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Indian Festivals

Pongal (January)

A harvest festival celebrated mainly in Tamil Nadu, it is a three-day festival. The first day known as Bhogi Pongal, is confined to domestic festivals. On the second day, Surya Pongal, cooked rice is offered to the sun. On the third day, Mattu Pongal, cattle are washed, their horns painted and decorated, and they are fed the rice offered to the sun. Festivities involve bull fights and the snatching of money bags tied between the horns of ferocious bulls.

Bhogali Bihu (January)

This is a harvest festival celebrated in Assam. Thatched pavilions are put up and feasts held in them at night. In the morning the pavilions are set on fire followed by a lot of feasting, dancing and singing.

Republic Day (January)

January 26 is of great historical importance to the country. India became a republic on this day in 1950. Republic Day is celebrated all over the country-traditionally with hoisting of the national flag, a parade of Army and Police and official festivities. The main attraction is at New Delhi where a spectacular parade consisting of the Armed Forces, school children and youth, folk dancers followed by elaborate floats from all the states of India move down from the magnificent Rashtrapathi Bhawan (President’s House), past India Gate and on to the historic Red Fort. On January 29, a breathtaking Beating the Retreat ceremony takes place. Set against the Rashtrapathi Bhawan, the Armed Forces bands play martial music and march forming intricate patterns. This is followed by a colourful display of flares and illumination of Rashtrapathi Bhawan and other buildings around it.

Kite Festival (January)

Coinciding with Makara Sankranti, the kite festival of Ahmedabad is held at a time when the azure skies are festooned with multi-coloured kites of all patterns and dimensions. There is a general air of festivity with the entire city populace on roof tops flying kites attached to brightly coloured strings. Kite-fliers take on bids to cut each others strings. Besides kite flying, displays of Gujarati cuisine, handicrafts and folk arts are other attractions. The festival marks the end of the winter season.

Elephant Marathon (January)

Trichur (Kerala), the venue of the Elephant Marathon, has over 100 elephants participating in it. Events like a cruise on the backwaters, boat races and tugs-of-water between elephants and the participants in the Marathon are the other major attractions.

Yoga Week (January)

The Yoga festival is celebrated at Rishikesh, a picturesque town at the foothills of the Himalayas. To popularise Yoga, a week-long programme of lectures and demonstrations of ‘asanas’ (postures) by prominent exponents is held. Water sports on the Ganga is another attraction.

Vasant Panchami (January – February)

This festival of spring has people wearing clothes in bright shades of yellow and participating in music, dance and merriment. It is also the day when in some parts of the country, especially in Bengal, the goddess of learning, saraswati, is worshipped.

Desert Festival (January – February)

The exquisite medieval Fort of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan forms the backdrop to a spectacular Desert Festival. Puppeteers, folk artistes and dancers regale the audiences. There is also a unique sound and light show on the desert sands on the full-moon light.

Surajkund Crafts Mela (February)

A spectacular handloom and handicrafts fair is organized in the rural setting of Surajkund (Haryana State) in the vicinity of New Delhi. At this annual week-long mela, crafts people from all over the country meet and bring alive the age-old crafts tradition. Visitors can see them at work and buy some of their exquisite handicrafts. This is the best occasion to see rural craftsmen at work.

Shivarathri (February – March)

As the name indicates, shivarathri is celebrated by the devotees of lord Shiva who, it is believed, danced the Tandav -his celestial dance- on this night. Preceding the feast is a night of strict discipline. Orthodox devotees remain awake all night listening to sacred texts and hymns. Devotees throng the various Shiva temples all over the country and most temples become venues of fun-filled fairs.

Khajuraho Festival (February – March)

Set against the ancient erotic temples of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh, a week-long festival of classical dance is held every year featuring the best artists of the country. It is an occasion to see various Indian dance forms in a setting one can never forget.

Holi (March)

Popularly known as the Colour Festival, Holi is a spring festival celebrated normally over two days in North India. On the evening of the first day bonfires are lit to symbolize the destruction of evil but also seen as the end of winter in the north. On the second day, cold coloured water is thrown on people, even on strangers and passersby. The festival is great fun and later people visit each other and distribute sweets, affectionately hugging each other.

Gangaur (March)

This is popular festival of Rajasthan when lord Shiva and his consort Parvati are worshipped. One of the most colourful festivals held anywhere in India, it is the occasion for Rajasthani women to don their traditional costume of lehnga, choli and odhni. They congregate around the idols of Shiva and Parvati, sing, dance and offer prayers.

Rama Navami (March - April)

This is celebrated as the birthday of lord Rama and is most popular especially in Uttar Pradesh. Given the importance of lord Rama to the hindus, Rama Navami is observed all over the country. During the eight days preceding lord Rama’s birthday, it is considered auspicious to read or listen to the epic Ramayana. Celebrations include reading and staging of the Ramayana in various folk forms.

The Goa Carnival (March - April)

A boisterous, colourful carnival spread over a week, is held every year in Goa just before Lent. The festivities include an extravagant parade consisting of theme-floats. It is generally a time of great fun and frolic for Goa’s Christian population.

Mahavir Jayanthi (March - April)

The birth anniversary of Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, is observed by the Jains, an important religious sect. It is celebrated in a comparatively quiet manner with visits to sacred places and with the offering of prayers.

Ugadi (March - April)

The New Year in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka is called Ugadi and is celebrated with a rich feast. The day is considered auspicious for beginning new ventures. It is believed that the behaviour of people on this day will set the pattern for the rest of the year. So everyone tries to be pleasant and avoids ill will.

Meenakshi Temple Feast (April)

The temple of Meenakshi, the wife of lord Shiva, in Madurai, is known for its magnitude and architectural excellence. It is also the venue of an annual feast to celebrate the marriage of the goddess. Car processions of the goddess and the god are some of the colourful features of this festival.

Ramzan Id/ Id-Ul-Fitr (April)

This is one of the joyful festivals of Muslims. It marks the end of Ramzan, a month of feasting by day and eating only at night. It is the Christmas of the Muslims.

URS Sharif (April - May)

A large fair is held in Ajmer during the Urs of Khwaja Mohiuddin Chishti, a Sufi saint. The Urs commemorates the symbolic union of the saint with God. Millions of Muslim pilgrims pour into the city during the Urs and the fair.

International Flower Festival (April - May)

This spectacular International Flower Festival held every year has beautiful flowers and unique plants along with 500 odd varieties of orchids displayed at Gangtok in Sikkim. River-rafting and yak-safari are some of the other events during this blooming extravaganza. Lovers of flowers cannot miss Gangtok at this time of the year.

Baisakhi (April - May)

This is an important day for the Punjabis. I was on this day that Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa-the pure among the Sikhs. In all gurudwaras of the country, the Granth is read from beginning to end and taken out in a procession. After this, there is a lot of feasting and in most villages folk dances, especially the vigorous Bhangra, are performed.

It is good to be in Amritsar on Baisakhi day and be able to visit the Golden Temple. Basically, it is a harvest festival, when formers symbolically start harvesting the wheat crop.

Id-Ul-Zuha/ Bakr-Id (June)

This Muslim festival commemorates Ibrahim’s sacrifice of his son in obedience to a command of God. An animal sacrifice is an integral part of the festivities. Mutton and vermicelli delicious are served on this day.

Rath Yatra (June – July)

This fascinating temple festival is held at the Jagannath Temple in Puri, Orissa. Wooden images of lord Jagannath, his sister and brother, are taken out in a procession in large chariots or raths. The main chariot is nearly 14 metres high, 10 metres square and has 16 wheels. The other two are comparatively smaller. The chariots are drawn by millions of devotees over a distance of nearly two kilometres.

Teej (June – July)

This is an important festival of Rajasthan that heralds the advent of the monsoons. The presiding deity of the festival is the goddess Parvati. Idols of the goddess are taken out in colourful processions accompanied by song and dance. Decorated swings are put up and women in exotic dresses swing on them singing devotional or romantic songs.

Hemis Festival (June – July)

This fair is held at Hemis Gompa, about 50 kilometres from Leh (J&K State), to celebrate the birthday of Padmasambhava, the founder of the Lamaism. The ritual dances by masked dancers are its main attraction. There are displays of local handicrafts too.

Mango Festival (June – July)

Saharanpur, in Uttar Pradesh, is the venue of this unique mango festival held every mango season where innumerable varieties of the fruit are displayed. It is a ‘mango-full’ affair-full of juicy mangoes from different parts of India. if you are a mango lover, do not miss this festival.

Raksha Bandhan/ Narial Purnima (July - August)

Raksha Bandhan is celebrated mainly in North India when brothers and sisters reaffirm their bonds of affection. The sisters tie colourful threads or bands or amulets on the wrists of their brothers who in turn give them gifts and symbolically promise to protect them. The sea god, Varuna, a Vedic deity, is also worshipped by many of this day by throwing coconuts into the sea, which is why the day is also called Narial Purnima or ‘Coconut Full Moon’.

Naag Panchami (July - August)

This is a festival of serpents. Live cobras or their images are worshipped by feeding them with milk. It is fairly common in Bengal and South India.

Muharram (July - August)

This is a day of mourning as it commemorate the martyrdom of Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Hussain. Gorgeous replicas of the martyr’s tomb are carried in procession through the streets while beat their chests and wail as an expression of grief on the death of Hussain. The tazias (processions) of Lucknow and Hyderabad are famous.

Janmashtami (August – September)

This is lord Krishna’s birthday celebrated at midnight all over the country. The main celebrations are held at Mathura, his birthplace, where at the Krishna temple his birth is symbolically re-enacted. At Brindaban, adjoining Mathura, colourful Raslilas, song and dance dramas depicting the life of lord Krishna, are performed all day and night. In Maharashtra and Gujarat, the celebrations include the breaking of earthen pots containing yoghurt or butter hung high up between poles and houses by men forming human pyramids. This is an act in imitation of the lord who, as a child, often stole butter and yoghurt kept in earthen pots out of his reach.

Sair-E-Gul Faroshan (August – September)

This is a flower festival jointly celebrated by hindus and Muslims as a symbol of communal harmony in the town of Mehrauli, close to New Delhi. It is also called the Pankha festival because of the large palm-leaf fans decorated with flowers that are taken out in a procession led by fire-dancers.

Ganesh Chaturthi (August – September)

This is the birthday of the elephant-headed god, Ganesh. He is worshiped on this day to remove obstacles and ensure smooth progress in all ventures during the year. In Maharashtra, especially in Mumbai, small, big and gigantic images of lord Ganesh are worshipped for days, after which they are taken out in mammoth processions to the waterfront for immersion. Thousands of idols carried by devotees in trucks or specially constructed chariots are brought to the waterfront. Each locality vies with the other in displaying its idols.

Tarnetar Mela (August – September)

This is a rather unique fair in that it acts as a sort of marriage market for the tribals of Tarnetar in Saurashtra. The fair concludes with a festival at the Trineteshwar Temple to celebrate the wedding of the legendary Mahabharatha hero, Arjuna, with Draupadi. The tribals dressed in their colourful best sing and dance.

Onam (August – September)

This is a unique festival of Kerala. It is celebrated in honour of an asura or demon. Puranic legend has it that Vamana, an incarnation of lord Vishnu, obtained the kingdom of Mahabali. Mahabali was exiled by Vamana. As Mahabali was very fond of his land and his subjects, he was allowed to visit the land once a year – on the day of Onam. The folklore of Kerala considers the reign of Mahabali as Kerala’s golden age. The festival marks the end of the monsoon and the beginning of the harvest season. People decorate their homes with colourful flower carpets, wear new clothes and prepare a sumptuous lunch for Mahabali. A major attraction of the Onam celebration in Kerala is the famed snake boat races held in its picturesque backwaters.

Vailankanni Feast (August – September)

Vailankanni is famous for its Shrine Basilica dedicated to St. Mary, Mother of Lord Jesus Christ. It is situated in the seashore of Nagapattinam district in Tamil Nadu. It is one of the largest pilgrim centres of India and in the World, declared as the Historical Pilgrim Point by the UNO. St. Mary, in this Basilica is worshipped as Our Lady of Good Health. Decades ago, St. Mary with Child Jesus, appeared to a Brahmin boy and drank milk given by that boy and the empty pot is filled by milk and overflowed into the streets. In another occasion, St. Mary appeared to a handicapped boy, and the Holy Mother healed the boy’s legs and offered him good health. These two incidents were happened in the seashore of Vailankannai, where now the Basilica stands. That is why the name Lady of Good Health dedicated to Her.

Its one-week festival includes Hoisting of flag, Holy Masses, Novenas, Car processions and ends with the down-hoist of the flag. It is one of the greatest festivals in India where millions of people participated without any religious-bar.

Dussehra (September – October)

This is a festival that finds many manifestations all over the country but always celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Normally, it is a ten-day festival during which nine days are spent in worship and the tenth day in celebration on lord Rama and his victory over the demon Ravana, or in paying respect to the goddess Durga, as in Bengal.

In North India, the Ramleela, a folk play depicting the life and times of lord Rama, is staged in various localities. On the tenth day effigies of the demon Ravana, his brother and nephew, are burnt. These effigies are often a couple of hundred feet height.

In West Bengal exquisitely decorated idols of goddess Durga are installed and worshipped. On the tenth day the idols are taken out in huge processions and immersed in tanks, rivers or the sea.

In South India during Dussehra or Navratri, as it is known there, houses are decorated with displays of dolls, toys and idols. Mysore witnesses a magnificent procession with caparisoned elephants and horses, as the erstwhile Maharaja goes from his palace to the temple.

In Kulu it is famed for its colourful processions. As an idyllic holiday resort, Kulu provides trekking and water sports during the festival.

Diwali (October – November)

Diwali, a contraction of the Sanskrit word Deepawali, means a row or cluster of lights. It is one of the most celebrated festivals of India. the origin of the festival has many versions but the most popular one traces it to the Ramayana and lord Rama’s coronation after his 14-year exile in the forest. It is said that the people illuminated their houses and streets with earthen oil lamps to welcome the lord. The process has been repeated every year since then. Besides earthen lamps, people now illuminate their houses with electric bulbs and candles.

To the business community, especially in Western India, Diwali marks the New Year involving the worship of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. They open new books of account on this day. At night, along with illuminations, fire crackers are lit in almost every house, sweets are distributed, new clothes are worn and games of chance are played. Diwali is easily the brightest and noisiest Indian festival.

Pushkar Mela (October – November)

This fair is held annually on the banks of Lake Pushkar in Rajasthan. During the mela, major attractions are the camel and cattle fair and camel races. It has become a major tourist draw for people from all over the world, particularly Europe.

Guru Purab (October – November)

The Sikhs observe the birthdays of all their Gurus as holy days. But the birthdays of Guru Nanak (October-November) and Guru Gobind Singh (December-January) are celebrated as festivals. The Akhand Path or the continuous reading of the holy book, and the Granth (holy book) being taken out in a procession are the two main events.

Christmas (December)

The birth of Lord Jesus Christ is celebrated by the Christians in India as elsewhere in the world. It includes Holy Night Mass, Adoration and welcoming of Baby Jesus in all churches and joyful functions in every family with shopping. With the end of one month fasting, at Christmas day people share sweets, cakes and enjoy as the whole. The Christmas spirit pervades in all markets which offer attractive bargains. It is also a National Holiday in India.

Shekhawati Festival (December)

The Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, known for its painted havelis (palaces), celebrates the Shekhawati festival. One can see Rajasthani folk dancers along with the cuisine and crafts which are on display.

Ellora Festival

As in Khajuraho, a festival of classical dance and music is held every year at Ellora against the backdrop of the ancient caves, which are justifiably famous all over the world.

New Year

January is celebrated as the New Year with a lot of revelry by most people. Each community has its own traditional New Year, like Diwali for some, Vishu for the Malayalese in Kerala, Gudi Padva for the Maharashtrians, Thai Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Ugadi in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, Jamashed Navroz or Pateti for the Parsis, Baba Barsha in Bengal, Laser in Ladakh, Goru in Assam. But the 1st of January is everybody’s New Year.