Festivals in India

Created by Harsh Sonawala,

Last Updated on November 22, 2023

This vast subcontinent of India is known for it’s cultural diversity. It has multiple religions that  have existed for over decades. Each community, religion and region have their own set of festivals along with a number of nationwide festivals. From predominantly Hindu festivals to popular Sikh festivals. Try travelling to India, at a time when you can experience a festival in India. As this will give you an insight into the vibrant, deep-rooted culture and rich history of India.

The colours, the rituals and most of all, the feeling of togetherness, is what makes these festivals so special. It further enhances the beauty of this country with these vibrant celebrations. These can get chaotic but it will still bound to sweep you off your feet. With countless festivals, each just as fascinating as the other, picking the best time to visit India, can be an overwhelming task. Here’s a list of the most popular festivals that you should definitely try and attend. You’re more likely to witness these in several regions as opposed to just one specific region. This makes it easier to plan your travel route.

festivals in india Theyyam is a popular ritual form of worship in Kerala. The people consider this as a channel to God and seek blessings from Theyyam

DIWALI – the Festival of Lights

Diwali is one of the most widely celebrated festivals in India and is bound to leave you awestruck. This festival of lights, fireworks and colours is celebrated in every corner of the country. During this time, families and friends come together. They exchange gifts and distribute sweets. Homes are lit up with lights that radiate happiness. Besides that, people buy new clothes, they decorate the exterior of the homes with coloured powder designs on the floor and lamps or candles. This festival, like most other Hindu festivals, celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Also, it marks the beginning of a new year as per the Hindu calendar. Prayer rituals (Puja) are conducted along with offerings made to the different deities to honour and worship them.

Present-day celebrations

Religious significance – To celebrate the start of a new year, Hindus worship the Goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi. Cleaning your house and worshipping assets is a way to express gratitude. Primarily, celebrating diwali is based on the ancient Sanskrit epic of Ramayana. It marks the day when Lord Ram returned to the kingdom of Ayodhya, along with his wife, Sita and brother, Lakshman, after having spent 14 years in exile.

Unmissable experiences – Colours and chaos at local markets. Streets and homes decorated with lights, lamps and lanterns. In other words, fireworks are all around you and throughout the festival. 

Best places to experience these grand celebrations – Jaipur, Udaipur. Varanasi, Amritsar and Kolkata. Celebrations across the country differ from one region to another. Accordingly, each region provides a unique experience of this vibrant festival.

If you’re travelling to India during the Diwali season, be sure to make all your bookings well in advance. Because the train tickets, hotel bookings, guides, everything becomes harder to get and/or more expensive during this time. For a detailed guide on experiencing this vibrant festival of Diwali, check this page out.

festivals in india - diwali, the festival of lights The Hindu festival of lights – Diwali, celebrated with utmost joy and enthusiasm

Holi – the Festival of Colors

Holi is another widely celebrated Hindu festival across India. Especially in North India, this vibrant festival is celebrated with utmost fervour and enthusiasm. It is technically a two-day festival. On the eve of a full moon day, a pyre is lit and offerings are made to this fire. Commonly referred to as Holika Dahan, this ritual too symbolizes the victory of good over evil. 

The following day is free of any rituals and is solely meant for celebrations and enjoyment. These celebrations mark the beginning of spring. Friends, family, neighbours, everyone comes together by throwing colours and water at one another. Kids take utmost joy in throwing water balloons or gallons of water on each other. Music, sweets, colours are everything that adds excitement to this joyous festival. Apart from the colours and water guns, distributing sweets, gathering for large feasts, drinking bhang (a drink with cannabis paste) and thandai (a drink with milk and many spices) are age-old traditions of this festive celebration. The name and certain traditions differ across the country depending on the region.

Present-day celebrations

Unfortunately, Holi is not always entirely safe for women. This is more so the case in busy places such as Vrindavan, Varanasi or Pushkar. Clothes get completely drenched, people are often high due to the consumption of mind-altering substances (alcohol, drugs, etc) and tend to leave all sense of moral, behind. Another crucial aspect you ought to watch out for is the quality of colour being used. Often people use toxic colours that tend to cause allergic reactions. Hence, you must ensure that you play with organic colours and celebrate in an eco-friendly manner.

Religious significance – Holi celebrations are associated with multiple legends. The most popular legend being, the victory of Prince Prahlad over his aunt, Holika, who tried to burn the prince in a fire. Thus symbolizing the triumph of good. It also marks the arrival of spring. 

Unmissable experiences – The Holika Dahan ceremony, play of colours and a taste of traditional festive delicacies. 

Best places to celebrate Holi in India – Jaipur is the place to be to experience Holi. Village homestays in rural India provide an authentic experience while ensuring complete safety. 

Holi - the festival of colours celebrated in India The Hindu festival of Holi, signifying the victory of good over evil

Onam – Harvest Festival in Kerala

Onam is the biggest cultural celebration in Kerala. Bidding farewell to the monsoon season, this 10-day festival marks the beginning of the harvest season. You will find celebrations all around with utmost zeal and excitement. A street parade including cultural dances, musicians and decorated elephants who walk down the streets. Flowers, floral arrangements, colours and authentic local cuisine are other important aspects of this grand celebration. 

Also, Vallam Kali (a snake boat race) and Puli Kali (the grand tiger dance) are experiences worth witnessing.

Present-day celebrations

Religious significance – The entire state comes together to celebrate the generosity or the golden age of the mythical King Mahabali. A festival that negates religious disparities and promotes cultural harmony.

Unmissable experiences – The grand parade, snake boat race, the tiger dance, colourful traditional attire and elaborate decorations. 

Best place to witness these celebrations – All across the state of Kerala.

Here are some travel routes across South India. Draw some inspiration from these tried and tested routes to plan you ideal holiday to India.

Plan Your Escape: Best Time to Explore Kerala

onam, india during festival season, tigers The Puli Kali, or the tiger dance, is an incredible sight to see during the Onam festival (Photo Credit – Bobinson K B)

Ganesh Chaturthi – Birth of lord ganesha (the elephant-headed god)