Praying through Hindu festivals

Diwali, popularly known as the Festival of Lights, is probably the most significant and well-known Hindu celebration. This cultural and religious extravaganza takes place this week for five days (starting November 7), and stands out amongst the many Hindu festivals for its fireworks and colourful displays.

Stories of the festival’s origins vary across regions. The word Diwali is a shortened form of Deepavali, which means “row of lamps”. It celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil. It lasts five days and includes many rituals and festivities in various forms across the Hindu world.

Like most other Indian festivals, Diwali is also a time for visiting with relatives and friends. The mixture of social, traditional, and spiritual affairs in Indian festivals is both fascinating and complex; it represents a time of great openness among Hindus, including to the gospel.

Hindus place great importance on the Festival of Lights, so it’s appropriate that we pray for them to receive the greatest blessing of all: Revelation of Jesus, the Light of the world and Saviour of all humanity. “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12)

Maha Shivratri, the Great Night of Shiva, which will next be in March 2019,  is a significant festival for Saivite (Shiva-focused) Hindus, though many non-Saivite Hindus also participate. Shiva is often portrayed as an ascetic, and the festival of Shivratri involves numerous ascetic rituals. Many adherents stay awake, worshiping throughout the night as part of the celebrations.

Krishna Janmashtami is a birthday festival in commemoration of Krishna’s birth, last held in September. Vaishnava (Vishnu-focused) Hindus make up the largest variety of Hindus, and Krishna is the most popular of the Vishnu avatars (incarnations). This festival is celebrated widely with many local variations. In Mumbai, for example, human pyramids attempt to reach and break a dangling clay pot filled with buttermilk.

Another significant festival that is commonly celebrated under various names is Navratri, or “The Nine Nights”. It was celebrated in October. Worship during Navratri primarily focuses on the goddess Durga’s destruction of a great demon.

Christmas and Good Friday are national holidays in India, and many Hindus celebrate Christmas in some form. While these \celebrations are primarily seen as Western traditions, and often feature Santa Claus more than Christ, they still provide one of the few opportunities that Hindus may have to hear the gospel.y 14 10 November

Ways to pray:

  • that Hindus would see and respond to the story of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection as the perfect example of a Saviour willing to do the hard things out of love for all peoples. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)
  • that, in the midst of festivals, Hindus would find the pure, living God and that they would finally proclaim the glory of Jesus with all their immense creativity and joy.
  • for Christians to reach out to Hindus, particularly during Christmas (and Easter), sharing the true meaning. 
  • for disciples of Christ to find ways to join with their Hindu neighbours and share the gospel with boldness and love.

— Notes from this year’s 15 Days of Prayer for the Hindu world.