India is a land of many religions and cultures. Festivals are an integral part of the culture and traditions of India reflecting its ancient civilisation. All the religions have their own set of festivals with their unique style of celebrating them which varies from region to region. The history and mythology behind the stories have customs and rituals attached to it. Festivals enable one to move from the daily routine of life and realise the oneness of mankind which is unity among all diversity. It prods mankind to move beyond the physical and the transient and comprehend the Divine who is all pervading and eternal. Festivals involve fasting and prayer, rituals and pilgrimages. Hindu months are divided into dark half and bright half of the month depending on the lunar calendar and these days have great significance in most festivals. In order to comprehend the integrity and greatness of Indian culture, festivals were designed by ancient wise sages and seers of different eras. Festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi were started in Maharashtra by Lokmanya Tilak as a social means to foster the spirit of unity among people during the British rule. India has a number of festivals which focus on domestic events, harvest and other seasonal occurrences thus involving community participation with a spirit of gaiety and enthusiasm.
One of the Hindu festivals celebrated in India is Narada Jayanthi on the birth anniversary of the great saint Narada. He is the Manas Putra of Lord Brahma and one of the immortals or Chiranjeevis of Hindu mythology. According to Vishnu Puran, he was the son of the great Sage Kashyapa. Some legends state that he is said to have incarnated in the Kali Yuga as poet saints Thyagaraja and Purandaradasa to spread the glory of the Lord through devotional music.
Life of Narada
Narada is revered as the celestial musician of the Gods and a holy being who has traversed the three worlds, spreading the path of Bhakti or devotion to the Lord. He is featured in all the epics and Puranas leading souls to salvation. With a stringed instrument in one hand and the name of the Lord on his lips he has appeared in all the three Yugas namely Sathya, Dwapara and Treta. The name Narada implies ‘Nara’ meaning mankind and ‘Da’ meaning giver. Thus , Narada is the one who gives knowledge to mankind and leads them to the right path. Some legends also consider him to be the inventor of the musical instrument ‘Veena’. In a lighter vein he is also said to be the ‘Initiator of quarrels’ or ‘Kalahapriya’ between the Gods and demons though each action of his has deep spiritual significance with evil doers being punished and good people receiving Divine grace.
Legends about Narada
It is said that Narada influenced Daksha’s sons to practice renunciation and avoid marriage and the life of a householder and this angered Daksha who cursed him to wander aimlessly as a vagabond. But Narada was unperturbed and happy that this would enable him to wander about, preaching and singing the glories of the Lord. According to legends, Sage Vedavyasa divided the Vedas into four branches namely Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharvana. To further explain these Vedas which he felt would be difficult to comprehend by the common man, he wrote the Puranas and the epic Mahabharata bringing out the essence of the Upanishads in the Bhagavad Gita in simpler language. But he was still unsatisfied whether his works were sufficient to benefit humanity when Narada approached him and divined his predicament. Narada explained to the sage that none of the writings described the glories of the Lord and in Kaliyuga, the path of Bhakti or devotion was the easiest and fastest way to liberation. He then imparted to Vyasa the secrets of Vedanta which inspired Vyasa to compose the Bhagavad Purana. Another legend narrates the meeting of Sage Valmiki and Narada. Valmiki asked Narada whether there was any human being, perfect in thought, word and deed, free of sin and the embodiment of all virtues. Narada then told him about Lord Rama and his glories. Valmiki was overjoyed and subsequently composed the Ramayana. The first Canto of Ramayana of one hundred shlokas is said to contain a concise account as narrated by Narada.
As a guide and author
Sage Narada was an authority in astronomy, music and other arts. He is said to have authored the treatise ‘Naradasmriti’ and the book ‘Naradashiksha’which lays down the principles of phonetics and grammar. He is said to be the author of the Narada Purana which contains beautiful stories like the devotion of Markandeya and other inspiring ones. His most famous work is the ‘Narada Bhakti Sutras’ which are eighty-four aphorisms on devotion and its various aspects. He was an advisor and messenger to the Gods and when the Pandavas were in exile he taught Yudhishtira the virtues of humility and the ideal way to lead a Dharmic life. He could travel through the three Lokas at will. He guided great devotees like Dhruva and took care of Hiranyakasipu’s wife when she was carrying Prahlad in her womb and initiated him into the glories of the Lord while still in the womb. He brought to light the ‘Pativrata’ nature of Sati Anusuya setting up the background for the birth of the Trimurthi (Dattatreya). There are a number of stories where he has helped animals, insects and many poor but deserving humans to chant the name of the Lord and attain salvation including the poet saint Thyagaraja who attained Lord Rama’s feet through music as guided by Narada. He was said to be a master of the Sankhya and Yoga systems of philosophy and was adept at all branches of learning and had complete knowledge of the whole universe. In some scriptures he is also referred to as ‘Saktyavesa Avatara’ or a partial Avatar of the Lord who is empowered to perform miracles on behalf of the Lord.
Some of the temples of Sage Narada are located in Chigateri and Korva in Karnataka and in most of the other states like Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar and others where there are small temples dedicated to Narada along with temples of other deities, saints and seers.
This festival is celebrated in the Hindu month of Visakha (April/May) on the day after the full moon as the birth anniversary of Sage Narada or Vaisakha Bahula Poornima. The Vaishnava cult observes fasts on this day. Rituals and special prayers are held with recitation from the holy texts. Devotees visit temples and offer prayers. In some places prasad is then distributed or a feast is organised and feeding of Brahmans is conducted. Since Narada was considered a great communicator, he is considered a precursor of a modern day journalist. He was a universal messenger of the Lord and not a creator of conflicts but a problem solver to bring about the well-being of the world. Hence, the day is referred to as ‘Patrakar Diwas’ or ‘Journalists day’. Prayers, meetings and intellectual seminars are held all over India. Journalists are exhorted to integrate responsible thoughts and ideals and aim towards public welfare.
Festivals in India are guidelines at different stages of life to help us to focus on the spiritual life force underlying all creation. They include fasts, pilgrimages, worship and community events like music and dance to emphasise on the joys of celebration. The inner significance of festivals, the legends and rituals associated with them and the benefits to be accrued on successful completion are all detailed in the various scriptures of ancient India. Many of the festivals are celebrated in memory or to pay homage to great Avatars, saints and seers who are said to have descended on this Earth to lift man from the worldly plains to higher plains of self-realisation and eternal knowledge.