In India, the arrival of spring ushers in a season of festivals, including Holi, the festival of colors which is celebrated all over the country in March. This is a great month to visit India, especially if you want a piece of the spring festival action. In particular, the states of Goa, Rajasthan, and Kerala offer a major share of the excitement and are worth a little extra travel to enjoy their many different Indian festivals and events.
Padayani 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.
The festival is held once every five years, including a celebration from February 23 to March 5, 2021, at the Puthenkavil Bhagavathy Temple in Kurampala.
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 bathe in the water and cleanse their sins.
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.
The festival is celebrated once every 12 years in Haridwar, Uttarakhand. In 2021, the festival stretched from January 14 through April 27.
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.
Every year, the festival takes place during the first week of March in Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram in northeast India. You can also find it in Lunglei and Saiha.
International Yoga Festival
The International Yoga Festival is a must for 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 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 are available on the website.
The festival moved online in 2021, stretching from March 7 to 13 in Parmarth Niketan Ashram.
Maha Shivaratri, 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 begin fasting at sunrise, swim in the holy Ganges river, offer prayers at the temples, and chant devotional songs. Many people also eat bhang, a substance derived from cannabis. There's a street procession in Varanasi.
The Maha Shivratri takes place on March 11, 2021, at 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 fanfare 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 an intense frenzy of devotional dance, music, and martial arts.
The Bhavnath Fair will take place from March 11 to 15, 2021, at the Bhavnath Mahadev Temple at the base of Mount Girnar in 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.
The Angalamman Festival always takes place the day after Maha Shivratri, which in 2021 is March 12. It takes place in Kaveripattinam in the district of Tamil Nadu. It is hard to reach, two hours southeast of Bangalore. 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 carries huge temple replicas through the water towards the temple. They're accompanied by lots of colorfully decorated small canoes and temple percussion music.
The Attuvela Mahotsavam Festival takes place on March 13, 2021, at the Elankavu Sree Bhagavathy temple in Vaikom.
This is a festival you won't forget! During Kondungalloor Bharani, 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.
The festival takes place from March 17 to 18, 2021, at the Kodungalloor Bhagavathy in Kerala.
The Painkuni Festival, celebrated by the royal family of Travancore (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.
The Painkuni Festival takes place from March 20 to 29, 2021, at the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Kerala.
If you're interested in a traditional tribal festival off the beaten track, don't miss the Myoko Festival of the Apatani Tribe, who reside in North East India. 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.
The festival takes place every year from March 20 to 30 in the Atapani villages of Arunachal Pradesh.
The 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, who 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.
The festival begins on March 24, 2021, at Thirunakkara Mahadeva Temple in Kottayam.
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.
Arattupuzha Pooram takes place on March 26, 2021, at the Arattupuzha Temple in the Thrissur District of Kerala.
At the temple festival of Malanada Kettukazcha, decorated structures are carried in a procession accompanied by a traditional orchestra of drums. Some of the structures are 70 to 80 feet tall. Artisans from surrounding villages compete for the most impressive structure, all of which are either carried on people's shoulders or taken out on chariots.
Malanada Kerruzkazcha takes place on March 26, 2021, at the Poruvazhi Malanada Temple in Kollam.
Brij Holi Mahotsav
The Brij 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. Rajasthan Tourism also facilitates fun activities such as nature walks, photography exhibitions, traditional rural sports, turban tying, and Bollywood music concerts.
The Brij Holi festival takes place a few days before Holi every year in Bharatpur, Rajasthan.
Eternal Mewar Holika Dahan
On the eve of Holi, people light bonfires to mark the occasion and ward off 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.
The Holika Dahan will take place on March 28, 2021, at the City Palace in Udaipur.
Holi is commonly referred to as the "Festival of Colors." During the main event, people exuberantly throw colored powder and water all over each other, party, and dance under water sprinklers. Bhang (a paste made from cannabis plants) is also traditionally consumed during the celebration. Holi is a very carefree festival that's great fun to participate in if you don't mind getting wet and dirty. It's celebrated all over the country in many different ways depending on which part of India you're in.
Holi takes place on March 29, 2021. You'll find celebrations all over India, but the colorful festivals are more typical of the north while celebrations in the south have a more religious focus.
Shigmo is the state of Goa's version of Holi. It's a Hindu festival 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, also known as Hindu New Year.
Shigmo takes place from March 30 to April 13, 2021, 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).
Kawant Gher Fair
For an unusual tribal experience, head to the Kawant 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.
Konkan Velas Turtle Festival
See newly hatched, endangered Olive Ridley turtles take their amazing march into the sea at the annual Turtle Festival. As well as this, you can also sample traditional Indian village life by stopping over at local home-stays in the area, but you'll have to sleep in a dormitory.
The Sea Turtle Festival typically takes place from early March to May. in Velas Village near Ratnagiri. Timing depends on the nesting season, so check the official website for the latest details.