This Holy Season – Part II

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The Interfaith Calendar shows there are some 26 Holy Days or observances during the month of April. The first full moon after the vernal equinox brings events for five religions in its wake. There are observances before that full moon and after. We shall bring you a triptych – three panels in art (often depicting the Divine or saints) – three articles covering the events of this Holy Season of 2022. This second article covers events from Vaisakhi to the Orthodox Palm Sunday.


Ramadan (continues)

Ramadan

All during the month of April, the Muslims of the Goulburn Valley – where we have four mosques – continue their fast from food and water from dawn to sunset. This is a time that elicits religious awareness, and care for the needy, as one of the five pillars of Islam is Zakat, care for the needy. Families and the worshipping community come together for Iftar meals, meals that break the fast.

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14 April 2022
Vaisakhi and Khalsa Foundation Day – Sikhi

Sikhs observing Baisakhi

Vaisakhi also known as Baisakhi, Vaishakhi, or Vasakhi is a historical and religious festival in Sikhism. It is usually celebrated on April 13 or 14 every year. Vaisakhi marks the Sikh new year and commemorates the formation of Khalsa panth of warriors under Guru Gobind Singh in 1699.

Vaisakhi is celebrated with parades, dancing and singing throughout the day. Many Sikhs choose to be (baptised) (or received) into the Khalsa brotherhood on this day. This festival is marked with nagar kirtan processions: processions through the streets (nagar means “town, village”) and (kirtan means singing of sacred chants) which form an important part of Sikh culture and religious celebrations.

Kirtan is a term meaning the singing of hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book. Celebrations always include music, singing and chanting scriptures and hymns. The processions are led by traditionally dressed Panj Piaras. The Guru Granth Sahib will be carried in the procession in a place of honour.

Baisakhi was one of the three festivals that the third Sikh Guru, Guru Amar Das, chose to be celebrated by the Sikhs. In 1699, the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Teg Bahadur, was publicly beheaded by the Mughals. This occurred due to his willingness to oppose the Mughal invaders and protect the cultural identity of Hindus and Sikhs whom the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb wanted to convert to Islam. On Baisakhi day of 1699, his son, Guru Gobind Rai, rallied the Sikhs and inspired them through his words and actions, bestowing upon them and himself the title of Singh or lion, thus becoming Guru Gobind Singh. The five Ks of Sikhism were adopted, and the Guru system was dispelled, with Sikhs being urged to accept the Granth Sahib as the eternal guide. Thus, the festival of Baisakhi is observed as the coronation of the last Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, as well as the foundation of the Khalsa Panth of Sikhism, granting it a position of immense importance to Sikhism, and is one of the biggest Sikh festivals.

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14 April 2022
Mahavir Jayanti – Jainism

 

14 April is Mahavir Jayanti, an important festival of the Jain Religion.

Jainism is an Indian religion and philosophy which offers an austere path to enlightenment. Much of its mythology was inherited from Hinduism, including huge numbers of gods, and ideas on the structure of the Universe, but Jains differ from Hindus in that they do not believe in the idea of creation, considering that time is cyclic. Jain ascetics attempt to conduct their lives following these five vows:

  • to injure no living thing (because everything has a soul);
  • to speak the truth;
  • to take only what is given;
  • to be chaste;
  • to achieve detachment from people, places and things.

Their exemplars in following this discipline are 24 tirthankaras or ‘spiritual teachers’ who have appeared in the present cycle of time. A tirtha is a ford or crossing place or a sacred place; a person or path which enables believers to cross over into liberation from an endless round of rebirth; for Jains, the tirthankaras were the builders of the ford.

Mahavira (above) the twenty-fourth tirthankara, was a contemporary of Gautama Buddha. At the age of 30, he renounced family life and embarked on life as a wondering ascetic. He endured 12 years of fasting, silence and meditation to achieve enlightenment, then spent the next 30 years preaching throughout northern India.

Mahavir and his followers went about naked to indicate their conquest of passion, and he and his followers are traditionally portrayed with downcast eyes – dead to the world. In this day and age, Jains are divided into Digambar – clad with the sky, and Shwetambar – clad in white clothing (to indicate purity).

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14 April 2022
Vishu – Hinduism

Vishu - Hinduism

Vishu is observed on the first day of Malayalam Month of Medam and Puthandu (or the Tamil New Year observed on the first day of Chithirai month). Both these are traditional New Year observances in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. This festival is directly associated with agriculture and symbolizes hope, joy and success.

The Vishu day celebrations begin with the ‘Vishu Kani.’ ‘Vishu Kani’ is the first auspicious thing that people see on the day and this takes place during the Brahma Muhurta or ideally between 0400 hrs and 0600 hrs.

The ‘Vishukani’ is usually prepared on the night before the Vishu day. Immediately on awakening from sleep, people close their eyes and proceed towards the place where Vishukani is placed. This is known as Kani Kanal – kani means ‘that which is seen first.’

Vishu - Hinduism

Vishukani consists of rice, kasavu mundu (traditional cloth of Kerala), gold, silver, coins, a mirror (usually Aranmula Kannadi or mirror with a tail), cucumber, mango, jackfruit, coconut, banana, and Kanikonna (yellow flower known as Indian Laburnum). The Vishukani is exhibited in an ‘urali’ – a traditional vessel of Kerala. It is placed in front of an idol or portrait of Lord Krishna. A traditional Kerala lamp is lit near it.

Then, the eldest member in the family gives ‘Vishukaineetam’ to the family members. The Vishukaineetam is usually coins but nowadays people also prefer other expensive gifts. Hindus then worship at nearby Krishna temples.

Vegetarian food, consisting of traditional Kerala fare, is prepared on the day and includes the mouthwatering ‘payasam.’

From an astrological point of view, Vishu is of immense significance. The day and night are of equal duration on the Vishu day (12 hours). ‘Vishubhalam’ or the predictions for the next year is read on the day.

The preparation for next agricultural season begins on the Vishu day. Earlier, farmers used to plough the land on this day and it was referred as ‘Vishupootu.’

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14 April 2022
Maundy Thursday – Christianity

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday is observed during Holy Week on the Thursday before Easter. Maundy Thursday is the Thursday before Easter, believed to be the day when Jesus celebrated his final Passover with His disciples. Most notably, that Passover meal was when Jesus washed the feet of His disciples in an extraordinary display of humility. He then commanded them to do the same for each other.

Christ’s “mandate” is commemorated on Maundy Thursday—“maundy” being a shortened form of mandatum (Latin), which means “command.” It was on the Thursday of Christ’s final week before being crucified and resurrected that He said this commandment to His disciples. Jesus and his disciples had just shared what was known as the Last Supper and he was washing their feet when he stated:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another”

Maundy Thursday services traditionally include a focus on the Last Supper, not only as the beginning of the Triduum (the Great Three Days), but also as the institution of the Lord’s Supper, (called Eucharist, or Communion). In many places, a foot washing service is included, and the service often ends with the stripping of the altar.

Stripping of the Altar is a tradition that developed simply because the altar guilds needed to strip the altar after Maundy Thursday in preparation for the bare, stark altar on Good Friday. People stayed after worship to observe this, and it was soon experienced as a powerful spiritual moment.

Today, the stripping and washing of the altar is often an integral part of Maundy Thursday.

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15 April 2022
Passover – Judaism

Passover of the Chosen People

Passover 2022 will begin in the evening of Friday, 15 April 2022 and ends in the evening of Saturday, 23 April 2022.

Passover is celebrated by Jews every year, commemorating the anniversary of the miraculous Exodus from Egyptian slavery, as told in the Bible. (In the image above, we see the miraculous parting of the waters to allow the Jews to leave Egypt.)

On the first two nights of Passover (just the first night in Israel), they hold a Seder. After candles have been lit, participants enjoy a ritual-rich 15-step feast, which centres around telling the story of the Exodus. Some highlights include: Drinking four cups of wine, dipping veggies into salt water, children kicking off the storytelling by asking the Four Questions (Mah Nishtanah), eating matzah (a cracker-like food, which reminds us that when the Jewish ancestors left Egypt they had no time to allow their bread to rise) and bitter herbs, and singing late into the night.

On Passover, Jews may not own or consume chametz, anything containing grain that has risen. This includes virtually all breads, pastas, cakes and cookies. Prior to the holiday, homes are thoroughly cleaned for Passover, kitchens are purged (here’s how to kosher the kitchen), and the remaining chametz is burned or sold.

Following the intermediate days, when work restrictions are somewhat relaxed but chametz remains forbidden, we celebrate the final two days of Passover (just one day in Israel), during which we look forward to the future redemption through Moshiach (Messiah).

Passover is important to Jews, as it celebrates the central identity of the people of Israel, and their binding covenant with G_d. A covenant has obligations on the people to be G_d’s people and live according to the revealed law given to Moses – Talmud Torah. G_d has obligations also – he will protect his people and lead them to the promised land – Israel.

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15 April Good Friday
Christianity

Crucifixion of Jesus

Good Friday, the Friday before Easter, the day on which Christians annually observe the commemoration of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. From the early days of Christianity, Good Friday was observed as a day of sorrow, penance, and fasting, a characteristic that finds expression in the German word Karfreitag (“Sorrowful Friday”).

It is thought that approximately 30 years after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the early Christian community had a tradition of visiting the places associated with Jesus at the time of passover. There would be pilgrimages to the upstairs room, to the Mount of Olives, and the place of the empty tomb. This was in a time before the gospels were written; the early Christians would tell the story of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus as they saw it.

Until the 4th century, Jesus’ Last Supper, his death, and his Resurrection were observed in one single commemoration on the evening before Easter. Since then, those three events have been observed separately – Easter, as the commemoration of Jesus’ Resurrection – being considered the pivotal event.

In this day and age, Good Friday is observed in Churches with the Stations of the Cross, and with service at 3pm – sometimes called “Observance of the Passion”; 3pm is thought to be the time Jesus passed. The normal service of Eucharist (or Holy Communion) is not celebrated on this day.

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16 April 2022
Theravada New Year – Buddhism

Theravadan New Year

New years in Theravada Buddhism – which can translate as “the teachings of the elders,” the form of Buddhism prevalent in South East Asian countries such as Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and India – is typically a three-day celebration beginning with a temple visit (usually) on the first day. It is a time of celebration, resolutions, alms, respect and purification.

Theravada New Year is a time of year when Buddhists reflect on the past year, make resolutions for the coming one, and perform special ceremonies. One important part of Theravada New Year is the water festival, in which people meet the Buddha image and pay respect to the elderly by watering their hands together. This ritual symbolizes purity and the washing away of bad karma. Meritorious activities, such as offering alms to the monastic community is also an important activity for the New Year:

The Different Buddhist Traditions

Like most religions, Buddhism is not a monolith. There are many different schools and traditions in Buddhism, but the vast majority of Buddhist traditions fall under the umbrella of one of the two major schools: Theravada or Mahayana Buddhism. Both schools share the same underlying beliefs such as that of reincarnation, dharma, karma, nirvana, the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path. The details, however, vary between the two schools.

Buddha idol

Theravada Buddhism is sometimes called Hinayana Buddhism by Mahayana Buddhists. Hinayana means “little vehicle”. Theravada means “the teachings of the elders.” This form of Buddhism is more prevalent in South East Asian countries such as Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and India. As well as being more prominent in the areas closer to the actual birthplace of the Buddha. Theravada Buddhism is older than Mahayana Buddhism and is seen by some as being closer to the original teachings of the Buddha.

Theravada emphasises the concept of vibhajjavada or “the teaching of analysis.” This concept calls on Buddhists to gain insights into the wider world through their own personal experiences and knowledge. These are then examined through critical thinking and reasoning and weighed against what is stated in scriptures and by wise monks.

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16 April 2022
Hanuman Jayanti – Hinduism

 

April 16, 2022 is Hanuman Jayanti, the birth of Hanuman – observed in the Hindu religion. Jayanti means birth anniversary. Some say Hanuman is a monkey god. This is not true. The Hindu scriptures record the presence of intelligent primates (with speech, awareness of divinity and learning) called vanara. This is an extinct race of intelligent primates that interacted with humans – in this case, a divine incarnation in the Hindu faith.

Hanuman Jayanti is a Hindu religious festival that celebrates the birth of Hanuman, who is immensely venerated throughout India and Nepal. This festival is celebrated on different days in different parts of India. In most states of India, the festival is observed in the month of Chaitra – usually Chaitra Purnima, the 15th day of the bright half of the month.

Devotees chant Hanuman Chalisa and Hanuman Stuthi on the day. These are often chanted on Tuesdays or Saturdays. Hanuman is very popular.

In Hinduism, it is taught that through the act of aspiring to divinity, one reaches divinity. In the story of Hanuman, we learn of one who aspired to be the selfless servant of the divine incarnation, Lord Rama. The fruit of his devotion and service to the Divine, Hanuman was gifted with immortality: wherever the Story of Lord Rama (the Ramayana) was told, there Hanuman is present.

Hanuman – sometimes called the “monkey god” was a vanara – a member of a now extinct race of intelligent monkeys. In the Ramayana they are represented as humans (va nara) with their speech, clothing, habitations, funerals, consecrations, etc., and as monkeys with reference to their leaping, their hair and fur. This race of intelligent simians is thought to have become extinct with the Fall of Atlantis.

Hanuman is known as Maruti, Pavanakumara, Vayusuta, Anjaneya, Kesarinandana, Mahavira, Bajarangi, Sankatmocana. He is presented as a simian – monkey figure kneeling with joined palms beside Rama, Sita and Laksmana, or tearing his chest open to reveal Rama’s image in his heart.

Lord Rama granted Hanuman immortality: wherever the Ramayana is recited, there Hanuman may be present.

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16 April 2022
Lazarus Saturday – Orthodox Christianity

raising of Lazarus

On the Saturday before Holy Week, the Orthodox Church commemorates a major feast of the year, the miracle of Jesus Christ when he raised Lazarus from the dead after he had lain in the grave four days. Here, at the end of Great Lent and the forty days of fasting and penitence, the Church combines this celebration with that of Palm Sunday. In triumph and joy the Church bears witness to the power of Christ over death and exalts Him as King before entering the most solemn week of the year, one that leads the faithful in remembrance of His suffering and death and concludes with the great and glorious Feast of Pascha (Easter).

Lazarus Saturday is the day when, traditionally, hermits would leave their retreats in the wilderness to return to the monastery for the Holy Week services

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17 April 2022
Easter – Christianity

Resurrection of Christ

Easter is a festival of Enlightenment. It is the day that Jesus rose from death. It was on a Sunday morning, the day of the Sun God. Mary Magdalene and other women had gone to look at the tomb where Jesus was buried. But to their horror and bewilderment they met an empty tomb. Beside the tomb stood two angels who said to them; “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, He has risen!” (Luke: 24:5) This was the great turning point that transformed the story of Jesus which seemed to have ended with His tragic death on the Cross on Friday evening.

So the story of Easter is not just the story of Jesus’ resurrection from death but also the story of how He was unjustly arrested by the Jews, tried, condemned and crucified on the cross on account of His stand for Truth and Righteousness. From a spiritual perspective, Easter is the story of humanity’s ascent to Divinity.

It is the dramatic spiritual journey that everyone must undertake to emancipate oneself from the bondage of death and ignorance and enter into the glorious light of Immortality and Self Knowledge. In this way, Easter is not just a past event but the day we are born again into Enlightenment.

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17 April 2022
Palm Sunday – Orthodox Christianity

Orthodox Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday, or the “Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem” as it may be called in Orthodox Churches, is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the liturgical year. The day before Palm Sunday, Lazarus Saturday, believers often prepare palm fronds by knotting them into crosses in preparation for the procession on Sunday.

Orthodox Easter is determined by following the Julian Calendar. The Julian calendar – which often differs from the Gregorian calendar that is used by many western countries. Therefore the Orthodox Easter period often occurs later than the Easter period that falls around the time of the March equinox.

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(to be continued)

 

 

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