India is an incredibly bright country with a strong inclination toward spirituality, so people who live there love arranging different festivals devoted to a number of gods and other traditions or events that originate from their myths and legends. There are dozens of celebrations in this vast country and sometimes it seems that there is not a single day in their calendar that goes without this or that holiday, this or that festival.
Some of the festivals in India are held all over the country, such as Diwali or Dussehra. But others are celebrated only in certain regions. For example, you can see Kumbh Mela only in Ujjain, Allahabad, Nashik or Haridwar, Pongal - in Tamil Nadu, and Onam - in Kerala.
All of these festivals are unique and some of them have truly extraordinary features. Most of them are devoted to gods and goddesses, while others are arranged to thank the Mother Nature for the good harvest. Some of them take only one day, and others are celebrated for as long as a whole week or even 10 days.
It's a good idea to time your visit to India to coincide with at least one of its numerous festivals. It's undoubted that seeing the Hindu celebrate by singing, dancing, burning bonfires, and having the biggest fun ever will be an unforgettable experience. To help you do it, here's a list of the most interesting festivals in India, along with their dates and the best locations to see them. So go ahead and read it to plan your next trip to India accordingly.
20 Diwali - The Festival Of Lights
Diwali, or Festival of Lights, is one of the biggest festivals in India. Held for 5 days in a row, it's also one of the most important celebrations in the country. It's interesting that Diwali has different meanings on the North and South of India. Thus, in Northern India people mark the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after overpowering Ravana. And in Southern India they celebrate the victory of Lord Krishna over Narakasura.
On Diwali, people light a number of candles at home and on collective celebrations. They say prayers to the Goddess Lakshmi, asking her to bring them prosperity, and then burst firecrackers.
In 2018, Diwali will be held on the 5-9 of November.
19 Holi - The Festival Of Colors
Holi is also called the Festival of Colors for a reason. On this day, streets become unrecognizable because of the brightly colored powders thrown all over the place. People dance under water sprinkles and have loud parties. In the evening, they make large Holika bonfires and rejoice.
The meaning of the festival comes from the legends that tell about the victory of purity and devotion (Prince Prahlad) over ego and wickedness (Holika). Besides, Holi marks the beginning of spring and people ask gods to give them good harvest for the following year.
The next Holi festival, where you can take part, will be held on March 20-21, 2019. Come to Rishikesh or Haridwar to get this experience.
18 Maha Kumbh Mela - When Holy Water Becomes Even Holier
Kumbh Mela is a very important festival in the Hindu culture. In 2017, it was listed as the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage for its significance. It is only in four cities of India - Ujjain, Allahabad, Nashik and Haridwar. In each venue, it takes place once every 12 years and overall it occurs four times every 12 years (once in each location).
In translation, Kumbh Mela means "Festival of the Pot", relating to the pot of divine nectar the four drops of which fell in each of the four locations. All religious people in India (as well as visitors of the country) think that taking a dip in the holy river in this exact period absolves from all sins.
The next Kumbh Mela will be held in Allahabad, from January 14 to March 4, 2019.
17 Maha Shivaratri - The Great Night Of Shiva
Maha Shivaratri takes place all over India in the temples of Lord Shiva. In translation, the name of the festival means "The Great Night of Shiva". People mark the day when, according to legends, Lord Shiva saved the whole universe from a potent poison by drinking it all by himself.
On this day, devotees either abstain from food or eat only one meal a day. They bathe in the holy waters, visit the temples of Shiva, recite prayers, smear their bodies with holy ashes, sing and dance. Arranging a long procession from the river to the temple is also an important part of the festival.
Since you've already missed this year's Maha Shivaratri, here's the next date, when you can see it: March 4, 2019.
16 Durga Puja - Celebrating The Goddess
Another popular festival in India, Durga Puja is considered one of the most important events for the Bengali community. It's mostly celebrated in West Bengal and other parts of Eastern India.
During the festival, people worship Durga, the principal goddess of the Hindu religion. They create and decorate canopies, placing the huge idol of Durga in the middle of them. Everyone's wearing traditional clothes and say prayers to their goddess. Devotees sing, dance, and enjoy their lives on all days of the festival.
In 2018, Durga Puja will be held on October 15-19. According to most travellers, Kolkata is the best city to watch the celebration.
15 Krishna Janmashtami - The Birthday Of Krishna
Krishna Janmashtami is the celebration of the birth of Lord Krishna. Devotees say that Krishna was a mischievous child who loved milk and ghee. For this reason, women cook milk-based sweets and offer them to Krishna on this day. Besides, they also go to temples to say prayers.
One of the rituals held on Krishna Janmashtami is called Dahi Handi. People fill a clay pot with buttermilk and hang it high above the ground. A group of trained men make a pyramid and attempt to break the pot with a blunt object. When they do it, buttermilk is spilled all over them, symbolizing their achievement through unity.
This year, Krishna Janmashtami will be held on September 2-3. The best place to experience it is Mumbai.
14 Ganesha Chaturthi - The Birthday Of Ganesha
Ganesha Chaturthi, or the birthday of Lord Ganesha, is celebrated for 11 days all over India. In the beginning of the festival, huge decorates statues of the elephant-headed god are installed on public podiums, as well as at homes of devotees. Then, in the end of the festival, these statues are carried along the streets to be submerged into the ocean (or river, depending on the location). All people who participate in this procession sing and dance, praising their god.
This year, the festival in honor of Ganesha will begin on September 13. Anant Chaturdasi, its last day, will be held on September 23. The best place to see it is Mumbai.
13 Buddha Jayanti - Birthday Of The Buddha
Buddha Jayanti, aka Buddha Purnima, is the most sacred Buddhist festival that marks the birthday of Lord Buddha, as well as his enlightenment and death. Usually this celebration is held on a full moon in late April or May every year. The festival takes place in a number of cities. The main celebrations are held in Bodhgaya (where Buddha is believed to attain enlightenment), Sarnath (where he gave his first sermon), and Kushinagar (where he passed away). On this day, people put on white clothes, visit temples, make religious discourses, recite scriptures, arrange group meditations and processions, and worship the stature of Buddha.
In 2019, Buddha Jayanti will be celebrated on May 12.
12 Raksha Bandhan - Celebrating The Brother-Sister Bond
Raksha Bandhan is the festival that celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters. On this day, a sister performs a prayer, does a small puja for her brother, and ties a sacred thread called rakhi on her brother's wrist, wishing him to be happy. In return, her brother vows to protect her from all wrongs and gives a small gift to his sister. It's a very sweet tradition that reminds of the importance of family ties.
Raksha Bandhan will be celebrated very soon - on August 26, 2018. Come to North, Central, or West India to see the celebration of the special life-long connection between brothers and sisters.
11 Gurupurab - Showing Respect To The Gurus
For Sikhs, Gurupurab is one of the most important events. It celebrates the anniversaries of the ten Sikh Gurus. Devotees tell each other and their kids about the lives of their gurus, share their teachings, and make community meals. Then they give these meals, called prasad, to everyone. Devotees also hold processions along the streets of the city and chant hymns. In the evening, people light up candles and lamps at home and burst crackers.
The best place, where you can see the celebration of Gurupurab is Amritsar, the city of the Golden Temple. The festival is held repeatedly throughout the year, celebrating each Guru's life and teaching.
10 Pongal - Thanksgiving Of Southern India
Pongal is celebrated in Tamil Nadu, a state in Southern India. It's a harvest festival, when people visit temples and perform a number of rituals to thank nature for the harvest it gave to them. They wear traditional clothes, prepare traditional dishes, and decorate their houses with floral designs made with rice, flower petals, and colored powders. This decoration symbolizes the harvest that's going to nurture their families. People also make bonfires, sing, and dance during the festival.
Every year, the celebration of Pongal takes place on January 14-17. So if you want to spend some of the winter time in India, be sure to see it!
9 Onam - Paying Homage To The Ancient King
In Kerala, Onam is considered the biggest festival of the year. During the 10 days of the festival, people pay homage to the mythical King Mahabali, who used to be a demon king in ancient Kerala. Since it also coincides with the harvest season in the state, the celebration is huge!
People put on new clothes, decorate their houses with lamps, prepare traditional dishes served on banana leaves, sing, and dance throughout these 10 days. You should certainly see it and enjoy life to the fullest along with the locals.
This year, Onam will be celebrated from August 15 till August 25.
8 Bihu - Dancing For The Nature
Another harvest festival, Bihu is held in Assam on April 14-15 every year. For the Assamese, it's a new year celebration, so you can imagine how important Bihu is in this state. People wear traditional clothes and those, who know how, perform the Bihu dance in courtyards and in the fields as a "thank-you" to the nature for all the good things it gives to us. Celebration of the festival is usually very loud and cheerful, like most other festivals in India.
The traditional dishes of the festival are coconut ladoo, til pitha, ghila pitha, and fish pitika. Come to Assam in the middle of April and you'll certainly enjoy trying them.
7 Baisakhi - Colorful Sikh Festival
One more harvest festival in our list, Baisakhi is celebrated in North India, mainly in the state of Punjab. Also considered to be the Sikh New Year, it marks the day, when the tenth Guru of the Sikhs founded the Khalsa Panth cult.
During the festival that's celebrated with great enthusiasm and vitality, people have a lot of fun. They eat different delicacies traditional to the state of Punjab, perform Bhangra (the traditional folk dance of Punjab) or Gidda dance to the traditional music. Everyone wears colorful attire and a lot of jewelry. As part of the festival, people also say their prayers on the banks of rivers and streams.
Every year, Baisakhi is held on April 13-14.
6 Hemis - The Birthday Of Padmasambhava
Hemis is a two-day Buddhist festival that's held in Ladakh (Jammu & Kashmir state). Every year, it attracts numerous tourists, as well as locals, who want to participate in the celebration of the birthday of Padmasambhava, who was a spiritual leader and founder of Tibet Tantric Buddhism. To mark this day, priests put on intricate costumes and masks to perform the Cham dance to the music of cymbals, drums, and trumpets.
This year's Hemis is already gone, so try to visit this festival next year. Come to India by July 11 - 12, 2019 and visit the Hemis monastery. We promise you, you'll get a one-of-a-kind experience!
5 Dussehra - Spectacular And Loud
On Dussehra, devotees celebrate the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana, as well as the victory of Goddess Durga over Mahishasura, a buffalo demon. So in general, this day marks the triumph of good over evil.
On this day, everyone can watch Ramlila (enactment of certain scenes from Ramayana). The culmination of the festival is burning of the huge effigies of Ravana, Meghnath, and Kumbhkaran, the antagonists of Ramayana. People burn them with the help of fire crackers, so it's not only spectacular to see, but also incredibly loud to hear.
In 2018, Dussehra will be celebrated on October 19 all over India. Wherever you are in the country, you'll certainly witness this unique event.
4 Vat Pournima - Important Festival For Women
Vat Pournima is one of the main festivals celebrated in Maharashtra with great zeal and enthusiasm. On this day, women pray for their husbands, wish them well-being, and tie threads around banyan trees. Since these trees are considered holy in India, it's believed that tying threads on them will make the prayers come true.
On Vat Pournima, devotees also pay homage to Savitri, who refused to give her husband to Yama, the Lord of Death, and convinced him to spare his life. To mark her noble act, women fast during the day and offer puja to Savitri in temples. They also wear new clothes, decorate their houses, and cook delicacies.
Plan your trip to the state of Maharashtra next summer to see the celebration of Vat Pournima on June 16.
3 Rath Yatra - The Festival Of Chariots
If you come to Puri (the state of Orissa), you can see Rath Yatra, aka the Festival of Chariots with your own eyes. On a certain day in July of each year, this festival is celebrated all over the city with great excitement. Lord Jagannatha (aka Lord of the Universe) is carried on a brightly decorated chariot, along with his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra taking two other chariots.
During the festival celebration, devotees draw chariots using a long rope, worshiping the deities and singing devotional songs. The celebration ends with returning the deities to the temple. This spectacle is certainly worth seeing!
The next date for Rath Yatra is July 4, 2019.
2 Bhandara Festival - When The Air Becomes Golden
Looking at the photo above, you might think that we're repeating ourselves and want to tell you about Holi once again. But, in fact, it's another festival. If on Holi you can see a myriad of different bright colors, on this festival you'll only see golden yellow. During the Bhandara Festival, people throw turmeric powder at each other and cover the temple premises in this spice as an offering to Lord Khandoba.
At noon, devotees take Khandoba's statue along with the statue of his wife to bathe them in a river and then apply turmeric powder on them as part of a wedding ritual.
The festival is held several times during the year at Khandoba temple in Jejuri, the state of Maharashtra.
1 Vasant Panchami - The Festival Of Kites
During Vasant Panchami, devotees in West Bengal worship Goddess Saraswati. On this day, people teach their children to write their first words of homage to the goddess. Devotees wear yellow clothes (because this color is considered to be auspicious and it also symbolizes the beginning of spring) and dress the idol of Saraswati in yellow or white colors. They also offer pujas in temples, giving sweets and fruits to the goddess. As important part of the festival, people spend their day flying kites and arrange competitions.
In 2019, you can visit Vasant Panchami on February 10. Get the ultimate experience by coming to West Bengal by this date!