Festivals and Fairs

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 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 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 Navaratri.
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.

NOVEMBER

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.

DECEMBER

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.

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