Festivals in India
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
This is a 10 day, Hindu festival that marks the birth of the elephant-headed lord. People install handcrafted clay idols of Lord Ganesha in their homes. Decorating the enclosures with lights and flowers to place the clay idols. Massive idols are placed in temporary booths that are set up along the streets for common public. People visit these booths to worship the idol. Also, offering a wholesome meal to the poor for all 10 days as a blessing from the lord.
Performing morning and evening prayers and making offerings to the idol is a ritual. These offerings are in the form of sweets or fruits which are later distributed among those present for the puja (prayer). Idol immersion takes places at the end of day 1.5, 5, 7 and 10. A large procession takes the idol to the nearest sea or river for immersion. The procession is a site worth witnessing. Large groups of people accompany the idol while dancing to holy chants or music that idolizes the lord. This ceremony of the immersion is referred to as visarjan.
A sight worth witnessing – The grandeur of the idol and the makeshift booth is something you should not miss. Another unmissable experience is on the day of visarjan when the idol immersion takes place.
Best places to witness these celebrations – Maharashtra (Mumbai & Pune), Hyderabad and Chennai.
Looking to plan your trip around this festival before heading South of Maharashtra to explore Southern India, refer to this route suggestion. The ideal travel route inspiration for those looking to explore South India and experience the vibrant, cultural, festivals in India.
Ganesh Chaturthi, celebrating the birth of the elephant-headed lord
Eid-ul-Fitr – The end of Ramadan
You can witness a celebration of Eid- Al-Fitr all across the world. It marks the end of the month-long periodic fasting of Ramadan. This three-day festival is just as important to the Muslim community as Diwali is, to the Hindu community. The day starts by offering a special prayer in the morning of Eid-Al-Fitr. You will find everyone dressed up in their finest attire. Post this, friends and family get together to enjoy the rest of the day. Preparing delicious food and distributing sweets is the mantra for the day. People decorate mosques, markets and their homes beautifully. Moreover, women apply henna, families go shopping to mark a new beginning and gifts are exchanged among closed ones.
Religious significance – To celebrate the end of the holy month of fasting – Ramadan.
Unmissable experience – The sumptuous food at street food stalls in Muslim majority areas.
Best places to witness this celebration – Delhi, Lucknow, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Mumbai.
The morning prayer on the first day of Eid to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan
NAVRATRI – A 9 day festival of colours and chaos
Among other Hindu festivals in India, Navaratri is another festival of great importance. A grand celebration that comes along with a number of rituals. This includes traditional dance gatherings (Garba) and involves the participation of several communities that come together as one. This auspicious festival is a nine-day celebration to worship Goddess Durga. Nine days are to honour the nine incarnations of the Goddess. Besides offering prayers and worshipping the goddess, traditional celebrations also include the ritual of fasting during this period. You can witness this festival twice a year. However, we must admit that the latter one is a lot more grand.
Religious significance – Goddess Durga with all her might, defeated the demon king, Mahishasura and emerged victorious. This was a 9 day battle and hence people worship her for all the 9 days of the festival.
Unmissable experience – Preparing delicious food in honour of the Goddess. This also works as an offering for those who are observing a fast. Also, the colourful traditional Indian attire and the rituals followed by the dance festivities are a sight worth witnessing
Best places to witness this celebration – India is diverse in many ways. Accordingly, Navratri has a different charm in each region all across the country. However, Gujarat is definitely one of the best states to witness it. The grand dance gatherings, the excitement along with devotion are eye-catching.
An idol of Goddess Durga adorned with garland during Navratri celebrations
Camel Fair – Pushkar Rajasthan
Held in Pushkar, Rajasthan, the famous camel fair is a 15-day festival. We see it as less of a festival and more of an interesting gathering between cattle and camel traders. The main purpose of this gathering is for trade purposes.
The first five days are for camel trading and fair activities in the outskirts of the city. Many activities such as dancing contests, races and camel beauty pageants also take place in this fair. The camel traders decorate the camels so they can win the pageant. Musicians, acrobats, dancers, magicians, carousel rides; this fair has everything you’ve always associated India with. Accordingly, if you’re looking to witness an old-school tradition celebration, this is just the place to be.
Towards the end of this festival, Hindu pilgrims flood to the city and conduct rituals in the holy Pushkar lake. On the final night, thousands celebrate by lighting up the lake with oil lamps. A beautiful sight to see as fireworks adorn the skyline of this small town.
If you’re planning on visiting Rajasthan during the fair, book well in advance. Else, you might end up spending 10 times more than the regular rates. A quick piece of advice, be careful of ‘Godmen’ and other freeloaders trying to fleece you. If you plan on visiting Rajasthan at length, while still attending the festival, here’s a guide on exploring this vibrant state.
The Pushkar fair is one of India’s largest camel, horse and cattle fairs
Travelling to India and still hoping to witness at least one of these festivals in India? Or looking to find out what other festivals you could experience during your travel dates? Plan your trip with us now and we’ll help make sure you experience the vibrant culture of India, be it the festivals, the tribal villages, the local artisans or local religious traditions.
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