Festivals of India

Why experience a festival in India

If you have been lucky enough to experience an Indian festival, or even just seen some pictures, then there is probably one aspect that stands out to you: colour. Whether it is the costumes, paint, or decorations, these celebrations are a vivid celebration of life and spirituality. Listed here are a few of our favourites from all over the country, demonstrating the incredible variety that India has to offer. You will enjoy getting swept up in the legends, vivacity and immersive traditions that are on display at these events.

Hornbill Festival, Nagaland

Frequently billed as the “Festival of Festivals", the tribal Nagaland Hornbill Festival in remote North East India is an exciting and unique cultural celebration. Coinciding annually with the anniversary of their statehood day, 1st December 1963, this festival takes place over the first 10 days of December and brings all the Nagaland tribes together to take part. In fact, even tribes from neighbouring states travel to join in and participate in the festivities. The name of the festival refers to the Hornbill bird which is highly revered in both folklore and daily life by the Nagaland tribe. Visitors may even spot the influence of the hornbill feathers (although the real feathers have been banned) in the eccentric arts and crafts, or in the traditional costumes worn by the tribes. The festival is a vivid celebration and maintenance of tribal customs and traditions, including dances, music, and sports. For travellers wanting a true taste of Naga culture, why not try the fresh and indulgent cuisine? If you’re feeling brave enough, you might even consider entering the chilli eating contest. Whilst differences and individuality is revered at this festival, at the forefront is a message of harmony and coexistence.

Pushkar Camel Fair, Rajasthan

Combining rural commercialism with an important religious experience is the Pushkar Camel Fair in November. As you might guess from the name, there are a lot of camels present at this festival: thousands of heavily adorned and brightly decorated camels, horses and cattle are brought here for entertainment, as well as trading purposes. Whilst this is certainly an impressive sight to behold, this is only the beginning. Join the judges of the “best moustache” or turban-tying competitions, or throw yourself into the action with an adventurous camel cart ride. This mela also has religious significance, taking place in November during the phase of the Kartik Purnima full moon. This particular period is associated with the absolving of sins, and pilgrims submerge themselves in the waters of Pushkar Lake in order to cleanse themselves spiritually. The final celebration is the maha aarti where the night is lit up with the offering of fire to several deities, and accompanied by explosive fireworks, ending the festival with a bang.

Hemis Festival, Ladakh

The time-honoured tale of good versus evil is the focus of the Hemis Festival, taking place in the largest Buddhist Monastery in Ladakh: Hemis Monastery. Thousands of locals and foreigners gather in July to celebrate the birth of Guru Rinpoche (or Padmasambhava), who is honoured for establishing Tantric Buddhism in the Himalayas and ridding the land of evil spirits and demons. Depicting this struggle, and eventual salvation, are the ‘Devil Dances’ and ‘Chham Dance’; in the latter dance, the esteemed Lamas perform wearing detailed masks that have particular significance within the culture. This festival is an explosion of colour in the middle of a desert, and the air comes alive with the sound of horns, drums and cymbals. Every 12th year, there is an additional, and particularly special, event that takes place. These years are known as the Tibetan Year of the Monkey and it is during the festival that takes place on those years that the largest silk Thangkha of Guru Rinpoche is unveiled. Incredibly preserved, adorned with pearls and gems, and measuring almost 12m tall, it is indeed a beautiful sight to behold.

Durga Puja Festival, Bengal

Come and kick up your heels during the Hindu month of Ashwin (September-October) at Eastern India’s biggest and most renowned festival. Here you will witness the lively worship of the majestic, but rather intimidating, 10-armed and lion-riding mother goddess Durga. Legend claims that she was created by the gods with these many limbs in order to carry each of their most lethal weapons. Certainly not a goddess you would want to anger! An incredible sight is the many puja pandals (temporary, fabric-laden structures to commemorate the goddess) that are built as a part of the ritual, often winning awards for their stunning and detailed decor. Towards the end of the festival, the goddess is carried into the water to represent her return, at the end of the festivities, to her home on Mount Kailash. Married women smudge red ‘sindoor’ on each other, symbolising wishes of good fortune and happiness for their husbands and families. Food is a significant part of any Indian festival, as a representation of culture and traditions, and it is no different here where you will be able to try Durga Puja food created specifically for the festival, or traditional Bengali dishes.

Ganesh Chaturthi, Maharashtra

If you’re planning on starting up a new venture or project, then perhaps it’s worth paying a trip to a festival that celebrates the Lord of Wisdom and Remover of Obstacles: Ganesha. This elephant-headed god is typically the first that Hindus pray to in their worship, and his birth is celebrated during this 10 day festival in late August or early September. The procession in Maharashtra is particularly noteworthy for the sheer scale of people that congregate here in the name of this popular deity. Whilst each morning is reserved for puja and aarti (prayers and offerings of light), the rest of the time is bursting with songs, dances and other spirited cultural events. At the base of the pandals, where enormous statues of Ganesha sit overlooking the ceremony, you will find offerings of sugary modaks, sacred durva (or Bermuda) grass and red hibiscus flowers. According to legend this god had a sweet tooth, so you will find that there is no shortage of sweets at this festival. The final event, watching the giant icons of Ganesha surf the sizable crowd before being transferred to the water, is a cultural spectacle worth witnessing.

Onam Festival, Kerala

The good demon king, Mahabali, was once the ruler of Kerala but the gods grew fearful of his position and power, with Vishnu ultimately sending him to the underworld. However, King Mahabali wanted to ensure the safety and well-being of his people, so he requested to be able to return once a year to his kingdom, and it is his annual return to earth that locals celebrate at the Onam Festival in August/September. You’d find it hard to miss the delightful, multicoloured flower mats (pookalam) that decorate almost every doorway, prepared so carefully to welcome back the king. The incredible variety of costumes and displays at this festival is a particular draw; in particular, the Pulikali tiger dance with intricate animalistic costumes and body paint serves as a reflection of the dancer’s manliness. Admire the grand procession through the streets, bursting with musicians, floats and even majestic, caparisoned elephants. Or get competitive as you watch, or even join in, with the thrilling snake boat race, called Vallamkali. Don’t despair if all that activity wears you out, as the end of the festival is accompanied by a nine-course traditional meal, typically served on banana leaf, to refuel you. There really is a little bit of everything at this festival.

Mewar Festival, Rajasthan

In Rajasthan’s city of lakes (Udaipur), the local people celebrate the arrival of the Spring season in March or April with this colourful and jovial festival. Not only this, but it is a commemoration of the founding of Udaipur city, and a way to keep their ancient culture, heritage sites, and traditions alive. Legend claims that the city and its palace were built after the king, Maharana Udai Singh, was advised to do so and blessed by a holy man who sat overlooking Pichola Lake. The women are certainly the stars of the show at this festival as they sweep through the streets in their elegant and vibrant clothing, cover their hands and feet with intricate Mehndi designs, and embellish their outfits with a variety of jewellery that sparkles in the sunlight. Amid the performances of classical music and dancing, or sampling the delights of traditional dishes, the locals dress the images of their deities Isar and Gangaur. Gangaur is believed to bring marital bliss to women and highly revered as a result. The main procession occurs when the images of the gods are taken onto Pichola Lake and submerged in water.


On the 15th day of Kartik, the holiest month in the Hindu calendar, the five day Festival of Light begins with people celebrating all around the world. This marks the start of the Hindu New Year.

Diwali comes from the ancient Sanskrit word Deepavali, meaning "row of lights". Every year people decorate their homes with oil lamps - diyas - to celebrate light conquering darkness, and good over evil. Fireworks are set off and families get together to share gifts and have delicious feasts. The Festival of Light isn't just a national holiday in India; it is celebrated throughout South Asia in Nepal, Singapore, Myanmar, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and even Fiji. However, the largest celebrations outside of India is actually in the city of Leicester in the UK! So if you can’t make it to India this year, why not take a trip to the East Midlands for the incredible light show?

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