If you're spending time in India in March, the states of Goa, Rajasthan and Kerala are where you should head to catch most of the action. Holi, one of the most popular festivals in India, is celebrated in March too. Here's the pick of what's on in India in March 2021 (listed by date).
Do note that celebrations may be curtailed or canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Details, where available, are provided below.
Patayani is a type of ancient theatrical ritual folk art form that is performed to appease goddesses at Bhadrakali temples in central Kerala. It features traditional percussionists, masked dances, and mythological characters. A highlight at this festival is the Chooral Adavi ritualistic dance that represents an old Narabali (human sacrifice) ritual. It takes place on the ninth day of the festival. In the evening, devotees observe penance before the ritual and roll on the ground with thorny canes wrapped around their bodies.
- When: February 23 to March 5, 2021. The festival is held once every five years.
- Where: Puthenkavil Bhagavathy Temple, Kurampala, Pathanamthitta district, Kerala.
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. Every twelfth year, the festival transforms into the Kumbh Mela there. The Magh Mela 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 14 (Makar Sankranti), January 28 (Poush Purnima), February 11 (Mauni Amavasya), February 16 (Basant Panchami), February 27 (Maghi Purnima), and March 11 (Maha Shivratri).
- When: Ongoing until March 11, 2021.
- Where: Prayag (Allahabad), Uttar Pradesh.
The largest religious gathering in the world, the Kumbh Mela brings Hindu holy men together to discuss their faith and disseminate information about their religion. Holy men and pilgrims also take a dip in the river on auspicious days to cleanse themselves of sins. The Kumbh Mela is attended by millions of people each day. In December 2017, UNESCO included the festival on its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list in recognition of its importance.
- When: Ongoing until April 27, 2021.
- Where: Haridwar, Uttarakhand.
- Read More: Essential Guide to the Mystical Kumbh Mela in India.
- 20 Evocative Photos Explain the Hindu Kumbh Mela.
Chapchar Kut is a harvest festival named after bamboo that has been cut, and is drying for burning and subsequent cultivation. The traditional bamboo dance performed by women (while men sit on the ground and beat bamboo sticks against each other), called cheraw, is a big part of the festival. Different styles of tribal dance performances take place amidst symbol clashes and beats of drums. There's art, handicrafts, concerts, flower shows, and food as well.
- When: First week of March each year.
- Where: Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram in northeast India. Also in Lunglei and Saiha.
The International Yoga Festival is a must anyone interested in yoga! With more than 2,000 participants from over 80 countries, it's grown to become one of the largest yoga gatherings in the world. The festival offers yoga classes from world-class Yoga teachers, evening discussions with some of India's leading spiritual leaders, and other events including vegetarian cooking classes and Indian classical dance workshops. More information and a detailed festival program is available on the website.
Mahashivaratri, the Great Night of Shiva, is when Lord Shiva is believed to have performed his cosmic Tandava dance -- the source of the cycle of creation, preservation, and destruction. Devotees worship Lord Shiva on this occasion to gain release from this cycle of death and rebirth. Most of the festivities take place throughout the night when vigils are maintained at Shiva temples. Devotees fast from sunrise, swim in the holy Ganges river, offer prayers at the temples, and chant devotional songs. Many people also consume bhang, a substance derived from cannabis. There's a street procession in Varanasi.
- When: March 11, 2021.
- Where: Shiva temples all over India.
This ancient festival, deemed to be a mini Kumbh Mela, begins at midnight on Maha Shivaratri when naga babas (naked Hindu holy men) seated on elephants ride with great fanare in procession to the temple for worship. Lord Shiva is believed to visit the shrine on this occasion, along with the spirits of other important saints and spiritual masters. The sadhus later gather next to the temple and perform a frenzy of devotional dance, music and martial arts. It's intense!
- When: March 11-15, 2021.
- Where: Bhavnath Mahadev Temple, base of Mount Girnar, Junagadh district, Gujarat.
One of India's most unusual festivals, the Angalamman Festival sees tens of thousands of devotees dressing themselves up to worship the Goddess Angalamman, a reincarnation of Goddess Pavarti (the wife of Lord Shiva). The goddess is considered to be extremely fierce and must be appeased with blood. Some devotees go to the extreme of piercing lemons all over their torsos to please her.
- When: The day after Maha Shivratri, March 12, 2021.
- Where: Kaveripattinam, Krishnagiri district of Tamil Nadu, approximately two hours southeast of Bangalore in Karnataka. The nearest railway station is Krishnagiri City Junction, about 15 minutes away.
In contrast to many of Kerala's temple festivals where the focus is on elephants, the Attuvela Mahotsavam is a delightful water carnival. During the festival, a procession of warmly illuminated canoes carry huge temple replicas through the water towards the temple. They're accompanied by lots of colorfully decorated small canoes and temple percussion music.
- When: March 13, 2021.
- Where: Elankavu Sree Bhagavathy temple, Vaikom, Kottayam district, Kerala.
This is a festival you won't forget in a hurry! Thousands of sword-wielding oracles, both male and female, swarm the temple premises. The oracles run in around a trance and proclaim their communion with the Mother Goddess. Meanwhile. devotees strike the temple rafters with sticks and hurl offerings over the roof and onto the quadrangle. It's one of the quirkiest festivals in India.
- When: March 17-18, 2021.
- Where: Kodungalloor Bhagavathy temple, Kodungalloor, Thrissur district, Kerala.
This 10-day festival, celebrated by the royal family of Travencore (a former princely state in south Kerala), sees towering fiberglass statues of the Pandavas (the five sons of Pandu in the Hindu epic the Mahabharata) placed at the eastern entrance to the temple to please the Rain God, Indra. On the last day, the male members of the royal family take the idols in procession to be immersed at Sanghumugham beach.
- When: March 20-29, 2021.
- Where: Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple, Trivandrum, Kerala.
If you're interested in a traditional tribal festival off the beaten track, don't miss the Myoko festival of the Apatani Tribe. It includes rituals for prosperity, fertility, purification and sacrifice performed by the village shaman or priest, and many interesting cultural elements such as folk performances and processions.
- When: March 20-30, 2021. The most interesting days for visitors are the second, third, and fourth days.
- Where: Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh.
The 10-day Thirunakkara Arattu is another of Kerala's famous temple festivals. As is the norm with these festivals, the highlight on the last day is a procession of decorated elephants. Accompanied by drummers and other performers, they carry the temple god to be bathed. Other attractions of the festival are traditional Kathakali dancers, which perform throughout the night on the third and fourth days of the festival, and folk arts such as the Mayilattom (peacock dance) in the temple compound.
- When: March 24, 2021.
- Where: Thirunakkara Mahadeva Temple, Kottayam district, Kerala.
Yet another Kerala temple festival, the Arattupuzha Pooram is a particularly large elephant pageant featuring around 60 elephants bearing brightly colored silk parasols. It's one of the oldest temple festivals in Kerala. Legend has it that on the day of the festival, 101 gods and goddesses from the neighboring villages visited Sree Ayyappan, the presiding deity of the Arattupuzha Temple.
- When: March 26, 2021.
- Where: Arattupuzha Temple, in the Thrissur district of Kerala.
At this temple festival, decorated structures are carried in procession accompanied by a traditional orchestra of drums. Some of the structures are 70 feet and 80 feet tall. They're competitively made by people of the surrounding villages. The structures are either carried on people's shoulders or taken out on chariots.
- When: March 26, 2021.
- Where: Poruvazhi Malanada temple, Adoor, Pathanamthitta district, Kerala.
Organized by Rajasthan Tourism to celebrate the state's foundation day, this festival is packed with cultural events for all age groups from morning until night. This includes chanting, folk dance, musical performances, film screenings, and fashion shows.
- When: March 27-30, 2021. To be confirmed.
- Where: Various venues in Jaipur, Rajasthan.
Braj Holi Mahotsav
The Braj Holi festival is dedicated to Lord Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who is believed to have spent much of his childhood in the Braj region of Rajasthan. It celebrates the love between Radha and Krishna. A highlight is the performance of the traditional Raslila dance, which brings to life their love story. People also dress up as Radha and Krishna, sing and dance, and throw color on each other. In addition, Rajasthan Tourism facilitates fun activities such as nature walks, photography exhibitions, traditional rural sports, turban tying, and Bollywood music concerts.
- When: A few days before Holi. To be announced.
- Where: Bharatpur, Deeg and Kaman in Rajasthan.
On the eve of Holi, people light bonfires to mark the occasion and ward of evil spirits in a ritual called Holika Dahan. For an unforgettable regal experience, join in the celebration of the Mewar royal family. There will be a magnificent palace procession from the royal residence to Manek Chowk, including bedecked horses and a royal band. Later, the traditional sacred fire will be lit and an effigy of Holika burnt.
- When: March 28, 2021.
- Where: City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan
Holi is commonly referred to as the "Festival of Colors." People exuberantly throw colored powder and water all over each other, have parties, and dance under water sprinklers. Bhang (a paste made from cannabis plants) is also traditionally consumed during the celebrations. Holi is a very carefree festival that's great fun to participate in if you don’t mind getting wet and dirty. Find out the best ways and places to celebrate Holi in India.
- When: March 29, 2021.
- Where: All over India, particularly in the north. Celebrations in the south have a more religious focus.
Goa's biggest spring festival, Shigmo, is the state's version of Holi. It's a Hindu festival that's filled with bright decorations, parades, singing, dancing, and colors. One traditional dance that's often performed is the Ghode Modni martial arts horse dance. The festival starts the day after Holi and concludes on Gudi Padwa (the new year).
- When: March 30 to April 13, 2021.
- Where: All over Goa. Street parades start in Ponda and follow to other towns. They feature floats depicting Ramayana and Mahabharata scenes, drums, and folk dancing. Cultural programs are also held in Panjim. Celebrations are more authentic in rural areas. Expect plenty of authentic Goan cuisine and feni (the local alcoholic drink).
Kavant Gher Fair
For an unusual tribal experience, head to the Kavant Gher Fair. This rural harvest festival is a gathering of the Rathva tribe, who dress up as gods and demons from Hindu mythology and dance wildly to the beat of drunken drumming to celebrate the joy of life. The festival takes place a few days after Holi each year. Rural Pleasure conducts a guided tour to the fair from Vadodara.
- When: March 31, 2021.
- Where: Kavant village, near Chhota Udepur about two hours east of Vadodara in Gujarat.
See newly hatched, endangered Olive Ridley turtles take their amazing march into the sea at the annual Turtle Festival. As well as this, you'll get to sample traditional Indian village life by stopping over at local homestays in the area (dormitory rooms only).
- When: From early March to May (refer to the website for the best times and dates, as it depends on nesting).
- Where: Velas village, Ratnagiri, Maharashtra.