There are numeours religions throughout the world but the 5 major religions, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism are what the majority of the world's 7.3 billion people ascribe to. Religions are full of tradition, ritual, and celebration, and while some are more popular and common then others, there exist a lot of religious gatherings around the world that many people in Western society know very little about. The folowing are 10 highly celebrated and attended religious gatherings from around the world.
10. Makha Bucha, Thailand
Makha Bucha is a festival that occurs in Thailand during the full moon of the third lunar month of the year. Thousands of Buddhist Monks attend the festival to pray and worship and to cleanse their minds. Makha Bucha day is one of the most important days in the Theravada Buddhist calendar and commemorates the day Buddha delivered a sermon to call on people to stop evil, perform good deeds, and purify the mind. The ceremony is not held in one single location but at temples around Thailand. This day is very well attended by thousands of monks and common people alike.
9. Ouidah Voodoo Festival, Benin
This Festival remembers the estimated 60 million people who lost their lives to the Slave trade. The majority of Benin’s population still practice Voodoo and use it as a foundation of morality, values, and social order. Every year near The Temple of Pythons in Ouidah, the festival takes place and hosts music, arts, and culture displays, and animal sacrifices. The Highest Feticheur begins the procession from the temple to the beach along the slave road. The actual celebration is held at the beach with over 10,000 attendees, most of whom come from West Africa but some who have come from Haiti and Brazil to pay respect to their native culture.
8. Holi, India
Holi happens on the day after the March full moon and is a colorful celebration in India and Nepal. Attendees throw dye powder at each other day and night while dancing in the street and praying away evil intentions. The festival is quite chaotic but the origin of the festival comes from the story of Holika, Prahlad, and the demon King Hiranyakashyap. The King asked Holika to kill Prahlad by fire because Prahlad was not devoted to him, Holika was supposed to be immune to fire but not when she entered fire with someone else, so Holika died and Prahlad was saved because of his devotion to another god, Lord Naarayana. The festival is meant to represent the triumph of good over evil. Nowadays people burn effigies of Holika and throw dye at each other in a joyous and raucous celebration of good over evil
7. Makarajyothi Festival
Millions of Hindus visit the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala, for the Makarajyothi Festival each year to worship a star and pay their respects to the God Lord Ayyapan. Each year the Royal Pandalam family’s 3 Thiruvabharanam boxes make their way to Sabarimala Temple, in each box contains precious jewels that they adorn the Lord Ayyapan with. The priests perform arathi (ritual worship involving light) and then a bright light, said to be Lord Ayyapan’s birth star (Uttara Phalguni) appears above the mountain of Sabarimala.
6. Bishwa Ijtema, Bangladesh
Bishwa Ijtema is a Muslim festival that unites people by the Turag River outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The 3 day prayer meeting consists of readings from the Quran and Muslim scholars expalaining and discussing different passages. During the final prayer, devotees raise their hands to pray for world peace. Millions of people from over 150 countries attend this celebration
5. Attukal Temple “Pongala”, India
The largest convergence of women in the world, they meet at Attukal Temple in Kerala, India. The festival takes place over 10 days but the Hindu women only unite on the 9th day to prepare pongala (sweet rice porridge) to offer to the Goddess of the Temple. An estimated 4 million women took part in the festival in 2019 and even this year, despite COVID-19 fears, women still made the journey to pray at the Temple. The festival commemorates the deity Kannaki who destroyed Madurai after the King executed her husband. She then travelled to Kerala and rested at the Attukal Temple where women cooked her pongala.
4. Hajj, Saudi Arabia
Hajj is a religious pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. It is the honour of most Muslims to be able to complete Hajj. The Mosque in Mecca is the largest in the world but even still worshippers are not able to fit inside the sahn (courtyard). Over 2 million Muslims make the trip to Mecca each year for Hajj as it is one of the 5 pillars of Islam. The dates change every year to correspond with Eid-Al Adha, one of the major Islamic holidays. Hajj takes 6 days and requires numerous rituals like wearing a specific garment that represents the equality of humanity. Hajj is the reenactment of Prophet Mohammed's final pilgrimage in 632 AD.
Devotees who attend Hajj start in Mecca where they bathe and then don their white clothes (thram). They proceed to perform rituals along the way to Mina where they spend the first night. Over the next few days they move form Mina to Mount Arafat, they collect 7 stones to throw a apillar representing the devil, eventually turning back to Mecca where they stay for a few more days and nights. The purpose of he pilgramage is to purify the worshipper of their sins and confirm their devotion to Islam. If you have the means to afford the pilgrimage, it is considered an obligation to attend.
3. Black Nazarene, Philippines
Catholic crowds gather annually to pray around a black wooden statue of Jesus in Manila, Philippines. The Philippines is the largest Catholic nation in Asia and worshippers come dressed in yellow and maroon to parade around this statue that they believe has healing powers. People pray for good health and success, and try to touch the “Black Nazarene” as it is pulled through the masses of people on a carriage. Over 3 million people joined the procession in 2020 and about 250 people were injured during the festival. The Black Nazarene itself was carved in Mexico and brought over to the Philippines in 1606 and eventually enshrined in Quiapo Church in 1787. The Statue is paraded through the streets 3 times a year, but the major event, on January 9th, reenacts the transfer of the statue to its current home and is the most attended event.
2. Arba'een Pilgrimage, Iraq
The pilgrimage honours the death of Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Imam Hussain; devotees proceed to the holy city of Karbala in Iraq on foot, and the communities en route help the pilgrims with food, water, and shelter. The march is 80km from Najaf to Karbala and is marked with 1400 poles,one for each year since Imam Hussain's death. The annual pilgrimage has seen a swell of crowds in more recent years, as the walk not only commeorates the death of Hussain but also serves as a show of strength and support for Shiite Muslims who have been oppressed by factions like ISIS, Saddam Hussein's regime. Last year's walk witnessed a crowd of about 20 million Muslims from all over the world take part.
1. Kumbh Mela, India
Kumbh Mela is a Hindu festival that happens 4 times in the span of 12 years, when Jupiter, the Sun, and the Moon are in specific positions over the 4 holy sites. There are 4 holy river sites where Kumbh Mela could take place depending on the astrological alignment. The most holy site is at the Prayag river and the Great Kumbh Mela happens there once every 144 years. The last Great Kumbh Mela gathering in 2001, saw an estimated 60 million Hindu devotees unite for this extraordinary festival. The myth that Kumbh Mela is based on goes like this: When the gods and demons fought over an elixir of immortality, they spilled drops of the elixir onto earth, specifically into the 4 holy river sites, so they believe that 4 times in 12 years, these rivers have the essence of immortality. Hindus come from all over and all levels of society to bathe in the magical river with the hopes of absorbing the elixir's healing properties.
About the Author
Chelsie Joy writes a travel blog, Joy Adventures and is based out of Montréal, Canada. Having taught in South Korea, UAE, and Czech Republic, she has had the opportunity to travel widely and developed a passion for writing about her adventures. She specializes in writing about travel, fitness, the arts, and the environment.
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