India, the land of colour and celebrations, is a rich country exuberating festivities 365 days a year! The large population, geographic and cultural variety, and the number of religions practiced by the people of India, makes every day an occasion and a reason to celebrate! Where ever you are in India, you will never be far from festivities…
We present to you, our hand picked selection of few popular Indian festivals from different parts of the country that are sure to impress tourists. Not only are these festivals entertaining, they are also educative, allowing you to learn more about our country, its people and their customs and beliefs.
So come along and celebrate the festivals of India!
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THE ELEPHANT MARCH, Thrissur, Kerala
The Great Elephant March is celebrated with a large gathering of Indian tuskers touring around Kerala - all decked up and ready to be worshipped and pampered! Elephants are associated with the famous Hindu God with a trunk – Lord Ganesha, who is worshipped as the lord of wealth and fulfillment. Rather than being a religious occasion, the elephant march is a unique festive occasion, enjoyed by both locals and tourists in Kerala.
DESERT FESTIVAL, Jaisalmer
The Desert Festival of Jaisalmer, as the name suggests, is held in the deserts of Jaisalmer, in January (or February) every year. Celebrated with a number of cultural events, camel races, folk music and dance shows, turban tying competitions etc, the festival brings to life the traditions of the nomadic desert life of Jaisalmer. The rich culture of the region is on display during this three day long colourful extravaganza. The festival attracts a large number of foreign tourists, who are intrigued by the unusual customs of the region.
NAGAUR FAIR, Nagaur
The picturesque town of Nagaur is home to the famous Nagaur Fair, Rajasthan’s second largest cattle fair held every year during the month of January or February.
Nagaur Fair is renowned for its cattle trading including cows, bullocks, oxen, camels and horses. Rajasthani villagers are seen wearing colourful turbans and flaunting their long moustaches. Regional crafts such as wooden artifacts, iron craft and leather accessories are available in abundance during the fair. Various games such as tug-of-war, camel races, cock & bullfights intrigue locals and tourists alike. The festival comes to life with folk music and dance performances by local village artists.
Flocked by thousands of tourists every year, the Nagaur fair is a unique experience - a spectacle of colours that signifies the true essence of Rajasthan, allowing you to experience the local lifestyle and blending yourself in the colourful culture of Rajasthan.
TAJ MAHOTSAV, Agra
The Taj Mahotsav is a 10 day carnival held in the month of February every year, at Shilpgram, near the magnificent Taj Mahal, in Agra. The festival commences with a spectacular procession inspired by Mughal splendour, with elephants and camels, drum beaters, folk artists and master craftsmen recreating the glorious past of the Mughals. Taj Mahotsav offers a great opportunity for local artists to display their exquisite works of art and folk musicians and dancers to perform on stage for visitors. The festival is an intriguing journey into the customs and traditions and local lifestyle of the erstwhile Mughal era, enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.
KHAJURAHO DANCE FESTIVAL, Khajuraho
Khajuraho Dance Festival is held every spring in the town of Khajuraho, to celebrate the glory of the fascinating Khajuraho temples. This festival is a cultural extravaganza, celebrating Indian arts - dance and music learnt from generation to generation. The Khajuraho Dance Festival presents the best classical dances of India, performed by well reputed dance groups from around the country.
ELEPHANT FESTIVAL, Jaipur
The Elephant Festival is a unique event held annually in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. As the name suggests, the Elephant festival is in honour of the Indian tuskers. Groomed to perfection, glittering in gold, row upon row of elephants catwalk before an enthralled audience. Elephant races, elephant-polo matches and a most interesting tug of war between elephants and men, are all part of this spectacular event.
MEWAR FESTIVAL, Udaipur
The Mewar Festival is celebrated to welcome the arrival of spring. The festival is celebrated in the romantic lake city of Udaipur and coincides with the Gangaur Festival. The highlight of the Mewar festival is a procession of Rajasthani women, dressed in colourful saris, carrying idols and images of goddess Gauri to the serene Lake Pichola. An unusual procession of boats on the lake, amidst loud chanting of folk Rajasthani ballads, offers an exhilarating finale to this splendid celebration. The festivities also feature cultural events where Rajasthani culture is portrayed through folk songs, dances, drama performances, and a colourful display of fireworks.
THRISSUR POORAM, Thrissur, Kerala
Thrissur Pooram is the biggest and most colorful temple festival of Kerala. It is celebrated in Vadakkumnathan temple in the Thrissur district. The festival is famous for its unique decorated elephant procession (Kudamattom), which involves participation of elephants from various temples across Kerala. Apart from this splendid procession, other attractions of Thrissur Pooram festival include a spectacular display of colorful fireworks, parasol exchanges, an umbrella showing competition, and drum concerts. Lasting for 36 hours, the festival draws the largest crowds in Kerala, fascinating locals and tourists in the region.
INTERNATIONAL FLOWER FESTIVAL, Gangtok, Sikkim
The International Flower Festival held annually in May, in Gangtok in the state of Sikkim, is one of the most popular flower shows of India. This festival features exotic varieties of local flowers, orchids and other plants of Sikkim. During this time, the state of Sikkim blooms with about 600 species of orchids, 240 species of trees and ferns, 150 varieties of gladioli, and 46 types of rhododendrons, along with a variety of magnolias and many other foliage plants. The flora displayed in the Gangtok Flower Festival mainly comprises of climbers, alpine plants, cacti, herbs orchids, creepers, gladioli, ferns, roses, etc.
GANGA DUSSEHRA, Varanasi & Haridwar
Ganga Dusshera is a holy festival, devoted to the worship of the Holy River Ganges. It is believed that the ‘Gangavataran’ (the descent of River Ganges) took place at this time. On this day, holy places along the Ganges plain such as Varanasi, Haridwar, Rishikesh, hold special significance. A large number of devotees flock to numerous ghats located along the banks of River Ganges to worship and wash away their sins in the holy water. At dawn and dusk, the banks of River Ganges are lit up with thousands of earthern lamps and candles with priests performing holy rituals and worshipping the River Goddess.
HEMIS FESTIVAL, Ladakh
The Hemis Festival is held every year in the Hemis Monastery, the biggest Buddhist monastery of Ladakh. It is celebrated on the tenth day of lunar month in the Tibetan calendar. The festival is celebrated in the commemoration of the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava. Hemis festival is celebrated with a colourful fair displaying some of the most exquisite handicrafts of Ladakh region and the display of the two-story high 'Thanka' of the monastery. The Thanka is beautifully embroidered with pearls and semi-precious stones, and depicts Guru Padmasambhava –it is put on display once in twelve years.
MANGO FESTIVAL, New Delhi
The Mango Festival is celebrated in India’s capital city, New Delhi, every year in the month of July. Held at Talkatora stadium, it is one of the most awaited fairs in the capital city. The festival also marks the advent of mangoes and presents more than 500 varieties of this king of fruits. Mangoes from different states of the country, are brought under one roof, where visitors can taste the summer fruit and learn more about each variety. Given the exotic seasonality of mangoes, the festival is a tasteful delight for locals and tourists visiting the capital region.
NEHRU TROPHY BOAT RACE (SNAKE BOAT RACE), Alappuzha, Kerala
Nehru Trophy Boat Race (also referred as ‘snake boat race’) is an annual event organized in Alappuzha, Kerala. It is held every year on the second Saturday of August. The event is promoted as a major tourist attraction by the state of Kerala and draws a large number of domestic and international tourists. The first boat race was held in the year 1952 in honour of India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, hence deriving its name ‘Nehru Trophy Boat Race’. Each boat comprises of approx 150 men, of which 4 are helmsmen, 25 singers and 125 oarsmen. The most remarkable feature of the Boat Race is the depiction of great team spirit – the race displays the importance of being united and in harmony with nature. One of the most famous boat races of Kerala, Nehru Trophy Boat Race promotes unity and fraternity among people.
JANMASHTAMI, Vrindavan & Mathura
Janmashtami, marks the birth anniversary of Lord Krishna, one of the most popular Hindu Gods. The epicenter of the festival is Vrindavan and Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna. However, the Janmashtami euphoria spreads all across India. Festivities include various rituals being performed by followers. Temples all over India engage in various ceremonies and prayers in honour of Lord Krishna. The festival is celebrated all across the country with the chanting of shlokas, readings from religious texts, singing devotional songs and a number of dance and drama performances depicting the life of Lord Krishna.
Onam is the biggest festival celebrated in the South Indian state of Kerala. Onam Festival falls during the Malayali month of Chingam (Aug - Sep) and marks the homecoming of legendary King Mahabali. Carnival of Onam lasts for ten days and brings out the best of Kerala culture and tradition. Intricately decorated ‘Pookalam’ floral decorations on the ground; elaborate grand meals called ‘Onasadya’; ‘Vallamkali’ fascinating boat races; decorated elephant processions and exotic dances are some of the most remarkable features of Onam - the harvest festival in Kerala. The beauty of the festival lies in it's secular fabric - people of all religions, castes and communities celebrate Onam, spreading the message of peace and brotherhood.
DURGA PUJA, Kolkata
Durga Puja, the most important festival of Bengalis signifies the worship of 'Shakti' or the devine power. It is celebrated throughout India, but more so in the state of West Bengal, with Kolkata being the central hub of celebrations. Durga Puja commemorates the victory of Goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasura. Temples are lit up with thousands of lights, earthen lamps and candles and carnivals are held to celebrate the festival and spread the joy. Singing, dancing, drama performances along with rich Indian delicacies and sweets mark the celebrations of Durga Puja.
MARWAR FESTIVAL, Jodhpur
The Marwar Festival is celebrated in the blue hued city of Jodhpur, in Rajasthan. A two day long event, the festival takes place during the full moon. The Marwar Festival is mainly dedicated to the folk heroes of Rajasthan.
The festival features Rajasthani folk music, dance and drama performances, bringing to life the myth and legends of the region. The festival also holds various competitions including the regal games of horse riding and horse polo.
DUSSEHRA, various places across India
The festival of Dussehra is an important celebration in many parts of India. It is celebrated with great fanfare in most parts of North India, some parts of south India, and in the form of Durga Puja in West Bengal. Dussehra is a popular Hindu festival, which marks the defeat of Ravana by Lord Rama. Dussehra also symbolises the triumph of warrior Goddess Durga over the buffalo demon, Mahishasura. To mark the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana and celebrate the joy, paper statues of Ravana are set on fire on Dussehra day, followed by carnivals held in the cities and suburbs. Celebrations are in the form of religious ceremonies, followed by carnival entertainment with rides and games, music, dance and drama performances, grand feasts and a lot of Indian sweets.
DIWALI, various places across India
One of the most popular Hindu festivals, ‘Deepawali’ or ‘Diwali’, is celebrated to mark the homecoming of Lord Rama from exile. Also called the 'Festival of Lights', Diwali is symbolized by people lighting up their houses, shops, offices with lights, earthen lamps and candles. Lakshmi Puja is performed in the evening to seek divine blessings of Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth. After the religious puja ceremony, friends and family share a grand feast and sweets, followed by a splendid display of fireworks on almost every street of the country. Diwali gifts are exchanged amongst all near and dear ones.
PUSHKAR FAIR, Pushkar
Pushkar festival, held every year in the month of October / November in Rajasthan, is world famous for its camel trading, cattle auctions and camel races along with traditional activities like folk music and dances, colourful village shops and eateries serving traditional delicacies.
Flocked by thousands of tourists every year, the Pushkar fair is a unique experience - a spectacle of colours that signifies the true essence of Rajasthan, allowing you to experience the local lifestyle and blending yourself in the colourful culture of Rajasthan.
The Pushkar fair also coincides with full moon day of ‘Kartik Purnima’ when thousands of devotees immerse themselves in the Holy Pushkar Lake. Witness the rituals and see the believers wash away their sins, understand the customs and traditions and experience a stay at desert camps within walking distance to fair grounds….with a visit to the fascinating Pushkar festival.
HAMPI FESTIVAL, Hampi
The Hampi Festival is celebrated in the deserted city of Hampi (in Karnataka), once the capital of the historic Vijayanagar Empire. Every year, the city of ruins, Hampi, plays host to a festival of dance and music, known as the Hampi Festival or Vijaya Utsav of Karnataka. The Hampi Dance and Music Festival attracts some of the most distinguished artists from the field of art, dance, music and drama. Splendid performances by reputed artists, against the backdrop of the ancient city of Hampi, is a fascinating experience. Other attractions of the festival include magnificent fireworks, puppet shows and elaborate processions, bringing back to life memories of the bygone era.
ELLORA FESTIVAL, Aurangabad
The Ellora Festival is held every year in the Ellora Caves, situated at a distance of approximately 30 km from Aurangabad, in the state of Maharashtra. Ellora festival is a festival of dance and music, showcasing some of the best talents of the region. Some of the most distinguished singers as well as dancers of the country participate in this festival, performing against the backdrop of the structural magnificence of the ancient Ellora caves. This is a unique time to visit Aurangabad and see the city sparkle in the lights and celebrations of the Ellora festival.
KOLAYAT FAIR, Bikaner
The Kolayat Fair held in Kolayat, Bikaner is also called the 'Kapil Muni Fair'. This fair is observed on the banks of Lake Kolayat. On the day of the festival, devotees take a dip in the lake to wash away their sins. The 52 Ghats along the banks of Lake Kolayat, are lit up to sparkle with festivities. Devotees and pilgrims perform their religious rituals and offer prayers, sugar drops, sweets and milk pudding to the deity. With a serene finale at dusk, several oil lamps are lit and floated on leaves in the calm lake water.
CHRISTMAS, various places across India
Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ and conveys his message of love, tolerance and brotherhood. It's a celebration of humanity and mankind. Though Christmas is primary a festival of Christian calendar, it is celebrated as a universal festival through out India. Christmas is the most important festival of Indian Christians, but celebrated with equal joy by non Christians as well. In India, people decorate banana or mango trees instead of traditional pine trees. They also light small oil-burning lamps as Christmas decorations and fill their churches and homes with red flowers. Gifts are exchanged between near and dear ones, prayers are held in the church, followed by a grand feast. Unlike their western counterparts, Indians are not big turkey eaters; so, don’t be surprised to see a grand Christmas feast that is pure vegetarian! Although at most places turkey, chicken, lamb or fish will be served.
KOCHI CARNIVAL, Kochi
Kochi Carnival is held in the last week of December, in Kochi, every year. Fort Kochi is decorated and tourists flock to this lovely port city to participate in the festivities. Inception of the Kochi carnival can be traced back to the Portuguese New Year revelry, held here during the colonial days.
Preparations generally begin months in advance for hosting the carnival, which involves unique activities such as Kalam Vara (floor drawing), tug-of-war, bicycle race, swimming in the sea, beach volleyball and a variety of north and south Indian dance performances. The highlight of the carnival is the massive procession led by embellished elephants accompanied by drums and music. Color white dominates the concluding 10 days of December, during the Kochi Carnival. The festivities and revelries continue till midnight of December 31st with fireworks marking the grand finale.
CAMEL FESTIVAL, Bikaner
The Camel Festival is held in Bikaner in Rajasthan, every year in the month of December or January. It is a festival when the ships of the desert are seen at their best - camels fascinate tourists from all over the world!
The Bikaner camel festival is a spectacle of unusual camel performances including camel races, camel dances, and the bumpy, neck shaking camel rides. The festival starts with the procession of beautifully decorated camels, heading towards open sand grounds. The Camel Pageant is held on the first day where the camel owners show off their decorated camels. Competitions are held for best decorated camel, camel milking and the best camel hair cuts. Camel dance performances are also held, where camels display amazing footwork, dancing gracefully to the slightest direction of their drivers. Camel races take place on the second day, with thousands of locals and tourists cheering the camels.
On both days, the evening ends with a rendezvous with the folk music and dances of Rajasthan. The jubilant, skirt swirling dancers, the awe inspiring fire dances and many other equally interesting performances entertain the visitors. The grand finale is a magnificent display of fireworks, illuminating the desert city of Bikaner.