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Comparison of Festival

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    Comparison of Festival

                Festivals are different events that are celebrated by a local community which usually reflect that community’s tradition, belief and culture.  For some communities, festivals usually relates to their religious beliefs wherein they celebrate to either praise or give thanks to their God.  Today, festivals are usually celebrated to pass on the tradition to the younger generation and to give and share to them the idea and stories relating to the festival.  Certainly, festivals are celebrated differently from one place to another precisely because of the variance or the difference between the beliefs and the culture of the people.  Though one festival may seem similar, it certainly is different in the manner it is celebrated, the reason why it is celebrated and the time it is celebrated.

                This paper will compare the Lantern Festival or the Festival of the Dead or the Bon Festival in Japan and the Festival of Lights or the Diwali celebrated by the Hindus.  It will focus more on their seeming similarities and dissimilarities including the manner and time it is celebrated as well as the underlying reason why it is celebrated.

    The Bon Festival

                The Bon Festival, commonly known as the Feast of Lanterns or the Festival of the Dead, is a religious rite where the Japanese community celebrates in memory of the dead, who according to the Buddhist belief, revisits Earth (Whiteley 177).  It is a Japanese Buddhist custom celebrated to give honor to the departed ancestors.   Obon is the short name of the legendary Urabonne or Urabanna which is a sanskrit term which means hanging upside down and that which implies great suffering (Chen 88).  Thus, the festival addresses itself primarily to the suffering of the souls in hells which are welcomed back to earth at places that have traditionally been regarded as gates of hell (Plutschow 69).

                The Bon Festival is a festival celebrated and recognized all throughout the Japanese community including Tokya, Yokohama, Tohoku region, Kantō region, Chūgoku, Shikoku, Kyūshū and the Southwestern islands of Japan, though the time when it is celebrated usually varies depending on whether it will be based on the solar or the lunar calendar.

                The most common date when the Bon Festival is celebrated is July 13 to 16 and mid-August (Rowthorn 95).  However, in its strict sense, the celebration of the Bon Festival, as earlier said, varies depending on whether the calendar to be followed is the solar or the lunar calendar.  The Shichigatu Bon is based on the solar calendar and is celebrated July 15 in Japanese communities located in Tokyo, Yokohama and the Tohoku region.  Another variation on the time the bon is celebrated is the Hachigatsu Bon.  It is also based on solar calendar but the bon festival is usually celebrated every August 15.  The old or the most traditional Bon or the Kyu Bon is based on the lunar calendar and thus, it is celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh month of the said calendar.  Thus, there is no exact or precise date when this Bon is celebrated because it would differ every year.  It is celebrated in areas like the northern part of the Chūgoku, Kantō region, Kyūshū, Shikoku, and the Southwestern islands of Japan.

                The festival usually lasted for three days.  It involves primarily of people going back to the villages or towns that their family originally came from to greet the souls of their dead ancestors.  People observing the Bon Festival in Chinko-ji will first ring the temples famous bell for the sound is believed to penetrate every corner of hell, announcing to the soul that they are now allowed to return to the world of the living.  At Chinko-ji until some years ago, people would buy a branch of pine and lower it into the well, which was considered the gate of hell, so that the soul could take hold of it.  Nowadays however, there is no chinko-ji’s well so people would immerse their branches in any well near their homes, sometimes leaving it there for two days to make sure that the souls have found it.  Then they take the branch home and display it at the house altar or a stand especially arranged for the season (Plutshow, 69). Greeting the souls of their dead relatives and ancestors is obviously a joyous occasion so mixed in with filial piety and ancestor worship which includes big meals, parties and dancing or the Bon Odori which hundred of people take part in dancing throughout the night to a rhythmic clapping of hands and beating of drums (Rice 22-23).  Since Bon occurs most commonly in the heat of summer, the participants usually wear the yukatai or the light cotton kimonos.  The Bon festival ends with the Toro Nagashi or the floating lanters, the reason why this is also called the Lantern Festival.  The lanterns are lighted and then floated down the rivers to symbolize the return of the ancestral spirits to the world of the dead. Fireworks display usually lit up the evening sky to highlight the end of the event.

                The festival originates from the story of a disciple of Buddha named, Mokuren.  According to the legend Mokuren used his supernatural powers to look for hid dead mother. However; he later on discovered that she had fallen to the Realm of the Hungry Ghost.  He then went to Buddha and asked how he could release his mother from the said realm. Buddha instructed Mokuren to make sufferings to the priest who had just completed their summer retreat on the 15th day of the seventh moth.  Mokuren did and thereafter say his mother released as promise by Buddha.  Mokuren dance with joy and thus, the creation and birth of the bon dance or the famous Bon Odori.

                Basically the purpose of the festival is to honor the memory of the dead, to stimulate ancestor-worship and filial piety (Rice, 23).

    The Diwali Festival

                The Diwali Festival, commonly known as the Festival of Light or the Deepawali is a major festive holiday and a significant holiday in Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism (Cohen 231-232).  In this celebration, the lights or lamps are lighted to signify the victory of good over the evil within every person.

                Diwali is just like any other festival is celebrated for a differing or varying number of days by different communities.  In Gregorian calendar, Diwali generally falls in the month of October or November.  It is usually a five day celebration which occurs on the fifteenth day of the Hindu month of Kartika  thereafter on the fourth day of Diwali, the Hindu New Year will take place..

                During Diwali, Hindu people honor their Gods and Goddesses and give thanks to whatever they have.  They usually wear new clothes and prepare foods (Preszler 6-8).  Basically, the Festival of Lights or the Diwali is celebrated to honor Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity. Thus, since the festival serves as a celebration to welcome the coming year, Hindu people praise and pray to Lakshmi to bring them good luck for the year to come.

                The Diwali festival is celebrated to mark the triumph of good over evil and uplifting of spiritual darkness.  It is celebrated usually to mark to the homecoming of goodwill and faith after and absence as narrated in the story of Ramayana. It is commonly referred to as the Festival of Lights, however in the spiritual level its’ meaning devolves on the person’s awareness of the inner light.  In Hindu’s philosophy, one principle states that there is something beyond our body that can be touch and seen physically and our mind, that is the pure and eternal called the Atman.  Deepavali or Diwali is essentially therefore the celebration of the inner light or the awakening of the individual’s one true nature not as the physical being but as the infinite reality.  It is celebrated through festive fireworks and lights.


                The Bon Festival and the Diwali Festival are both celebrated through the use of symbolical lanterns and lights.  Lanterns and Lights are symbolic to the main purpose and principle behind the festival.  In Bon Festival, it guides the soul of the departed ones in their return to the world of the dead which is primarily the purpose of the festival itself.  On the other hand, the Diwali uses lanterns and lights to signify the search for inner awareness.

                Another similarity of the two festivals is its resultant effect to its participants, which is to gather members of the family as well as the community in their own locality to give thanks and to honor the departed and their Gods.


    Bon Festival and Diwali Festival differ in many aspects.  As to the central subject of the festival: the Bon Festival focus more on the honor and filial connection between the participant and their ancestors who are already departed.  On the other hand, the Diwali festival focuses more on the participant’s gratitude towards their Goddess Lakshma or their goddess of wealth.  As to the festivals purpose, the Bon festival purpose is to guide the spirit of their departed ones while on Diwali Festival, the purpose is to give thanks and to ask for good luck for the year to come.


                Bon Festival and Diwali Festival may indeed, appear similar at first glance.  However, a closer look will show that these two festivals are different in every single way.  In the first place, the purpose of the two different festivals are very different inasmuch as the Bon festival is centered on building filial connection between the leaving the dead, particularly their departed parents or ancestors.  On the other hand, the Diwali Festival is centered on the worship and praise to their Goddess which they believe will give them good luck for the year to come. Secondly, the person that is given praised through the celebration is also different, that is, in the former, their departed ancestors and in the latter, the Goddess Lakshma.

                So what does make the two festivals different?   The difference, of course is primarily due to the difference between the cultures and tradition of two different countries and / or community.  A person’s belief is certainly different from the other.  Thus, because of this statement, an observer of these two different festivals will never say that one festival is more correct than the other.  Tradition and beliefs, just like cultures are imbedded to one’s mind and person hence, it is something that cannot be taken away from them.  Respect therefore for the two different festivals are proper.

                There are indeed, points marking the difference between Bon festival and the Diwali festival.  However, there is one thing good about this two festivals, that is it will always remind the participants to look back and give thanks.

    Works Cited:

    Chen, K. Filial Piety in Chinese Buddhism, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, (1968).

    Cohen,Richard.  Mahavira and His Teachings by A. N. Upadhye, , Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 102, No. 1 (Jan. – Mar., 1982).

    Preszler, June. Diwali: Hindu Festival of Lights, Capstone Press, (2006).

    Rice, Jonathan. Japanese Mask: How to Understand Japanese Culture and Works Successfully with It, (2004).

    Rowthorn, Chris, Ashburne, John, Bender Andrew, Atkinson David. Japan, Lonely Planet, (2003).

    Whiteley, Sandy and Whiteley, Sandra.  On This Date: A day by day listing of Holidays, Birthdays, (2002).


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