11 Best Must-See Festivals Of India
Festivals are a unique window that allows you to experience the best of the culture and the spirit of a particular place. In India, there are no official counts of the number of festivals that are celebrated in a year. However, being the melting pot of different traditions and identities, it would not be unfair to say that there is simply no dearth of festivities in India. While most of it is unique to certain states and cultures, some are celebrated with equal fervour throughout the country.
Let us take a look at some of the festivals of India that you ought to experience at least once in a lifetime:
Known by different names such as Bihu in Assam, Lohri in Punjab, Ghughuti in Uttarakhand and Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Margar Sankranti is a festival that even finds mention in the ancient epics such as the Mahabharata. In most places, the festival is celebrated by flying colourful kites and singing folk songs along with a bonfire. Some of the largest pilgrimages such as the Kumbha Mela and Gangasagar Mela, also coincide with Makar Sankranti.
Activities: Eat sweet treats made with jaggery and sesame and take a dip in the local water bodies to wash off your sins. Engage in friendly competitions such as flying kites and racing boats. Spend your evenings in shaking a leg to the folk tunes around the fire.
Time: 12th – 16th January
Places to experience the best of the festival: Punjab, Assam, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
Carnival in Goa
A weeklong festivity, the Goa carnival is one of a kind in entire India. With its history dating back to more than 500 hundred years, the carnival is the best example of the lasting influence of Colonial rule in India. A gift of the Portuguese, the festival marks the pre-Lent and was primarily meant for the people of the Catholic faith. However, in the present times, the festival has become secular as people from all over the country go there to take part in the music dance and positive vibes of Carnival time. The celebrations are spread all across Goa, so you can explore the entire state and take part in the Carnival festivities as well.
Activities: Though writing down about the activities you can enjoy in the Goa carnival would require a separate list altogether, some that you shouldn’t miss out on at any cost include the Grand opening parade and the Goan plays along with the masquerade ball.
Time: February – March (specifics decided as per Catholic Calendar)
Places to experience the best of the festival: Panaji, Vasco, Margoa and Mapusa.
Holi, a vibrant, colourful festival that marks the beginning of Spring, is also known in many cultures as the Basant Utsav. While the entire country dips in the celebration of Holi, each of the places has a different vibe. For instance, if you want to enjoy a peaceful and tranquil holiday, then you must head towards Hampi. But if you are someone who is excited by the exuberant Holi celebrations as depicted in Bollywood, then Delhi is the perfect place for you. For those who appreciate art and music, the abode of peace designed by Tagore-Shantiniketan is an absolute must-visit. So, decide how you want to spend your Holi and India will offer you a place that fits your mood just right.
Activities: Click colourful selfies with friends and family, enjoy the special drinks made with bhaang and groove to the popular tunes; appreciate the music and culture in places like Shantiniketan and Hampi.
Time: February end- mid-March
Places to experience the best of the festival: Delhi, Karnataka, Shantiniketan and Mathura.
Eid Al- Fitr
As Muslims all across the world savour delicious dishes and break their month-long fasting, India too celebrates Eid Al-Fitr in its own special way. The festive mood kicks in at least a week before the finale as markets are crowded with busy shoppers buying gifts that are meant to be exchanged during Eid. The mosques and their vicinities are usually decorated with colourful lights as the sweet and tempting smell of kheer wafts through the air. While Eid is usually celebrated with family and friends, many pilgrims also visit the major mosques located in various places in the country. If you happen to be in any of those cities during Eid, where these mosques are located, the festive vibes will get you celebrating as well.
Activities: Exchange gifts with family and close ones, savour the special dishes that figure in the menu only at the time of Eid. It is also the best time to explore the cities with these mosques as the people are literally in their best mood.
Time: Declared as per the Muslim lunar calendar.
Places to experience the best of the festival: Delhi, Lucknow, Sri Nagar and Hyderabad.
There is already so much buzz about Ganesh Chaturthi in Bollywood and popular culture that there is barely any person in the sub-continent who is not aware of the festival. Celebrated in honour of the elephant-headed God- Ganesha, who is also seen as the usher of good luck, the celebrations last for about a week or so. As the festival begins, large and magnificent idols of the Lord are erected in grand makeshift tents, and delicious sweets are offered in the Prasaad Cultural festival. Elaborate decorations with lights are also put up in several places. On the last day of the festival, the idol is immersed in the nearest water body with lots of dancing, music and the hope for a bright year ahead.
Activities: Explore the different pujas and be amazed by the creativity of these sculptors and decorators who create such magnificent works; taste the special sweets such as Modak, which are specifically prepared during Ganesh Chaturthi. Dance to peppy tunes during the immersion procession.
Places to experience the best of the festival: Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore
Dusshera, a festival that signifies the victory of the good over the evil, is an important Hindu festival in the Indian calendar. While each state has its way of celebrating the festival, one place that seems to capture the fancy of most people in Varanasi. With the intermixing of various cultures, Varanasi brings to you both the Ramlila of Northern India and the Durga idol immersion scenes from the Eastern zone. Sitting by the Ganga ghats on this day can fill you with some unforgettable sights for life. Another place that ranks high for its Dusshera celebration in Mysore. Here it is known by the name Dasara and is celebrated within the Mysore palace itself. The entire palace is lit up with millions of lights and elephants in royal attire form a major attraction of the festivities here.
Activities: Things to do during Dusshera include enjoying Ramlila shows by local artists, experiencing the immersion of Goddess Durga on Ganga ghats, and watching the Mysore palace getting illuminated in the evenings.
Time: September End- October
Places to experience the best of the festival: Varanasi, Mysore, Kolkata and Kullu.
Did you know that the Durga Puja in India ranks on the same list as some of the world’s biggest festivals, including the Rio Carnival? The first name that comes to mind for mentioning Durga Puja is undoubtedly Kolkata. While the various clubs and associations dazzle the public with their creative themes and eye-catching decors, the bonedi bari Pujos, which roughly translates as the pujas for the affluent houses, have been carrying on with their traditional rituals for hundreds of years. Even in the rural areas of Bengal, many pujas are there which have made a mark for themselves with their unique traditions and styles.
Activities: Go pandal hopping with your friends and dance to the beating of the Dhaaks. Taste food from the local stalls and experience the amazing culture of rural Bengal.
Time: September- October
Places to experience the best of the festival: Kolkata, Howrah, Cooch Bihar and Siliguri
An Indian festival that is especially important to the Sikh community is Guru Purab, which stands for the birthday of the founder of the Sikh community. While the actual birthday falls on the 15th of April as per the Georgian Calendar, the celebrations take place according to the Hindu Almanack. Not just in India, even the Sikh community that is spread all across the globe today celebrate Guru Purab with a lot of pomp and splendour. Yet, if you want to experience the best of the festival, you must undoubtedly head towards the direction of Punjab. The streets and gurudwaras are decorated with floral decorations, and large processions have been organised that showcase the culture and practices of the Sikh community.
Activities: Taste Kaara Prasaad at the langars and meditate on the chanting of the sacred texts. Take part in the processions and enjoy the loving and giving spirit of the festival.
Time: Differs as per the Hindu Calendar
Places to experience the best of the festival: Amritsar, Katrapur and Kullu
The desert culture is indeed unique and colourful. One festival that brings out the best of the desert culture is the annual camel festival which is celebrated across several locations in Rajasthan. As the name suggests, the festival is held in honour of the Camels that are known as the ship of the desert and support the lives of the local people there. The camels are decorated elaborately, and thousands of them parade together with magnificent forts and palaces in the background. Classical songs and dance performances by the locals are the attractions of the night.
Activities: Enjoy the parades and take part in the local cultural extravagance.
Places to experience the best of the festival: Bikaner and Jaipur.
A mystical and colourful festival held in the Naga hills is the Hornbill festival. Named after the Indian hornbill which was once found in abundance in the region, the festival is held by the state government to promote communal harmony between the various tribes that reside on the hills. Ever since it was first celebrated in 2000, the festival has been growing in its magnificence as tourists from all over the globe come to experience it.
While the main idea is to revive and protect the rich ancient cultures of the locals, visitors can experience and uniquely understand the local culture through the festival.
Activities: Enjoy the traditional bamboo dance along with the catchy Naga tunes, savour the various local dishes and shop for souvenirs made with bamboo.
Time: 1-10 December
The place to experience the best of the festival: Kohima
Christmas has a unique place in the Indian hearts. First introduced by the British, today the birth of Christ is celebrated with as much pomp and splendour as any other Indian festival. While for the people of the Christian faith, the festival is of religious importance, for the secular population too this festival is equally attractive owing to the grand carnivals and fairs that are held at this time of the year. While almost every state celebrates Christmas in its own way, the best of the festival can be experienced in the northeastern states and Kolkata.
Activities: Taste the various treats such as cakes and pastries that are baked especially for the Christmas season; visit the local churches and take part in the prayers.
Time: 24th to 26th December.
Places to experience the best of the festival: Kolkata, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram.
Well, these are just a glance at the major festivals that you can enjoy as you travel to India. There are many other local and unique festivals too. Being a part of these celebrations will indeed help you understand the unique culture of our land in a better way.
Want to visit any of these festivals? But wondering how to get tickets and hotel bookings arranged amidst all the rush? Rely on our experts. Allow us to work out all the small details of your itinerary so that all that is left on your shoulders is to enjoy to the hilt. Get in touch with us today to know more.