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Religious Festivals - Sikh, Hindu and Muslim

This page provides an overview of some of the festivals celebrated by the Sikh, Hindu and Muslim community within Birmingham.

Hindus believe in transmigration or reincarnation, as a journey on the way to God, The Supreme Reality which Hindus call Brahman.

There are 19,358 Hindus (2% of religious population) living in Birmingham. (Census 2001)


Makar Sankranti: Makar Sankranti is celebrated in January and a number of prayers are recited during the day. A special sweet made of sesame seeds symbolising life is distributed to friends and relatives and children celebrate by flying kites.

Vasant Panchami: The festival of Vasanta Panchami is celebrated by Hindus in January/February, mainly in honour of Sarasvati, the Goddess of learning, wisdom and fine arts.

Shiv Ratri: The festival of Shiv Ratri is celebrated by Hindus in February/March. On this occasion people offer bilwa leaves to an iconic representation of Shiva (Shiva-Linga) and spend the whole night in prayer (Japa) meditation of Shiva (Dhayana).

Holi: Holi announces the arrival of spring and the passing of winter. It is a festival that breathes an atmosphere of social merriment. People bury their hatchets with a warm embrace and throw their worries to the wind. Every nook and corner presents a typically colourful sight. Holi has long traditional links with several legends. According to one popular legend, the word Holi is derived from the demoness, Holika. She was the sister of Hiranyakashyap, a demon king, who having defeated the Gods proclaimed his own supremacy over everyone else in the Universe. Enraged over his son, Prahlad's ardent devotion to Lord Vishnu, Hiranyakashyap decides to punish him. He takes the help of his sister, Holika, who is immune to any damage from fire. Holika carries Prahlad into the fire but a divine intervention destroys her and saves Prahlad from getting burned. Thus Holi is celebrated to mark the burning of the evil Holika. It is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil.

Rama Navami: Sri Rama Navami as a festival marks the birth of Lord Rama but is celebrated and worshipped in the form of re-creating the wedding between Lord Rama and Sita by the Hindus seeking well being of all people. Such community celebrations are held in not only Rama temples but also in many other temples too. Watching the ritualistic celebration in itself evokes a spiritual feeling and bestows blessings on the worshippers.

Raksha Bandhan: The festival of Raksha Bandhan symbolises love affection and feeling of brotherhood. It is usually celebrated with joy and excitement in the month of Sravan. The tradition of tying a thread or "rakhi" around the wrist to convey different feelings has been coming down through the ages since the Vedic times. On the day of Raksha Bandhan, there is a lot of excitement among the girls. After an early bath, the sister invites her brother to wear the rakhi and reaffirm the bond of love. She applies `tilak' or vermilion powder on his forehead and ties the rakhi on the right hand. She then performs Aarti and offers her brother some sweets. After she completes the traditional formalities, the brother gives her a gift as a token of his love and affection. It could be in the form of jewellery, new clothes, money or blessings too! But its value is immeasurable!

Janamashtmi: The birth of Lord Krishna, the incarnation of Vishnu in the Dwapar Yuga, is celebrated all over India as Krishna Janmashtami. This day is marked by religious festivity and devotion. Lord Krishna or "He who is all-attractive", descended on this earth to subdue the Rakshasas ruthlessly and save mankind from all evils. He is regarded, as the epitome of transcendental qualities, which made him the most, loved one.

Ganesh Chaturthi: The festival of Ganesh or Vinayak Chaturthi, the day on which Ganesh was born. It is the most joyous event of the year. Throughout India the festival is celebrated with much enthusiasm and devotion. In Andhra Pradesh, like Maharashtra, the festival is celebrated for ten days. It is said that Ganesh was the creation of Goddess Parvati, who breathed life into a doll, which she made out of the dough she was using for her bath.

Navrati: This is a nine-day festival celebrated in October. The celebration is held in the honour of the Goddess known as Lakshmi, Durga and Sarasvati. During the nine days the images of these Goddesses are installed in houses

Dusshera: The tenth day after Navrati is called Dussehra. The main feature, is the recital of Ram-Lila story based on Ramayana. This festival is celebrated by dancing (Garbas and dandiyas).

Karva Chauth: Karva Chauth is celebrated in October and prayers are offered to the God Shiva and his consort, Parvati. Women fast on this day. At dusk upon sighting the moon, water and flowers are offered to the household deity. On this occasion, mothers bless their married daughters and present them with jewellery, garments and sweets.

Diwali (Deepavali): Deepavali, the festival of lights, comes close on the heels of Dasara. It is a festival that marks the victory of good over evil. Deepavali means a "row of lights", and it brings along with it glowing happiness and the touch of sparklers all around. It signifies the advent of joy and happiness. Every year, people look forward to this occasion, which is celebrated for two days. The children await this festival to rejoice with firecrackers, wear new clothes and savour delicious eats. The adults take this occasion as an ideal time for gatherings, exchange of gifts and, of course, invest in gold, silver and new acquisitions for their homes. This is also the time when houses are given a fresh coat of paint.

Best Varash: Bestu Varash is the day after Diwali. It is the Hindu new year. Food and sweets are brought to the temple, to be blessed. They are then distributed to the worshippers. On this day relatives and friends visit each other's house to wish them a happy new year.

Islam (its followers known as Muslims)

The religion advocates belief in one God (Allah) and has similar scriptural and historic roots to Judaism and Christianity. Today, Islam, which is believed to be closer to African traditions, seems to be making greater in-roads within the African Caribbean community in Birmingham and is now regarded as the second largest religion in the world, behind Christianity.

There are 140,033 Muslims (14.3% of religious population) in Birmingham. (Census 2001)


Miraj (The Ascent): God honoured Prophet Muhammad (pbuh - peace be upon him) by his unique night journey during which he saw with his own eyes the glory of Allah and the working of the universe.

1st Shaban: Shaban is the eight-month of the Islamic Calendar. The month of preparation before Ramadan.

Night of Forgiveness: On this night the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) stayed up all night in the graveyard asking for forgiveness for the entire human race.

1st Ramadan: Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during which all adult Muslims are expected to observe fast from dawn to dusk and keep away from all bad actions. Believers take no food, drink or tobacco in between this time, and abstain from sexual relations. Technically, the fast begins each day at dawn, which for Muslims comes nearly two hours before sunrise. Sunrise marks the end of the first period of prayer. Dawn is reckoned as the time when the sun's first light is seen on the horizon, or, according to a Hadith, when a white cord may be distinguished from a black cord. Traditionally, the fast is broken with a bowl of soup and a special salad (Fattoush) but the evening breakfast ('Iftar) is often an opportunity for socialising and praying which may go on late into the night.

Battle of Badr: The aggression of the unbelievers defended at a place called Badr, 80 miles from Madina.

The Last Friday: The last Friday during the month of Ramadan, a day of farewell to the Holy month.

The Night of Power: The Holy Quran was revealed during this night. "The angels and spirits come down by Allah's permission with peace until the rise of the morning."

Eid-ul-Fitr: Every Muslim celebrates Eid-ul-Fitr at the end of the month of Ramadan to mark a successful completion of the period of fasting. This festival is sometimes described as a 'Muslim Christmas'. The early part of the day is spent offering prayers at a Mosque followed by hearty meals at home or with relatives. Children particularly enjoy this Eid and are given presents or money. It is Sunnah (the practice of the Prophets) that everyone should wear new and beautiful clothes and rejoice with other Muslims. To this end it is obliged on each adult Muslim to give alms (Fitrana) to the poor and needy, before the Eid prayers, to enable everyone to enjoy the day.(Zakat)

Hajj: Pilgrimage to the Holy city of Mecca and Arafat in Saudia Arabia.

Yuam-al-Arafat: All pilgrims must present themselves and stay at Mina, Arafat and Muzdallifah on this day with Ihram (during Hajj)

Eid-ul-Adha: Eid-ul Adha celebrates the saving of the Prophet Ishmael by God when his father Abraham offered him as a sacrifice. It takes place a day after Hajj and marks the completion of the Hajj journey to the plain of Arafat. This Eid is celebrated by special prayers at a Mosque and is followed by the sacrifice of a sheep, lamb or cow to commemorate the Abrahamic sacrifice. Just like Eid-ul-Fitr Muslim families spend a day visiting and entertaining guests. As it is celebrated over 3 days some children may take more than one day off school during this period.

Ashura: The day Imam Hussain, grandson of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), was martyred.

Sikhism (Khalsa Panth)

The Sikh faith combined elements of Hinduism and Islam, collectively known as the Bhakti movement. All Sikhs except to be initiated into the Khalsa at some stage in their life and all devout Sikhs keep the 5Ks. They are Kesh-uncut hair, Kangha-small hair comb, Kara-metal/steel bangle, Kacha-knee length underwear, Kirpan-dagger. Any adult Sikh is permitted to perform religious ceremonies, although a professional reader (granthi) is usually employed.

There are 28,592 Sikhs (2.9% of religious population) in Birmingham.
(Census 2001)


Maghi (Mela Muktsar): Sikhs visit gurdwaras and listen to kirtan on this day to commemorate the martyrdom of the Forty Immortals. The largest gathering happens at Muktsar where an annual fair is held. It occurs on the first day of Maghar Sangrant, around January 14. Forty followers of Guru Gobind Singh, who had previously deserted him, fought bravely against overwhelming Mughal army forces and were martyred here. Guru Gobind Singh personally blessed them as having achieved Mukti (liberation) and cremated them at Muktsar.

Masya & Poornmashi: Masya and Poornmashi refer to the thirty-day moon cycle. The former occurs on the moon-less night and the latter occurs on the night of full moon. Both are celebrated at the Gudwara.

Hola Mohalla: Hola Mohalla is an annual festival of thousands held at Anandpur Sahib. It was started by Guru Gobind Singh as a gathering of Sikhs for military exercises and mock battles on the day following the Indian festival of Holi. The mock battles were followed by music and poetry competitions. The Nihang Singh's carry on the martial tradition with mock battles and displays of swordsmanship and horse riding. There are also a number of Durbars where Sri Guru Granth Sahib is present and Kirtan and religious lectures take place. The festival culminates in a large parade headed by the Nishan Sahibs of the Gurdwaras in the region. Hola Mohalla is held around March 17.

Vaisakhi: Guru Amar Das first institutionalised this as one of the special days when all Sikhs would gather to receive the Guru's blessings at Goindwal in 1567. In 1699 Guru Gobind Singh gathered thousands at Anandpur Sahib and founded the Khalsa order by baptising 5 brave Sikhs who were willing to give their life for the Guru. The Five Beloved Ones in turn baptised Guru Gobind Singh into the Khalsa brotherhood. This day celebrated around April 13 is considered the birthday of the Khalsa order. Sikhs visits Gurdwaras and fairs and parades are held. Many Sikhs choose to be baptised into the Khalsa brotherhood on this day, as well the wrappings of the Nishan Sahib flag post at most gurdwaras are changed on Vaisakhi.

Martydom Guru Arjan Dev Ji: Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev, burnt alive at the stake. Kachi lassi (sweetened milk) is offered to the thirsty passers-by to commemorate his death.

Diwali: The Indian festival of lights held around October 25th. Guru Amar Das institutionalised this as one of the special days when all Sikhs would gather to receive the Guru's blessings at Goindwal. In 1577 the foundation stone of The Golden Temple was laid on Diwali. On Diwali 1619 the Golden Temple was illuminated with many lights to welcome home and celebrate the release of Guru Hargobind from imprisonment in Gwalior fort. Sikhs have continued this annual celebration with lamps being lit outside Gurdwaras and sweets distributed to all. The largest gathering happens at The Golden Temple, which is lit up with thousands of lights.

Birth Anniversary Guru Nanak Dev Ji:
The founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak was born on April 15, 1469 in the Western Punjab village of Talwandi. He was born to a simple Hindu family. His father Mehta Kalian Das was an accountant in the employment of the local Muslim authorities. From an early age Guru Nanak made friends with both Hindu and Muslim children and was very inquisitive about the meaning of life. At the age of six he was sent to the village schoolteacher for schooling in reading and writing in Hindi and mathematics. He was then schooled in the study of Muslim literature and learned Persian and Arabic. He was an unusually gifted child who learned quickly and often questioned his teachers.

Martydom Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji: Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur, beheaded in Delhi by the Moghul emperor.

Birth Anniversary Guru Gobind Singh Ji: Birth of Guru Gobind Singh in Patna. He created the Khalsa (Sikh Brotherhood) and made it mandatory for them to have the five Ks - Kesh (hair), Kripan (dagger), Kada (bracelet), Kangha (comb) and Kachcha (underwear). During his time the warrior/yogi Maadhav Das, later known as Banda Bairagi successfully fought the Moghuls and finally died a martyr. Gobind Singh was a poet and archer and knew Persian, Arabic and Punjabi as well as Samskrit and Hindi,