Indian Festivals Guide
Experience India Through Its Colourful Festivals
|Indian festivals or fairs take place on every day of the year somewhere in the country. People in India love to celebrate, and whether the festivities involve a small village or ninety percent of the population, enthusiasm is abundantly present in them all.|
This list covers some major Indian festivals plus a few smaller celebrations througout the year.
The exact dates of many festivals vary so please check before making any plans.
Share your stories of fairs and festivals in India or ask any questions here!
|New Year Dec. 31st - Jan. 1st|
New year according to the Gregorian calender is celebrated all over India and big events occur in the larger Indian cities including Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Calcutta e.t.c.
Fireworks displays are common on New Year's eve, and private parties, meals out or concerts often provide the entertainment.
In Goa the legendary all night parties on the beach / in the jungle still happen at this time of year, and Goa is crowded with vast numbers of tourists all seeking to party hard.
Bikaner Camel Fair Early January, weekend
Taking place in Bikaner in Northern Rajasthan, this festival celebrates anything 'camel'.
A camel procession begins the festivities, and is followed by camel races, competitions, dancing and decoration. This is combined with traditional music and dance, stalls, a spectacular fire dance and fireworks all with the stunning backdrop of Bikaner's Junagarh Fort.
|Republic Day 26th January|
On this day in 1950, the Indian Republic came into official existence, despite Indian independence being declared in 1947.
The day is celebrated especially fervently in New Delhi, where colourful parades enliven the steets, and an atmosphere of pride and hope for the future prevails.
Desert Festival Late Jan. / early February
One of a few Indian festivals organised by the tourist authorities to attract visitors, this fete brings thousands of tourists every year to the desert city of Jaisalmer.
The fair is a showcase of traditional Rajasthani music, dance, costume and lifestyle, with other attractions including camel races, puppeteers, snake charmers and the competition for the coveted title of, 'Mr. Desert.'
|Goa Carnival Mid February|
A three day carnival in Goa where the state's Portuguese influence is truly apparent.
The carnival procession complete with impressive floats, dancers and general merrymakers travels through three of Goa's main towns, Mapusa, Margao and Panaji bringing with it a much anticipated whirl of colour and laughter.
Shivratri February / March
Shivratri or 'Great Night of Shiva' celebrates the Hindu deity Shiva. For many Hindus a fast is observed as well as frequent offerings.
The festival recognises the union of Shiva and Parvarti and is also regarded as the night Shiva performed 'Tandava,' his great dance of creation and destruction. Celebrations occur all over the country and include singing, chanting, processions, libations and a night long vigil.
March / April
|Holi March / April|
One of the most greatly anticipated of Indian festivals, Holi's roots are as a harvest and fertility festival.
Today it is celebrated by throwing of water and coloured dye, and it is impossible to step outside without getting covered in multicoloured paint. Holi is a day when differences are disregarded, and a spirit of mischief takes over.
Holi is commonly celebrated with drinking 'bhang,' a sweet cannabis based drink.
Elephant Festival Time of Holi festival
Held in Jaipur, this popular festival centres around the elephant, a much loved animal in India.
Since it is at the time of Holi, the elephants are often elaborately decorated with paints, as well as garlands of flowers and fine fabrics. Also to be seen are elephant races, processions and polo games.
|Chaitra Navrati March / April|
Navratri is a nine day Indian festival celebrated twice a year with the the first celebration being Chaitra Navratri.
All over the country, Hindus joyously worship the goddess Durga, or 'Shakti,' by fasting and chanting prayers, while her temples are decorated with flowers and and lights. It is considered to be one of the happiest, most auspicious of the Indian festivals.
Buddha Purnima / Vesak Usually early May
The most important day of the Buddhist calendar, this India festival marks the birth, enlightenment and death of the Lord Buddha.
Vesak is celebrated all over the Buddhist world, and involves meditation, giving to charity, enjoying vegetarian food and giving offerings of insence, flowers and candles.
Visiting Bodh Gaya in Bihir, India at this time is particularly auspicious since it is here that Buddha achieved enlightenment.
|Ganga Dussehra Early June|
Taking place over ten days this festival marks the importance of the sacred river Ganga. Many pilgrims head to the holy cities of Haridwar, Rishikesh or Varanasi to bathe in the river's waters, and to meditate on its banks.
Rathyatra Late June
Held in Puri, Orissa, this Indian festival occurs over eight days and is attended by millions of Hindu devotees of Lord Jagannatha, a form of Krishna.
Three decorated chariots of about 45 feet in height are pulled through the streets of Puri by devotees eager to be a part of the proceedings and catch a glimpse of the deity in his chariot.
|Mango Festival Early July|
This 12 year old Indian festival in held annually in New Delhi and is a must for Mango lovers. The celebration showcases hundreds of Mango species and highlights include a Mango eating competition and a chance to indulge in a wonderful array of the fruit for free.
It is also a good chance to pick up jars of Mango pickles and preserves.
Champakulam Boat Race Usually early July
The quiet village of Champakulam in the Keralan backwaters attracts thousands of visitors every year by hosting India's most popular vallam kali, or snake boat race.
Before the racing of the 100 foot long boats, there is a procession of water floats and beautifully decorated boats, as well as singing from the oarsmen.
August / September
|Janmashtami Early August|
One of many Hindu Indian festivals, Jannmashtami celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna and is observed by Hindus across the country. The three Krishna temples of Vrindhavan, Mathura and Dwaraka attract thousands of pilgrims at this time, and devotional songs can be heard well into the night.
Independence Day 15th August
A public holiday marks the day that India achieved independence from British rule in 1947. Flags decorate the streets and ceremonies take place in schools across the country.
India's struggle towards independence claimed many lives over many years, and marking this day commemorates those who sacrificed their lives for the dream of an independent India.
|Ganesh Chaturthi August or September|
Ganesh, the elephant-headed god is one of the most important and loved deities in the Hindu religion, and so his birthday is naturally given special significance.
During the ten day festivities, images of Ganesh are places in houses and public places, and are given offerings of sweets, insence and flowers and on the tenth day are bathed in water.
In Mumbai a long procession of worshippers sing and dance their way along the streets towards the Arabian Sea where the idols are immersed.
Onam Festival August or September
Onam festival is celebrated most passionately in Kerala and takes place over ten days. It is a thanksgiving festival for the harvest, and some of the activities include showings of Indian dance, music, making Pookalam (flowers laid on the ground in intricate patterns), a carnival and a large shared lunch. There are also elephant processions, snake boat races and parades.
Onam festival celebrates the rich culture of Kerala, the beauty of its traditions and the passion of its people.
|Eid ul-Fitr Date changes, currently in September|
Eid marks the end of the Muslim period of Ramadan, where fasting is observed. There is a public holiday in India on the day that Eid falls, and it is celebrated with great joy at the Jama Masjid mosque in New Delhi.
The day is celebrated with family meals, gift giving and prayer, and a greeting commonly heard at this time is, 'Îd mubârak', or 'Blessed Eid'.
October / November
Diwali Festival October or November
One of the most important Indian festivals, Diwali festival / Divali represents the Hindu new year. It is alternatively known as the festival of light, and is celebrated by lighting lamps and candles, and by firework displays and gift giving.
At the time of Diwali festival India's Hindus commemorate the return of Lord Rama from fourteen years of exhile, and also celebrate three goddesses, Lakshmi, Kali and Saraswati.
Spiritually, this Indian festival recognises the 'awareness of the inner light,' a concept central to Hindu belief.
|Pushkar Festival November|
The largest camel fair in the world is held yearly in the village of Pushkar in the Thar Desert. The festival continues for five days and during this time thousands of camels are bought and sold. There are also stalls, competitions, traditional Indian music and dance and general merrymaking.
Pushkar is a holy place for Hindus and during the mela great numbers of pilgrims come to wash away their sins by immersion in Pushkar Lake.
International Film Festival of India November
In its 40th year the 'Cannes of the East' is held in Goa and showcases film from India and around the world. Awards are presented over various categories, and alongside the showings workshops are held and events organised.
|Hornbill Festival First week of December|
Held in Nagaland on the Burmese border, the festival celebrates the culture and traditions of 16 main tribes living in the state.
The Hornbill is a bird common to folklore of the area and its eponymy symbolizes the shared interests of the various tribes involved in the festival. Traditional dance, music, costume and crafts are displayed, stories are shared and food is enjoyed.
Christmas 25th December
There are more than 2 million Christians in India, and at this time miniature nativity scenes are displayed in their houses, banana or mango trees are decorated with lights, carols are sung and mass is attended.
Being a nation that loves to celebrate, Indian people of other religions embrace the festival and observe traditions, albeit with an Indian twist, as when Christmas Baba delivers presents from a horse and cart.
Goa is a popular destination at this time and people crowd to the beaches in Goa to dance, eat and enjoy the occasion.
Experiencing Indian festivals is one of the best ways to appreciate the enthusiasm and enjoyment with which Indian people celebrate their culture.
Click to find more information about Indian festivals of Goa and the Kerala festivals.
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