India’s Popular Festivals
Colours, songs, dance, prayers and oil lamps are typical for Indian festivals.
The large population across the vast region of India is consist of different religions that celebrate their own religious festivals. Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Sikhism are major religions in India, among others. Some festivals are unique to local regions while there are other vibrant festivals celebrated throughout the country.
Though India is often and justly described as a land of many religions and innumerable languages, it might well be described as a land of festivals as well. One conventional authority, the Encyclopedia Brittanica, rather unabashedly and with the customary cavalier attitude with which India can be treated, says of Hindu festivals that these arecombinations of religious ceremonies, semi-ritual spectacles, worship, prayer, lustrations, processions (to set something sacred in motion and to extend its power throughout a certain region), music, dances (which by their rhythm have a compelling force), magical acts — participants throw fertilizing water or, during the Holi festival, coloured powder at each other — eating, drinking, lovemaking, licentiousness, feeding the poor, and other activities of a religious or traditional character. No example is adduced of “lovemaking”, but one might reasonably infer that the reference is to some tantric practices.
The following describes some of the widely celebrated festivals in India.
Durga Puja and Dussehra
Travels during the later part of year to any Hindu region of India, will present visitors the Durga Puja, one of the biggest and most popular festivals in the country of the Hindus. This festival is in worship of the the Hindu Goddess of Power, Goddess Durga. Although the festival is a ten-day affair, observation of rituals and ceremonies are performed in the last six days. The last day of Durga Puja is known as Dashami or Dussehra.The festival takes place generally between the months of September and November and is widely celebrated in Eastern India. States from other parts such as Delhi and Karnataka also celebrate this festival. Thus, we can say that celebration of this festival takes place with great gusto all over India.
Diwali or Deepavali for the Tamils, is the festivals of lights. Celebration of Diwali is also celebrated grandly
throughout India. As India boasts of diverse cultural heritage, every region celebrates Diwali in its own special and unique ways as the visitors on different tours will witness. However, the history behind the celebration of Diwali is the same throughout all regions and is based on the legendary victory of Lord Rama over the demon Ravan. Mainly, five days are observed as Diwali. Dahnteras, Choti Diwali, Badi Diwali or Lakshmi Puja, Govardan Puja and Bhai Duj are the five days of the Diwali celebrations. Each of these days has its own significance and history related to the divine celebration.
Ramzan Eid (Id-Ul-Fitr)
In Id-Ul-Fitr, the word Id means festivity and Fitr means breaking of fasting. Therefore, the term means breaking of fasting and having celebrations. Id-Ul-Fitr indicates the end of the Muslim month of fasting, Ramdan. Id-Ul-Fitr takes place when a new moon is seen after a month of fasting. The Muslims visit the mosques and offer prayers to Almighty Allah. Id-UL-Fitr is a three-day celebration. Some devotees may even choose to travel on a pilgrimage tour to Mecca, considered as the Islamic Holy Land. This festival is celebrated not only in India, but also all over the world where Muslims can be found such as Pakistan, United Kingdom, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, just to name a few.
Tours to many regions in India during March will surely include Holi, the festival of colors. It signifies the victory of good over evil and celebrations are through a carnival of colors. The main occasion takes place on the day of full moon in March every year. This popular festival is celebrated throughout India. Holi started in Mathura at Vrindavan which is the birthplace of Lord Krishna. People celebrate this day smearing each other’s face with colors, known as “abir”.
Janmashtami signifies the day of the birth of Lord Krishna, who is the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The date of the festival is not fixed. It depends on the cycle of the moon, according to the HIndu calendar. However, it usually takes place in the month of August or September. The first day is spent on fasting and offering prayers until midnight, when Lord Krishna was believed to be born. Many Hindu devotees travel to Dwarkadhish temple in Dwarka- Gujerat as part of pilgrimage, and Shri Krishna Balaram temple, in Orissa are some of the venues, where the main celebrations are performed.
Ram Navami signifies the birthday of Lord Rama. Celebrations of Ram Navami take place on the ninth day of “Sukla Paksha” in the months of March and April, determined by the Hindu calendar. The day of the festival begins with offering of prayers to the sun and then singing devotional songs during the midday, the time when Lord Rama was believed to be born. Celebrations are the most grand in Ayodhya, the place of birth of Lord Rama, and among the popular tour and holiday destinations especially for HIndu devotees.
The festival of Ganesh Chaturthi is dedicated to the Remover of obstacles, Lord Ganesha, son of Lord Shiva. It is a ten-day long festival. Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated with great gusto in Maharashtra and other South Indian states. People buy Ganesh idols and worship it for ten continuous days. After the tenth day, the idol is immersed in a river or sea. During this festival, cultural programmes and feasts are also held to liven up the occasion even more and such events are interesting additions to any travel itinerary.
Guru Nanak Jayanti
Guru Nanak Jayanti is the main festival of the Sikh religion. It is the birthday of the founder of Sikh religion, Guru Nanak Dev. It is celebrated in the month October or November on the day of full moon. Sikhs celebrates this festival by visiting the Gurdwaras (Sikh temples) and offering prayers. They start the day with a morning procession from the Gurdwaras proceeding to respective localities singing hymns. There are also other practices such as distribution of Langar or common meals to everyone in the community and lighting up earthen lamps in homes are observed in this festival.
Ooty Summer Festival
The summer festival in Ooty is held in the month of May. This festival is held at Botanical Garden. This cool region in India with greeneries all around and so it is just perfect for the Ooty Summer Festival. Many fairs and shows such as Flower Shows, Fruit Shows, Boat Races comprises of the Ooty Festival. Cultural programmes traditional classical arts are also a part of the festival. Sports such as trekking are also arranged for people who love sports.
Makar Sankranti or Pongal
This India’s festival marks the transition of the Sun into Makar rasi. It marks the gradual increase of the duration of the day. Pongal is the first day of Uttarayanaand coincides with the beginning of theTamil month of Thai.
Pongal is one of the most popular harvest festivals of southern India, mainly Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Pongal happens in the middle of January every year and marks the auspicious beginning of Uttarayan (sun’s journey northwards). The Pongal festival lasts for four days. Celebrations include a drawing of Kolam, swinging & the cooking of delicious Pongal. This day coincides with Makara Sankranti.
Fifth day of the waxing moon ofMagh (Hindu Calendar). Vasant Panchami (also called Saraswati Puja by Bengalis,Oriyas and Biharis) is celebrated for the blessing ofSaraswati, goddess of wisdom and the arts.
Thaipusam or Kavadi (The full moon day of the Tamil month of Thai)
haipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community. The word Thaipusam is derived from the Tamil month name Thai and Pusam, which refers to a star near the location of the moon during the festival. The festival commemorates the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a spear so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman.
Kavadi Attam (Tamil:காவடி ஆட்டம்) is a dance performed by the devotees during the ceremonial worship ofMurugan, the Tamil God of War. It is often performed during the festival of Thaipusam and emphasises debt bondage. The Kavadi itself is a physical burden through which the devotees implore for help from the God Murugan.
Maha Shivaratri is the great night of Shiva, during which followers of Shiva observe religious fasting and the offering of Bael (Bilva) leaves to Shiva.
Gudi Padwa is celebrated on the first day of the Chaitra month, and is celebrated as New Year’s Day by Marathisand the Konkanis. According to the Brahma Purana, this is the day on which Brahma created the world.The date keeps changing every year in the month of march.
Ugadi (meaning “the start of an era” in Kannada) is New Year’s Day for the Kannadigas and Telugus. It takes place on the same day as Gudi Padwa.
Vishu is a Hindu festival celebrated in Kerala. It falls around 14 April of the Gregorian year.
Rongali Bihu (mid-April, also called Bohag Bihu), the most popular Bihu celebrates the onset of the Assamese New Year (around 15 April) and the coming of Spring.
The marriage of Shiva and Parvati is celebrated as Sitalsasthi. It is celebrated as a carnival, in which people and artists from different walks of life participate, making it more beautiful and bringing out the true colour of life.
Vat Pournima is observed in Maharashtra. Pournima means “full moon.” Women pray for the prosperity of their husbands by tying threads around a banyan tree.
Bonalu is a celebration for a Mother Goddess ( such as the goddesses Pochamma, Yellamma, etc.) in the Telangana Region.
Bathukamma is a festival celebrated during the months of September and October in 10 districts of Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh.
Raja Parba is a four day long festival. It inaugurates and welcomes the agricultural year all over Odisha.
Guru Purnima is the day devotees offer puja (worship) to their Guru. This was also the day when Vyasa, author of the Mahabharata was born.
Onam is also known as Vamana Jayanthi, is a Hindu festival and the state festival of Kerala celebrated by the people of Kerala, India. The festival commemorates the Vamana avatar of Vishnu and the subsequent homecoming of the legendary Emperor Mahabali. It falls during the month of Chingam (August–September) and lasts for ten days. The festival is marked by various festivities, including intricate flower carpets, elaborate banquet lunches, snake boat races, Onappottan, Kaazhchakkula in Guruvayoor, Puli Kali, Kaikottikkali etc. These festivities make Onam a unique festival on the earth which is embellished by most number of cultural elements and it can be undoubtedly said that these elements constitute the colorfulness, diversity and richness that no other festival can claim.On Onam day people conduct special prayers in Hindu temples.Although Prayers in Hindu temples are important part of the festival, non-Hindus are not allowed to enter temples.
Raksha Bandhan is a festival celebrated mainly in northern Indian states. Rakhi is a special occasion to celebrate the chaste bond of love between a brother and a sister.
Radhastami is celebrated all across India especially in Northern India on Bhadrapad Shukla Paksha Ashtami as birth anniversary of Goddess Radha, consort of lord Krishna.
Gowri Habba is celebrated in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. Gowri is worshipped for her ability to bestow courage to her devotees. Newly wed couples are invited to the house of the groom’s parents and served withvarieties of food.
Navarathri and Bathukamma
Navarathri is the Hindu festival of worship and dance. In Sanskrit the term literally means “nine nights”. During this festival the forms of Shakti are worshiped. Bathukamma, one of the most well-known festivals in Andhra Pradesh, is celebrated by women during Navarathri to honour goddessGauri.
Deepavali which means “row of lights/lamps” in kannadaand telugu and Sanskrit is called “Diwali” in North India, Deepa means lamp and in Hindi a lamp is mostly called a Diya or Di. The festival is celebrated on the occasion ofLord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama killing a demonNarakasura. Another story says the festival is celebrated for the return of Rama and Sita to the kingdom Ayodhyaafter fourteen years of exile.
Rama is exiled to the forest for 14 years, his devoted wife Sita and humble brother Laxman decide to join him, after 14 years the whole village know he is returning so light lamps or ‘divas’ to guide him, his wife and brother home. So every year lamps are lit to represent Rama finding his way back home after the harsh punishment of being sent to exile in the forest.
Prathamastami is a festival that originated in Oriya. It is held on the eighth day of the month of Agrahayana, when older female relatives pray for the prosperity of their eldest child. The festival is followed by rituals and recitations of the Glory of Mahalakshmi and Shashti devi.
Yatra (also Zatra and jatra) refers to the pilgrimage festivalscelebrated at Hindu temples. Idols and murtis are taken out on special procession in a palkhi (a palanquin) or a chariot called the rath. Every temple observes this festival once a year on the traditional day.
Karthikai Deepam is an ancient festival of lights celebrated by Tamil Hindus on the full moon day of Karthikai month (November/December). This occurs on the day when the moon is in conjunction with the constellation Karthigai (Pleiades) and purnima. It is the same as Kartik Poornima; however, since Tamils follow the Hindu Solar calendar with correction for precession of the equinoxes, the Tamil date matches the actual constellation.
The Purna (complete) Kumbh takes place every twelve years, and is an ordinary large Kumbh Mela. The Ardh (half) Kumbh Mella, a smaller Kumbh Mela, is celebrated every six years. The normal Kumbh Mela is celebrated every 4 years. The Maha (great) Kumbh Mela, a special large Kumbh Mela, occurs every 12 ‘Purna Kumbh Melas’, or 144 years.
Visit the Asia destinations category to learn more about other tourism opportunities available in Asia!