the angry Shiva revealed his true form. He punished Brahma for telling a lie, and cursed him that no one would ever pray to him. The Ketaki flower too was banned from being used as an offering for any worship, as she had testified falsely. Since it was on the 14th day in the dark half of the month of Phalguna that Shiva first manifested himself in the form of a Linga, the day is especially auspicious and is celebrated as Mahashivaratri. Worshipping Shiva on this day is believed to bestow one with happiness and prosperity.
At Maha Shivratri, People keep fast of whole day and night and all the Shiv temples e.g. Kashi Vishwanath temple gets congregated by the young and old devotees from the very early morning. They come to the temple to perform the puja of traditional Shivalingam and hope to get what they have prayed to the god. They take bath in the holy water of the Ganga (Symbol of the purity) early in the morning before sunrise and wear a clean clothe after the sacred bath.
Ramakrishna (1836-1886 C.E.) was a famous Saint in the 19th century in India. He was born on 18 February 1836 into a very poor but devoutly religious Brahmin family in the village of Kamarpukur, Hooghly district of West Bengal, India. He became a priest of the Dakshineswar Kali Temple, dedicated to the goddess Kali and located near Calcutta on the Ganges River. He is famously known as Ramakrishna Paramahamsa among his devotees.
Young Ramakrishna was prone to experiences of spiritual reverie and temporary loss of consciousness. His early spiritual experiences included going into a state of rapture while watching the flight of cranes, and loosing consciousness of the outer world while playing the role of the god Shiva in a school play.
At one point he became frustrated, feeling he could not live any longer without seeing Kali. He demanded that the goddess appear to him. He threatened to take his own life with a ritual dagger (normally held in the hand of the Kali statue). Ramakrishna’s behavior became more erratic as time passed and began to worry his family and employer. He would take on ritual and mythical roles identifying with figures from the Puranas (medieval Indian holy books describing the adventures of gods). The group of respected religious leaders concluded that this was a case of divine madness similar in nature to that of other famous saints such as Caitanya (a fifteenth century Bengali saint). From this point on, people began to treat Ramakrishna with more respect though his unusual behavior in worship and meditation continued. A Yogi named Totapuri then became Ramakrishna’s mentor. Ramakrishna adopted the role of renunciant and learned a nondualist form of Vedanta philosophy from him. In this system, God is understood to be the formless unmanifest energy that supports the cosmos. Ramakrishna experienced a deep form of trance (nirvikalpa samadhi) under the guidance of this teacher. This state can be described as complete absorption of the soul into the divine ocean of consciousness. Ramakrishna also appealed to those with an interest in yoga and esoteric practices by practicing a non-dual form of meditation prescribed by Totapuri which seeks samadhi.
He was married to Sarada Devi who later became his spiritual counterpart and was considered a saint in her own right to take charge of his disciples and carry on his message. Swami Vivekananda was one of his famous disciples. In honor of his Guru, Swami Vivekananda founded Ramakrishna Math which works for the welfare of others and spread the spiritual movement known as Ramakrishna Movement worldwide. Belur Math is the headquarters of Ramakrishna Math and Mission.
According to Hindu lunar calendar it was Dwitiya, Phalguna, Shukla Paksha, Vikram Samvat 1892 when Shri Ramakrishna was born. Each year the birth anniversary of Ramakrishna is celebrated as per Hindu lunar calendar across all Ramakrishna Maths.
Parsis follow the religion of Zoroastrianism, one of the oldest known monotheistic religions. It was founded by the Prophet Zarathustra in ancient Iran approximately 3500 years ago. It was one of the ancient world’s most important religions for over 1000 years and was the official religion of Persia (now Iran) from 650 BCE until the rise of Islam in the 7th century. When the Islamic armies invaded Persia, many Zoroastrians migrated, to places such as Gujarat in India and Pakistan. Nowadays there are an estimated 2.6 million Zoroastrians worldwide, with the Parsis (‘Parsi’ being Gujarati for Persian) in India being the largest single group.
Parsi New Year, also known as ‘Jamshedi Navroz’ after the legendary King of Persia, Jamshed who started the Parsi Calendar, is celebrated Worldwide on the first day of the Zoroastrian calendar’s first month. Navroze, this day marks the first day of the spring equinox and is therefore celebrated between March 19th and March 22nd. In India, on the other hand, the Shahanshahi calendar is followed, which means the New Year celebration happens in the later months of the year. Delicious lunch and sweets are an integral part of Nowruz celebrations. Parsi New Year is a regional holiday in states of Maharashtra and Gujarat in the country. Delicacies for the special day include moong dal, dhansak, farcha, prawns, pulav, and sali boti. Zoroastrianism celebrates numerous festivals and holy days around the year following the Zoroastrian calendar. Parsi New Year or Pateti is celebrated on August 17 by the Parsi community. Iranians celebrate the Persian New Year on the spring equinox based on their calendar while Indians and Pakistanis celebrate the day based on Shahenshahi calendar.
According to Hindu scriptures Holika Dahan, which is also known as Holika Deepak or Chhoti Holi, should be done during Pradosh Kaal (which starts after sunset) while Purnimasi Tithi is prevailing. Bhadra prevails during first half of Purnimasi Tithi and all good work should be avoided when Bhadra prevails.
There are many mythological, spiritual and social tales associated with Holika; the most popular of all being that of Prahlad and Hirnakashyap. Demon king Hirnakashyap was so haughty and immoral that he barred the people of his kingdom from praying to the lord. In order to become immortal, he started performing hard penance to please Lord Brahma. Brahma gave Hirnakashyap the following five boons: neither a human nor an animal would be able to kill him; neither he would be killed inside the door nor outside the door, neither he would be killed during the day nor at night, neither he would be killed by any Astra nor by any Shastra, neither he would be killed on the land nor in the water or in the air. After getting this boon, the demon thought himself to be nothing less than the almighty but the son born to this devil, Prahlad, was an advent devotee of Lord Vishnu. He became very angry and decided to kill his son. After a lot of attempts failed, he took helps from his sister, Holika. Hirnakashyap’s sister, Holika, was once blessed by Brahma that she will not be harmed by fore ever in her life. She had a shawl, which would protect her. She was asked by her brother to be seated in the flames with Prahlad but when the fire soared, the blessed shawl of Holika fluttered away to cover Prahlad. In this way, Prahlad lived and Holika burnt and died. This story contains a universal message – triumph of good over evil.
A day before Holi, lots of wooden sticks are gathered in the ground, and are worshiped. A thread is tied around a small piece of bread and placed on the fire. It is believed that even though the bread burns, the thread remains clean. This is a memorial of how the evil (the bread) is destroyed, while the thread (the soul ) is eternal.