Indian festivals and holidays are often loud, intense, colorful, and chaotic—all at the same time. Traveling in India during normal circumstances is already exciting, but you'll certainly have no shortage of photo opportunities or stories to share after witnessing some of these grand celebrations!
Many of the major festivals in India are celebrated throughout Southeast Asia and other parts of the world where large Indian or Hindu communities exist. You'll be able to enjoy many of the same celebrations if you happen to be traveling in places such as Malaysia and Singapore.
South Asia is the most populous and most densely populated place in the world. Large Indian festivals and national holidays are among the biggest festivals in Asia. They can slow transportation to a crawl as multitudes of people take time from work to celebrate and visit family. Plan accordingly; book transportation well in advance, particularly train travel.
India's vibrant mix of cultures and religions greatly increase the chances that you'll be pleasantly surprised by an unexpected celebration while traveling. India has so many religious holidays that they're sometimes considered too much of a good" thing that obstructs business.
Although India only observes three official national holidays (Gandhi's Birthday, National Day, and Republic Day), someone always seems to be celebrating something throughout the year!
Mahatma Gandhi is still very loved in India; his image still appears on the Indian rupee. Gandhi's birthday is one of India's official national holidays and is observed in every state across the subcontinent on October 2. Peaceful tributes and prayer services are held to honor the "Father of the Nation," and a large crowd gathers at Raj Ghat, Gandhi's memorial in New Delhi.
Not to be confused with India's Independence Day, Republic Day celebrates the adoption of a new Indian constitution on Jan. 26, 1950. Republic Day is celebrated in India as a national holiday with business closures, parades, military displays, and patriotic activities. Although no alcohol is sold on Indian Republic Day, plenty of people celebrate the time away from work with small gatherings and fairs.
Another of India's patriotic national holidays, Independence Day celebrates India's hard-won independence from British rule on Aug. 15, 1947. Parades, pageants, and plenty of flag-waving create a sense of pride at cultural events throughout the country; however, Delhi is the epicenter
Holi, the Hindu Festival of Colors, is a frenetic, messy affair with people dancing in the streets while throwing water and colored dye powders. Holi is chaotic, colorful, and unforgettable, but don't wear anything that you care about! Holi celebrates the end of winter and drives away bad spirits that could cause ill health before the upcoming spring harvest. Holi is also celebrated in Singapore, Malaysia, and other countries with large Indian populations.
Also spelled as Deepavali or Divali, the Hindu Festival of Lights is a spectacular sight. In some ways, Diwali could be called the Indian version of Chinese New Year; the festival is about family, starting over, food, and keeping bad fortune at bay. Plenty of lanterns and fireworks light up the festival. The Diwali Festival runs for five consecutive days and peaks around the third night. Ghee lanterns are burned, and colorful lights adorn buildings to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. Dates change, but Diwali is usually held between October and December and is celebrated throughout India, including Rajasthan, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and any place with a large Indian population
Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated by Tamil communities to honor Lord Murugan, the god of war. Although the festival is mainly about giving offerings such as pots of milk, some participants choose to enter a trance-like state and pierce their faces and bodies in tribute. Heavy, elaborate shrines known as kavadis are attached to worshipers with hooks and skewers, then carried through the procession. Thaipusam takes place in January or February and is celebrated throughout India, Sri Lanka, and places with a large Tamil community. Over a million worshipers gather at the Batu Caves just outside of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Don't laugh: the Pushkar Camel Fair is an annual event that attracts a massive number of tourists and locals who come to appreciate the more than 50,000 camels! Camel races, polo, competitions, vendors, beauty pageants, and an array of events draw over 200,000 people each year to tiny Pushkar in India's desert state of Rajasthan. The carnival-like atmosphere is festive and colorful. Accommodation in Pushkar becomes very expensive around the time of the fair. Expect major transportation problems throughout Rajasthan before and after the event. It is usually held in November.