Festivals of India

Amarnath Yatra - Jammu & Kashmir

In the month of Shravan, thousands of pilgrims make an arduous trek up to the Amarnath cave in the Kashmir Himalayas. They come to worship the sacred ice lingam - a symbol of Lord Shiva, which is a natural phenomenon.

Baisakhi - Punjab (April 14th)

A rural festival of North India, marking the beginning of the solar year (New year), celebrated in Punjab with great fervour. For the Sikhs the day is a collective celebration of New Year along with the commemoration of the founding of the Khalsa Panth (Sikh brotherhood) by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699.

It also signifies the end of harvest of the main crop. During Baisakhi the farmers give 'thanks' to the Lord Almighty for their fortune and pray for a better crop the next year. Baisakhi involves a lot of socialising where friends and relatives are invited and delicious meals are served.

The holy book of the Sikhs, 'Granth Sahib' is taken in a procession, led by the 'Panj Pyaras' (five senior Sikhs) who are symbolic of the original leaders. The occasion is celebrated with great gusto at Talwandi Sabo, where Guru Gobind Singh stayed for nine months and completed the recompilation of the Guru Granth Sahib and in the Golden temple in Amritsar. On Baisakhi day, water is drawn from all the sacred rivers of India and poured in to the huge tank surrounding the golden temple.

Bihu - Assam

Bihu or Bohag Bihu is the biggest festival of the people of Assam. It is a festival that transcends all religious and class barriers bringing people together in a free and uninhabited manner. The Assamese observe not one but three Bihus. Bohag Bihu, which is celebrated in mid-April, the Magh Bihu, which is held in mid-January, and the Kati Bihu which is celebrated in mid-October. The three are connected with the spring, winter and autumn seasons respectively.

The first day of Bohag Bihu is known as the 'Goru Bihu' and is reserved for cattle rites. Household is cleaned, the cows feet are washed, oil rubbed on their horns and hooves and some times they are decorated with garlands.

The next day is 'Manuh Bihu' day; on this day homage is paid to elders, relatives and friends. The Bihu meal is a special one consisting of Chira, curds and sweets.

The third day of Bihu is sometimes called the 'Gosain Bihu' and is set apart for religious services. Games and sports, special Bihu songs and dances, Fairs etc are a part of the Bihu celebrations. These Bihu songs are beautiful specimens of folk poetry set to lilting music and swinging rhythm. The Bihu dance is a vigorous, captivating dance reflecting the spirit of youth and vitality.

Bikaner Festival - Bikaner - Rajasthan

Dedicated to the indispensable ship of the desert, the festival starts off with a magnificent procession of bedecked camels. It is a colourful spectacle of the beautifully decorated camels that fascinates the onlookers with their charm and grace. Several competitions are held, marked with typical Rajasthani colour, joyous music and lilting rhythms and gay festivities.

Budh Purnima - All over India

Buddha Poornima, which falls on the full moon night in the month of Vaisakha (either in April or May), commemorates the birth anniversary of Lord Buddha, founder of Buddhism, one of the oldest religions in the world. Notwithstanding the summer heat (the temperature routinely touches 45 degrees C), pilgrims come from all over the world to Bodh Gaya to attend the Buddha Poornima celebrations. The day is marked with prayer meets, sermons on the life of Gautam Buddha, religious discourses, continuous recitation of Buddhist scriptures, group meditation, processions, worship of the statue of Buddha and symposia. The Mahabodhi Temple wears a festive look and is decorated with colourful flags and flowers. Celebration of this festival has been recorded by the Chinese scholar, Fa-Hien.

Champakkulam Boat Race - Kerala

The traditional annual boat race of Kerala begin in July at Champakulam. This festival is known as ' Moolam Vallamkali'. Moolam signifies a Malayalam asterism (star or Nakshathram), Moolam of the month Mithunam.

Chapchar Kut - Mizoram

In local Mizo parlance, kut means festival. The three Kuts are Chapchar Kut, Mim Kut and Pawl Kut. All the three festivals are connected with agricultural activities. The festivals are celebrated with feasts and dances. Chapchar Kut celebrates the arrival of spring. The festival begins with Kut Puipate or the inauguration ceremony followed by the Then Katna or the time when the dance groups arrange themselves in the stadium. Once the Then Hnihna begins, the elderly members of the society come dressed in their traditional costumes, representing the individual tribes of the region and take part in a fantastic procession called the Kut rore . This is followed by the various tribal dances, the most important being the Cheraw or the bamboo dance. The function ends with the Then Thumna or the event where the local singers once again present the traditional popular numbers and are joined by the cheering crowd.

Chennai Dance & Music Festival - Chennai, Tamil Nadu

Chennai music and dance festival is a celebration of classical music and dance of South India (Carnatic Music) held during mid December to mid January in the capital city of Chennai. The festival is held at a number of venues around the city by various sabhas or organizations.

The 'Margazhi festival of dance and music' started early back in 1927, to commemorate the anniversary of Madras Music Academy every December was later adopted by various organizations which held art festivals in different parts of the city.

The city comes alive with the festival which has now developed into a cultural extravaganza with more than 2000 participants. Performances include Vocal and Instrumental music, Dance - solo and group, both by junior and senior artistes. Even upcoming artists get a chance to perform along with well-established artists. The music includes songs in various South Indian languages like Tamil, Telugu and Kannada and instruments like Flute, 'Veena' (a large string instrument) 'Goottuvadyam' (similar to Veena but without frets), 'Nagaswaram' (pipe), 'Thavil' (percussion instrument), 'Mridangam' (drum), and even 'Ghatam' (a mud pot). Information about the tickets and the venues can be had from the tourist office, Chennai.

Christmas - All Over India

Christmas the birth anniversary of Jesus Christ, is celebrated in India with great fervor all over India by the Christians.

People decorate their houses, erect Christmas trees, make cribs with figures of baby Jesus, Mother Mary, Joseph, the three kings who come to visit the baby and shepherd boys and their herds grazing around depicting the scenes of Jesus's Birth in the Bible. They decorate the Christmas tree, hang stars, gifts and illuminate them. On the Christmas day, people enjoy a sumptuous Christmas lunch. Christmas cakes and wine are served to visitors and exchanged as gifts among friends and relatives.

Christmas celebrations vary in different parts of India. In some parts, small clay oil-burning lamps, mango leaves etc are used as Christmas decorations and mango and banana trees are decorated. All the major Indian cities wear a festive look. Shops and bazaars are decorated for the occasion and offer attractive bargains.

Carol singing, get-togethers and the exchanging of gifts enhance the Christmas spirit. Christmas parties launch off celebrations for the New year, thus retaining the festive mood for at least a week.

Durga Puja - West Bengal

In West Bengal Navratri is celebrated as Durga Puja where beautifully decorated images of the goddess are worshipped in specially erected Puja Pandals. Community pujas in Bengal are organised in every locality. Families visit each other to share feasts. On the final day the idols are taken in elaborate processions to be immersed in the river or the sea.

Dussehra - All over India

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.

In Himachal Pradesh, a week -long fair in the hill town of Kullu, is a part of the Dussehra celebrations. From the little temples in the hills, deities are brought in procession to the 'maidan' in Kullu, to pay homage to the reigning deity, Raghunathji. In Mysore, South India the Mysore palace is illuminated for a whole month during Dusshera and caparisoned elephants lead a colourful procession through the gaily-decorated streets of the city. A torch light parade and dance and musical events enliven the tranquil city.


Diwali, or Deepavali, perhaps the best-known Hindu festival, marks the end of the season that opens with Dussehra. Diwali is celebrated throughout India, as well as in Indian communities throughout the diaspora. It usually takes place eighteen days after Dusshera in October/November. Diwali is called the "festival of lights", and the name itself means an array of lamps (Deep = Lamp, Vali =Array). Indeed, illumination is characteristic of Diwali. The array of lamps are symbolic of welcoming Lord Rama back to Ayodhya after his 14 years of exile, and the common practice is to light small oil lamps, diyas , and place them around the house.

Diwali is celebrated for five continuous days and each day has its significance with a number of myths, legends and beliefs.

The first day is Dhanteras. The word dhan means wealth, and as such, this day has special significance for the rich mercantile community (especially of Western India). Believing this day to be auspicious, women purchase some gold or silver or new utensils.

The second day is Narka Chaturdashi or Choti Diwali. This commemorates the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon king Narakasur, or the divine over the mundane. A traditional oil bath before sunrise is a must, especially in Maharashtra.

The third day is the most important day of Lakshmi Puja or Chopda Puja . This day is regarded as the most auspicious. It is believed that on this day Lakshmi walks around and showers her blessings on man for plenty and prosperity. One of the most curious customs, especially in North India, is the practice of gambling on a large scale. It is believed that goddess Parvati played dice with her husband, Lord Shiva, on this day and she decreed that whoever gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the ensuring year.

The fourth day is Padwa or Varshapratipada, which marks the coronation of King Vikramaditya. Vikram Samvat, the Hindu calender, was started from this day. This day is regarded as the start of a new year according to the Hindu calendar. This day is looked upon as the most auspicious day to start any new venture.

The fifth and final day is called Bhaiya Duj in the Hindi-speaking belt and Bhau Beej in the Marathi-speaking community. Like Raksha Bandhan, it is a day for brothers and sisters, and on this day, brothers go to their sisters' houses for a special meal.

In South India and in the business community, Diwali is more associated with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and the consort of Lord Vishnu, the preserver in the Hindu pantheon. In rural areas, it is celebrated mainly as a harvest festival.

If there is one occasion that is full of joy and jubilation for all, it is Deepavali. Homes are spring-cleaned and decorated. Even the humblest of huts is lit by a row of earthen lamps. Celebration is invariably accompanied by the exchange of sweets and the explosion of fireworks. Multi-coloured rangoli designs and floral decorations adorn the entrance of most homes. South Indians start their day with an oil bath.

Diwali has the same importance for Hindus as Christmas does for Christians.

Eid-Milad-ul-Nabi - All over India

The birthday of Prophet Mohammad, is celebrated all over India with traditional festivity and religious fervour. The Quran is read and religious discourses are arranged in the mosques.

Ganesh Chaturthi -

Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala Ganesh or Vinayaka Chaturthi is dedicated to Lord Ganesh (son of Shiva), the elephant -headed god of all good beginnings and success. The festival celebrated as the birth day of Lord Ganesha, held annually in South India especially with great fervor in Maharashtra, is a ten day long event.

On the occasion of the Ganapati festival, a large number of idols are made of clay or metal in all possible sizes sometimes even up to twenty feet. People buy them and install them in their houses and worship the idol for one to ten days, after which the idol are taken out ceremoniously, carried in a procession through the streets of the town (especially in Maharashtra) and immersed into the river, sea or well. The sea front at Mumbai, packed with people, is a spectacular sight.

A cultural feast is held to coincide with Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra especially at Pune. Classical dance, music performances, poetry recitations, folk dances, theatre and film festival are the main features of this festival.

Goa Carnival - Goa

February heralds the carnival at Goa. For three days and nights the streets come alive with colour. Held in mid February the weeklong event is a time for lively processions, floats, the strumming of guitars, graceful dances and of non-stop festivity. One of the more famous of the Indian Carnivals the Goa Festival is a complete sell out in terms of tourism capacities.

Guru Gobind Singh's Birthday

Celebrated by the Sikhs, the birth day of their tenth and last guru, this day witnesses large processions and special prayer gatherings at all Gurudwaras.

Guru Purnima - All over India

Guru Purnima or Asadh Purnima is a special day celebrated on the full moon (purnima) day of the month of Ashadh, to pay homage to all teachers (Guru's). It dates back to the time of 'gurukuls' or 'ashrams' of ancient India where students used to get their education. It is also known as Vyas purnima in remembrance of the great sage Ved Vyasa, the guru who wrote the great epic, 'Mahabharatha', the 18 'Puranas' and classified the 'Vedas' of the Hindu Dharma. The great sage is worshipped and pujas performed on this day. Discourses are held in community gatherings to hear the readings of the holy book, 'Bhagawad Gita'. Lamps are lit and meals served to everyone.

Holi - All over India

Holi, the most lively of all Hindu festivals is observed all over North India, which falls on the full moon day in the month of Phalgun (March) according to the Hindu Lunar calendar. It heralds the end of the winter and the beginning of the spring and marks the rekindling of the spirit of life. It is a festival of joy when all is forgiven and it is a time to break free.

The night before full moon, crowds of people gather together and light huge bonfires to burn the residual dried leaves and twigs of the winter. People throw coloured powders at each other and make merry. People, young and old are drenched with colours being poured from atop the houses, bursting balloons, or long pistons. Singing and dancing add to the gaiety of the occasion.

In Anandpur Sahib, Sikhs celebrate a special festival Hola Mohalla on the day after Holi . The display of ancient martial arts and mock battles, are part of this unique Sikh festival.

The Holi celebrations in Mathura and the small towns of Braj Bhoomi - the land of Sri Krishna, are spectacular. The Rang Gulal Festival is celebrated for over a week with exuberant processions, songs and music.

Especially famous is the Lathmaar Holi of Barsana and Nandgaon.

Id-ul-Fittr - All over India

This festival celebrates the end of Ramzan, the Muslim month of fasting. It is an occasion of feasting and rejoicing. The faithful gather in the mosques to pray, friends and relatives meet and exchange greetings. Prayers, family get-togethers and feasts are the major highlights of the festival.

Id-ul-Zuha (Bakr-Id) - All over India

This Muslim festival of sacrifice, Id-ul-Zuha (Arabic) or Bakrid in India is celebrated all over the country. On this day Muslims sacrifice a goat or Bakr (Urdu) to commemorate the sacrifice of Prophet Ibrahim, who willingly agreed to kill his son at the behest of God. This festival coincides with the Haj pilgrimage in Mecca. Prayers are offered in the mosques and the sacrificial meat is then distributed after the Id prayers. Special delicacies are prepared and served among family and friends on the occasion.

Independence Day - All over India

Commemorating the day India attained freedom (15th August), Independence Day is celebrated with flag hoisting ceremonies and cultural programmes in the state capitals. The Prime Minister's speech at the Red Fort in Delhi is the major highlight. The Delhi skylinen gets dotted with thousands of kites taking to the sky this very day.

Janmashtami - All over India

The birth anniversary of Lord Krishna, the incarnation of Vishnu is celebrated with great fervour all over India especially at Mathura and Brindavan where Lord Krishna spent his childhood. Temples and homes are beautifully decorated and lit. Nightlong prayers are offered and religious hymns are sung in temples. The priests chant holy mantras and bathe the idol with Gangajal (water from the holy Ganges river), milk, ghee (clarified butter), oil, and honey pouring all these from a conch shell.

In Maharashtra, earthen pots of curd and butter are hung up over the streets. Young men enacting an episode from Krishna's childhood form human pyramids by climbing on each other's shoulders and try to break these pots.

Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, has about 400 temples dedicated to him. The main celebrations are held at the Dwarkadhish temple, Banke Bihari, Rangaji, Shri Krishna Balram temple and Gopinath temple.

In South India, Janmashtami or Gokulashtami, is celebrated with prayers, devotional renditions and offering of fruits and special prasadams to Lord Krishna. In some houses, a typical setting of 'Gokulam' is arranged with mud images of Devaki, Vasudeva with little Krishna perched in a basket on his head, a cow, besides other things related to Krishna's legends.

Lohri - Punjab, Delhi

In the North Makar Sankranti is called Lohri. Lohri is the time after which the biting cold of the winters begins to taper off. On this day children go from door to door to collect funds for community bonfires which are lit up in the evening. Lohri is more of a community festival as people gather around the bonfires and offer sweets, crisp rice and popcorn to the flames.

Mahashivratri - All over India

On this day, the great night of the Lord Shiva, devotees stay awake throughout the night offering prayers to Lord Shiva. They offer special food made from the fruits of the season, root vegetables and coconut to the Lord. Special celebrations are held in some of the major Shiva temples at Varanasi, Kalahasti (Andhra Pradesh) and Chidambaram (Tamil Nadu)

Mahavir Jayanthi - All over India

The Jain community celebrates the birth anniversary of the 24th and the last Tirthankara, Vardhman Mahavir, the founder of Jainism. On Mahavir Jayanthi, Jain temples are decorated with flags. In the morning the idol of Mahavira is given a ceremonial bath called the 'abhishek'. It is then placed in a cradle and carried in a procession around the neighbourhood. The devotees make offerings of milk, rice, fruit, incense, lamps and water to the Tirthankar. Pilgrims from all parts of the country visit the ancient Jain Temples at Girnar and Palitana in Gujarat on this day.

Makar Sankranti - Maharashtra, Karnataka, Bihar, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh

Makara Sankranti is celebrated in the month of 'Magh' and is a harvest festival. It is a celebration of spring on the occasion of the 'ascent' of the sun to the north (Uttarayana). In Maharashtra, Karnataka as well as parts of Andhra Pradesh, Makar Sankranti is a day of goodwill and friendship.

Muharram - All over India

The festival commemoratesthe martyrdom of the prophet Mohammed's grandson- Hazrat Imam Hussein. It is celebrated with great fervour by the Muslims especially the Shia community. Tazias, glittering replicas of the Martyr's tomb, are carried in procession through the streets. The Tazias of Lucknow and Hyderabad are noted for their splendour. In places like Lucknow, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, grand scale processions are held. People beat their chest in mourning to the tune of beating drums and chants 'Ya Hussain'. Devotees beat themselves and inflict wounds on their own bodies.

Navaratri - All over India

Navaratri is the longest Hindu festival celebrated all over India for nine consecutive nights in praise of Lord Rama (Hero of the Epic Ramayana) and Goddess Durga. Continuous chanting from the great epic 'Ramayana', along with evening performances from the episodes of his life are held for nine days. On the 10th day falls Vijayadashami or Dussehra.

Navaratri is a combination of many concepts, with the common theme of the victory of good over evil. One concept is that Vijayadashami or Dusshera is celebrated on the day Rama kills Ravana. Another concept is that, Durga, goddesses of power and vitality who is believed to have nine forms called Navadurga, takes a new form on each of the nine days (celebrated as Durga Puja) with the arsenal of weapons to ride a lion and fight the demon Mahishasura. The 10th day on which the goddess kills Mahishasura, is celebrated as Dusshera or Vijayadashami as the victory of good over evil. Lord Rama is said to have worshipped the goddesses, seeking her blessing in order to overpower the evil force of Ravana, the abductor of his beloved Sita.

The most joyous celebration of Navaratri is seen in Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Bengal. In Gujarat, every night people gather in courtyards to dance the Garba and Dandiya Raas, a community dance in which men and women dressed in festive clothes dancing in pairs with Dandiya or painted wooden sticks.

Onam - Kerala

Onam, Kerala's most important festival heralds the harvest season. Onam lasts ten days and welcomes King Mahabali's spirit from eternal exile once every year. Main celebrations are held for four days and People wear new clothes, visit temples and offer prayers. Girls perform the Kaikottikkali (Thiruvathirakkali) in the open, dancing around the traditional brass lamp. A major attraction of the onam celebrations are the famed snake boat races along the backwaters at Champakulam, Aranmula and Kottayam. About a hundred oarsmen in each boat row huge and graceful odee (snake boats) to the rhythm of drums and cymbals and songs praising Mahabalis reign. Cultural festivities are held throughout the state at different venues with displays of the famed Kathakali , kaikottikali, Mohiniyattom dances etc.

A spectacular procession in Trichur is followed by a magnificent display of fireworks. At Shoranur appreciative crowds gather on the greens where colourfully dressed Kathakali Dancers re-enact the well-loved stories of the epic heroes and virtuous women.

Pongal - Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh

In South Sankranti becomes Pongal. It is a celebration of the harvest, which is observed for three days in January. Bhogi Pongal, Surya Pongal and Mattu Pongal, are the three days of Pongal festivities on successive days. In certain parts cattle races still enliven the village festivities. Pongal is a colourful and traditional festival with many a ceremony devoted to various deities.

In Madurai, Tiruchirapalli and Tanjore a kind of bull fight called the Jellikuttu is held. Bundles containing money are tied to the horns of the ferocious bulls, and unarmed men try to wrest the bundles from them.

With ingredients provided by freshly gathered harvest, community meals are held at many a place.

Pushkar Fair - Pushkar, Rajasthan

This fair is held at Pushkar town, 11 km from Ajmer in Rajasthan for twelve days annually. This cultural and trade cum religious fair is an attractive and lively spectacle with Rajasthani men and women in their colourful traditional attire, saffron-robed and ash smeared Sadhus (holy men) and thousands of bulls, cows, sheep, goats, horses and camels in richly decorated saddles. Perhaps the largest cattle fair in the world, it attracts more than one lakh people, from all over Rajasthan as well as tourists from different parts of India and abroad.

Trading of cattle, camel races and dazzling displays of bangles, brassware, clothes, camel saddles and halters make the fair colourful. Necklaces of glass beads from Naguar, pottery, printed textiles from Jodhpur and Ajmer are all on sale here. Farmers, cattle traders and breeders buy and sell their animals, leather whips, saddles etc. There are facilities for camel rides also. This livestock fair coincides with the climaxing of a religious celebration. Pushkar is among the five main places of pilgrimage mentioned in the Hindu scriptures. It has a large number of temples including one of the only two temples dedicated to Lord Brahma in India. Hundreds of thousands of devotees take a ritual dip in the holy Pushkar lake on the day of the Kartik Purnima (full moon night of the Kartika month) and worship at the Brahma temple (Jagat Pita Shri Brahma Mandir). Pilgrims flock from all over India to be in Pushkar at this auspicious time. They also believe that all the 330 million Gods and Goddesses are present at Pushkar Lake during the occasion.

Apart from the religious rituals and trading, people participate in a number of cultural and sporting events. The sweeping expanse of the desert becomes dotted with thousands of camels, stalls and camping families. The Rajasthan tourism Development Corporation has taken adequate measures to facilitate convenient access of the fair site and to accommodate the fairgoers.

Surajkund Crafts Mela - Surajkund - Haryana

In order to promote the traditional Indian Handicrafts, a delightful handloom and handicrafts fair is held annually at Surajkund. Skilled artisans from all over the country display the rich crafts tradition of India in the typical rural setting. Cultural programmes and rural cuisine are also part of this colourful fair.

Taj Mahotsav - Agra - Uttar Pradesh

A ten day event, the Taj Mahotsav at Agra is a culturally vibrant platform that brings together the finest Indian Crafts and cultural nuances. Starting on 18th February each year in Shilpgram, the Taj Mahotsav is a much awaited event. It is a festive introduction to India and Uttar Pradesh. India's extensive arts, crafts and culture are on display. Folk music, shayari (poetry) and classical dance performances as well as elephant and camel rides, games and a food festival, all form a part of the festivities.

Urs - Ajmer, Rajasthan

The Urs are held at Ajmer, Rajasthan every year at the tomb of the Sufi Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, commemorating his symbolic union with God. Pilgrims from all over the world gather to pay homage. Qawalis (poems) are presented in the saint's honour and religious assemblies (mehfils) and 'fatihas' (mass prayers) are held. The lakeside town of Ajmer also called Ajmer Sharif (holy) comes alive during the Urs which attracts thousands of devotees irrespective of caste, religion etc. At the huge fair the largest Muslim fair in India that springs up at this time, religious objects, books, rosaries, embroidered carpets and silver ornaments are on sale.