Calendrical Commemoration Of Personalities In India And Its Symbolic Value

We all remember from our school days the excitement to check out the calendar as it held secrets to our joys and delight in form of holidays and offs from school. Which days were the major festivals on, if the festivals lined up with some weekends to give an extended break and so on and so forth, the wonders were limitless. As we grow up those who take up regular jobs, still keep an eye out for this information as they schedule their vacations or visits to home. On a more short term basis we try to find out when the banks and other government offices would remain closed to align our work accordingly. But on a closer look calendars stand for much more. Of course they link the world in a cyclical notion of time but with regards to our talking point in this piece, the day offs, their significance lies in a symbolism of sorts. But before proceeding to that, let’s take a look at the calendar of 2019 and the holidays which feature in it according to the official Indian calendar.

These holidays are as per the circular issued by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions. There are two types of holidays- Gazetted and Restricted. While the former are mandatory to be observed in all central and state government offices, the latter are optional. There are 29 such days which are reserved for Restricted holidays and 16 days reserved for gazetted holidays. However there are some overlaps as some holidays which fall under restricted category fall on the same day as a gazetted ones and therefore will have the day off and a few restricted holidays overlap with each other.

But this piece is not about which days deserve to be gazetted or about whether India needs so many holidays vis-à-vis the oft-repeated concern about work efficiency. Instead in this piece we choose to look at the symbolism of holidays as days of commemorating certain individuals. First let us take a look at our gazetted holidays.

Date Holiday
26th January Republic Day
4th March Maha Shivratri
21st March Holi
17th April Mahavir Jayanti
19th April Good Friday
18th May Buddha Purnima
5th June Id-ul-Fitr
12th August Id-ul-Zuha (Bakrid)
15th August Independence Day
24th August Janmashtami
10th September Muharram
2nd October Mahatma Gandhi’s Birthday
8th October Dusshera
27th October Deepavali (Diwali)
10th November Id-e-Milad (Birthday of Prophet Muhammad)
12th November Guru Nanak’s Birthday
25th December Christmas Day


As one can observe most of these are religious holidays pertaining to different religions such as Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Christianity, Buddhism and Jainism. There are also three national holidays namely Republic day, Independence day and Gandhi Jayanti.

Now let us take a look at restricted holidays.

Date Holiday
1st January New Year’s Day
13th January Guru Gobind Singh’s Birthday
14th January Makar Sankranti
15th January Pongal
10th February Basant Panchami
19th February Guru Ravidas’s Birthday
19th February Shivaji Jayanti
1st March Swami Dayanand Saraswati’s Birthday
20th March Holika Dahan
6th April Chaitra Sukladi/Gudi Padwa/Ugadi/Cheti Chand
13th April Ram Navami
14th April Vaisakhi/Vishu/Mesadi
15th April Vaishakhi (Bengal)/Bahag/Bihu (Assam)
21st April Easter Sunday
9th May Guru Rabindranath Tagore’s Birthday
31st May Jamat-Ul-Vida
4th July Rath Yatra
15th August Raksha Bandhan
17th August Parsi New Year’s Day/ Nauraj
2nd September Ganesh Chaturthi
11th September Onam
5th October Maha Saptami
6th October Maha Ashtami
7th October Maha Navami
13th October Maharishi Valmiki’s birthday
17th October Karak Chaturthi
27th October Narak Chaturdashi
28th October Govardhan Puja
29th October Bhai Duj
2nd November Chhat Puja
24th November Guru Teg Bahadur’s Martyrdom day
24th December Christmas Eve


There are in all 32 restricted holidays. There is a mix of religious, seasonal and commemorational holidays amongst these. A look at both the gazetted and restricted holidays reflect that the religious holidays dominate Indian holiday calendar. Then there are seasonal holidays which mostly signify changing of the year varying from region to region. Considering religious and regional diversity of India, deciding upon holidays must have been a tricky deal.

Besides these holidays there are those days which are observed for commemorating certain individuals. For ease of analysis if one were to remove all those days from consideration which commemorate personalities who are associated with any particular religion or sect, we are left with five days in honour of Gandhi, Tagore, Ravidas, Shivaji and Dayanand Saraswati (Assuming that none of these personalities are treated as gods in any part of the country or any particular section of society).

Obviously, these individuals are significant in their own right having contributed to Indian history in some way or the other.  But let’s look at what remains missing in this list. Obviously no women feature here, neither do any persons belonging to any minority community. Also, there are no eminent figures from the southern, northern, central or north-eastern parts of India.

The individuals in this list represent periods of medieval and modern history. There is no set criteria apparently. One is a social reformer from Bhakti tradition, another a warrior king, a social reformer from modern history, a Nobel Laureate poet, musician and artist and a political and social activist who led the Indian independence movement. As nationally declared holidays (gazetted or restricted) these commemorations are political decisions and an in-depth look (elsewhere) might reveal why these individuals were chosen for remembrance and why the others were not.

In a way naming holidays after eminent personalities is like a canonisation process which reflects a nation’s values and ideals. During the time of the formation of the state, these decisions reflect in a Hobsbawmian sense (derived from Eric Hobsbawm) a strategy to invent a tradition which reflects a link to a certain time in history which represents the newly born nation’s ideology or values. As the nation matures, different political interests and agendas begin to reflect and many of these decisions are taken due to political expediencies as well. Since most of these holidays are restricted, there is little chance of them being actually used as vacations in most parts of the country. With many restricted holidays already instituted, these days mostly serve a symbolic purpose.

Many other eminent personalities are also remembered symbolically on other days by way of government orders or conventions. For instance Jawaharlal Nehru’s birthday is celebrated as Children’s day or S Radhakrishnan’s birthday is celebrated as Teacher’s day. Recently the BJP government decided to celebrate A B Vajpayee’s birthday as good Governance day. Dr B R Ambedkar’s birthday is celebrated in many parts of the country through various programmes and festivals and is also declared as a holiday in many states. The political decision making by various parties when in power to commemorate various political and non-political figures according to their own agendas have by passed the official process of honouring eminent personalities thus prioritising in principle the political ideologies of particular political parties over the official ideology and values of the state.

Symbolism is a nation’s primary currency and when it’s an official recognition from the state, the symbolism acquires much greater importance. Thus the non-representation of certain eminent personalities, represents on the individual’s own accord and the social and philosophical categories that they represent respectively, those ideals, values and accomplishments which have not been officially canonised by the state. These holidays in terms of whom they remember signify which ideas, accomplishments or values are officially recognised by the state and make way into the homes and consequently psyche of all Indian citizens.


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