No travel to India can ever be considered complete without being a part of its colorful fairs and festivals. In fact, many go on to say that the fairs and festivals in India are an extension of the country’s cultural ethos that is truly fascinating.
Indians never lose any opportunity to celebrate. No wonder, the India fairs and festivals calendar is indeed choc a block with events of all kinds. Right from the colorful Holi festival to the desert festivals of Rajasthan, there are a variety of events to amaze every visitor. In fact, the list is endless….. let us plan an itinerary that highlights one of these unique Indian potpourris of fun and celebration.
Bikaner Camel Festival (Rajasthan, January)
Bikaner festival is dedicated to the indispensable 'ship of the desert', camel. This festival starts off with a magnificent procession of bedecked camels against the red sandstone backdrop of the Junagarh Fort. It is a colourful spectacle of beautifully decorated camels that fascinates the onlookers with their charm and grace. The festivity advances to the open sand-spreads of the Polo Grounds, followed by camel races, camel milking, fur cutting design, the best breed competition, camel acrobatics, camel bands and so on.
Republic Day (New Delhi, January)
Republic Day, celebrated on January 26th every year, is one of India’s most important national events. It was on January 26th, 1950 that the constitution of India came into force and India became a truly Sovereign, Democratic and Republic state.
Republic Day is celebrated most majestically in the capital, New Delhi, where symbols of the great nation's military might and cultural wealth are displayed in what is the world's most impressive parade. All Government buildings are illuminated lending the city the atmosphere of a fairyland. This day is celebrated with much zeal and pride all across the nation.
Khajuraho Dance Festival (Khajuraho, February)
Every spring the stones of Khajuraho come to life during the prestigious 7-day Khajuraho Dance Festival when the glory of the temples is celebrated. It is a cultural festival for the celebration of the Indian classical dance and music, believed to have basically originated in the Hindu temples. The festival is typical of a new breed of event, sited at ornate ancient temples to attract visitors by combining tourism with culture. Khajuraho Festival of Dances draws the best classical dancers in the country every year.
Taj Mahotsav (Agra, February)
A ten-day event, the Taj Mahotsav at Agra is a culturally vibrant platform that brings together the finest Indian Crafts and cultural nuances. It is a festive introduction to India and Uttar Pradesh. India's extensive arts, crafts and culture are on display. Folk music, shayari (poetry) and classical dance performances as well as elephant and camel rides, games and a food festival, all form a part of the festivities
Nagaur Cattle Fair (Nagaur/ Rajasthan, February)
The quaint town of Nagaur, one of the most picturesque of Rajput townships stirs to life during the Nagaur Fair. This cattle fair is the second largest in Rajasthan and is held every year during the Hindu month of Magh (Jan-Feb).
The Fair is renowned for the trading of cows, bullocks, oxen, camels and horses, which takes place here. Their owners are seen wearing colourful turbans and flaunting long moustaches..
Tug-of-War, camel races, cock & bullfights provide entertainment to the tourists and locals after a hectic day of trading.
Desert Festival, (Jaisalmer/Rajasthan. February)
Desert Festival of India, Jaisalmer takes place sometime during the months of January-February. Desert is the predominant theme of this festival and this festival is a sort of a tribute to this all-pervasive and ubiquitous factor in Rajasthan. To state laconically, the festival is a showcase of the performing arts of the region.
Jaipur Elephant Festival (Jaipur, March)
Jaipur Elephant Festival, perhaps the only festival where Elephants are given prime importance. Here, as you would expect from the name of the Festival – Elephants are the centre of attraction. During the festival, Jaipur comes alive with elephants, dancers and musicians which draw visitors from all over the world. The elephants stride majestic-experience for everybody by parading their decorated trunks and tusks. Elephant races and polo matches are special features. The tug of war between elephants and men is probably the most hilarious highlight of the festival.
Holi (North India, March)
Holi, the Festival of Colors is a boisterous and colorful festival celebrating the arrival of spring. People revel in throwing colored powder and colored water on each other. Celebrated during the month of March, Holi is one of the few Indian festivals that are celebrated publicly with great gusto. The spring harvesting festival is celebrated over two days after the full moon in early March every year. On the evening of the first day bonfires are lit in public places and the next day people celebrate with festive vibrancies and wild abandon as they throw colored powder and water at each other.
The present custodian of the House of Mewar, Shri Arvind Singh Mewar, conducts the ceremony of lighting the pious fire, called the Holika Dahan, with dignity at Manek Chowk in The City Palace. Guests and visitors observe the ceremonies and then join the festivities at Zenana Mahal for cocktails and dinner.
Mewar Festival (Udaipur, April)
The city of lakes, Udaipur, in Rajasthan, is the venue for this festival, celebrated in April during the Gangaur Festival. An exhilarating welcome to spring, it is an audio-visual feast with Rajasthani songs, dances, processions, devotional music and firework displays. A procession of colourfully attired women carrying images of the goddess Gauri make their way to Lake Pichola. A procession of boats on the lake offers a fitting finale to the splendid celebrations.
Hemis Festival (Leh, June)
The courtyard of Hemis Gompa-the biggest Buddhist monastery in Ladakh is the stage for the famous 'Hemis' festival that celebrates the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava. The colourful two-day pageant falls on the 10th day (Tse-Chu) of the Tibetan lunar month. The local people are seen dressed up in their finest traditional garb for the occasion. Lamas called 'chhams' perform splendid masked dances and sacred plays to the accompaniment of cymbals, drums and long horns. A colourful fair, displaying some beautiful handicrafts, is the special highlight of the festival.
Sindhu Darshan (Leh, June)
The Sindhu Darshan Festival is organised annually at Leh. People travel for a Darshan and Puja of the River Sindhu (Indus), which originates from the Mansarovar in Tibet. The festival is a celebration of this river. The Festival aims at projecting the Sindhu River as a symbol of multi-dimensional cultural identity, communal harmony and peaceful co-existence in India. It is also an opportunity for people from around the country and overseas to visit the beautiful regions of Leh and Ladakh.
The Champakulam Moolam Boat Race (Kerala, June)
The boat festivals of Kerala are one of the chief and popular festivals of Kerala that tourist must experience during their Kerala travel and tour. Kerala boat races are an event that is as much part of the land's ethos and is a sport that signifies the excellent team spirit, integration and amity of the people.
The Champakulam Moolam Boat Race is the oldest and most popular snake boat race in Kerala, and is closely connected to the Shree Krishna Temple at Ambalappuzha.
Nehru Boat Race (Kerala, August)
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.
This was started in 1952 when India's first Prime Minister, Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru, visited Alappuzha, and inaugurated the function in which the gigantic snake boats with over 100 rowers in each raced one another. It is called a Snake Boat Race as its 135 feet length has since been overtaken by Vellankulangara snake boat, which is 140 feet long.
Independence Day ( New Delhi, August)
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. The Delhi skyline gets dotted with thousands of kites taking to the sky this very day.
Janamashtami , Mathura (August/September)
Janamashtami, celebrated in August / September, commemorates the birth of Lord Krishna, believed to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu (preserver in the Hindu pantheon), born to annihilate Kansa, the evil king of Mathura.
This festival is very popular in North India, especially in Vrindavan and Mathura (the places where Lord Krishna spent his childhood). Temples and homes are lit and beautifully decorated. Religious hymns and prayers are offered all night long. .
Onam (Kerala, September)
Onam is the most important harvest festival of Kerala and is an attraction for thousands of people within and outside the state. Ranging from four days to ten days, all the activities during this season are cantered around worshipping, music, dances, sports, boat races and good food. Onam is a harvest festival, and celebrates the bounty of nature after a year of hard labour. Elaborate procession of Trichur and spectacular snake boat races on River Pampa mark the merry-making nature of the festival. Women dress up in new saris and heavy jewellery and make elaborate and intricate designs of 'rangolis' (with coloured rice paste) and 'pookkalam' (with flowers) in front of their homes.
Dussehra (North India, West Bengal & Mysore, October)
The festival of Dussehra is an important celebration in many parts of the country. It is celebrated with great fanfare in most parts of North India, Mysore and in the form of Durga Puja in West Bengal.
Dussehra marks the defeat of Ravana by Lord Rama. Dussehra also symbolises the triumph of warrior Goddess Durga over the buffalo demon, Mahishasura.
The 'Ramleela' - an enactment of the life of Lord Rama, is held during the nine days preceding Dussehra. On the tenth day (Dussehra or Vijay Dasami), larger than life effigies of Ravana, his son and brother - are set to fire.
In Himachal Pradesh, a week long fair in the hill town of Kullu, is part of the Dussehra celebrations. From the little temples in the hills, deities are brought in procession to the 'maidan' in Kullu, to pay homage to the reigning deity, Raghunathji. The celebration actually begins nearly 10 days in advance as per tradition.
In Mysore, the Mysore palace is illuminated for a whole month during Dussehra and caparisoned elephants lead a colourful procession through the gaily-decorated streets of the city. It is the most colourful celebration of Dussehra in world.
Diwali (North India, October)
Diwali, also known as Deepavali, perhaps the best-known Hindu festival, marks the end of the festival season that opens with Ganesh Chaturthi. Diwali is celebrated throughout India , as well as in the Indian Diaspora worldwide. It usually takes place eighteen days after Dussehra in October/November. Diwali is called the "festival of lights", and the name itself means an array of lamps. Illumination is characteristic of Diwali - even the humblest of households lights small oil lamps, diyas , and places them around the house. The diyas are symbolic of the welcome given to Lord Rama, Prince of Ayodhya, on his return after 14 years of exile. Homes are given a thorough cleaning and rangoli designs (intricate patterns made of coloured powders or flowers on the floor) adorn the entrance. Everyone feasts on mithai (traditional Indian sweets) and as night falls, children celebrate with fireworks.
Pushkar Camel Fair (Pushkar, November)
Every November, the sleepy little township of Pushkar in Rajasthan, India comes alive with a riot of colors and a frenzied burst of activity. The occasion: PUSHKAR FAIR. Very few, if at all any, fairs in the world can match the liveliness of Pushkar. Most people associate the Pushkar Fair with the world's largest camel fair but it is much more than that; for the visitor, it is an unparalleled and unforgettable experience to capture the vibrancy of the entire state of Rajasthan in one place. A staggering number of camels travel their way across the golden sands of Rajasthan to collect at Pushkar for the week-long fair devoted to them. Numerous cows and sheep also come to the animal fair & completing the scene are thousands of men, women and children who come with their beasts, suddenly inhabiting the barren plain with the camel providing the backdrop.
Hampi Festival (Hampi, November)
The magnificent ruined city of Hampi, Karnataka once the capital of the Vijayanagar Empire (One of the greatest empires in the history of India), comes alive during the lively festival of dance and music, held in the first week of November.
Hornbill Festival (Nagaland, December)
Nagaland is known as the land of festivals as each tribe celebrates its own festival with dedication and passion. To encourage inter-tribal interaction and to promote cultural heritage of Nagaland, the Government of Nagaland organizes the Hornbill Festival every year in the first week of December.
The Festival is named after the hornbill, the globally respected bird and which is displayed in folklore in most of the state’s tribes.
The week long festival unites one and all in Nagaland and people enjoy the colorful performances, crafts, sports, food fairs, games and religious ceremonies. Traditional arts which include paintings, wood carvings, and sculptures are also on display. Festival highlights include Traditional Naga Morungs Exhibition and sale of Arts and Crafts, Food Stalls, Herbal Medicine Stalls, Flower shows and sales, Cultural Medley-songs and dances, Fashion shows, Beauty Contest, Traditional Archery, Naga wrestling, Indigenous Games, and Musical Concert.
Chennai Music and Dance Festival (Chennai. December)
Chennai music and dance festival is a celebration of classical music and dance of South India (Carnatic Music) held during mid December to mid January in the capital city of Chennai. The festival is held at a number of venues around the city by various organizations.
Besides the auditoriums, well-known temple premises and heritage bungalows are being used as venues. The month long dance and music extravaganza will have performances of famous artists from various parts of India.