The Colourful mosaic of Indian festivals and fairs - as diverse as the land, is an eternal expression of the sprite of celebration. They are colourful commemorations of religious or historical events or celebrations of the change of seasons. They reflect the vigour and life style of its people. Vibrant colours, music and festivities make the country come alive throughout the year.
Every season brings along new festivals, each a true celebration of the bounties of the rich traditions followed since time immemorial. Observed with enthusiasm and gaiety, festivals are a time for prayer, for pageantry a time to rejoice.
There are countless festivals held all over the Indian subcontinent and this section highlights only the major ones.
January / February
- Pongal (Tamil Nadu & Andhra Pradesh): A celebration of the harvest, Pongal is observed for three days. Bhogi Pongal, Surya Pongal and Mattu Pongal, are the three days of Pongal festivities on successive days. In certain parts cattle races still enliven the village festivities.
- Modhera Dance Festival (Sun Temple, Modhera, Gujarat): The beautiful Sun Temple, dedicated to Lord Surya (the Sun God) acts as the backdrop during the festival of Indian classical dances held annually for three days.
- Bikaner Camel Festival (Bikaner, Rajasthan): Dedicated to the indispensable ship of the desert, the festival starts off with a magnificent procession of bedecked camels. Several competitions are held, marked with typical Rajasthani colour, music and gay festivities.
- Republic Day (All over India): Commemorating the day India became a republic, 26th of January every year is witness to a colourful affair with soldiers marching in unison, followed by folk dancers, school children and floats from different states.
- Mamallapuram Dance Festival - (Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu): Once the ancient port of the Pallavas, Mamallapuram plays host to a vibrant festival of dance. Exponents of Bharat Natyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak and Kathakali performed against the magnificent backdrop of the Pallava Rock Sculpture.
- Desert Festival (Jaisalmer, Rajasthan): A 3-day long extravaganza of colour, music and festivity. Fire dancers swaying to traditional tunes, a turban-tying competition and a Mr. Desert contest are part of the fun and frolic. Camel rides and folk dances at the sand dunes are an added attraction.
February / March
- Surajkund Crafts Mela (Surajkund, Haryana): In order to promote the traditional Indian Handicrafts, a delightful handloom and handicrafts fair is held annually at Surajkund. Skilled artisans from all over the country display the rich crafts tradition of India in the typical rural setting. Cultural programmes and rural cuisine are also part of this colourful fair.
- Nagaur Fair (Nagaur, Rajasthan): Nagaur bustles with life during the annual cattle fair, which is one of the largest in the country. The Nagaur bulls are renowned for their fleet footedness and attract buyers from all over. Exciting games, tug of war, camel races and strains of ballads create a joyful atmosphere.
- Goa Carnival (Goa): The streets of Goa come alive with colour at the exuberant week-long Carnival. It is a time for lively processions, floats, the strumming of guitars, graceful dances and non-stop festivity.
- Garden Festival (Delhi): A spectacular flower show where varieties of flowers and exotic plants are on display. Organised by Delhi Tourism, this annual event is indeed a horticulturist’s delight.
- Khajuraho Dance Festival (Khajuraho, Bundalkhand, Madhya Pradesh): The week- long festival is conducted as a celebration of the cultural heritage of Khajuraho temples. It highlights the richness of the various Indian classical dance styles such as Kathak, Bharathanatyam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Manipuri and Kathakali with performances of some of the best exponents in the field. Along with the renowned performers, a number of craftsmen display their crafts to the visitors. There is an open market where local articles are for sale.
- International Yoga Week (Rishikesh, Uttaranchal): To promote the ancient science of Yoga, a weeklong event is held on the sacred banks of the Ganges River. Detailed lectures, demonstrations of various asanas by prominent exponents of Yoga are the major highlights of the Yoga Week.
March / April
- Holi (All over India): Holi, celebrated mainly in North India, is a very popular festival of colors. It heralds the end of winter and the beginning of spring. People throw coloured powder at each other and make merry at this 2-day festival.
- Elephant Festival (Jaipur, Rajasthan): The city comes alive with elephants, dancers, musicians and draws visitors from all over the world. The festival begins with a procession of elephants, camels and horses, painted and tastefully attired with glittering ornaments and embroidered velvets, followed by lively folk dancers. Elephant races and polo matches and a most interesting tug of war between elephants and men, are highlights of this spectacular event.
- Hoysala Mahotsava (Belur-Halebid, Karnataka): The dance festival held at Belur and Halebid is a magnificent event. The splendid Hoysala temples with their sculptural extravaganza make the perfect venue for this cultural feast.
- Mahashivratri (All over India): On this day, the great night of the Lord Shiva, devotees stay awake throughout the night offering prayers to Lord Shiva. Special celebrations are held in some of the major Shiva temples at Varanasi, Kalahasti and Chidambaram.
- Gangaur Festival (Jaipur, Rajasthan): Celebrated with vigour all over Rajasthan, this is an important spring festival that lasts 18 days. It is dedicated to Gauri, a manifestation of Goddess Parvati; consort of Lord Shiva. Colorful processions with the town band playing, horses and elaborate palanquins make it a fascinating spectacle.
- Mewar Festival (Udaipur, Rajasthan): An exhilarating welcome to spring, this festival is celebrated during the Gangaur festival and is a visual feast with Rajasthani songs, dances, processions, devotional music and firework displays.
- Hemis Festival (Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir): The courtyard of Hemis Gompa - the biggest Buddhist monastery in Ladakh, is the stage of the famous ‘Hemis’ Festival that celebrates the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet. Lamas perform splendid masked dances to the accompaniment of cymbals, drums and long horns. A colorful fair, displaying handicrafts is the special highlight of the festival.
- Nehru Trophy Boat Race (Alappuzha, Kerala): Alappuzha is famous for its annual boat race, held on the second Saturday of August every year. The long elegant snake boats, with crews of over hundred men vying to win the coveted trophy, attract spectators from all over.
- Independence Day (All over Indai): Commemorating the day India attained freedom (15th August), Independence Day is celebrated with flag hoisting ceremonies and cultural programmes in the state capitals. The Prime Minister’s speech at the Red Fort in Delhi is the major highlight.
September / October
- Onam (Kerala): Kerala’s most important festival is celebrated in the honor of the ancient asura king Mahabali and heralds the harvest season. The festival is marked with elephant processions, Kathakali dances, fireworks and water carnivals. A major attraction of the celebrations is the famed snake boat races along the backwaters at Champakulam, Aranmula and Kottayam.
- Ganesh Chaturthi (Maharashtra): This day is dedicated to Lord Ganesha (son of Shiva), the elephant-headed god of all good beginnings and success. Held annually, this festival is a ten day long event. Giant models of the deity are taken out in a procession and immersed in the sea or rivers. Classical dance, music performances, poetry recitations, folk dances, theatre and film festival are the main features of this festival.
- Navratri (All over India): Navratri is a festival of worshipping Goddess Durga and is celebrated with dance and music over a period of nine nights. Gujaratis perform their traditional dances; the women-folk dance in a circle, singing ‘Garbas’ or traditional songs and Dandiya-Raas is played with wooden sticks. In various parts of India, the Ramlila is performed which is a stage enaction of Ramayana, the story of Lord Rama.
- Durga Puja (All over India): Durga Puja is celebrated with joy all over India, especially West Bengal in worship of Goddess Durga. Singing, dancing, sweets & gaiety are an integral part of this festival.
October / November
- Dassera (All over India): This Hindu festival is celebrated with joy and enthusiasm for ten continuous days to mark the defeat of Ravana by Lord Rama. Dassera symbolises the triumph of good over evil. The ‘Ramlila’ - an enactment of the life of Lord Rama, is held during the nine days preceding Dassera. On the tenth day, larger than life effigies of Ravana, his son and brother, Meghnath and Kumbhakarna, are set alight.
- Diwali (All over India): This festival of lights is one of the most lively and colorful festivals in India and is celebrated 20 days after Dassera. It commemorates the return of Lord Rama, the hero of the epic Ramayana, to Ayodhya after a fourteen-year exile. The flickering lights of the traditional clay lamps or ‘diyas’ illuminate the houses and fireworks resound through the night. The goddess of wealth and prosperity, Lakshmi, is worshipped on this day. The exchanging of gifts and sweets among friends and relatives is an integral part of the celebrations.
- Pushkar Mela (Pushkar, Rajasthan): Pushkar is transformed into a spectacular fair ground for twelve daysas it hosts the largest cattle fair in the world, which attracts thousands of people from different parts of India and abroad. Trading of cattle, camel races and dazzling displays of bangles, brassware, clothes, camel saddles and halters, acrobatics, folkdance and music are the major attractions of this colorful event. Devotees come to take a ritual dip in the lake on the day of Kartik Purnima (full moon night of the Kartika month) and worship at the Brahma temple.
November / December
- Hampi Festival (Hampi, Karnataka): The magnificent ruined city of Hampi, once the capital of the Vijayanagar Empire, comes alive during this lively festival. Highlights include dance, drama, music, fireworks, puppet shows and spectacular processions, all combine to recreate the grandeur of the bygone era.
- Guru Parab (Punjab): The birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev - the first or the founder guru of the Sikhs, is celebrated with great fervour on the full moon day of Kartika. Guru Parab is one of the most sacred festivals of the Sikhs.
- Lucknow Mahotsav (Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh): This festival captures the undying elegance and splendours of the ancient city Awadh, now known as Lucknow. It celebrates Lucknow’s living culture, which provides an insight into the old, cultured, atmosphere of the city. Colourful processions, traditional dramas, Kathak dances, Sarangi and sitar recitals along with ghazals and qawalis create a festive atmosphere. Exciting events like kite flying, cock fighting and other traditional village games recreate an atmosphere of bygone Nawabi days.
December / January
- Christmas (All over India): Christmas, the birth anniversary of Jesus Christ, is celebrated with great fervor where all the major cities wear a festive look. Carol singing, get-togethers and the exchanging of gifts enhance the Christmas spirit. Christmas parties launch off celebrations for the New Year, thus retaining the festive mood for at least a week.
- Art Festival at Kalakshetra (Chennai, Tamilnadu): A series of dance dramas with original compositions are performed by great contemporary composers at this festival. These highly acclaimed productions draw a devoted audience from all over the world. Additional dance performances, a customary Kathakali production with visiting artists from Kerala and classical North and South Indian music concerts also form part of the main festival at Kalakshetra.