Visit India in January and you'll be able to enjoy popular musical and dance events, as well as traditional festivals and parades. Kites, camels, and cattle are just some of what's on offer! Here's the best of what's on in January 2020 in India (listed by date).
Known as the world's largest open-air theater (it's mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records), the Dhanu Jatra features enactments of the mythological story of Lord Krishna (locally known as Krushna) and his demon uncle Kansa. During the performance, Kansa can punish people with a penalty for their mistakes (Biju Patnaik, the former Chief Minister of Odisha was once fined).
- When: Until January 10, 2020.
- Where: Bargarh, Sambalpur district, western Odisha near the Chattisgarh border.
This hugely popular and much anticipated month long festival, which is often described as the world's largest cultural event, serves up a plethora of traditional south Indian Carnatic music, dance, and other arts. Over 1,000 performances take place during the festival, along with music related seminars, discussions, and demonstrations. It's also referred to as the December Season.
- When: Mid December to mid January every year.
- Where: Music halls all over Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The Music Academy Madras hosts the most notable events.
- Read More: 22 Things to Do in Chennai to Experience its Culture.
The open air India Dance Festival is held against a background of rock sculptures in the beach town of Mamallapuram, just south of Chennai. It runs for a month and showcases a range of classical and folk dances from all over India.
- When: December 25 to January 25 every year.
- Where: Arjuna's Penance, Mamallapuram, near Chennai, Tamil Nadu.
Surrounded by the surreal backdrop of Kutch's white salt desert, the Rann Utsav showcases the region's culture and heritage (although it's unfortunately become rather commercial and overcrowded). Activities include folk dances and music, food stalls, ATV rides, camel cart rides, paramotoring, meditation, yoga, and trips to nearby destinations. A luxury tent village is constructed on the fringe of the salt desert to accommodate visitors. Gujarat Tourism offers package tours. Read more about how to visit the Great Rann of Kutch.
- When: Until February 23, 2020. It's best on full moon nights to see the moon shining on the salt. (November 12, December 12, January 11 and February 9).
- Where: Great Rann of Kutch salt desert, Dhordo, Gujarat.
Love puppets? You won't want to miss this annual festival devoted to all kinds of them, with more than 100 artists from five countries including India. This year it will feature a puppetry workshop by Master Puppeteer Giancarlo from Italy, a talk on "Puppets & Control Systems", puppet parade, and non-stop puppet shows.
- When: January 3-5, 2020.
- Where: JSS Auditorium Jayanagar 8th Block, Bangalore, Karnataka.
The week-long Swathi Music Festival pays tribute to the compositions of Maharaja Swathi Thirunal, who was the king of Travancore in the early 19th century. The entire festival is devoted to his compositions, of which there are more than 400 in both Carnatic and Hindustani music. It attracts eminent musicians from all over India. Entry is free.
- When: January 4-13 every year.
- Where: Kuthiramalika Palace, East Fort, Trivandrum, Kerala.
Want to buy some new art? Head to the annual Chitra Santhe (art fair), organized by Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath. It brings art out of galleries and museums and into the streets. The 17th edition of the fair will feature paintings by 1,500 artists from 10 states across India. There's art for all budgets, ranging from 100 rupees to 100,00 rupees.
- When: The first Sunday January each year. January 5, 2020.
- Where: Kumara Krupa Road, Bangalore, Karnataka.
Millions of brightly colored kites take over the sky from sunrise until sunset at this festival. It's part of Uttarayan or Makar Sankranti (the transition of the sun into the northern hemisphere), which celebrates life and fertility. The event attracts kite flyers from many different countries. In addition to kite flying, there's aerial acrobats, kite painting competitions, and kite making workshops. Great fun for kids!
- When: January 7-14, 2020.
- Where: Sabarmati River Front, Ashram Road, Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Also at Jaipur in Rajasthan (January 14).
The Mylapore Festival began as a simple kolam contest, organized by the local newspaper, in 2001. It's now grown into a four day extravaganza, with more than 30 events and 100 artists spread over 12 venues. Attractions include heritage walks, classical music and dance, folk art, crafts zone, exhibitions and street food.
- When: January 9-12, 2020.
- Where: Sri Kapaleeswarar temple and Nageswara Rao Park, Mylapore, Chennai, Tamil Nadu.
Love reggae? You won't want to miss this festival, which provides something different to the usual psychedelic trance in Goa. It's India's largest reggae festival and the action happens across three stages right by the beach.
- When: January 10-12, 2020.
- Where: Riva Beach Resort, Mandrem beach, North Goa.
The Magh Mela is promoted as the "Mini Kumbh Mela". It takes place every year at the same place as the Kumbh Mela, at the confluence of the holy Saraswati, Yamuna and Ganges rivers. The festival is widely believed to be older than the actual Kumbh Mela. Similar to the Kumbh Mela, hordes of pilgrims and sadhus (Hindu holy men) come to bath in the water and cleanse their sins. The most important bathing dates are January 10 (Paush Purnima), January 15 (Makar Sankranti), January 24 (Mauni Amavasya), January 30 (Basant Panchami), February 9 (Maghi Purnima), and February 21 (Maha Shivratri).
- When: January 10 to February 21, 2020.
- Where: Prayag (Allahabad), Uttar Pradesh.
- Read More: Essential Guide to the Mystical Kumbh Mela in India.
- 20 Evocative Photos Explain the Hindu Kumbh Mela.
Bikaner Camel Fair
Less crowded than the Pushkar Camel Fair, the Bikaner Camel Festival offers an alternate opportunity to have an encounter with camels -- and plenty of them! The festival kicks off with a procession of camels decorated in their finest attire, and continues on with camel beauty pageants, camel races, and camel dancing. Who ever thought camels could dance? It's worth attending the festival just to see that performance! The festival ends with entertainment by Rajasthani folk artists, and fireworks.
- When: January 11-12, 2020.
- Where: Bikaner, Rajasthan.
Hot air ballooning is growing in popularity in India and the sixth edition of the popular Tamil Nadu International Balloon Festival is happening this year. The event started out to promote Pollachi as a tourist destination but has since expanded to Chennai as well. However, the Chennai event (held in early January) only has tethered balloon flights. Music concerts and contests for kids provide added entertainment.
- When: January 11-15, 2020.
- Where: Sakthi Mills Ground, Pollachi, and hour and a half south of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu.
Mukteshwar Dance Festival
The Mukteshwar Dance Festival, which concentrates on Odissi dance and music, offers solo, duet and group Odissi performances. A number of reputed troupes from places such as Cuttack, Bhubaneswar, New Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, and the United States perform at the festival. It takes place in the courtyard of one of Bhubaneswar's most prominent and well-preserved temple complexes.
- When: January 14-16, 2020.
- Where: Mukteshwar Temple Complex, Bhubaneswar, Odisha.
For an unforgettable dose of West Bengal folk music don't miss the Kenduli Mela, where the mystical wandering Baul musicians gather to perform during Makar Sankranti. Dressed in saffron robes, and playing a distinctive stringed instrument called the ektara, they sing uniquely about life's philosophy. West Bengal Tourism offers package tours.
- When: January 14-16, 2020.
- Where: Kenduli village, near Shantiniketan in West Bengal.
Pongal is a huge harvest and thanksgiving festival in southern India. The most important part of the festival is cooking the Pongal dish, made out of boiled milk and rice, on the auspicious second day. Families gather to feast and dance. An International Pongal Festival is held just before the start of Pongal at Bremajothi Farms near Tuticorin, about two hours up the coast from Kanyakumari. It blends ancient tradition with hip genres of arts and music.
Nearly 30% of India's bird species are found in Goa, and you can learn about them and spot them at this festival held by the Goa Forest Department. The festival program consists of early morning bird-watching walks in lesser-known parts of the state's Western Ghat mountains, followed by talks by prominent ornithologists from around the globe, photography workshops and exhibitions, live painting demonstrations, and art shows.
- When: January 17-19, 2020.
- Where: Forest Training School Complex, Valpoi, Goa.
This offbeat balloon festival returns for its third edition, in the picturesque Araku Valley of Andhra Pradesh. The festival aims to promote adventure tourism in the state and showcase the Araku Valley, which has views of the Eastern Ghat mountains. A total of 20 teams from 12 countries are expected to participate. Apart from balloon flights and displays, there will be entertainment such as para-motoring, music, and games. A luxury tented camp is set up to accommodate guests.
- When: January 17-19, 2020.
- Where: Araku, about three hours from Vizag in Andhra Pradesh. Buses and trains are available.
Enjoy the culture of the "City of Nawabs" at the annual Lucknow Mahotsav. This flagship tourism festival of the state government features music and dance performances, poety readings, handicraft and food stalls, carnival rides, and exhibitions.
- When: January 17-23, 2020.
- Where: Ramabai Ambedkar Maidan, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.
Rajarani Music Festival
Entrancing performances by well-known Odissi and Hindustani vocal and music maestros bring alive the architectural beauty of the Rajarani temple at this festival. The temple, often referred to as the Khajuraho of the east, is famous for the elaborate erotic sculptured figurine on its walls.
- When: January 18-20, 2020.
- Where: Rajarani Temple, Bhubaneswar, Odisha.
The ancient 11th century Sun Temple, dedicated to Surya the Sun God, provides an evocative backdrop for this annual classical dance festival. It features artists from various states in India. The performances take place in the evenings, while the monument is colorfully illuminated.
- When: January 19-21, 2020.
- Where: Modhera, Gujarat
See a range of classical Indian dance forms in a regal palace setting at Kerala Tourism's annual Nishagandhi Dance Festival. The festival runs for seven evenings, with each dedicated to a different genre of dance such as Odissi, Kathak, Bharatanatyam, Manipuri, Mohiniyattam, Chhau, and Kuchipudi. There will be kathakali performances as well.
- When: January 20-26, 2020.
- Where: Nishagandhi Auditorium, Kanakakkunnu Palace, Trivandrum, Kerala.
- Read More: 16 Top Places to Visit in Kerala.
A highlight of winter in Ladakh, monastery monks perform captivating cham dances wearing colorful (and rather scary looking) clay masks. This sacrifice festival celebrates the victory of good over evil , and effigies of evil characters are also burned. Try and be there for the special morning prayers when the monks all chant melodically in unison.
Lovers of literature shouldn't miss this fantastic opportunity to meet with renowned national and international authors and listen to them speak -- and all for free! The Jaipur Literature Festival is an annual event that's considered to be one of the most important literature events in Asia. A festival program and details of attending authors are available on the event's website. The list is extensive and impressive.
Chinese New Year
You may be surprise to find Chinese New Year being celebrated in India. However, Kolkata has a large Chinese community. The city's prosperity and cosmopolitan atmosphere drew an influx of Chinese migrants, starting from the late 18th century when they came to work at its ports. Traditional lion dancing is a popular feature of the occasion. The Indian Chinese Association for Culture, Welfare and Development holds a Lion Dance and Cultural Festival in Tiretti Bazaar a couple of days before the main day.
- When: January 25, 2020.
- Where: Chinatown, Tiretti Bazaar and Tangra, Kolkata, West Bengal.
In celebration of the Constitution of India being founded in 1950, a spectacular Republic Day parade is held in New Delhi. The parade, which marches down Delhi's central Rajpath avenue, features the three divisions of the armed forces (Army, Navy and Air Force) who showcase their strength. It also includes traditional dance troupes, and culminates with helicopters and other aircraft dramatically flying past.
- When: January 26 every year.
- Where: Delhi.
The Adivasi Mela provides an outstanding opportunity to learn about Odisha's tribal heritage (and do some shopping!). This annual event celebrates the culture and handicrafts of the state's large tribal population, with more than 60 different tribes in attendance. Attractions include informative exhibits, art, food, and dance performances.
- When: January 26 to February 9, 2020.
- Where: IDCO Exhibition Ground, Bhubaneshwar, Odisha.
- Read More: Top 10 Things to Do in Bhubaneshwar.
Chilika Bird Festival
The annual Chilika Bird Festival returns for its third edition this year. This festival, organized by Odisha Tourism and the Chilika Development Authority, aims to promote ecotourism and preserve birds in Odisha. Activities include photo exhibitions, seminars and bird watching excursions.
- When: January 27-28 every year.
- Where: Mangalajodi wetlands and Nalabana, Odisha.
Unleash your creative side at this residential festival featuring curated Rajasthani arts and crafts workshops led by eminent local artisans during the day, and musical performances at night. Highlights include a guided walk through the fort by a member of the royal family, sufi at sunset on the sand dunes, and early morning music meditation.
- When: January 29 to February 2, 2020.
- Where: Nachana Haveli and Narayan Niwas Palace, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.
The India Art Fair, founded in 2008, sees more than 75 galleries showcase a breadth of modern and contemporary South Asian art including painting, sculpture, new media, installation and performance art. The fair has a diverse program that includes a three-day Speakers Forum, Performances, Book Launches, Curated Walks, and an art bookstore.
- When: January 30 to February 2, 2020.
- Where: NSIC Exhibition Grounds, Okhla Industrial Estate, Delhi.
The Nagaur Fair
The rural town of Nagaur comes alive with India's second largest cattle fair, which sees the trading of around 70,000 bullocks, camels and horses. Entertainment is provided in the form of folk dances, tug of war competitions, and camel races. You can also expect to see lavishly decorated animals, a huge red chili market, and traditional handicrafts. Rajasthan Tourism sets up a tourist village to accommodate visitors.
- When: January 30 to February 2, 2020.
- Where: Nagaur, about three hours northeast of Jodhpur in Rajasthan.
This week long Kerala temple festival is devoted to the deity of the Ernakulathappan Shiva temple in Ernakulum, near Kochi. It features a flag hoisting ceremony, parading and bathing of the temple god, fireworks, and numerous decorated elephants (which won't please everyone). Temple arts are also promoted during the festival and you'll be able to see traditional music and dance performances, as well check out as local handicrafts.
- When: January 30 to February 6, 2020.
- Where: Ernakulathappa Shiva temple in Ernakulam, Kochi, Kerala.
- Read More: 14 Top Things to do in Kochi.