Being a highly spiritual country, festivals are at the heart of people’s lives in India. The numerous and varied festivals that are held throughout the year offer a unique way of seeing Indian culture at its best. Don't miss these popular festivals in India for an unforgettable experience.
Holi, often referred to as the "Festival of Colors", is one of the best known festivals outside of India. The festival is centered around the burning and destruction of the demoness Holika, which was made possible through unwavering devotion to Lord Vishnu. However, the really fun part involves people throwing colored powder on each other and squirting each other with water guns. This is associated with Lord Krishna, a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, who liked to play pranks on the village girls by drenching them in water and colors. 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.
The spectacular 11-day Ganesh Chaturthi festival honors the birth of the beloved Hindu elephant-headed god, Lord Ganesha. The start of the festival sees huge, elaborately-crafted statutes of Ganesh installed in homes and public podiums, which have been beautifully decorated. The statues are worshiped everyday throughout the festival. On the last day, they're paraded through the streets, accompanied by much singing and dancing, and then submerged in the ocean. The best place to experience it is in Mumbai.
Navaratri, Durga Puja and Dussehra
The nine days of the Navaratri festival honor the mother goddess Durga in all her incarnations. The tenth day, called Dussehra, celebrates the defeat of the demon king Ravan by Lord Ram and monkey god Hanuman. It also coincides with Durga's victory over the evil buffalo demon Mahishasura. In eastern India, the festival is observed as Durga Puja. It's the biggest festival of the year in Kolkata. Huge statues of the Goddess Durga are made and immersed in the river there. In Delhi, nightly plays are held around the Red Fort, recounting episodes from the life of Lord Ram.
Diwali honors the victory of good over evil and brightness over darkness. It celebrates Lord Ram and his wife Sita returning to their kingdom of Ayodhya, following the defeat of Ravan and rescue of Sita on Dussehra. It's known as the "Festival of Lights" for all the fireworks, small clay lamps, and candles that are lit. For most Indian families, Diwali is the most anticipated festival of the year.
Onam is the biggest festival of the year in the south Indian state of Kerala. This lengthy harvest festival marks the homecoming of mythical King Mahabali, and it showcases the state's culture and heritage. People decorate the ground in front of their houses with flowers arranged in beautiful patterns to welcome the king. The festival is also celebrated with new clothes, feasts served on banana leaves, dancing, sports, games, and snake boat races.
Krishna Janmashtami (Govinda)
Krishna Janmashtami, also known as Govinda, commemorates the birthday of Lord Krishna. An extremely fun part of the festival involves teams of guys climbing on each other to form a human pyramid to try and reach and break open clay pots filled with curd, which have been strung up high from buildings. This activity, called dahi handi, falls on the second day. It's best experienced in Mumbai.
- Dates: August 24-25, 2019.
- Essential Guide to Krishna Janmashtami Festival
Pushkar Camel Fair
An astonishing number of camels converge on the tiny desert town of Pushkar, in India's state of Rajasthan, for the Pushkar Camel Fair. The camels are dressed up, paraded, shaved, entered into beauty contests, raced, and of course traded. If you want to see the camel trading, make sure you arrive before the start of the festival because it gets underway and winds up early.
Kerala has many temples that hold annual festivals in honor of the presiding local god or goddess. Each festival has a different set of legends and myths behind it, depending on the temple deity. However, most revolve around the presence of elephants to honor the deity. The large processions of elephants, resplendent in ornaments, are the main attraction at these festivals. The processions are accompanied by colorful floats, drummers and other musicians. Some processions feature towering effigies of horses and bulls.
- Dates: Mostly from February until May in the Thrissur and Palakkad districts of central and northern Kerala.