Unsurprising for a country with such religious, cultural and natural diversity, India is host to a variety of colorful festivals throughout the year whether it’s in the scorching deserts of Rajasthan or the streets of Goa. Here’s our guide to some of the best of these festivals.
Bikaner Camel Festival
This annual event includes a range of colorful camel performances from races to dance displays, all designed to pay homage to the ‘ships of the desert’. As well as this visitors can expect to see swirling human dancers, fire performers, and a dazzling fireworks display. The festival is held in Bikaner in late January each year.
Sankranti Kite Festival
A Hindu festival celebrated across India, Makar Sankranti as it is officially known as one of the country’s most popular events. Around the 14th January each year, people everywhere mark the transition of the sun into the zodiacal sign of Makara (Capricorn) with a focus on kite flying. The skies are filled with kites known as patangs with entertaining kite fights – the aim of the game is to chop down other kites and be the last one flying. To the delight of children in the crowds, those kites unlucky enough to be hit are then their’s for the taking. The city of Ahmedabad marks the festival with particular aplomb in the form of the International Kite Festival when a dazzling flock of kites is flown in the air from dawn to dusk.
Jaisalmer Desert Festival
The beautiful fort city of Jaisalmer hosts a desert festival with events including camel racing, turban tying, and the longest mustache competition. Held towards the end of January or in the first few weeks of February, a quirky festival is a great option for first-time visitors to Rajasthan with its emphasis on local culture and heritage.
Holi Festival of Colour
Celebrating the arrival of spring and new beginnings, India’s Holi festival is its most colorful festival and it’s most popular with visitors. In fact, a number of countries across the world now hold their own Holi celebrations with colored water and powder threw at others dressed in white and bonfires lit the night before. In 2017 Holi falls on the 13th March.
Usually taking place a day after the Hindu festival of Holi, this three-day Sikh festival is an occasion for Sikhs to demonstrate their martial skills in simulated battles with dramatic mock martial arts battles (or Gatka as they are more commonly known), daring displays of weaponry, archery and wrestling. The Hola Mohalla festival is held in the town of Anandpur Sahib on the 13th March 2017.
The annual Hemis Festival is held in the Buddhist monastery of Hemis in the state of Ladakh to honor the 8th-century Indian Buddhist master, Padmasambhava. During the festival ceremonial items are placed around the monastery, the courtyard fills with pilgrims and traditional music and dance performances are held. The festival highlight is the gathering of the lamas around the central flagpole performing the mystic mask dances (Chams) and sacred plays. In 2017 this festival falls on the 3rd July.
Running for 11 days from the 25th August 2017, the Ganesh Chaturthi Hindu festival honors the elephant-headed god Ganesh with numerous images of Ganesh made and paraded through the streets and installed in temporary shrines. At the end of the festival, the clay idols are immersed and dissolved in a nearby lakes and ponds.
Celebrating the Mother Goddess and warrior Goddess Durga’s victory over an evil demon, Durga Puja honors the divine feminine energy with great pandals — decorated stages that exhibit statues of the goddess Durga. Live music accompanies the colorful artworks and at the end of the festival, the statues are paraded through the streets to be immersed in local rivers. Durga Puja is celebrated in West Bengal, particularly in the city of Kolkata on the 26th September 2017 for four days.
Diwali Festival of Light
Families come together all across India to celebrate Diwali Festival of Light and the triumph of light over dark, good over evil. Small diyas (lamps) are lit and placed outside homes with firework displays at night. Over the course of five days, various prayers and rituals are performed and it’s a wonderful time to check into a guesthouse to share the festivities with local Indian families. In 2017 Diwali starts on the 19th October.
Pushkar Camel Fair
Held each November the Pushkar Camel Fair is a unique spectacle with thousands of camels bought and sold, alongside horses and cattle. As part of the fair camel races are held along with longest mustache competitions, bridal competitions, and various dance performances. In recent years a cricket game between a local team and random foreign visitors has also featured. In 2017 the fair kicks off on the 28th October for a week period.