India is famous for a lot of things around the world from yoga to its diversity from its travel destinations to its rich past but one thing that this country is better at doing than most is celebrating festivals, lots of festivals. India is a country which celebrates every season and occasion, a country which celebrates history, mythology and divinity just the same. Whether you visit the country in spring, summer, winter, autumn or monsoon, India never runs out of reasons to celebrate. Hence, just for you, we have compiled a list of famous religious and cultural festivals of India that you can’t afford to miss.
Holi is a popular ancient Hindu festival, also known as the Indian “festival of spring”, the “festival of colours”, or the “festival of love”.The festival signifies the victory of good over evil.It originated and is predominantly celebrated in India, but has also spread to other regions of Asia and parts of the Western world through the diaspora from the Indian subcontinent.
The beautiful cultural festival celebrated with colours and water in the month of March is a special festival marked all across the country.Holi celebrations start on the night before Holi with a Holika Dahan where people gather, perform religious rituals in front of the bonfire, and pray that their internal evil be destroyed the way Holika, the sister of the demon king Hiranyakashipu, was killed in the fire. The next morning is celebrated as Rangwali Holi – a free-for-all festival of colours,where people smear each other with colours and drench each other. Anyone and everyone is fair game, friend or stranger, rich or poor, man or woman, children, and elders. The frolic and fight with colours occurs in the open streets, parks, outside temples and buildings. Groups carry drums and other musical instruments, go from place to place, sing and dance. People visit family, friends and foes come together to throw coloured powders on each other, laugh and gossip, then share Holi delicacies, food and drinks.
- Kumbh Mela
One of the largest peaceful religious gatherings in the world happens once every 12 years at one of the four places in India- Haridwar on the Ganges in Uttarakhand, Ujjain on the Shipra in Madhya Pradesh, Nashik on the Godavari in Maharashtra or Prayagraj at the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the Sarasvati in Uttar Pradesh. The festival is marked by a ritual dip in the waters, but it is also a celebration of community commerce with numerous fairs, education, religious discourses by saints, mass feedings of monks or the poor, and entertainment spectacle.
The most important Kumbh Mela is the Maha Kumbh Mela , that periodically falls every 144 years or after 12 Purna Kumbh Melas, and is held at Prayag. The Maha Kumbh Mela is considered very auspicious by a lot of people and is a literally once in a lifetime occasion. The Kumb Mela held in 2019 was estimated to have 150 million pilgrims.
- Rann Utsav
Enjoy one of the most popular and once in a lifetime experience at the white sand, the Rann Utsav in Kutch, Gujarat. Adventurous, mystical, romantic, and meditative experiences all rolled in one at the full moon night when the desert shines under the moonlight. During the full moon night of the winters amid the awe-inspiring and contrasting landscape each year a three day festive extravaganza brimming with hospitality, vigor and traditional flavour of the area is hosted and known as the Kutch or Rann utsav. This festival provides an exclusive opportunity to witness the creative ingenuity of the artisans and craftspeople, assorted array of folk music and performances, mixed representation of culture and communities, along with a vast diversity in ecology. All this and much more describe and define Kutch and the people.
- Durga Puja/Dussehra
The beginning of perhaps the happiest point in a calendar year in India, Durga Puja – celebrated over nine days and Dussehra are twin Indian festivals that bring loads of joy to the people here. Durga Puja marks the return of Goddess Kali to her maternal home for nine days, during these nine days the goddess is worshipped every day during the morning, with Bhog being offered during the afternoon and evening spent in watching cultural events such as dancing and singing. Durga Puja in Bengal is known worldwide for the celebrations and Kolkata is the best city to experience the charm of this amazing religious festival in India. Durga puja has become an inseparable part of Indian culture with innumerable people celebrating this festival in their own unique way while pertaining to tradition. Dussehra is celebrated on the tenth day celebrating the victory of Lord Ram over Ravana, marked by the burning of Ravana effigies all across the country.
Diwali, Divali, Deepavali is the Hindu festival of lights, usually lasting five days and celebrated during the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika (between mid-October and mid-November.Diwali symbolizes the spiritual “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance”.The festival is widely associated with Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity, but regional traditions connect it to Sita and Rama. The festival sees households decorated in beautiful electronic lights along with diyas and rangolis. In the evening there is a grand puja of Goddess Laxmi the harbinger of wealth with crackers burnt after it to mark the end of the festival. Deepawali celebrations are best seen in the northern parts of the country such as UP, Rajasthan, Punjab and Delhi.
- Makar Sankranti & Pongal
Celebrated in the second week of January, Makar Sankranti and Pongal signify the end of the harvesting season in the country when farmers put down their tools and come together in joy and harmony. The Sankranti festivities are marked in different ways across north India such as through kite flying in Gujarat and parts of Rajasthan. Pongal is a four day long cultural Indian festival primarily celebrated in Tamil Nadu. On the second day of Pongal, the festivities are marked by boiling milk in new clay pots during sunrise and when the milk boils over shouting “Pongalo Pongal”. It is an important festival in the state when people pray for abundance in wealth and health.
Festivals are the best way to explore the different traditions of different states of India. And for those who wish to explore the cultural and traditional side of Kerala, Onam festival is the best to be a part of. It is one of the most important festivals in the region and is observed to welcome King Mahabali, whose spirit is said to visit his people during this time. The festivities include a lot of fanfare including worshipping, floral arrangements, feasting, and dancing. But above all, the main attractions of this popular festival of South India is the snake boat race (takes place at Aranmula River) and Kathakali dance. Pulikali procession (where artists dressed and painted like hunters and tigers) is also held as a part of the celebration of Onam.
- Hornbill Festival
The tribes of Nagaland celebrate their festivals with appreciation and fervor. More than 60% of the population of Nagaland depends on agriculture and therefore most of their festivals revolve around agriculture. Hornbill Festival showcases a mélange of cultural displays under one roof. This festival usually takes place between the 1st and the 7th of December every year in Kohima.Hornbill Festival is held at Naga Heritage Village, Kisama which is about 12 km from Kohima. All the tribes of Nagaland take part in this festival. The aim of the festival is to revive and protect the rich culture of Nagaland and display its extravaganza and traditions.For visitors it means a closer understanding of the people and culture of Nagaland, and an opportunity to experience the food, songs, dances and customs of Nagaland.
- Goa Carnival
Goa Carnival is one of the few carnivals in Asia and the only carnival celebration in India. It is a colorful and vibrant celebration before the onset of lent. Consumed with vibrancy and energy, the Goa carnival is held annually in Panjim since 18th century right before the 40 days of Lent, exhibiting the colors, energy and spirit of Goa. Celebrated for three to four days, the lanes are decorated with colors, the streets are taken up by beautiful parades, and you can indulge in the delicious Goan cuisine while enjoying the various musical bands which lifts up the dullest of dull moods.
- Torgya Monastery Festival
Torgya Monastery is a three day monastic festival celebrated in Arunachal Pradesh every year on the 28th day of the 11th month of the lunar calendar. The festival begins with recitation of the religious texts and monastic dances. The festival is celebrated to welcome prosperity and chase out evil spirits. The traditional monastic dance, chham, is performed by monks as part of the festival in addition to the rite of Yamactaka Chak Khar Zur Gurpa. Every third year, the festival is organized on a broader level and goes by the name Dungyur Festival. During the Dungyur Festival, Dalai Lama especially offers blessings to other lamas by sending Feb Jum which is a holy item to be used in rituals.