Festivals in India
This vast subcontinent of India is known for the multiple religions and varied cultural traditions that have exited for over decades. Each community, religion and region have their own set of festivals along with a number of nation wide festivals. From predominantly Hindu Festivals to popular Sikh festivals. Travelling to India, at a time when you can experience the festivals in India, will give you an insight into the vibrant, deep rooted culture and rich history of this country.
The colours, the rituals and most of all, the feeling of togetherness, is what makes these festivals so special. The beauty of this country is only further enhanced with these vibrant celebrations that are sometime chaotic, but 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, making 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 a god and seek blessings from Theyyam.
DIWALI – the Festival of Lights
Diwali is one of the most widely celebrated festivals in India. This five day Hindu festival is bound to leave you awestruck. Celebrated with lights and fireworks and colours, this festival is celebrated in every corner of the country. During this time, families and friends come together. They exchange gifts, distribute sweets and 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 the evil. 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 honor and worship them.
Religious Significance – To celebrate the start of a new year, Hindus worship the Goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi. Houses are cleaned and assets are worshipped to express gratitude. Diwali is primarily celebrated 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, Fireworks all 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. 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. 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. In North India especially, this vibrant festival is celebrated with utmost fervor 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. This ritual is 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 add 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 are 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. Ensure that you play with organic colours and celebrate in an eco-friendly manner.
Significance – Holi celebrations are associated with multiple legends. The most popular legend being, the victory of Prince Prahlad (devotee of Lord Vishnu) 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, village homestays in rural India for an authentic experience while ensuring complete safety.
The Hindu festival of Holi, signifying the victory of good over evil. Celebrated with rituals performed on the first night followed by a day filled with colours, music, traditional delicacies and loads of fun.
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. The first day of the festival is celebrated 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.
Vallamkali or the snake boat race and Pulikali, the grand tiger dance are other experiences worth witnessing during this festival.
Significance – The entire state comes together to celebrate the generosity or the golden age of the mythical king Mahabali for a period of 10 days. A festival that negates religious disparities 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. – Credit: Bobinson K B
Ganesh Chaturthi – Birth of the elephant-headed god
This is a 10 day, Hindu festival that marks the birth of the elephant headed lord. Handcrafted clay idols of Lord Ganesha are installed at peoples homes. They are placed in enclosures decorated with lights and flowers. Massive idols are also set up in temporary booths along the streets where people go to worship the idol and the poor are offered a wholesome meal for all 10 days as a blessing from the lord.
A morning and an evening prayer ritual is performed with offerings made to the idol in the form of sweets or fruits. These offerings are later distributed among those present for the puja (Prayer). At the end of ten days (or 1.5, 5, 7 days) the idol is taken to the nearest water body (the sea or river) for immersion along with a large procession. 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.
Site worth witnessing – The grandeur of the idol and the set up of the makeshift booth where the idol is placed. The day of the visarjan which ends with the idol being immersed is another unmissable experience.
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.
The 10 day hindu festival, Ganesh Chaturthi, celebrating the birth of the elephant headed lord.
Eid-ul-Fitr – The end of Ramadan
Eid- Al-Fitr is a festival celebrated by Muslims 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. After dressing up in their finest attire, a special prayer is held in the morning. Post this, friends and family get together, sweets are distributed among one another and the best of food is prepared. Mosques, markets and peoples homes are adorned with lights, decorated beautifully. 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. The festival is celebrated with a number of rituals along with grand celebrations that include 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 honor the nine incarnations of the Goddess. Besides offering prayers and worshiping the goddess, traditional celebrations also include the ritual of fasting during this period. Though the festival comes twice a year, it is celebrated with sheer grandeur in the latter half of the year.
Religious significance – Goddess Durga is believed to be the creation of the lords – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The goddess with all her might, defeated the demon king, Mahishasura. After a nine day battle, the goddess emerged victorious and is now worshipped for all nine days.
Unmissable experience – The delicious food prepared in honor of the goddess as an offering and for those who are observing a fast. The colourful traditional indian attire and the rituals followed by the dance festivities are a sight worth witnessing
Best places to celebrate Navratri – Navratri is celebrated in different ways all across the country. Gujarat is definitely one of the best states to witness these celebrations. The grand dance gatherings, the excitement along with devotion and the 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 who come together for trade purposes.
The first five days are for camel trading and fair activities in the outskirts of the city. The camels are beautifully adorned for this ocassion. There are camel beauty pageants, dancing contests, races and more. Musicians, acrobats, dancers, magicians, carousel rides; this fair has everything you’ve always associated India with. If you’re looking to witness an old-school tradition celebration, this is just the place to be.
Present day celebrations
Towards the end of this festival, Hindu pilgrims flood to the city and conduct rituals in the holy Pushkar lake. The final night, thousands celebrate by lighting up the lake with oil lamps and Fireworks adorning the skyline of this small town.
If you’re planning on visiting Rajasthan during the fair, book well in advance and be prepared for the extravagent rates, 10 times more than they would be at any other given point of time. 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, heres a guide on exploring this vibrant state.
The Pushkar fair is one of India’s largest camel, horse and cattle fairs. Cultural events and competitions take place here that attract both domestic and international travellers from all over the world.
Travelling to India and still hoping to witness atleast 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 cultural of India, be it the festivals, the tribal villages, the local artisans or local religious traditions.
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