Festivals are as much about celebrations as they are about religious ceremonies, worship and prayers. Hindu festivals are meant to celebrate life and prevent it from stagnating. Some of the cyclic festivals like Navratri, Diwali, Pongal, Ganapati last for many days and continue to be celebrated throughout India. The Hindu festivals typically celebrate events from Hindu mythology which often coincide with seasonal changes. These typically celebrate important events in the life of a deity for example birth of Krishna on Janamashtami, return of Lord Rama from Ayodhya on Diwali or seasonal festivities like spring festival of Holi or harvesting festival of Pongal. During most of the festivals, the planetary positions are such that there is an increase in energies around us. Together with festivities, festivals are also an auspicious time when an individual gets an opportunity to recharge his divine energy within and purify himself by invoking his spiritual goals.
The Sanskrit word for festivals is Utsav. Utsav means : Ut is remove, sav is wordly sorrows. So Utsav or festival is the time to remove ignorance and stimulate and revitalize yourself with cosmic powers of Nature. Typically on a festival, people wear new clothes, decorate their houses or puja altars with flowers, perform the religious ceremonies involving the deity, distribute prasad which are food offerings to the deity, visit temples, visit relatives etc.
Now the question, should one be feasting or should one be fasting during Festivals? By the very definition of Utsava, this is the time to imbibe energies from the Universe and discard your own fears, insecurities, negativity and ignorance. To be able to do that, your mind consciousness has to be unbound and free. In the language of body Chakras, your mind consciousness is seated at the Manipura Chakra. Manipura Chakra is located at the navel, and you can think of it as a glowing yellow Sun, radiating through the center of our body. On the physical plane, the Manipura chakra rules metabolism and digestion, that is the process whereby you turn food (matter) into energy and action. When you fast, and consume only minimum Sattvic food, you in a way give digestion process some rest, and utilize the energy of the Manipur Chakra in focussing on your own awareness, worship of the deity and meditation. This allows you to take full benefit of all the auspiciousness and positive energy that is showered on to you by the Universe on a particular festival day or days.
Other than that, Fasting has some other important benefits. At a cellular level, it is known to aid in detoxifying the body. At a spiritual level, it builds up your Sankalp Shakti or Power of Intent. When you overcome ordinary cravings like those for food, you become a master of your senses. When you master your senses your awareness is unshackled and that gives you an inner power. Sankalpa Shakti charges your body and mind to become focussed, motivated and resolute to achieve what intention you set for yourself. Devotees of Navdurga observe strict fast for 9 days to build the Sankalp Shakti fire within them. Lord Rama is known to have invoked the energies of Navdurga by worshipping Her forms for 9 consecutive nights to attain the power to destroy Ravana. Our Sankalp Shakti is like invoking the energies of Lord Rama within us. The strength of Sankalpa Shakti infuses in a seeker’s life the fire to fulfil his Intention. The power of intent is what the soul uses to live its purpose on Earth.