Type of Holiday: Religious (Hindu)
Date of Observation: August-September; sixth day of the waning half of the Hindu month of Bhadrapada
Where Celebrated: India
Symbols and Customs: Plough ORIGINS

Halashashti is a religious festival in Hinduism, which many scholars regard as the oldest living religion. The word Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit term Sindhu (or Indus), which meant river. It referred to people living in the Indus valley in the Indian subcontinent.

Hinduism has no founder, one universal reality (or god) known as Brahman, many gods and goddesses (sometimes referred to as devtas), and several scriptures. Hinduism also has no priesthood or hierarchical structure similar to that seen in some other religions, such as Christianity. Hindus acknowledge the authority of a wide variety of writings, but there is no single, uniform canon. The oldest of the Hindu writings are the Vedas. The word "veda" comes from the Sanskrit word for knowledge. The Vedas, which were compiled from ancient oral traditions, contain hymns, instructions, explanations, chants for sacrifices, magical formulas, and philosophy. Another set of sacred books includes the Great Epics, which illustrate Hindu faith in practice. The Epics include the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Bhagavad Gita.

The Hindu pantheon includes approximately thirty-three million gods. Some of these are held in higher esteem than others. Over all the gods, Hindus believe in one absolute high god or universal concept. This is Brahman. Although he is above all the gods, he is not worshipped in popular ceremonies because he is detached from the day to day affairs of the people. Brahman is impersonal. Lesser gods and goddesses (devtas) serve him. Because these are more intimately involved in the affairs of people, they are venerated as gods. The most honored god in Hinduism varies among the different Hindu sects. Although Hindu adherents practice their faith differently and venerate different deities, they share a similar view of reality and look back on a common history.

The Hindu festival Halashashti is often referred to as Balarama Shashti, after Krishna's older brother, Balarama, who was born on this day. According to the Hindu scriptures, Vishnu took two hairs, one white and one black, and these became Balarama and Krishna, the sons of Devaki. As soon as Balarama was born, he was taken to a safe place to preserve his life from the tyrant Kansa. He and Krishna grew up together, sharing many adventures, and Balarma's death while sitting under a banyan tree near Dwaraka was followed soon after by the death of his brother. Balarama's weapon was a PLOUGH , so this is also the day on which the farmers and peasants of India pay special tribute to the implement that helps them sow their crops.

Hindu women fast on this day, eating only buffalo milk and curds in the belief that it will ensure happiness, prosperity, and longevity for their sons. A fast may also be observed by farmers in rural areas, who hope that Lord Shiva will bless their families' welfare and send them better crops in the coming year. Everyone shares in a huge feast in the evening.



The hala or plough that gives this festival its name is a symbol not only of Balarama but of farmers and farming in general. Hindu farmers show their reverence for the plough by applying powdered rice and turmeric to its iron blade and by decorating it with flowers.


Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992.
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009


August-September; sixth day of waning half of Hindu month of Bhadrapada
This Hindu festival is often referred to as Balarama Shashti, after Krishna's older brother, Balarama, who was born on this day. Balarama's weapon was a plough, so it is also the day on which farmers in India worship the hala, or plough. They apply powdered rice and turmeric to the plough's iron blade and decorate it with flowers. A small piece of ground is sanctified and plastered with cow dung, then a small pool of water is dug in the middle and branches of plum, fig, and other fruit trees are planted there. Some women fast all day in the belief that it will ensure happiness, prosperity, and longevity to their sons. When the fast is broken in the evening, there is a great feast and celebration.
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 514
RelHolCal-2004, p. 147
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.