India is a land of festivals, which are at the heart of people’s lives in India where every region and every religion has something to celebrate. The underlying spirit is one of joyfulness, Sharing and amity between people of all castes, faiths and religions. Colourful processions, devout prayers, gleeful dances and joyous music mark most of the Indian festivals. Dedicated to God or Goddesses, harvesting of crops, welcoming the spring or rain, to seeing the full moon based on interesting legends, win of good over evil lends itself to joyous celebrations that attract the onlookers and visitors to participate in the revelry.
JANUARY / FEBRUARY
Sankranti / Pongal: Mainly Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. 3 days and colourful: Tamil harvest festival.
Republic Day: National: establishment of Republic 1950. 26th January. Grand Military Parade and Procession of dancers etc. Delhi.
Vasant Panchami: National (Mainly in the Eastern region): Hindu – dedicated to Saraswati the beautiful Goddess of Learning. Women wear yellow saris.
Floating Festival: Madurai: Birthday of local 17th century ruler; elaborately illuminated barge
carrying decorated temple deities at the Mariamman Teppakulam Pool amids chanting hymns.
FEBRUARY / MARCH
Shivaratri: National: Solemn worship of Hindu deity, Lord Shiva. Fasting and chanting. Special celebrations at Chidambarum, Kalahasti, Khajuraho, Varanasi and Bombay.
Holi: Mainly northern, popularly called the festival of colors. Advent of Spring. Lively and much throwing of coloured water and powders. Public Holiday.
Mardi Gras: Goa: Mainly three days during lent. Unique celebrations at this carnival. Ramnavami: National: Birth of Rama, incarnation of Vishnu. No processions. Plays and folk theaters.
Mahavir Jayanti: National: Jain festival; birth of Mahavira, the 24th and last Tirthankara.Easter: Good Friday / Easter Sunday National.
MARCH / APRIL
Kumbh Mela: The oldest and most important of the Hindu festivals. It takes place every three years, at one of the four great holy cities; Nasik in Maharashtra, Ujjain (MP), Prayag (Allahabad) and Hardwar (both in UP). It is attended by millions of pilgrims who take a holy dip in the sacred Ganges River.
APRIL / MAY
Baisakhi: Northern India, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu; Hindu Solar New Year. Bhangra dancing. Women wear yellow saris.
Pooram: Trichur: New Moon. Spectactular sight of large number of elephantscarrying ceremonial umbrellas going round the temple; midnight fireworks display.
Id-Ul-Zuha: (Bakrid): Muslim, National: The most celebrated Islamic festival in India, commemorating the sacrifice of Abraham.
Id-Ul-Fitr(Ramzan Id): Muslim, National: Celebration to mark the end of the month of Ramadan.
Meenakshi Kalyanam: Madurai. Marriage of Meenakshi with Lord Shiva. Colourful temple festival. Deities borne by colossal chariot. Ten day festival.
Fair: Rajasthan: Urs Ajmer Sharif. Ajmer, 6 days. Religious cultural and commercial extravaganza dedicated to the Sufi. Music; no procession.
JUNE / JULY:
Rath Yatra: Mainly Orissa. Greatest temple festival in honour of Lord Jagannath (Lord of the Universe). Three colossal chariots drawn from Puri temple by thousands of pilgrims. Similar India is a land of festivals, which are at the heart of people’s lives in India. Every little occasion from harvesting of crops, welcoming the spring or rain, to seeing the full moon lends itself to joyous celebrations splashed with colors, music, folk dances and songs. Indian festivals speak of India’s rich cultural heritage and traditional background. They are characterized by color, gaiety, enthusiasm, prayers and rituals. The elaborate celebration and the multitude of festivals in India, each with their own unique legends and significances often awe the foreigners who come to visit India festivals, on a smaller scale, take place at Ramnagar (near Varanasi), Serampore (near Calcutta) and Jagannathpur (near Ranchi).
JULY / AUGUST
Teej: Rajasthan- Particularly Jaipur: Procession of the Goddess Parvati to welcome monsoon; elephants, camels, dancers etc. Women wear green saris. Colourful.
Raksha Bandhan: Northern and Western India. Legendary reenactment, girls tie rakhis or talismen to men’s wrists. Colourful build up.
Naag Panchami: Mainly Jodphur, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. Dedicated to the green thousand-headed mythical serpent called Sesha. The day is also observed in many other parts of Western and Eastern India.
Amarnath Yatra: Hindu: Lidder Valley, Kashmir at full moon. Pilgrims visit the place where Lord Shiva explained the secret of salvation to his consort Parvati.
AUGUST / SEPTEMBER
Independence Day: (15th August). National: Independence Day. Prime Minister delivers address from Delhi‘s Red Fort.
Janmashtami: National, particularly Agra, Bombay and Mathura; Lord Krishna’s birthday.
Onam: Kerala’s Harvest Festival; spectacular snake boat races in many parts of Kerala.
Ganesh Chaturthi: Mainly Pune, Orissa, Bombay, Madras, dedicated to elephant-headed God Ganesh. Giant models of the deity processed and immersed in water. Colourful, and a particularly worth visiting on the Day of immersion at Bombay.
SEPTEMBER / OCTOBER
Dussehra: National: The most popular festival in the country, celebrated in different ways in different parts of the country. In the north and particularly in Delhi (where it is known as Ram Lila), plays and music recall the life of Rama; in Kulu, the festival is also very colourful celebrated. In Bengal and many parts of Eastern India it is known as Durga Puja, and in the South as Navaratri. Fair, Himachal Pradesh:- Kulu Valley to coincide with Dussehra (10 days).
Gandhi Jayanti: National: Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. No processions.
Diwali: National: One of the most lively and colourful festivals in India. In some parts, it marks the start of the Hindu New Year. In Eastern India, the goddess Kali is particularly worshipped; elsewhere, it is Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, who is venerated. Everywhere there are magnificent illuminations and fireworks.
Gurpurab: Mainly in northern India. Anniversaries of ten gurus, spiritual teachers or preceptors of Sikhism. No procession.
Muharram: Muslim. Commemoration of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom. Tiger dancers lead processions of colourful replicas of martyr’s tomb. Colourful, particularly at Lucknow.
Bihar: Largest cattle fair in the world; 1 month Sonepur, Patna; on banks of the Ganges.
Pushkar Mela: Pushkar, near Ajmer, Rajasthan. Important and colourful. Camel and cattle fair, attended by Rajputs from miles around. Camel races and acrobatics etc.
Christmas Day: National: Most exuberantly celebrated in Goa, Bombay and Tamil Nadu.