09th December 2016

India’s Unmissable Festivals

Author:V. Bansal

Due to the diverse nature of India encompassing different languages, cultures and beliefs it has a vast number of festivals taking place throughout the year. Due to the plentiful religions and traditions you can somewhat guarantee that there will always be some occasion for celebration.  The colour and energy of festivals and events in India are incredible, so if you get an opportunity to attend one don’t pass up on it.

Here we list our unmissable festivals in India events which happen annually across the country.

International Kite Festival – January

The International Kite Festival, Jaipur is one of the most attended festivals in Rajasthan. This colorful festival of Rajasthan provides unlimited fun and frolic. It is celebrated on 14th of January every year, the day of Makar Sankranti. The popularity of the International Kite Festival in Jaipur is such that it attracts kite fliers from far off corners of the country. The thrill and excitement lingers in the air and everyone is enchanted.

The international Kite Festival in Jaipur has a long-standing history. The custom of flying kites is associated with Makar Sankranti. People celebrate the blessed day by flying kites, from their rooftops. Kite flying competitions are also organized on this festival.

People fly kites on Makar Sankranti because they receive the benefits of sun exposure. During winter, our body gets infected and suffers with cough and cold and the skin also gets dry during this season. When Sun moves in Uttarayana, its rays act as medicine for the body. During kite flying the human body is continuously exposed to sun rays, which eradicates most of the infections and insanitation.

The festival is inaugurated at the Jaipur Polo Ground. The festival is divided into two sections, one is the Kite War and the other is the Friendly Kite Flying Session. The Kite festival is inaugurated at the Jaipur Polo Ground. The last day of celebration and the prize distribution too is held after three days, in the Umaid Bhawan Palace’s royal premises.

Kites of every shade of indigo, ochre, red, blue, yellow, green, fushcia, indigo, ochre, pink, orange against the blue January sky is a dazzling sight. From dawn to dusk, people of all ages fly kites rejoicing in the spirit of the day. Crowded rooftops, fun-loving rivalry to outdo each other, and delicious feast are the hall-marks of the day.

Venue – Jaipur, Rajasthan

 

Carnival in Goa – February (moves with lunar cycle)

The most amazing thing about Goa is that fun and festivities that begins in December with the holiday season does not stop upon arrival of the New Year but continues up to the celebration of Goa Carnival or the pre Mardi Gras revelry, a tradition that dates back to the arrival of Portuguese in Goa way back in 1510. Goa Carnival is a festival that celebrates the culture and cuisine of Goa on a grand scale every year.  Originating from the tradition of Mardi Gras, a tradition of hedonistic feasts and dancing & drinking bouts before the fasting and abstinence associated with penitential season of lent, Goa Carnival is a four-day party with parades of elaborate floats and costumed dancers, street parties and music in the days leading up to the start of Lent on March 5.

Venue: Goa

 

Holi – March (moves with lunar cycle)

Hindus celebrate the beginning of spring by partying in the street and throwing coloured water and powder at passers-by so wear very old clothes.  There are certain rituals that are associated with the festival of Holi. A day before Holi, a bright bonfire is lit. It is referred to as Holika or Chhoti Holi. It symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. On the day of the festival, the air is filled with various colours. Youngsters apply it on each other and on the feet of the elders of the family. Pichkaris (water guns) of various shapes and sizes crowd the markets. The sight of everybody pouring colour on each other and whole heartedly participating in the mirth makes a perfect picture of happiness.

Gujiya, mathri, laddoos are consumed in plenty on the occasion of Holi. On the banks of the River Ganges, people sit drenched in the various colours and prepare to wash it away. The Holi festival is one of the most colourful and joyous celebrations you can have and now it has even made it to the UK and US with large organised events. However, to see the simple undiluted energy soaked festival its best to see it in person in India.

Venue: all over Northern India

Holi FestivalHoli Festival

Chithirai Festival – April

Celebrated in the Madurai temple located about 500 kilometers from Chennai, Chithirai Festival, Madurai is a popular festival in southern India. Chithirai Festival, Madurai includes a procession of Lord Vishnu, locally known as Lord Kallazhagar. The brother of Goddess Meenakshi, Lord Vishnu travels from his abode in Azhagarmalai to get his sister married to Lord Sundareshwarar. This journey from his abode to his sister’s wedding, on a golden chariot, is the legend behind celebrating the Chithirai Festival, Madurai.

The celebrations begin with the hoisting of the flag in the temple. The celestial wedding of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareshwarar is celebrated every year in Madurai during the Chithirai Festival. Devotees on this auspicious day celebrate by riding a golden chariot with the idols of the god and the goddess.

The journey around the city is accompanied with drum beats, flowers incense sticks and camphor. The spiritual ambience is heightened with the offerings made by the devotees like sweets and coconut.

A fair is organized on this day. Devotees traveling from different parts of the country visit the fair after the festival. The ten day festivity is a time of the year when devotees from different social and regional background gather together to celebrate and worship.

Venue – Madurai

 

Buddha Purnima – May

Buddha Purnima, which falls on the full moon night in the month of Vaisakha commemorates the birth anniversary of Lord Buddha, founder of Buddhism.  Notwithstanding the summer heat pilgrims come from all over the world to Bodh Gaya, where Buddha attained Supreme Enlighten beneath the Bodhi-tree, to attend the Buddha Purnima celebrations.

The day is marked with prayer meets, sermons on the life of Gautam Buddha, religious discourses, continuous recitation of Buddhist scriptures, group meditation, processions, worship of the statue of Buddha. The Mahabodhi Temple wears a festive look and is decorated with colourful flags and flowers. This is one of the most subdued festivals in India, as the happiness that the Buddhists feel when they are celebrating it is a tranquil, peaceful joy and is celebrated with inward reflection as opposed to revelry and wild celebrations.

Venue  Bodh Gaya, Bihar

BuddhaBuddha Purnima

Ganga Dussehra Festival – June

Ganga is observed as a divine river in not only India but also amongst the most sacred rivers across the world. The Ganga Dussehra in Uttar Pradesh takes place every year in the month of June and continues for 10 days. Surely there can be no better time to plan your trip to Uttar Pradesh. It gives you the wonderful opportunity to be a part of a religious festival and fair and also be witness to the spectacular carnival.

According to the folklore, ‘Gangavataran’ or the descent of the Ganga (Ganges) happened at this time. Goddess Ganga, the eldest daughter of Himavan and Mena, and sister of Parvathi, had been married to the gods in heaven but afterwards brought down to earth by the great meditation of Bhagiratha, grandson of king Sagara of Ayodhya.

The source of the Ganga is at Gaumukh, which is a 2 day trek from Gangotri in Uttaranchal. Places like Rishikesh, Haridwar, Varanasi, Garh-Mukteswar, Prayag, etc where River Ganga flows, hold unique implication on this day. Devotees from all over the country flock to these places and Varanasi. Varanasi with its several ghats placed on the western bank of the Ganga, is crowded by pilgrims to touch the river water, bathe in it and take the river clay home to worship. A bath in the river Ganga is considered to cleanse any person of all sins, and to die on its banks is believed to be most fortunate. If this is not possible, then the submersion of the ashes after cremation in the river Ganga is believed to liberate one from the constant cycles of birth and re-birth.

In Haridwar, ‘aratis’ are executed at sundown and a large number of devotees meditate on the river banks. Ganga jal is collected in sealed containers in homes by the devotees and is used on holy days in purifying places.

Venue – Hardiwar

Ganga PujaGanga Dussehra

International Mango Festival – June-July

Largely popular amid mango-lovers, the annual International mango festival of Delhi is a celebration of mangoes and other produces. This 2-day festival puts on display more than 500 varieties of mangoes brought here from different states of India. If the ‘king of fruit’ is always on your mind, you must visit this festival and begin the summer season on a ‘juicy’ note. The first festival was organized in 1987.  Mango festival of Delhi is common platform bringing together not only mango-lovers but also sellers, gourmands, horticulturists and growers, from all parts of the country including states like Bihar, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh.

If you love cooking, then there is something for you also. Reputed chefs have their kiosks and stalls who share the recipes of different kinds of mango-based desserts, main course dishes, and shakes, by adding their own touch. You can also learn mango carving here.

The festival is equally popular amid locals as well as tourists, be it for leisure or business purpose. Delhi government sells mango plants here, supports mango trade and allures business from all around.

Venue: Delhi

 

Independence Day – 15th August 

On 15th August 1947, India achieved freedom from the British rule. Every year, the 15th of August is celebrated as the Independence Day in India. This is a national festival which is celebrated with great passion all over the country.  At the beginning of the midnight, as India entered into 15th of August, in the year 1947, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, read out the renowned speech which announced the independence of India. This historic moment ended 3 centuries of British colonial rule in India.  The celebrations related to the Independence Day Festival in Delhi include only merrymaking and festivities, no rituals at all. Schools and colleges mark the day with cultural activities, flag hoisting, drills and distribution of sweets. The day is celebrated by both the private as well as the Government organizations. The Prime Minister of the country addresses the nation after hoisting the national flag at the Red Fort. The Delhi Independence Day Festival is also observed by flying kites by people. Various programs on Independence Day come on the television throughout the day.

Venue – Red Fort, Delhi and across India

 

Eid-UlFitr – August-September

Eid-ul-Fitr in Arabic means the ‘festival of breaking the fast’. The fast that is kept throughout the Ramadan month is broken with special prayers and festivities. ‘Fitr’ is derived from the word ‘fatar’ meaning ‘breaking’. The 30-day fast is broken on Eid-ul-Fitr with sumptuous feasts, before which men embrace each other three times, as is laid down in the Quran. The festival originated when after proclaiming Ramadan as the period of fasting and austerity, Prophet Muhammad the pioneer of Islam, announced a day for celebrations to reaffirm the feeling of Eid-ul-Fitr brotherhood. On Eid, people offer prayers at the largest prayer gathering ground-Azad Maidan at South Mumbai. Famous Minara Masjid is decorated with different lights and colourful windows. Mohammed Ali Road serves a variety of food from meat to desserts. Also, Haji Ali Dargah is thronged by a huge crowd of visitors on this day. If you are in Delhi you will see a throng of people at the Jama Masjid and Old Delhi where the streets are decorated and you can try the Ramzan special Haleem which is served at the famous Gali Kebabiyan at Jama Masjid.

Venue: Delhi, Mumbai and all across India

EidPrayers during Eid Festival

 

Ganesh’s Birthday – September 17-27

A 10-day festival celebrating the birth of the Hindu elephant-headed god, Ganesh. Observed nationwide but Mumbai has the largest celebrations, especially on the final day. There are parades and ceremonial immersions of clay idols in rivers and the sea. If you head towards the beach on the last day you will be able to take in the vast array of idols being blessed and immersed into the waters.

Venue: Mumbai

Ganesh PujaGanesh Puja in Mumbai

 

Navaratri – October 1-9

A nine-night festival leading up to Dussehra which celebrates several of India’s goddesses. Particularly vibrant in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Mysore. While Navratri is celebrated in different parts of the country, the way it is done is pretty different. In the south, it is celebrated as Golu with a display of dolls that symbolize feminine power. You wouldn’t find dance to be a part of the celebrations. In the north, Navratri is often celebrated with Ramleela that depicts the tale of Ramayana and effigies of Ravana are burnt on Dushhera. However, in western part of India is where the real celebrations take place with all the music, dancing, garba and dandiya. The energy of the people during this time is infectious with everyone showing their amazing moves and putting their best foot forward and dancing the night away. Gujarat and even Mumbai have the largest garba and dandiya nights. For nine nights, young and old step out dressed in their finery, armed with two dandiya sticks and a whole lot of spunk.

Venue: Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad

 

Pushkar Camel Fair – October to November (moves with lunar cycle)

Held each year at the time of the Kartik Purnima full moon, Pushkar Camel Fair is one of India’s most highly-rated travel experiences, a spectacle on an epic scale, attracting more than 11,000 camels, horses and cattle and visited by over 400,000 people over a period of around fourteen days.

For visitors it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness the colour, spectacle and carnival of one of the last great traditional melas, which brings livestock, farmers, traders and villagers from all over Rajasthan.

The fair is synonymous to a cattle fair, as mass trading of cattle, such as camels, horses, cows, goats, and sheep, take place during these days. After the selling and purchasing of popular breeds, parading of the well bred and decked up cattle take place. Although various animals are traded, camels rule the roost. The camels are adorned with various cloths to form interesting patterns. Stalls selling jewelry and other finery for camels are set up. Silver bells and bangles around their hoofs jingle when they walk past the golden sand dunes.

Another striking feature of the Pushkar Fair is the camel competition. Beautifully decorated camels parade while competing in a beauty contest and the best bedecked camel wins the prize. In one of the competition, large numbers of people are made to sit on the camel’s back. The camel now lopes across the sand and throws its riders off its back, amidst cheers and jeers from thousands of spectators. The camel which succeeds in accommodating the maximum number of people on its back, wins the competition.

So if you are in the market for a new camel, or just want to take in this unique spectacle be sure to make this part of your tour in India.

Venue: Pushkar, Rajasthan

Rajasthan-Camel-Carava---GalleryTraders bringing their camels for Pushkar Camel Fair

 

Diwali (Festival of Lights) – October or November (moves with lunar cycle)

Celebrated to commemorate the victory of good over evil, Diwali is the most popular festival in India. The tradition of lighting oil lamps outside homes can be traced back to the time when all Ayodhya households lit similar lamps to help their beloved-but-exiled prince, Rama, find his way back home after having defeated Ravana.  Except in Kerala where the festival isn’t very big, Diwali is celebrated with much enthusiasm throughout the country.

Amritsar is known to throw a particularly memorable Diwali party each year. While Diwali is a Hindu festival, Sikhs celebrate it since the day marks the return of Guru Hargobind Sahib from Mughal captivity. The festival is also celebrated for the foundation stone of the Golden Temple was laid on Diwali in 1577. Besides the spectacular fireworks display, also expect to see thousands of lamps lined along the edge of the lake that make the Golden Temple shine brighter than ever.

Goa may be better known for its wild parties but India’s most famous beach state is also deeply rooted in tradition. On Narak Chaturdashi, every village burns larger-than-life sized effigies of Narkasura. Competitions are held to judge whose effigy is the tallest and the scariest.

While Varanasi does celebrate Diwali with the rest of the country, the bigger celebrations take place a fortnight before Diwali. Known as Dev Deepavali (or Diwali of the Gods) sees grand shows at Ravidas Ghat and Rajghat to welcome the gods who it is believed descend to earth to bathe in the Ganges. This is the day of the Tripura Purnima Snan and people take a holy dip in the Ganges. The five-day-long festival starts on the 11th day of the month (Prabodhini Ekadashi) and it ends on the 15th day (Kartik Poornima). The festivities have gained so much popularity that a festival called Ganga Mahotsav is celebrated along with Dev Deepavali in order to attract more crowds.

Venue: Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad

 

Christmas & New Year – December

India may not be on the top of your list to visit during the Christmas period, however it is celebrated in its own unique way. The spirit of Christmas that proffers forgiveness, love, grace and most importantly the act of sharing is promoted far more than all out partying. Infact in several parts of the country Christmas is celebrated with pomp and show, zeal and enthusiasm; also the different customs and traditions add an interesting flavour to the celebration of this festival in India.

Goa has a sizable Roman Catholic population and not to forget Portuguese legacy, Goa has the impression of celebrating Christmas with immense zeal and pomp and show. The party capital of India becomes livelier during the Advent Season and one can actually feel the much spoken warmth of Christmas. The entire city is decorated with poinsettia flowers and lights.  At midnight, masses sing carols and this goes on till early hours of the morning. Even the beach shacks and restaurants serve Christmas lunches and dinners and have live bands playing. Goa would be our favourite destination to ring in the New Year

If you are seeking a zealous Christmas celebration that is peaceful at the same time, then Puducherry is the place for you. Like Goa, Puducherry also have a good population of Roman Catholic population, and during the Christmas season, Puducherry becomes brighter and you can feel the exuberance in the ambiance and you are compelled to be a part of it. Kerala is also home to several churches and you can guess that it can be one of the best places to celebrate Christmas. Each street is decorated and the churches remain open almost all night. The restaurants offer heavy discounts on food and drink. There is a local touch to this high spirit festival and it is something that you need to witness rather than be told about. Adding to the joy are gorgeous beaches and serene backwaters, where you surely want to spend some time. Celebrating Christmas on a warm evening at the beach will be something quite unique, however if you truly desire a white Christmas head to Manali. This popular Himachal’s destination is perfect for those who want to celebrate the Christmas amidst real snow. Mostly it snows during the Christmas time in Manali, which gives the tourist the chance to enjoy skiing and making snowman or simply throwing snowball at each other. One may also like to live in one of the log huts that definitely enhance the Christmas mood.

Venue: Goa, Puducherry, Kerala

 

Related Tours

Royal Holi Festival Tour – Encompassing DelhiAgra, Jaipur, KumbhalgarhUdaipur

Family Friendly North India – Encompassing  Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Ranthambore, Udaipur, Deogarh

For more information or to start planning a unique holiday to India, please contact us:

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