A Guide to Indian Festivals

A candle boat on the river during Diwali
India has been described as the country of a hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that Indians love celebrations. Indian festivals are a beautiful sight, rich with colour and cultural traditions.

The calendar year in India is filled with innumerable festivals, fairs and celebrations. Many Indian festivals are linked to the myriad gods and goddesses, whereas others follow the changing season and mark pastoral occasions. Almost every day is marked by a variation of a religious event, where ritual fasting and feasting go hand in hand. The Hindu festivals follow the lunar calendar, with both the full moon and the new moon being considered auspicious. Like the Hindu festivals the Muslim festivals are also based on the lunar cycle and are determined by the new moon. This means festival dates vary from year to year. Now you know when and why they occur, let me introduce you to some of my favourite festivals, and perhaps some unusual ones, too…

Holi

Holi is one of the most important Hindu festivals and takes place in March. This festival marks the end of winter and is best known for the mass of people that swarm the streets, seen sprinkling coloured water and powder on each other.

The International Mango Festival

The International Mango Festival takes place in Delhi in July, where over 1000 varieties of mango that are grown in Northern India are exhibited and sold. This festival is wholly unique to India and one that is fascinating – and delicious.

Pushkar Fair

In the North of India, Asia’s largest camel, horse and cattle fair takes place in Pushkar. Held annually, it last five days and features a diverse array of livestock and cultural celebrations.

Diwali

Diwali, or The Festival of Light, is probably the most important Indian festival. Diwali describes a time when homes are illuminated by oil lamps, firecrackers are lit, and sweets are exchanged, in celebration of Rama-Chandra, who is the incarnation of Vishnu. The festival marks a triumph over evil and celebrates new beginnings for those who celebrate.

Basant Panchami

To mark the first day of Spring all over northern India the Basant Panchami is celebrated. People dress in shades yellow echoing the yellow mustard blossoms that are in bloom – it is an absolutely beautiful sight.

Jaisalmer Desert Festival

One of my favourite areas of India is Jaisalmer, which hosts the Jaisalmer Desert Festival – a cultural festival held over three days in the sand dunes. Activities include thrilling camel races and unique camel polo matches, as well as local folk and music events.

Onam

The week-long festival of Onam that takes place in Kerala in August is an amazing experience with crowded streets, boat races and procession’s cramming in the days. This is a harvest festival, which is celebrated to honour the legendary King Mahabali. The celebrators of Onam believe that during the festival the spirit of the king returns.

Eid al-Fitr

Celebrated by Muslims throughout the world Eid al-Fitr is one of the major Indian festivals marking the end of Ramadan fast. Eid al-Fitr is marked in celebration of the strength and perseverance shown by those that fast during the month of Ramadan.

Whenever you choose to visit within the stunning country of India, there is sure to be a festival underway for you to experience. Joining in can be great fun (Holi is a particular personal favourite of mine) and is a great way of meeting and sharing local experiences. If you are planning an upcoming trip to India, I wholeheartedly recommend taking the time to visit and tick off the utterly unique experience of an Indian festival from your bucket list.

Marc Reading

Author: Marc Reading

To me India is a land of contrasts; an eclectic mix of wealth and poverty, colour and passion chaos and tranquility. From watching my son playing cricket in southern India, trekking in the high Himalayas looking for the elusive snow leopard or sitting on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi, I have been totally captivated by India.