Rituals and Customs
Hindu domestic lifecycle rites are called samskara. The sacraments are designed to make a person fit for the next phase of his life by removing sins. Historically, there was a lengthy array of sacraments, which have been reduced to sixteen, many of which are bundled in the childhood phase.
Traditionally, birth rites included a prenatal rite for the prospective father to affect the child to be fair or dark, a learned son or daughter, and so on. This was called the impregnation rite. During pregnancy, there were other rites, but, of course, the most important one was at the birth.
Marriage is the most important rite. Once a suitable spouse has been found for the son or daughter the match must be approved by both sets of parents. The approval process may include hiring the local astrologer to draw up the couple's horoscopes. Once mutual approval is achieved and the bride's family pays a dowry to the groom, the ceremony can proceed. As with most marriage ceremonies, the rite includes prayers and songs of blessing.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the bride and groom offer their right hands, which are symbolically bound together with cotton thread that has been dyed with yellow turmeric. Water is then sprinkled over them. Then, they walk around a prepared sacred fire three times. The final ritual for the bride and groom is to take seven steps and make a vow at each step. The steps represent food, strength, prosperity, well-being, children, happy seasons, and harmony in their marriage. That's it; the couple is now married and after the typical prayers the wedding feast begins.
When a Hindu dies, the body is usually cremated. Cremation is chosen because of the Hindu belief in reincarnation, thus the body is not required after death, only the atman (soul). The body is bathed, wrapped in a new cloth, and laid on a stretcher. Depending on whether the cremation is to take place on a river with the body laid on a pyre or put into a coffin and taken to the crematorium, appropriate scriptures are recited. After the cremation, and if practical, the ashes, flowers, and bones are collected and scattered on a body of water.
Calendar of Religious Festivals
The Republic of India uses the Gregorian calendar for its secular life. For its Hindu religious life, it uses the traditional Hindu calendar, which is based on a year of lunar months. The discrepancy between the years — 365 days (solar) and 354 days (lunar) — is resolved by intercalation of an extra month every thirty months. Each month is divided into a bright fortnight (two weeks) when the moon is waxing and a dark fortnight when it is waning.
Hinduism has an extensive range of festivals both in India and throughout the rest of the world. Following are the nine major traditional religious festivals that are generally universally celebrated:
Mahashivaratri celebrates the night of the new moon every month, honoring the image of Shiva.
Sarasvati Puja honors the goddess Sarasvati, the patron of the arts and learning.
Holi celebrates the grain harvest in India and recalls the pranks Krishna played as a young man.
Rama Naumi celebrates the birthday of the god Rama.
On Rata Yatra, a huge image of the god Vishnu is placed on an enormous chariot and pulled through the streets.
The Raksha Bandhan is a ceremony of tying a rakhi (a thread or band, made of silk or decorated with flowers).
Janmashtami celebrates the birth of Krishna and his delivery from the demon Kansa.
Navaratri honors the most important female deity, Durga, consort of Shiva.
Divali — the most widely celebrated festival — celebrates the return from exile of Rama and Sita.