This week I’ve joined Inés in Spain to plan the 2018 REEP McLAREN International Gardening Scholarship which is due to take place in Andalucía and Madrid next Spring. Keep an eye on the news page as I’ll be posting about some of the gardens our Scholars may be working and gardening in.
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Also known as ‘Gurpurab’ or ‘Guru Nanak Jayanti’, this festival celebrates the birth of the first Sikh Guru and founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak Jayanti. Born in 1469 near Lahore, in modern-day Pakistan, Guru Nanak Jayanti received enlightenment in 1496 and began preaching to the world about peace and religious harmony.
Celebrations begin two days in advance, with the commencement of the Arambh Path – an unbroken recitation of the Holy Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib, which takes forty-eight hours to complete. On the day before Guru Nanak’s Prakash Utsav, naga kirtan (processions) take place in the streets, with singing and dancing to spread the message of Guru Nanak Jayanti. Processing barefoot, the procession each carry a Nishan Sahib (Sikh flag), following behind the palanquin (ornate float) on which the Guru Granth Sahib is ceremoniously carried. Gatka (Sikh Martial Arts) often take place as part of the procession too.
On the day of Guru Nanak’s Prakash Utsav itself, observances last all day, beginning in the gurdwara (Sikh temple) with Prabhat Pheris (early morning processions) and Asa-di-Var (devotional hymns). These are followed by a Katha* session, where the teachings of Guru Nanek Jayanti are read from the Guru Granth Sahib. Kirtan (devotional songs) are also sung in praise of the Guru, and Langar (sacred free food) is provided at community lunches.
* Katha is the verbal explanation/discourse of Gurbani (the utterings of the Guru’s) and our great history. Katha has been an integral part of Sikh practice since the revealed inception of Sikhism by Sri Guru Nanak Dev. Many Sikhs believe that through Katha they will gain knowledge about Sikhism and become enlightened. Katha is both a spiritual and historical discourse, endowing the listener with spiritual and worldly knowledge.
For more information about Guru Nanak’s Prakash Utsav please click here
Taking place the day after All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day is a time for Christians to remember and pray for the souls of departed friends and family. Many Christians attend church services and pay their respects at the graves of family and friends. All Souls’ Day is closely associated with All Saints’ Day; the two days are collectively known as Hallowtide.
All Souls’ Day was initiated in the late 10th century by (Saint) Odilo, Abbot of Cluny in France. Saint Odilo proposed that the day following All Saints’ Day be dedicated to the remembrance of the deceased, particularly those whose souls were still in purgatory. The tradition soon spread throughout the Christian World, where it became custom for poor Christians to offer prayers for the souls of the dead in exchange for charity, in the form of money or food, from the wealthy. In 19th and 20th century Britain, children would go ‘souling’ – singing from door to door in return for alms or soul cakes. As many people held the belief that the dead would revisit their homes on All Souls’ night, they would light candles outside their homes to help guide the deceased souls.
Today, one of the most famous observances of All Souls’ Day takes places in Mexico where Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a national holiday. As many Mexicans believe that the souls of the dead visit friends and family on this day, people visit cemeteries with gifts of candles, flowers and food. Mexican children eat tiny chocolate hearse, sugar funeral wreaths, and candy skulls and coffins. There are often festive parades in the streets and it is traditional for performances of José Zorrilla’s 1844 Spanish drama, Don Juan Tenorio, to be staged.
For more information about All Souls’ Day please click here
On All Saints’ Day, Christians honour all of the saints in Christian history, especially those saints who do not have their own dedicated feast day in the Christian calendar. It is a time for both Catholic and Anglican Christians to remember the saints and martyrs who dedicated or sacrificed their lives to Christianity. Special services are held in churches, while many Christian schools organise activities to educate students about the role of saints in the history of Christianity.
All Saints’ Day was made an authorised holiday on the fixed date of 01 November by Pope Gregory IV in 837. However, celebrations began long before this date, possibly as early as 270 CE. For more information about All Saints’ Day please click here
The year 2017 is the Bicentennial of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh. In 1844, a young merchant from the Iranian City of Shiraz prophesied the coming of a new messenger from God. The prophecy was realised several years late when Bahá’u’lláh, a follower of The Báb, was recognised as the Manifestation of God.
Meaning ‘Glory of God’ in Arabic, Bahá’u’lláh was born Mirza Husayn Ali in Persia in 1817. Despite not studying the Qur’an or the Arabic language in his early years, Bahá’u’lláh grew to become exceptionally knowledgeable about Islam and other faiths. This was a fact that, much later in his life, he would use to argue his claim as the Manifestation of God.
At the age of 27, Bahá’u’lláh became an active follower and correspondent of The Báb after reading his declaration. After The Báb’s death, the Persian authorities sought to diminish Bahá’u’lláh’s growing influence and incarcerated him in the Siyáh-Chál (Black Pit) prison in Tihran. He was later released and banished from the state.
Moving first to Baghdad, then to Adrianople (now Edirne), and Akka (in Syria), it seemed that wherever Bahá’u’lláh went his religious views and growing influence and support caused the consternation of the Islamic authorities. His life was one of constant exile and captivity. Bahá’u’lláh died in Bahji in 1892 and was succeeded by Abdu’l-Bahá, his eldest son. Abdu’l-Bahá was recognised as the first to believe in Bahá’u’lláh’s mission, and the only authoritative interpreter of Bahá’í teachings.
For more information about the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh please click here
Seen as the prophet of the Bahá’í faith, The Báb called on the people of his native Persia (now Iran) to purify themselves for the coming of the messenger of God. Bahá’u’lláh, the messenger in question, was a follower of The Báb and it is through him that the Bahá’í faith was founded. Celebrations on The Báb’s birthday are simple yet joyous, beginning with prayers and devotional readings, and ending with festive social gatherings. The Birth of The Báb is one of nine Bahá’í Holy Days on which work is not permitted.
Little is known of The Báb’s early life beyond that he was born Siyyid ‘Ali-Muhammad on 20 October 1819 in Shiraz, Persia (now Iran). Son to two descendants of the Prophet Muhammad – a mercer and his wife -The Báb lost his father when very young and care of him was transferred to his uncle. In recent years, the administrative head of the Bahá’í faith has issued instructions for Bahá’í communities to rely on the Badi calendar for the dates of all Bahá’í Holy Days. As a result, the Birth of The Báb and the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh are celebrated on two consecutive dates between mid-October and mid-November.
For more information about the Birth of The Báb please click here
Gur gadi is a Punjabi word meaning ‘Guru’s throne’, and it is used in reference to the accession of successive Sikh Gurus as the Head of the Sikh faith. The final, eternal Sikh Guru is not a person but the Sikh Holy Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib. The Gur gadi of Guru Granth Sahib is therefore the most celebrated in the Sikh calendar. Celebrations begin two days in advance, with the commencement of the Arambh Path – an unbroken recitation of Guru Granth Sahib that takes forty-eight hours to complete. On the day itself, celebrations include a nagar kirtan (procession), kirtan (devotional hymns), langar (sacred free food) and various sporting events.
Guru Granth Sahib was compiled in 1604 by the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev. He collated and edited the prayers and hymns of the four previous Gurus together with his own and those of Hindu and Muslim saints where he felt the sentiments echoed those of Sikhism. The result was a new Sikh Holy Scripture which was installed in Sri Harimandir Sahib (The Golden Temple) in Amritsar on 01 September 1604, and conferred the title of ‘Guru’ on 20 October that same year.
Sikhs show the same respect to Guru Granth Sahib as was shown to the human Gurus that were its predecessors. In gurdwaras (Sikh temples), the Holy Scripture rests in its own bed each night and it is ceremoniously fanned when recited from. It is not permitted to place Guru Granth Sahib on the ground, nor for any Sikh to turn their back to it. Most Sikhs do not have a copy in their own homes because it is so difficult to show it the respect it commands.
For more information about Gur Gadi Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji please click here
Diwali is the Hindu New Year festival. It is the most important event in the Hindu calendar, beginning on the 15th day of the Hindu month, Kartika, and lasting for five days. The festival is an official holiday in many countries, including India, Fiji, Malaysia, Mauritius, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Singapore. Diwali is often known as the ‘Festival of Lights’ because at night, Hindus light up temples and homes with hundreds of diyas (lamps) to welcome Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and prosperity. Hindus believe that praying to Lakshmi will bring them good fortune in the coming year. Hindu’s also decorate their homes with colourful Rangoli patterns on the ground, in the hope that these will encourage Lakshmi to visit their homes. Traditionally these designs are painted onto the ground with a mixture of rice flour and water, or drawn with coloured powders.
The Story of Diwali Prince Rama had a beautiful wife called Sita. One day Sita was kidnapped by Ravana, a demon king with twenty arms and ten heads. As Sita was carried away in Ravana’s chariot, she left a trail of glittering jewellery for Prince Rama to follow in the hope that he would find her and rescue her. Prince Rama followed the trail until he met Hanuman, the Monkey King. Hanuman agreed to help find Sita and sent messages to all the monkeys in the world, who in turn asked for the help of the bears. An army of monkeys and bears set out in search of Sita, who they found imprisoned on an island. As there was no bridge to the island they had to build one themselves. When the other animals heard what happened, they rushed to help. Once the bridge was built, all the animals of the world marched across to fight a fierce battle against the evil Ravana. The battle ended when Prince Rama killed King Ravana with a magic arrow. The world rejoiced and, as Prince Rama and Sita began their long journey back to their land, people lit oil lamps to guide them on their way and welcome them back. From this time forth, Hindu people have lit lamps during Diwali to remind them that light triumphs over dark and good over evil.
For more information about Diwali please click here
Although Diwali (the festival of lights) is widely considered solely to be a Hindu festival, it is actually celebrated by Sikhs too, albeit for different reasons. Sikhs celebrate Diwali as Bandi Chhorh Divas (Prisoner Release Day) in respect of Guru Hargobind Ji’s release from Gwalior Fort prison on this day in 1619 AD. When, after several months of imprisonment, Guru Hargobind ji was granted release he was would not embrace his own fortune and refused to leave the fort until all fifty-two of the other Sikh prisoners were freed. Guru Hargobind Ji was given the name Bandhi Chhorh because the bandi (imprisoned ones) were chhorh (released) by Him.
When Guru Hargobind and the other prisoners reached the city of Amritsar, they arrived during Diwali. Overjoyed at seeing their Guru again, the people illuminated Amritsar and Sri Harimandir Sahib (the Golden Temple) with lamps and candles. They sang gurbani kirtan (devotional hymns) in his honour and recited prayers in veneration of his willingness to sacrifice his own freedom for the sake of other innocent lives.
Today the tradition lives on in Amritsar. Every year, the Golden Temple is filled with thousands of candles and floating lamps and its domes covered with strings of light. Sikhs in other communities around the world celebrate Bandi Chhorh Divas at gurdwaras (Sikh temples), which are illuminated with hundreds of candles at night. Shabad (devotional hymns) are sung in praise of Guru Hargobind, and festive meals are prepared in the Guru ka Langar (a community dining room providing sacred free meals).
For more information about Bandi Chhorh Divas please click here
11 to 13 October
Taking place immediately after Sukkot is another jubilant festival, lasting for two days (or one day, in Israel). No work is permitted during the period, and the focus of celebrations is the conclusion and resumption of the Torah-reading cycle. On the evenings preceding each of the two days, Jewish females light candles and recite blessings, and families gather together for festive meals.
On the first day, called Shemini Atzeret, prayers are made for rain as the festival marks the onset of the rainy season. In remembrance the souls of the departed, the Yizkor prayer is also recited. On the second day, called Simchat Torah or ‘The Joy of the Torah’, Jews take part in hakafot (circle) dances morning and night, marching and dancing around the synagogue reading table with Torah scrolls in their arms. Jewish men and children receive an aliyah (the honour of being called upon to read from the Torah) during the service. The service ends with the recommencement of the Torah reading, from the very beginning, on a second Torah scroll.
For more information about Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah please click here
4 to 11 October
Beginning on the fifth day after Yom Kippur, the Festival of Sukkot is a joyful celebration of both historical and agricultural significance. Sukkot takes place over seven days, with no work permitted on the first and second days. On the remaining five days, known as Chol Ha-Mo’ed, work recommences. Also known as ‘The Season of our Rejoicing’ or ‘The Time of Our Joy’, Sukkot is a time when the nights are filled with music, song and dance as communities join together for nightly water-drawing celebrations. For Jews, this is both a contrast and a delight after the deeply sombre Yom Kippur festival a few days before.
Historically, Sukkot commemorates the forty-year period that the children of Israel spent wandering the Sinai Desert, living in sukkah (rudimentary huts), before reaching the Holy Land. To reaffirm their trust in God’s providence during Sukkot, Jews build temporary sukkot (plural: sukkah) to live in during the festival.
Agriculturally, Sukkot is a harvest festival and is often called ‘The Festival of Ingathering’. A tradition unique to Sukkot is the Taking of the Four Kinds: an etrog (citron), a lulav (palm frond), three hadassim (myrtle branches) and two aravot (willow branches). These represent the four types and personalities that make up the community of Israel, the intrinsic unity of which Jews show their respect for during Sukkot. The Four Kinds are also an integral part of the daily morning services which take place during Sukkot.
For more information about Sukkot please click here
Literally meaning ‘ten’, Ashura takes place on the tenth day of the month of Muharram. It is the most significant day of Muharram, as it is the day that Muslims mourn the death of Hussein ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and son of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the first Shi’ite Imam. On the tenth day of Muharram 61 AH (680 AD) Hussein ibn Ali was brutally massacred along with his family and other followers during the Battle of Karbala. Hussein and his supporters are regarded as martyrs by all Islamic denominations but, while for Shi’a Muslims the massacre has a crucial role in their history, traditions and theology, for Sunni Muslims it does not influence tradition or theology and is mainly viewed as an historical tragedy.
Ashura observances differ between Shi’a and Sunni Muslim communities. For Shi’a Muslims, rituals and observances consist largely of public expressions of mourning and grief. Many communities organise matam (remembrance parades) with men gathering in the streets to take part in ceremonial chest beating. In Iraq, some Shi’a Muslims make a pilgrimage to the Imam Husayn Shrine to see the grave of Husayn ibn Ali, while in a number of countries, including Iran, the Battle of Karbala is re-enacted in special Condolence Theatre performances. Sunni Muslims often observe fasting on the ninth and tenth days of Muharram. Although not compulsory, Muslims who fast on the day of Ashura are believed to be rewarded with ten-thousand martyrs and ten-thousand people performing Hajj and Umrah (pilgramages to Mecca) on their behalf. Sunni Muslims also perform Nafl Salaat prayers, give charity to others, bathe, cut nails and apply surma (kohl eyeliner) to their own and others’ eyes.
For more information about Ashura please click here
Known as The Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur marks the end of Rosh Hashanah, and is the most sacred and solemn of all Jewish festivals. It is on this day that Jews believe God makes His final decisions about what the coming year will bring for each and every person. The Book of Life is closed and sealed and Jews who have properly repented of their sins will be rewarded accordingly by God. As Yom Kippur is the only day of the year when there are five different services, Jews spend much of the festival in the synagogue. Other Yom Kippur observances include fasting and abstaining from sex, washing and perfuming oneself and wearing leather shoes.
The five services of Yom Kippur:
- The Kol Nodrei service (evening) – Includes the reading of the Kol Nidrei prayer and act of vidui (confessing of one’s sins). Prayer shawls are not usually worn for evening services, but Jewish men wear them to the Kol Nodrei service in honour of the special occasion.
- The Shacharit service (morning) – Includes morning prayers, the Shema, the Amidah prayer, reading of the Torah, and the Yizkor
- The Musaf service – Takes place immediately after the Shacharit service. It includes Musaf Amidah, the cantor’s repetition of the Amidah, the Avodah and the priestly blessing.
- The Afternoon service – Includes Torah readings, the Amidah prayer, the cantor’s repetition of the Amidah, and the recital of Avino Malkenu.
- The Neilah service (closing) – Brings Yom Kippur to an end as God’s judgement is finally sealed and the congregation beseech God to hear the prayers of the community. Everyone stands for the duration of the service as the doors of the Ark are open. At the end of this final service, the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) is sounded one final time.
For more information about Yom Kippur please click here
Marking the beginning of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar, this is the Islamic New Year festival. Muharram is a sombre month for Muslims, who derive messages from Hussein ibn Ali’s sacrifice. Muharram celebrations and traditions differ between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, and also between Muslim communities around the world.
Shi’a Muslims in countries including Afghanistan, Bahrain, india, Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan organise matam (remembrance parades) with men gathering in the streets to take part in ceremonial chest beating. In Iraq, some Shi’a Muslims make a pilgrimage to the Imam Husayn Shrine on the grave of Husayn ibn Ali. In Iran, parts of south Asia, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, the battle of karbala is re-enacted in special Condolence Theatre performances.
The word Muharram means ‘forbidden’ in Arabic. For this reason, many Muslims choose to fast on or around the Day of Ashura, the tenth day of Muharram. Mosques often provide nazar (sacred free meals) to Muslims between the ninth and eleventh days of the month. In the vast majority of countries, Muharram 2017 will begin on 21 September, but for a couple of countries it will begin the following day, on the 22 September.
For more information about Muharram please click here
20 to 30 September
Falling in the Hindu month of Ashwin and lasting for nine nights, Navaratri is the longest and the largest festival in the Hindu calendar. It ends with Vijayadashami, another big festival. With Nav meaning ‘nine’ and Ratri meaning ‘nights’, the festival takes its primary name from the length of the celebrations. However, the festival is often known as ‘Durga Puja’ because during the festival Hindus worship the Goddess Durga and, through her, the shakti (feminine power). While the festival is joyfully celebrated all over India, it has particularly popularity in the state of West Bengal.
Over nine nights, the Goddess Durga is worshipped in nine different forms: Durga, the invincible; Bhadrakali, the auspicious and fortunate; Amba or Jagdamba, Mother of the universe; Annapoorna, giver of food; Sarvamangala, giver of joy all around; Bhairavi, the terrifying; Chandika, the violent; Lalita, the beautiful; Bhavani, the giver of life; and Mookambika, the one who listens. Hindus eat only vegetarian foods during Navratri, with many choosing to fast during the festival. Clay idols of Goddess Durga are brought into Hindu homes or public venues and people show their respect for shakti through their worship of these. At the end of the nine days, the idols are immersed into water to liquefy and return to the riverbed. Traditional Garaba dances take place at cultural organisations, hotels, clubs and on the streets, often featuring well-known celebrities.
For more information about Navaratri please click here
A two-day festival in commemoration of the creation of the world, Rosh Hashanah is the Jews New Year celebration. Known as ‘The Days of Repentence’, it is a time when Jews ask for God’s forgiveness as he weighs up their good and bad deeds across the past year and determines their fate for the year ahead. During Rosh Hashanah, Jews visit synagogues to reflect deeply on their priorities in life, asking themselves who and what mean the most to them, what they have achieved thus far in life and what are their hopes and wishes for the future.
One important ritual that takes place in the synagogues during Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the shafar (ram’s horn trumpet). This is played in a special rhythm for one hundred notes. After the shafar has been sounded, families return to their homes to enjoy a special meal together. Along with a number of traditional dishes, a pomegranate is often included on the table in respect of the Jewish tradition that the pomegranate has 613 seeds – one for each of the commandments that Jews vow to keep. The sounding of the shafar marks the beginning of ‘The Days of Awe’ – a ten-day period which ends with the festival of Yom Kippur.
For more information about Rosh Hashanah please click here
This is a festival in celebration of the installation of the Sikh holy scripture, Guru Granth Sahib, at Sri Harimandur Sahib (The Golden Temple) in Amritsar, India. The treasured scripture is at the heart of Sikh worship and devotion at Sri Harimandir Sahib, which was built in the late 16th century when Guru Granth Sahib was completed. In the early morning of Guru Granth Sahib day, Guru Granth Sahib is ceremoniously set on the Singhasan (throne) in the centre of the Temple’s sanctum. Passages are read from the scripture during the day and Sikh’s visit Sri Harimandur Sahib to pay their respects. In the evening, Guru Granth Sahib is respectfully returned to its usual resting place in the Akal Takhat, another building in the Temple complex.
Guru Granth Sahib was compiled in 1604 by the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev. He collated and edited the prayers and hymns of the four previous Gurus together with his own and those of Hindu and Muslim saints where he felt the sentiments echoed those of Sikhism. The result was a new Sikh Holy Scripture which was installed in Sri Harimandir Sahib on 01 September 1604, and conferred the title of ‘Guru’ on 20 October that same year. For Sikh’s, Guru Granth Sahib is worshipped as the revealed word of God written by Sikh Gurus and Saints. The Holy Scripture consists of 1,430 pages written in Gurmukhi (the script of Punjabi), containing 5,894 shabods (revealed hymns of six Gurus) arranged into 31 ragas (musical groupings).
Sikhs show the same respect to Guru Granth Sahib as was shown to the human Gurus. In gurdwaras (Sikh temples), the Holy Scripture rests in its own bed each night and is ceremoniously fanned whenever it is recited from. It is not permitted to place Guru Granth Sahib on the ground, nor for any Sikh to turn their back to it. Most Sikhs do not have a copy in their own homes because it is so difficult to show it the respect it commands.
For more information about Guru Granth Sahib please click here
01 to 04 September
Sometimes called ‘Feast of the Sacrifice’, this four-day festival commemorates Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishamael, when commanded to do so by God. When Ibrahim (Abraham in Judaism and Christianity) was just about to commit the sacrifice at the top of Mount Moriah, he was stopped by an angel and given a ram to sacrifice in place of his son.
At Eid-al-Adha, Muslims pray at home or visit mosques to listen to commemorative sermons. New clothes are worn as friends and family gather to exchange gifts, share food and worship together. Many families sacrifice an animal in a symbolic act known as qurbani. Meat from the sacrificed animal (typically a sheep, goat, cow or camel) is divided into three parts, with one part charitably donated to the poor, one part given to friends and neighbours, and the final part retained for the family.
The dates for Eid-al-Adha are often changed up to ten days before the start of the festival. This is because the Islamic calendar is based on observations of the Moon. For more information about Eid-al-Adha please click here
This week REEP Director, Diana Lazenby McLaren, and her husband, Richard McLaren, held two meeting at their home in Warwickshire. The meetings were attended by REEP trustees and supporters from England, Spain and, in absentia, Morocco. The purpose of the meetings was to evaluate REEP projects over the past 12 month and to discuss our programme of work for the coming year and beyond. The meetings were very fruitful and we all left feeling excited about our forthcoming plans.