What’s the Spiritual Season this week? Palm Sunday, Rama Navami, the Annunciation and a day for water


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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(March 22 to 28, 2010)
By Stephanie Fenton

of Christians around the world will be entering Holy Week at the end of
this week with colorful celebration of Palm Sunday! But that’s not all—Christians also
recognize the Feast of the Annunciation this week, and Eastern
Christians honor Lazarus Saturday. Also this week, Hindus simultaneously
celebrate Rama Navami and Swaminarayan Jayanti, and some Zoroastrians
mark Khordad Sal. Oh, and don’t forget to learn a little more about
water conservation on Monday, especially since water plays such a big
part in every major religion. Learn 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, learn
about the importance of water—and how you can help conserve it—on World Water Day. This
year, participate in the theme of “Clean Water for a Healthy World,”
which was developed in hopes of “raising the profile of water quality at
a political level so that water quality considerations are made
alongside those of water quantity.”
    Since 1,500 cubic kilometers
of waste-water are produced globally each year (and in developing
countries, 80 percent of waste-water is not reusable, due to a lack of
resources), this problem—combined with ever-growing populations—is
reaching the level of a global crisis. In 1992, a UN conference in Rio
de Janiero created World Water Day for this very purpose. Check out the
World Water Day Web site for documents and information, a list of participating
and ideas for ways you can help.
    Besides its
irreplaceable role in sustaining most life on Earth, water plays another
major role: in religion. Most religions view water as purifying for
both the body and the soul. (Lots of details
are at The Water Page, an initiative to promote sustainable water
resources management and use
.) In the Baha’i faith, water is often
used as a metaphor for spiritual truths; Buddhists use water in funeral
rituals and include a water-centered chant; and Christians are baptized
in water that has been blessed. In the Hindu tradition, water in
rivers—particularly the Ganges—is considered sacred and often is a major
part of festivals; Muslims purify themselves with water; Jews become
ritually pure during washing with water (origins are found in the Torah,
as are the stories of Noah’s Ark and Moses crossing the Red Sea); and
Zoroastrians view water as having unique purifying qualities.

joyously recognize the birth of Lord Rama during Rama Navami. (Here’s
a page from the BBC
.) According to Hindu tradition, Rama is the
seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and in many places with large Hindu
populations, the observance can last nine days. Today is the culmination
of these festivities.
    As Lord Rama is the hero of the Ramayana,
a Sanskrit epic that details his life, many devotees read the entire
epic during the week leading up to Rama Navami. (Read more at Wikipedia.)
This hero is viewed by many Hindus as the ultimate human being, son,
husband and father. Gandhi even said that Ramrajya, the peaceful and
prosperous reign of Lord Rama, was the ideal way that India should be
after independence. In small villages, the tradition continues of
storytellers narrating episodes of Rama’s life, while adding in local
humor and perspective for the enjoyment of listeners. (ILoveIndia.com offers
a colorful array of Ram Navami history, poems and more.
Aside from the rituals performed in many homes, Hindus often pray in
elaborately-decorated Vedic temples, dance, sing, offer fruits and
flowers to the deity, and fast (the fasting of Rama Navami is usually
broken when the day’s festivities come to an end. Try a
recipe here
). In a few places in North India, chariot
processions—complete with persons dressed in period clothing—attract
thousands of visitors. (A
neat picture of Rama and his family is at NewVrindaban.com.
) In
South India, temples often host ceremonial weddings that represent
Rama’s marriage to Sita: Wedding role-playing has been a common
celebration for nearly 400 years.
    Since Rama’s dynasty has been
linked with the sun, his birth is observed as at noon, the time when the
sun is at its brightest. According to recent studies, some consider the
birth of Rama to have been in January of 4114 BCE.

some Hindus celebrate Swaminarayan Jayanti, a day to honor
the birth of Lord Swaminarayan. (Here’s
the BBC page
.) Unlike the millenia-old commemorations of most Hindu
deities, this Hindu jayanti marks the birth of an 18th-century figure who lived into the 19th century. Lord Swaminarayan founded the
Swaminarayan tradition of Hinduism, a popular sect of Hinduism today. (Read
more about some of last year’s celebrations at BAPS.org, a Swaminarayan
Or, check out Hinduism
    Lord Swaminarayan was born in North India and
traveled across India as a social and moral reformer. At 21, he founded
his movement and went on to initiate 3,000 monks; Swaminarayan
promised to remain with his followers through a succession of
enlightened gurus.
    Devotees who worship Swaminarayan often sing,
fast, offer food at temples and reenact episodes of his life.
Swaminarayan’s life was documented by his followers, and as his birth
was at 10:10 p.m., a ritual known as arti is performed at this
auspicious time.

Eastern and Western Christians honor the Feast of the Annunciation (the day the angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary she would conceive the
son of God). According to Christian tradition, the Virgin Mary was told
that she had been chosen as the mother of Jesus, also known to many Christians as the Theotokos
(God-bearer). This day falls nine months before the celebration of the Nativity. The Annunciation is also cited
in the Quran. (Wikipedia has a general
explanation of the Annunciation
    According to the Bible,
Mary was already set to marry Joseph when she was visited by Gabriel.
Although doubtful at first of the possibility of the conception, Mary
ended her conversation with Gabriel by declaring, “Behold, the handmaid
of the Lord; be it to me according to your word.” (An extensive
article is in the library of the Global Catholic Network.
Eastern Christians name Mary as the “Theotokos” because of her aid in
making the Word of God human. This feast is the
first of all feasts of the Lord in the Church. (The
Orthodox Research Institute provides an analysis and explanation of
Annunciation details
    In the Greek language, the
Annunciation is called “Euangelismos,” which means literally “spreading
the Good News.” (If you’re looking for a way
to celebrate this feast with a craft, try this one from Women for Faith
and Family: a flower centerpiece with flowers that represent
incarnation, innocence and eternal fidelity.
) The day of the
Annunciation Feast is also sometimes celebrated as a New Year in
England—where it is called “Lady Day”—and in various other countries,

Zoroastrians who follow the Fasli calendar (one of three calendars)
celebrate the birth of Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism. This
holiday, known as Khordad Sal, is placed on a symbolic date because the
precise day and year of Zoroaster’s birth is unknown. (Find out more by reading
Wikipedia’s entry
.) Nevertheless, many regard Zoroaster to have
lived in the first millennium BCE.
    Zoroastrian legend states that
when Zoroaster’s mother was five months pregnant, she had a nightmare
about the end of the world; when an angel appeared to her, she was told
that her unborn child would become a prophet who would reverse the
coming destruction.
    For Khordad Sal, Zoroastrians around the
world clean their homes, offer prayers of thanksgiving partake in a
feast, gather in fire temples and perform rituals. (Great
information is also at London Grid for Learning, an English educational
) This “greater Noruz,”or “greater New Year,” has been
observed in Iran for thousands of years.

Christians prepare for the final week of Lent and prepare to enter Holy
Week with Lazarus Saturday. This major feast recognizes the miracle
performed by Jesus in raising Lazarus from the dead, according to
the Bible; the Church recognizes the victory of Jesus over death before
entering the solemn Holy Week. (Read more from
the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.
    According to Christian tradition, Jesus told his disciples that Lazarus had fallen asleep, and that he was
going to visit Lazarus to wake him up. When Jesus visited Lazarus in Bethany, the body had been in a tomb for four days; Jesus called to Lazarus from
outside of the tomb, and Lazarus walked out. When Jesus resurrected
Lazarus, many hailed Jesus as the messiah, according to the Christian Bible.
    In centuries past, hermits
would leave their wilderness retreats on Lazarus Saturday and return to
their respective monasteries for Holy Week services. (Wikipedia’s Orthodox
section, termed OrthodoxWiki, has more.
) In Russia, it has long been
tradition to eat caviar on Lazarus Saturday, and in the Greek tradition,
Lazarakia spice breads are made and eaten today.
Christians formally end the 40 days of Lent on the celebration of
Lazarus Saturday. Tomorrow, Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy
Week. (Get a
breakdown of Holy Week from the Department of Christian Education of the
Orthodox Church in America.
    Western Christians continue to count through Holy Week to reach their total of 40 days.

SUNDAY, Christians
begin Holy Week with Palm Sunday—in commemoration of the day Jesus entered Jerusalem and was greeted by people who lay down small
tree branches before him. (Check out Wikipedia’s
page to learn more
.) By riding into Jerusalem on his donkey, Jesus
fulfilled a hundreds-year-old Old Testament prophesy as the messiah, according to the Christian reading of the Bible.
    In many Christian churches, palm
leaves—or whatever leaves are native to trees in a church’s region—are
distributed to church members (some Orthodox Christians use olive
branches). In symbolism, the faithful accept the palms. Many tie them into
crosses in their homes and await the following year’s Ash Wednesday,
when the palms are burned to make more ashes. (Learn
more about the Catholic tradition at CatholicCulture.org.
Or, at
    (Did you know that in India, Christian
sanctuaries are decorated with marigolds on Palm Sunday? Or that in
Italy and Mexico, some Christians use the palms to weave ornate,
elaborate figures? Learn how to
braid your own elaborate crosses, or even a crown of thorns, courtesy of
    Carrying palms is a custom that dates back
thousands of years. Many Western Christian clergy  wear vestments of red on Palm Sunday, as a symbol of  the blood that would be shed by Jesus during the coming
week. Many Eastern Christian officials wear green vestments, and this is
one of 12 major feasts of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
    Are you
looking for additional ways to mark Palm Sunday? Try this neat craft page,
or eat figs—it’s believed that Jesus ate figs after he entered into



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