With silk-garbed deities paraded through the streets, sharing a happy moment with locals during the festival of colours, brighten and lighten up to celebrate Diwali – a festival of lights. Farmers praying for good harvest season, tribal festivals of the east are also growing in popularity. Each region is unique with its own special food preparations, songs, dances, and rituals that have been followed from generation to generation. During festivals, family and friends get together for the celebrations. There are countless fairs and festivals celebrated year round and it is definitely a good idea to plan a holiday to be part of one of them and get to know the culture and heritage more closely and in an authentic way. Just to name a few –
Holi ( Month: March)
Comes from the word ‘hola’, meaning to offer oblation or prayer to the Almighty as thanksgiving for a good harvest. Holi is commonly known as the Festival of Colors; it signifies the start of spring and end of winter. The celebration begins with the lighting of a bonfire (Holika) on the night of Holi eve. Holi is an old Indian tradition, attributing to the miraculous event that saved the life of a God’s devotee and killed the demoness named Holika in a bonfire. People of all ages get together and celebrate this festival by smearing colors and splashing water on each other with pichkaries (water guns). The most special and symbolic Holi recipe is the delicious sweet Gujiya. Other preparations are dahi vada, which are fried balls of split white lentils dipped in seasoned curd; puran poli, a cooked sweet bread made from yellow gram paste filling inside dough made from wheat flour, and beverages like the Thandai and Bhang.
Khajuraho Dance Festival (Month: February / March )
This dance festival is conducted to celebrate the cultural heritage of Khajuraho temples and to preserve them for the upcoming generations. It is famous for its enchanting temples and legendary Dance Festival. Every year, a weeklong festival for classical dances is held against the spectacular backdrop of the magnificently lit temples. This festival highlights the richness of various Indian classical dance styles such as Kathak, Bharathanatyam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Manipuri and Kathakali. The various forms of dances are performed in front of the Chitragupta Temple dedicated to Surya (the Sun God) and the Vishwanatha Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Along with the renowned performers, a number of craftsmen display their crafts to the visitors. This cultural festival is celebrated to encourage the Indian arts of dance and music.
Rann Utsav ( Month: December – February)
A plethora of varied hues, profusion of design, superfluity of culture, a cornucopia of music and dance all together in the arid lands of Kutch creates a mosaic of exquisiteness which reflects the identity and spirit of the region. Kutch, one of the most ecologically and ethnically diverse district of the state, is a celebratory land of art, crafts, music, dance, people and nature. During the full moon night of the winters, amid the awe-inspiring and contrasting landscape, each year a festive extravaganza brimming with hospitality, vigor, and traditional flavor of the area is hosted and known as the Kutch or Rannutsav.
This three to four month carnival organized at various locales within Kutch takes one around the natural impressive landscape while introducing the visitor to the indigenous cultural and ethnic flavors of the people. Semi parched grasslands of the Banni hosts the most magnificent display of vernacular architecture as the exhibition platform for the varied range of arts and crafts of the region, while an array of folk music and dance performances organized in the shimmering moonlit provides the most enchanting experience. The colourful fairs held near the beach or on the banks of a lake gives one the spirit of festivity, fervour, and flamboyancy while the organized tour around Kutch is an ideal occasion to be part of the region and experience the zeal and uniqueness of the people through a celebration of life!
Hornbill Festival (Month: December )
This festival is attended by all of Nagaland’s major tribes. It features traditional arts, dances, folk songs, and games. All of this takes place amidst immaculate replicas of tribal hutments, complete with wood carvings and hollow log drum instruments, which are beat in haunting symphony at the end of the day. There are plenty of handicraft stalls, food stalls, and heady rice beer to indulge in as well. In the evenings after sundown, the main attraction is the Hornbill National Rock Concert. Bands from all over the country come to compete. This is followed by a night market in town, however, the hottest event (literally!) at the festival is undoubtedly the Naga chilli.
Durga Puja ( Month: Sept / October )
This is an important Hindu festival celebrated all over India with different rituals and festivities, especially in the eastern region covering the states of West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and Tripura. In West Bengal and Tripura, which has majority of Bengali Hindus, it is the biggest festival of the year. Apart from eastern India, Durga Puja is also celebrated in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Kashmir, Karnataka and Kerala.
This festival involves the worship of Shakti, also known as Goddess Durga. The legend Shakti goes back to the story of Mahisasur, a powerful demon also known as the Buffalo Demon. Through years of intense praying and worship, he received a boon from Lord Brahma that no power could harm him, making him invincible. But once the divine powers were bestowed upon him, he started ravaging the whole world and killing people and eventually wanted to uproot the Gods too. The Gods, in dismay, combined their powers to create a beautiful maiden riding on a lion and each placed his or her most potent weapon in one of her ten hands. Durga killed Mahisasur and won the heavens back for the Gods. Her return in each year in the Bengali month of Aswin (September-October) commemorates Rama’s invocation of the goddess Durga before he went into battle with Ravana.
Durga Puja is celebrated as one of the biggest festivals in Bengal and is also a most significant sociocultural event in Bengali society.
Diwali (Month: October / November)
Also known as Deepawali, Diwali is one of the most important, hugely awaited, and immensely cherished festivals celebrated across India and in parts of Nepal. Originally, the name was Deepawali, which has its origin from Sanskrit meaning “Rows of light “.
Over the years, the name has been pronounced as Diwali, especially in Hindi, whereas it still remains Deepawali in Nepali. Diwali is popularly known as the “Festival of Lights” and is celebrated with great gusto, being observed as an official holiday across all of India.
The festival of Diwali is not only significant to Hindus but has importance in Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. For Hindus, it is associated with the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after his 14 years of exile and his victory over the demon Ravana. On that day, he was welcomed to the kingdom of Ayodhya with rows of deep, lighting the entire kingdom. Thus, there is a tradition of lighting oil lamps that symbolize the victory of good over evil and freedom from spiritual darkness.
Onam ( Month: August /September)
Onam is the biggest festival in the Indian state of Kerala. Onam Festival falls during the Malayali month of Chingam (Aug – Sep) and marks the homecoming of legendary King Mahabali who Malayalees consider as their King. The Carnival of Onam lasts for ten days and brings out the best of Keralan culture and tradition. Intricately decorated Pookalam, ambrosial Onasadya, the breathtaking Snake Boat Race, and exotic Kaikottikali dances are some of the most remarkable features of Onam – the harvest festival in Kerala. Onam is an ancient festival which still survives in modern times. Kerala’s rice harvest festival and the Festival of Rain Flowers, which fall in the month of Chingam, celebrate the Asura King Mahabali’s annual visit from Patala (the underworld). Onam is unique since Mahabali has been revered by the people of Kerala since prehistory. The King is so much attached to his kingdom that it is believed he comes annually from the nether world to see his people living happily. It is in honour of King Mahabali that Onam is celebrated. The deity Vamana, also called Onatthappan, is also revered during this time by installing a clay figure next to the floral carpet (Pookalam). The celebrations begin within a fortnight of the Malayalam New Year and go on for ten days. All over the state of Kerala, festive rituals, traditional cuisine, dance and music mark this harvest festival. The ten day Onam festival witnessed with Atthachamayam (Royal Parade on Atham Day) in Thripunithara (a suburb of Kochi City). The parade is colourful and depicts all the elements of Keralan culture with more than 50 floats and 100 tableaux. The main center of festival is at Vamanamoorthy Thrikkakara temple within Kochi City, believed to be the ancient capital of King Mahabali. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vamana and is directly linked to the mythological background of Onam.
The ten days of Onam are celebrated with great fanfare by Malayalees. Of all these days, the most important ones are the first day, Atham, and the tenth and final day, Thiru-Onam (Thiruvonam). The rich cultural heritage of Kerala comes out in its best form and spirit during the festival.