Indian calendar is a long procession of festivals; if you can find
yourself in the right place at the right time, it is possible to go
through your visit with a festival each day. The harvest festivals of
the south, the immersion of Ganesh in Bombay, the car Festival of Puri,
snake-boat races in Kerala, Republic Day in Delhi... every region,
every religion has something to celebrate. Below is a selection of the
major ones, but there are countless others; enquire at local
Government of India Tourist Offices for details.
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 elephants carrying 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 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 menís 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 Delhiís Red
Janmashtami : National, particularly Agra, Bombay and Mathura;
Lord Krishnaís birthday.
Onam : Keralaís 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
Fair, Himachal Pradesh : Kulu Valley to coincide with Dussehra
Gandhi Jayanti : National : Mahatma Gandhiís birthday.
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 Hussainís martyrdom.
Tiger dancers lead processions of colourful replicas of martyrís 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.
Note : Besides the above festivals there are hundreds
of festivals and fairs which are of regional significance, celebrated
with equal pomp and colour. The most authentic of these are the
following : (1) The Temple Festival in South India, a list of
which if often available at Govt. of India Tourist Offices, (2) The
many festivals at Ladakh in Kashmir. (3) The many festivals in
Rajasthan at a time when a festival of some kind is not either in
Progress or about to take place.