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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(March 1 to 7, 2010)
By Stephanie Fenton
THIS WEEK, Lent continues for Christians, many of whom are fasting regularly—and Baha’is begin their Nineteen Day Fast this week, too. Monday, Hindus revel in colorful fun for Holi (the photo above is of a group covered in Holi powders);
Sikhs practice martial arts during Hola Mohalla; and Jews in Jerusalem
and Shushan observe Shushan Purim. Also this week, Shintos honor girls
during Hinamatsuri, an ancient doll festival, while Shi’a Muslims
observe Mawlid an-Nabi and women around the globe mark a day of prayer. Read all about these events and observances below …
ALL WEEK, Lent continues for 2 billion Christians around the world. We’re publishing a FREE daily Lenten series, called “Our Lent: Things We Carry,” for the 40 days leading to Easter.
ALSO, we’re expanding our Lenten Resources Page—with suggestions readers are Emailing us at [email protected].
MONDAY, make sure to wear clothes you won’t mind getting ruined—if you’re near anyone who is celebrating Holi! (Find everything for Holi from the Society for the Confluence of Holidays in India.)
Today, Hindus celebrate this Festival of Colors by throwing colored
powder and colored water at one another, listening to loud music,
dancing in the streets and allowing themselves to immerse in the
merriment of spring. In some places, the Holi season’s events can last
two weeks or more! The official season lasts a few days.
According to Hindu tradition, Holi is marked by the Holika Dahan, a
bonfire that is lit in commemoration of the miraculous escape of Bhakta
Prahlad when he was carried into a bonfire by the Demoness Holika. (More is at Wikipedia.) Although Holika was burnt in the fire, Prahlad escaped unscathed because of his steadfast devotion to Lord Vishnu.
During this unique time of year, generation gaps crumble as children,
adults and the elderly all release their inhibitions and throw colored
powder. (This article from NPR details the happy nature of Holi.)
For many years, the colored powders were produced from the flowers of
trees that blossomed in spring, although many of these trees in urban
areas have since died. To replace the flower powders, synthetic powders
have been used in urban areas in recent years—although not without a
price. Numerous studies have found the synthetic powders to contain
toxic chemicals. (Click here to find information about the toxic chemical dangers, as well as recipes for safer powders.)
Some commercial companies have since begun to produce herbal dyes that,
although expensive, are much safer than their synthetic counterparts. (From the Times of India, here is an article on protecting skin and hair during Holi.) Studies and experimentation for cheap, inexpensive Holi powders continue.
While Hindus honor the triumph of good over evil, colored powders fill
the sky, devotees laugh and sing and everyone indulges in feasts of
Also on MONDAY, Sikhs hold the Hola Mohalla (or Hola Mahalla) festival, a time to demonstrate and watch martial arts skills in mock battles. (Read the Sikh Encyclopedia’s explanation of Hola here.)
When the festival was established in 1701 by the 10th Guru, Guru Gobind
Singh, Sikhs were defending themselves against attacks by the imperial
powers of the Mughal empire and hill kings. To aid in their
preparedness, the Guru established this “mock fight” festival. (Of
importance to note is that the festival focuses on defensive fighting,
and not offensive fighting.)
While the original festival was
held at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab, smaller celebrations are now held at
Gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) around the globe. (Find out more at Sikhnet.)
Hola Mohalla has evolved into a three-day festival of exhibitions,
weapons displays, music, poetry competitions and dangerous feats that
include bareback horse riding and standing on two speeding horses. In
many places, kirtan and religious lectures are also a part of Hola
Still, an enormous festival at Anandpur draws tens of thousands of devotees each year. (SikhiWiki offers plenty of details.)
Community kitchens often provide food and drink to pilgrims who dine
while sitting in rows on the ground. Typically, the voluntary kitchens
are staffed by women who cook food that was donated by local villagers.
Other volunteers clean utensils and provide similar services.
This year, around 20,000 pilgrims are expected at Anandpur during the
time of this year’s festival, which began Feb. 24 and ends today.
MONDAY is Shushan Purim for Jews who live in Jerusalem, who are related to Shushan, Iran—and any city that was walled at the time of Joshua. (The photo at left is of the Jewish quarters in Jerusalem.) It’s in these cities that Jews celebrate the festivities of Purim at a later date than other Jews. (Find more on Aish.com, the largest Jewish-content site. OR, read all of the details about Purim on our Seasons page from last week.)
According to the Book of Esther, Jews in unwalled cities of ancient
Persia fought their enemies for only one day, on the 13th day of the
Jewish month of Adar. (Details are at Chabad.org.) Jews in the Persian capital city, Shushan, spent two days in battle and rested one day later than the others.
To ensure that a Persian city was not honored more than Jerusalem—the
focus of Jewish life—sages declared that Jerusalem should celebrate
Shushan Purim, too. (Read more at Wikipedia.)
Jerusalem is the only city known to be walled during the time of
Joshua, but it’s speculated that several other Israeli cities were as
well. (Despite this speculation, no other Israeli cities celebrate Shushan Purim.) Sages declared that cities walled during
the time of Joshua be permitted to celebrate Shushan Purim since Joshua
was the historical figure who first waged war against Amalek, an
ancestor of Haman.
You may wonder whether any Jews are left in Iran, these days, given the extreme policies of the country’s leadership. In fact, thousands of Jews still live in Iran. However, thousands of the Shushan Jewish descendants relocated over the years to southern California, where there is a significant community that still considers itself to be descendants of Queen Esther.
TUESDAY, Baha’is begin the Nineteen Day Fast, a time of spiritual reflection. (An article on the fast is at Bahai.us.)
On March 2 each year, Baha’is around the world begin the fast that
prepares them for Naw Ruz, the Baha’i and Iranian New Year. For 19
days, most Baha’is age 15 to 70 wake before sunrise, pray and then
refrain from food and drink until sunset. (The BBC has more.)
According to Baha’u’llah, founder of the Baha’i faith, “Praised by
Thou, O my God, that Thou has ordained Naw Ruz as a festival unto those
who have observed the fast for love of Thee and abstained from all that
is abhorrent to Thee.”
The Baha’i calendar, known as the Badi Calendar and instituted by the Bab, consists of 19 months of 19 days each. (Find out details at Wikipedia’s page.)
According to this calendar, spring—and the New Year—begins on March 21.
The Bab declared this, the last month of the Baha’i calendar, to be one
The Nineteen Day Fast requires devotees to release
human desires and focus on God—much like fasts of other religions. The
Baha’i fast has a deeply spiritual nature, but is flexible: The Bab stated that those who are sick, for example, should
not only skip the fast but are forbidden from observing the fast. The
Baha’i faith focuses on a fast whose devotees spend more time
reflecting on God than worrying about the fast’s details. (A writer focuses on “Dilemmas of the Fast” in an article on Planet Baha’i.)
According to a recent press release from the Religion Newswriters Association,
this year’s Nineteen Day Fast will have many observers. The Baha’i
faith is the youngest of the world’s independent monotheistic religions
and is one of the fastest-growing religions in the United States.
Shintos honor girls during the Japanese Doll Festival, or Hinamatsuri
(spellings vary). Long ago, the Japanese believed that dolls
possessed the power to contain bad spirits. In an ancient custom known
as hina-nagashi, Japanese straw hina dolls would be placed in boats and
floated down a river to the sea, believed to carry bad spirits with
them. Hinamatsuri derived from this ancient custom. (Hey, kids! Make and color your own paper dolls, courtesy of Crayola.)
Since the Edo period (1603-1867), Japanese have covered
multiple-tier platforms with a red carpet, decorating them with
ornamental dolls that represent the Emperor, Empress, attendants and
musicians in traditional court clothing of the Heian period (794-1185).
Elaborate accessories for the doll displays vary by household and
region, but can include miniature gilded folding screens, hearths, food
trays and more! (This neat article from the Kyoto National Museum details the differences of Hinamatsuri displays by region.)
While celebrating the festival and praying for the health and
well-being of girls, Shintos often drink a sake made from fermented
rice, eat rice cakes or crackers and partake in foods containing clams.
(Some food is usually offered to the dolls, too. Find details at Wikipedia.)
Hinamatsuri has recently been featured in a number of anime series,
including Pokemon, and this year, a doll resembling Japan’s Olympic
figure skater Mao Asada was released.
Also on WEDNESDAY, Shi’a Muslims commemorate Mawlid an-Nabi, the birth of the Prophet Muhammad.
(Last Thursday and Friday, some Sunni Muslims observed Mawlid an-Nabi; click here to read all of the details on last week’s Seasons page. The photo at right is of a Muslim man using prayer beads, or tasbih.)
Particularly for Shi’a Muslims, this day also marks the time when
the Prophet Muhammad chose Hazrat Ali as his successor at Gadhir-e-Khumm. Succession from the Prophet’s leadership is a central concern in Shi’a history.
FRIDAY, Christian women around the globe observe the World Day of Prayer.
This movement was initiated by women and made official in 1927, and it
is marked by millions of women in more than 170 countries annually.
A different country is the focus of each year’s Day of Prayer, and this
year’s featured country is Cameroon, in Africa. The women of Cameroon
chose the theme of “Let Everything That Has Breath Praise God.” (Check out their page here.)
In essence, the women of Cameroon state that we renew the gift of life
with every breath and, for this, God should be praised. The African
women say that with breath comes hope, and so even in hard times,
breath is a sign of hope.
According to the World Day of Prayer
mission, women are called to become aware of the world (and not live in
isolation), to educate and enrich themselves by learning about
Christian traditions in other countries and cultures and to pray for
others. (The World Day of Prayer USA has worship themes, resource materials and more.)
While women come together on World Day of Prayer, they are encouraged
also to learn about the women in the year’s featured country. This
year, women are asked to learn about and take action against spousal abuse
in Cameroon, because women in this region are often pressured to remain
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(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)