Some of the biggest religious festivals in India take place during September, as the festival season is in full swing. The colorful spectacle is captivating. Here's the best of what's on in September in India (in date order).
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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 Ganesha installed in homes and podiums, which have been especially constructed and beautifully decorated. At the end of the festival, the statutes are paraded through the streets, accompanied by much singing and dancing, and then submerged in the ocean.
- When: August 25 to September 5, 2017.
- Where: Mostly in the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. One of the best places to experience the festival is in the city of Mumbai.
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Onam is a traditional ten day harvest festival that marks the homecoming of the mythical King Mahabali. It's a festival rich in culture and heritage. People strikingly 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.
- When: September 4, 2017 (celebrations start 10 days prior and continue for around a week after).
- Where: Kerala. The most spectacular celebrations take place in Trivandrum, Thrissur, and Kottayam.
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The world's oldest Ramlila, which reenacts the story of the Hindu epic the Ramayana, has been running for nearly 200 years. It commences with the incarnation of Lord Vishnu as Rama, to save humanity from demon king Ravana. The Ramilia takes place over a month every year from Anant Chaturdashi and ends on the full moon night.
- When: September 5-October 6, 2017.
- Where: Ramnagar, on the banks of the Ganges River opposite Varanasi.
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The Payippad Boat Race is one of the oldest in Kerala and has the largest participation of snake boats after the important Nehru Trophy boat race in August. It's held to commemorate the installation of the idol at the local Subrahmanya Swamy temple. Read more about snake boat races in Kerala.
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- When: September 6, 2017.
- Where: Along the Payippad River at Harippad in Kerala's Alleppey district.
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Hundreds of grown men dressed up as tigers and dancing to the beat of traditional percussion instruments are an unexpected feature of Onam celebrations. Although this display of the art of Pulikkali may be one of the quirkiest festivals in India, it's actually very serious business!
- When: September 8, 2017.
- Where: Swaraj Round in Thrissur.
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The Aranmula Boat Race is a predominantly religious occasion, that forms part of Onam celebrations. Rather than being a contest, it's more about retracing the time offerings were carried on snake boats to the Aranmula Parthasarthy Temple. The whole occasion is a celebration of the day Lord Krishna crossed the river.
- When: September 8, 2017.
- Where: Along the Pampa River at Aranmula near Chengannur, south of Alleppey in Kerala.
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Into its fifth year this year, the Pune International Literary Festival is another opportunity to interact with authors in India. More than 100 acclaimed authors and creative personalities from India and abroad will speak at the festival, which also includes panel discussions, workshops and book launches.
- When: September 8-10, 2017.
- Where: Pune, about 3 hours from Mumbai in Maharashtra.
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This unusual temple festival extends for 16 nights of folk rituals, and sees gods and goddesses descend from the heavens. It culminates in a procession of huge effigies of swans (some of which are more than 40 feet tall) and other mythological characters. They are offered to the temple goddess by devotees to get their wishes fulfilled.
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- When: September 19, 2017.
- Where: Palli Bhagavathi temple, Neelamperoor, Alleppey district, Kerala.
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The Ladakh Festival is a cultural extravaganza, and main showcase event for the region. It has plenty to offer tourists, including polo-match, music concerts, mask dances from the monasteries, motorbike/cycle expedition to Khardung-la, Thanka painting exhibition, archery, river rafting, and folk songs.
Hotel and local transport discounts are available for the duration of the festival.
- When: September 20-27, 2017. Dates to be confirmed.
- Where: Leh and surrounding villages.
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Navaratri is a nine day festival that celebrates the Mother Goddess in all her manifestations, including Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. Worship and fasting take place in the daytime, while the nights are reserved for feasting and dancing. The festival culminates with Dussehra, the victory of good over evil, on the tenth day. In Delhi, the feature of Navaratri celebrations are the Ramlila plays that take place all over the city. The festival is celebrated as Golu, with the display of dolls, in south India.
- When: September 21-29, 2017.
- Where: All across India, but particularly in Gujarat, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Varanasi, and Mysore.
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Mysore Dasara is Dussehra with a difference! The city's royal heritage ensures that the festival is elaborately celebrated on a grand scale. In Mysore, Dussehra honors the Goddess Chamundeswari, who killed the great demon Mahishasur.
- When: September 21-30, 2017.
- Where: Mysore in Karnataka.
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In honor of warrior Goddess Durga, beautifully handcrafted statues of Durga are installed in podiums in almost every lane of the city during this festival. People flock to the streets to view the goddess statues amid mesmerizing light shows, drumming, and aromatic food stalls. On the last day of the festival, the statues are paraded around the city before being submerged in the river.
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- When: September 26-30, 2017.
- Where: Kolkata, West Bengal
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The highlight of this Dussehra celebration is a big fair (mela) with a rural feel. Artisans come from far and wide to sell their wares, and there are cultural programs and performances. Villagers also gather in traditional dress to offer prayers to Lord Rama and to celebrate his victory over Ravana. Towering effigies of Ravana are burned. In addition, there's a captivating procession from the Royal Palace to the fair ground, featuring decorated elephants, camels, horses, folk dancers.
- When: September 28-30, 2017.
- Where: Kota, Rajasthan.
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A renowned outdoor music festival in one of India's most remote and picturesque locations (think lush paddy fields and pine clad mountains), Ziro features a combination of 30 indie bands from across the world and top folk acts from across northeast India. Camping facilities are provided. Kite Manja has the happiest campsite there!
- When: September 28-October 1, 2017.
- Where: Ziro Valley, Arunachal Pradesh.
- Guide to North East India States and Places to Visit
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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: September 29, 2017.
- Where: Udaipur City Palace, Rajasthan.
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The tenth day of the Navaratri festival is known as Dussehra. It's devoted to celebrating the defeat of the demon king Ravana by Lord Rama. Effigies of Ravana go up in smoke all over India.
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- When: September 30, 2017.
- Where: Particularly in northern India.
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Unlike other Dussehra celebrations in India, effigies of Ravana aren't burned at this week-long festival. On the first day, Goddess Hadimba is carried from the temple in Manali down to Kullu, where she's taken to the palace and blessed by the royal family. She then goes to Dhalpur and is joined by the idol of Lord Raghunath (Lord Rama, the presiding deity). Hundreds of gods and goddesses from all over the Valley come to meet them, and they're carried in procession to Dhalpur Maidan where they stay until the end of the festival. The fair grounds are alive with exhibitions, cultural performances, and vendors from across India. On the last day, the chariot is pulled to the Beas River, where a pile of thorn bushes is set on fire to depict the burning of Lanka.
- When: September 30-October 6, 2017.
- Where: Dhalpur Maidan, Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh.
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The annual Park’s New Festival is a theatrical festival that showcases cutting-edge contemporary performing and visual arts. It's curated by The Park Hotels and Prakriti Foundation, and is held across six major cities in India. This year, there will be a contemporary dance performance that expresses issues faced by the people of Manipur and northeast India, a solo theater performance, and a folk quartet that unites four musicians from four different countries and cultures.
- When: Dates to be announced.
- Where: Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi.