The ancient tradition of celebrating festivals goes back to the Vedic times of the Aryans. Ancient Indians used to express these occasions through the words SAMAJA (a gathering of people), UTSAVA (a festival) and YATRA (a pilgrimage or temple chariot procession). And today we use the word MELA (meaning a fair) rather than a SAMAJA. The Vedic scriptures and literature give many references to festivals when celebrations were carried on to honor gods, rivers, trees, mountains, the coming of monsoons, the end of winter or the first flush of spring. The celebrations not only include fasting & prayers, but also equally events of social & cultural significance, Performances of music, dance and drama took place side by side with more rugged physical activities. Even today, festivals are symbolic of a link between the home, the villages and a larger outside world. Colour, contribution, enthusiasm, prayers and rituals are the characteristics of the Festivals of India. The travellers are attracted to the scale and elaboration of the merrymaking that populate the cultural scene of the country. The various festivals in the country can be categorized on the national, regional, local, religious, seasonal and social grounds. The popularity of Indian fairs and festivals are spread far and wide and attract a large number of foreign tourists.
The Indian Festivals
Makar Sankranti, Return of the Sun to the North - This is the time of the year when the Sun enters Capricorn in the month of Magha (January-February). It's a time of great festivities throughout the nation with people taking a dip in the holy rivers and seas. In Gujarat particularly, it is the time to witness and extravaganza of Kite flying in what has become an International Kite Festival.
Pongal - mainly held in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. A 3-days colourful Tamil harvest festival.
Shiva Ratri, the Great Night of Shiva - Jubilated on the new moon night in the month of Phalguna (February-March), this Hindu festival is committed to Lord Shiva.
Holi, The festival of colors - the most lively of all Hindu festivals, which falls on the full moon day in the month of Phalgun (March) according to the Hindu calendar. It heralds the end of the winter and the beginning of the spring and marks the rekindling of the spirit of life. This festival is also associated with legends of Lord Krishna.
Ramanavami, the Birth of Lord Rama - This Hindu festival goes on for nine days where it is celebrated in the bright fortnight in the month of Chaitra (March-April) and commemorates the birth of Lord Rama who took birth to annihilate the demon King Ravana.
Kumbha 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 (Maharashtra), Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh), Prayag or Allahabad and Haridwar (both in Uttar Pradesh). It is attended by millions of pilgrims who take a holy dip in the holy rivers.
Hanuman Jayanti, the Birth of Lord Hanuman, the Monkey God - celebrates the birth of the monkey god, Hanuman, during Chaitra (March-April).
Baisakhi - celebrated mostly in North India, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, this marks the Hindu Solar New Year.
Pooram -celebrated in Trichur, in the State of Kerala, it marks the New Moon. The main feature of the festival is the spectacular sight of large number of elephants carrying ceremonial umbrellas going round the temple and the midnight fireworks display.
Id-ul-Zuha - or Bakr-id - is a Muslim festival celebrated on a National level. It commemorates the martyrdom of Abraham and is marked by the sacrifice of lambs.
Id-ul-Fitr - is a Muslim festival that marks the end of the month of Ramzan, a month long period of fasting.
Raksha Bandhan - is celebrated mostly in North and West India. It's a legendary reenactment of sisters tying colourful 'rakhis' (bracelets or talisman) on their brother's wrists.
Krishna Janmashtami, the Birth of Lord Krishna - Krishna Janmashtami falls during the dark fortnight in the month of Bhadra (August-September) and is celebrated to commemorate the birth of Krishna to bring an end to the injustice of Kansa.
Ganesha Utsav -This is a ten-day festival, jubilated during the bright half of Bhadrapad (August - September), celebrates the birth of Ganesha.
Dussehra( Vijay Dashmi), the trimph of good over evil - falling on the last day of Navaratri or Durga puja arrives in the month of October. Dussehra literally means that which takes away ten sins. This Hindu festival is celebrated all over India to mark the defeat of Ravana by Lord Rama. Dussehra symbolises the triumph of good over evil. The 'Ramlila' - an enactment of the life of Lord Rama, is held during the nine days preceding Dussehra. On the tenth day, larger than life effigies of Ravana, his son and brother -Meghnath and Kumbhakarna, are set alight.
Durga Puja, The Victory of Good over Evil - Celebrated in the month of Ashvina (September-October) in the state of West Bengal, Durga Puja is a nine-day festival (of which five days from Sashthi to Dashami are the most celebrate one in West Bengal) of the Hindus. It highlights the winning of Goddess Durga over the buffalo demon Mahishasura after a long battle, bringing forth the victory of good over evil.
Diwali, the Festival of Lights - This is one of the oldest and the most important Hindu festivals falling in the month of Kartik (October-November), which celebrates the return of Rama to Ayodhya after an exile of 14 years. Diwali or Deepawali also marks the beginning of the New Year and is celebrated with the lighting of lamps, burning of crackers.
Guru Nanak Jayanti - Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of the Sikh faith, was born in the month of Kartik (October/November), and his birthday is known as Guru Nanak Jayanti. He was born in 1469 A.D. at Tolevandi some 30 miles from Lahore. The anniversaries of Sikh Guru’s are known as Gurupurabs (festivals) and are celebrated with devotion and dedication.
Christmas, the Birth Anniversary of Jesus Christ - The most important and the most rejoiced festival of Christians is Christmas celebrated on the 25th of December. The festival marks the birth of lord Jesus and is celebrated with great enthusiasm all over the country.
The National Holidays
Republic Day - Every year, a grand Republic day parade is held in New Delhi, India's capital city to observe the anniversary of the Indian Republic. This is the National Holiday. The Government of India spends a lot of energy and resources to put up a good show and the various government agencies spend the several months planning for the event.
Independence Day - Celebrated on 15th August every year marks the day when India got her Independence. It's marked by celebrations throughout the country. In Delhi the Prime Minister delivers his annual address to the nation at the historic Red Fort.
Gandhi Jayanti - This is a National holiday that marks the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation.
Kumbh Mela- The biggest gathering of human beings on the planet at a particular place every three years, that pretty much sums up Kumbh Mela. The most important and largest religious event in the country, the Kumbh Mela is a festival of mammoth proportion but also full of colors as the Naga Sadhus from various parts of the country travel with their Akhadhas to the site of the Mela. The festival is held in Allahabad, Banaras, Haridwar, and Ujjain. Hindus from all over the world come to take a dip in the holy river and listen to sermons from the various sadhus at the mela site. It is considered to be one of the most spiritually enlightening festivals in the world. The next Kumbh Mela known as the Ardh Kumbh is to be held in the beautiful hill city of Nashik.
Modhera Dance Festival, Gujarat- This dance festival of India, celebrated in the beautiful backdrop of the Modhera Sun Temple is an effort on part of the Tourism Department of Gujarat to bring back to life the ways of our medieval past. Today, this cultural festival held in January every year gets together the finest classical dancing talent of the country to celebrate the art and the place.
Tarnetar Mela, Gujarat One of the most fascinating tribal fairs of India, Tarnetar Mela is a tribal fair held every year in the village of Tarnetar in Gujarat. This festival is fascinating for the simple reason that it is one of the largest “marriage marts” or swayamvars in India where tribal men come to the fair dressed eloquently carrying the most elaborately and beautifully embroidered umbrellas in the world. The woman folk choose their prospective husband based on the umbrella they find the most beautiful. Besides this is a cultural event with folk music and dance performances for general entertainment.
Konark Dance Festival, Odisha- The India’s biggest dance festival, Konark Dance Festival is the epitome of our Classical dancing heritage which represents itself in the most awe inspiring of settings. The festival is held in the backdrop of the UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Sun Temple. The festival organized in the month of February is one of the biggest cultural festival in the country as it witnesses the coming together of country’s best dance artists to celebrate the storied past of the temple and its traditions.
Jaisalmer Desert Festival, Rajasthan The desert festival held in the month of February in the Red Sandstone city of Jaisalmer is a fascinating celebration of Rajasthan’s desert life for three days. It is a festival that brings to life the folk culture, the music, the clothes and the traditions of the nomadic life of the Indian desert. One can immerse themselves in three days of pure magic with folktales, music and dance performances. The camel, the most important animal in the desert, is one of the main attractions of the festival.
Goa Carnival, GoaWell the name Goa is synonymous with fun, beautiful beaches, laid back vacations and amazing beach shacks and continuing that tradition is the awesome Goa Carnival. This carnival of India is celebrated state wide with the help of the state government. It is part of the Portuguese heritage of Goa which sees people come out on the street to enjoy the fascinating parades full of creative floats, to dance and party all night. The carnival travels the whole state. This cultural event is held in the month of March just before the beginning of Lent.
Nehru Trophy Boat Race, Kerala An event which is part of Kerala’s cultural identity, the Nehru Trophy Boat Race is among best cultural an eventin India. Celebrated every year on the second Saturday of the month of August, the boat race in Kerala is a famous festival celebrated in the backwater town of Allapuzha in the Punnamada Lake. The festival sees beautifully crafted boats of different shapes and sizes compete for prize money with the main attraction being the snake boat race, the winner of which receives the coveted Nehru Trophy.
Pushkar Mela, Rajasthan Arguably the biggest fair in the state of Rajasthan and one of the biggest livestock fairs in the world, Pushkar Mela is a fascinating coming together of the nomadic culture and the most beautiful town of Rajasthan. It is primarily a place where the buying and selling of camels and livestock takes place but in recent times with its increasing popularity among foreign tourists competitions like ‘matka phodh’, ‘bridal games’ and ‘longest moustache’ have become popular events. The Pushkar Mela is the perfect opportunity for travelers to discover the nomadic lifestyle of Rajasthan.
Hornbill Festival, Nagaland The Hornbill Festival is a unique folk festival celebrated in the North-eastern state of Nagaland. A region with rich tribal heritage and traditions, the Hornbill Festival is an effort on part of the Nagaland tourism department to bring to the world the culture and beauty of Nagaland. The festival celebrated every year from 1st to 7th December, is an amazing exhibition of Naga way of life attracting thousands of tourists to its doors.
Poush Mela, Shantiniketan A unique festival which signifies the end of the harvesting season in Bengal, Poush Mela, is the celebration of the farmer’s life and Bengal’s rural lifestyle. Celebrated at the behest of Devendranath Tagore at Shantiniketan, Poush Mela is in a way the coming together of the urban and rural sides of Bengal. The mela which sees the celebration of Bengali culture through Bengali folk music especially Boul Sangeet as well folk dances, is a place for peace and love. Rural artists from around the state gather here with their work and put it out for sale. Being here one can truly experience the cultural diversity that India possesses.
Puri Rath Yatra, Odisha One of the biggest religious events of the year in the country, the Puri Rath Yatra is a spectacle of the grandest scale. The Rath Yatra sees a coming together of over a million devotees every year near the famed Jagganath Temple of Puri. The yatra sees three huge temple shaped chariots being pulled to the Gundicha Temple and after nine days back to the Jagganath Temple. The yatra is held in the month of June or July and is supposed to be one of the holiest events in Hinduism.
Jaipur Literature Festival Asia’s grandest literary event, the Jaipur Literature Festival sees the coming together of the brightest names in the world of literature and thought who converge at the famed Diggi Palace in Jaipur for three days of intellectual bliss and enjoyment. The festival has gained quite a reputation for itself for attracting the best authors who recite, discuss and present their finest work in front of an awed audience. The Jaipur Literature Festival is held in the last week of January and many people use it as an opportunity to discover the Pink City as much as to pleasure their literary senses.