October is a very exuberant time in India. The monsoon rain has eased in most places and the festival season is in full swing. Come to India in October and take part in events filled with lights, music, and dance from the northern Himalaya regions all the way down to the southern tip. The overarching holiday is the Navaratri and Dussehra festival, which encompasses countless regional celebrations and events that vary from state to state.
In 2020, some celebrations may be scaled back or canceled. Be sure to monitor the individual events pages for the most up-to-date information.
India Music Summit
The India Music Summit returns for its fourth edition this year. Started by a group of India's top music professionals, this event provides an outstanding opportunity for music lovers and musicians to engage with music from diverse genres. It's a wonderfully immersive event with morning baithaks (informal performances and gatherings), masterclasses, concerts, conversations, and night sessions.
- When: September 19 to October 26, 2020.
- Where: The 2020 India Music Summit is being held virtually. Check out the event Facebook page for details on specific concerts.
The Ramleela refers to the many plays, performed in the lead-up to Dussehra, that reenact the life story of Lord Ram in the Hindu epic The Ramayana. The Ramleela in Ramnagar—just across the river from the holy city of Varanasi— is the most notable one in India. It has been running for about 200 years, making it the world's oldest Ramleela, and it takes place over a whole month concluding on the full moon night after Dussehra.
In 2020, organizers are planning on using wooden puppets, instead of actors, as characters to enact the play.
- When: September 30 to October 30, 2020.
- Where: It will be telecast virtually on social media.
The state festival of Telangana in South India, Bathukamma is a flower festival that celebrates life and the Mother Goddess during Navaratri. It's devoted to Goddess Maha Gauri, an incarnation of Goddess Durga that's considered to be the life-giver and goddess of womanhood. She's worshiped in the form of "Bathukamma", which are floral arrangements stacked to resemble a temple tower. The festival especially celebrates womanhood and femininity, and women dress up, sing devotional songs, and take the Bathukammas out in processions to immerse them in water.
- When: October 16-24, 2020.
- Where: Hyderabad, Telangana.
Navaratri is a nine-night festival that celebrates the Mother Goddess, or Shakti, in all her manifestations, including Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati. It's a seasonal festival in Hindu culture that occurs four times per year, but the post-monsoon festival in the fall is the most important one of them all.
Navaratri celebrations take place across India but vary from state to region. In fact, many of the festivities are actually local Navaratri celebrations. Worship and fasting are typical during the daytime, while the nights are usually reserved for feasting and fun. Observances include the Ramleela plays that take place across northern India, garba dance events in Gujarat, and Durga Puja in Kolkata. Regardless of where you are in India during this time, you're sure to experience some type of celebration.
Restrictions on social gatherings will prevent many public Navaratri celebrations from happening in 2020.
- When: October 17-25, 2020.
- Where: Across India.
The annual 10-day Dasara festival is the feature of Navaratri and Dussehra celebrations in the city of Mysuru—or Mysore—in the southern state of Karnataka. The festival has royal origins and can be traced all the way back to 1610 when it was started by Wadiyar King, Raja Wadiyar I. It honors the Goddess Chamundeswari (another name for Goddess Durga) of Chamundi Hill, who killed the powerful demon Mahishasur. The royal family is still involved in celebrating it. Mysore Palace is illuminated with thousands of dazzling lights. There's an elaborate regal procession, fireworks, light shows, and even food festivals and vintage automobile shows as well.
In 2020, the Dasara festival will take place in a simple religious manner. There are plans for lights to be hung on the palace but the parade, food festival, and other events that attract large crowds are canceled.
- When: October 17-27, 2020.
- Where: Mysuru, Karnataka.
In honor of mother goddess Durga, beautifully handcrafted statues of the goddess and her children are installed in homes and public podiums, and worshiped on each day of the festival. People flock to the streets to view the displays amid mesmerizing light shows, cultural performances, and aromatic food stalls. On the last day of the festival, the statues are paraded through the streets, accompanied by drumming and dancing, before being submerged in the river. Durga Puja is the biggest and most anticipated festival of the year in the city of Kolkata.
In 2020, decorations will be minimal and the number of people allowed to attend the displays will be limited. There won't be any entertainment or cultural shows.
- When: October 22-26, 2020.
- Where: Kolkata, West Bengal, as well as neighboring states such as Assam and Odisha.
Known as the Worship of the Horse, this unique Rajasthani festival is grandly celebrated by the Mewar royal family of Udaipur on the last day of Navaratri. It honors the special relationship between warrior and horse. See the royal horses being worshiped by the current head of the royal family, accompanied by the palace band. A highlight of the festival is the mouthwatering Rajasthani cuisine.
- When: October 25, 2020.
- Where: Udaipur City Palace, Rajasthan. Tickets are required.
The day after the Navaratri festival is known as Dussehra. It widely commemorates the defeat of the demon king Ravan by Lord Ram and huge effigies of Ravan go up in smoke all over India. However, there are other more unusual celebrations of the festival, too. Some start at the beginning of Navaratri, such as Mysore Dasara, while others kick-off on the main day of Dussehra and continue on for weeks.
There are various ways and places to celebrate Dussehra across India, and you can likely find some type of event wherever you are. The city of Delhi alone has many Ramleela performances that are typical of Dussehra.
- When: October 25, 2020.
- Where: Across India but particularly in northern India.
This eclectic festival, which is the first of its kind in India, showcases regional roots music and the arts. It's a heady fusion of interactive educational events, staged performances, and late-night jam sessions held in the city of Jodhpur. Performers include singers, dancers, instrumentalists, and storytellers from various Rajasthani folk communities, as well as nationally and internationally recognized artists. The festival has an outstanding location in and around the imposing Mehrangarh Fort in the northwestern state of Rajasthan.
- When: October 29 to November 2, 2020.
- Where: Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan.
The Marwar Festival recognizes the culture of Rajasthan's Marwar region. It's held for two days over the full moon in memory of the state's medieval heroes. The highlight of the festival is classic folk music and dance, which brings alive the myths and legends of the area. The festival also includes horse riding, horse polo, and even camel tattooing.
Men and women dress in traditional Rajasthani garb, including elaborate head turbans for the men. One of the festival highlights is a turban tying contest, which is considered an art form.
- When: October 30-31, 2020.
- Where: Jodhpur, Rajasthan.
The Kabir Yatra is a traveling folk music festival in Rajasthan. It features more than 50 artists from across India who perform music from different genres. Attendees will also be able to listen to poetry from Bhakti and Sufi saints such as Kabir, Mira, and Bulleh Shah. The festival showcases the work of painters, sculptors, and photographers inspired by this tradition as well.
- When: Canceled in 2020
- Where: Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, and Bikaner.
The annual Tawang Festival is organized by the Arunachal Pradesh Tourism Department to showcase the cultural diversity of the state and promote adventure tourism. Highlights include a huge fair, chanting by the monks of Tawang Monastery, and folk and tribal dances.
Arunachal Pradesh, in Northeast India, is the most remote state in the country. The town of Tawang is located in the mountains and is even more remote. The Tawang Festival began in 2012 as a way to attract visitors and share the local culture of the Monpa people who inhabit the area. Tibetan Buddhist traditions are a huge part of the festival, and Tawang is home to the second-largest Buddhist monastery in the world.
- When: Canceled in 2020
- Where: Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh.