The 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
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
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
Rajasthan- Particularly Jaipur: Procession of
the Goddess Parvati to welcome monsoon; elephants,
camels, dancers etc. Women wear green saris.
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
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.
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.