Festive season is here, and there are so many reasons for us to get excited! India is nothing, if not a land of several festivals. India’s rich cultural heritage is one of the most ancient but it is also one of the most extensive and varied. From ancient times to the present, many races and religions have left their imprints on the land and its people.
The country is filled with multiple festivities around the year. While some are city and region-specific, others are more widespread across the nation. From the Konark Dance festival to the Camel Festival and a Kite Flying Festival, these festivals are some of the most iconic ones that are worth experiencing at least once.
Konark Dance Festival, Odisha
One of the most beautiful cultural heritage of India is the Konark Dance Festivalheld in Odisha. It is a festival that celebrates dance, music and art. It takes place for the last 36 years since it commenced in 1986. The Konark Dance Festival is held from December 1-5 every year, in the open-air auditorium which overlooks the Sun temple of Konark. Spanning over five days, this festival showcases India’s classical dance forms including Odissi, Bharatanatyam, Manipuri, Kathakali, Kathak, Kuchipudi and Sattriya.
Kerala Village Fair, Kerala
The Kovalam Beach in Kerala is lit up every year in mid-January for the Kerala Village Fair. One of the festivals of India that celebrates the village culture, this festival opens up the lush villages of Kovalam along with their unique culture for the seeking traveller. The Kerala Village Fair is a ten-day long festival also known as “Gramam” locally, and the concept is to recreate an entire village in the traditional style of Kerala. Traditional food and clothes along with other handicrafts work would be on display just like any other fair.
The courtyard of the traditional Nalukettu house (supposed to be the luxurious home of the upper-class) serves as a venue for classical art form performances like Thiruvathirakali, Mohiniyattom, Oppana, Kalarippayattu, Sarpapattu, Theyyam, Kummattikkali, Kakkarisinatakam, Panchavadyam. Chakyarkoothu, Ottanthullal etc. While the women adorn the traditional MundumNeriyathum which is a two-piece garment worn as a saree, the men wear Kasavu mundu, along with a kurta or shirt. If you are visiting the Kerala Village Fair, don’t miss out on the Chayakada or village tea shop, where travellers can relish the taste of tender coconut, refreshing chai or lime juice to beat the heat.
Camel Festival, Bikaner
Specific to Rajasthan, the Bikaner Camel Festival is a two-day celebration dedicated to the camel that has been serving the people in the desert through the ages. Known as the ship of the desert the camel is often associated with high prestige owing to the fact that it has been a medium of transport and the main means of sustaining livelihood in the desert. This is one of the most unique festivals of India. Camels are dressed in vibrant bridles, traditional necklaces, and heavy anklets showing off wonderful footwork while marching on the sandy backdrop of the Junagarh Fort.
Camels and their owners are dressed in their best and the festival celebrates folk music and dances, breed competitions camel races, camel rides and more. The festival typically takes place in January every year. For 2023, the dates are 11 and 12 January.
International Kite Festival, Ahmedabad
An internationally recognized festival, the International Kite Flying festival in Ahmedabad is also known as Uttarayan and marks the end of the harvesting season. Being hosted since Since 1989, the International Kite Festival brings master kite makers and flyers from all over the world. They come together to demonstrate their unique creations and wow the crowds with highly unusual kites. Kites of all shapes and sizes are flown, and the main competition is to battle nearby kite-flyers to cut their strings and bring down their kites.
The festival takes place in January, and rooftops are filled with people flying kites. For this festival, Kite Flyers gather at Sabarmati River Front Ahmedabad to fly designer kites making the sky look extremely vibrant and breathtaking. Friends and families gather on the rooftop to savour special foods like laddu, undhiyu or surti jamun.
Bihu – The Harvest Festival, Assam
Bihu, The Harvest Festival is one of the most auspicious and important festivals of Assam and a few other north-eastern states.
However, what makes this very unique is that the festival is celebrated thrice every year. Each of the celebrations mark a unique phase centred on the crop harvesting cycle of the local people. There are three Bihu festivals namely Bohag Bihu celebrated in the month of Bohag (Baisakh, the middle of April), Magh Bihu celebrated in the month of Magh (the middle of January), and Kati Bihu celebrated in the month of Kati (Kartik, the middle of October).
Bohag Bihu also called the Rongali Bihu is a festival of merriment and celebrates the Assamese New Year at the onset of spring. The Magh Bihu is also called Bhogali Bihu and is quintessentially the festival of food. Finally, Kati Bihu also called Kongali Bihu unlike the other Bihus, is not a flamboyant festival and the festivities are more subdued in nature. During this time, an earthen lamp is lit in front of the plant and prayers are offered to Goddess for the wellbeing of the family and for a good harvest.
This is among the most colourful festivals of India and is worth a visit for every inquisitive traveller.
Summer Festival, Ooty
Summer is one of the most celebrated times for travellers, and if discovering India is on your agenda, you can’t miss the Summer Festivals in Ooty. The world-famous Ooty Summer Festival – 2022 is held annually in the Queen of Hills – Ooty during the month of May. The Summer Festival includes a flower show, fruit show, vegetable show, dog show, rose show and spice show. But the main highlight is the flower show. If you are an avid appreciator of the beauty of flowers, making your way to this is non-negotiable. The flower show is organised to showcase the best in garden design, flower sculptures, and authentic and modern floral craftsmanship as well as encourage young local artists through arts and cultures.
Hemis Festival, Leh
When it comes to festivals of India, one often misses out on the festivities in Leh. Celebrated in the backdrop of the Himalayas every June, the Hemis festivalis one of a kind opportunity to see the lifestyle and culture of the indigenous people of Ladakh. Marking the birth of Guru Padmasambhava, the Hemis Festival is one of the most important Buddhist celebrations in Leh and is held in one of the most-visited monasteries in Ladakh, Hemis Monastery. The festival is a two-day event and is celebrated on the 10th day of the Tse-Chu, in the Lunar month according to the Tibetan Calendar— around June- July.
The highlights of the festival include the Cham Dance and other traditional dances that are performed on the beats of drums and cymbals and on the tunes of long pipes like Tibetan music instruments. On both days, giant thangkas (Buddhist paintings) are unfurled for the public. The festival truly celebrates the unique culture of this gem.
Champakulam Boat Race, Kerala
One of the oldest of boat races in Kerala, the Champakulam Boat Race and festival is one you cannot miss. Also known as Champakkulam Moolam Vallam Kali, it is held annually on river Pamba at Champakkulam in Alappuzha. The day sees the largest sporting event in the world that tests the skills, speed, and endurance of the participants. Held normally in June or July, and kick starts with massive boats splitting the waters apart as ancient boat songs are hummed. The races are held on River Padma on Moolam Day and span across various categories including Nehru Boat Race, Chundan (snake boat), churulan, iruttu kuthi, veppu, and many more.
Hornbill Festival, Nagaland
Get immersed in the unique and colourful Naga tribal dances, food, music and folklore – all at one place. Celebrated by the tribes of Nagaland, it is held at Naga Heritage Village, Kisama, about 12 km from Kohima, usually in the first week of December.
The festival sees unique cultural displays and is aimed at protecting the rich ethnic culture of Nagaland. It is a norm for all the tribes of Nagaland to take part in this festival.
The Festival is named after the hornbill, the endemic bird of Nagaland, which is displayed in folklore in most of the state’s tribes. Festival highlights include Traditional Naga Morungs Exhibition and sale of Arts and Crafts, Food Stalls, Herbal Medicine Stalls, Flower shows and sales, Cultural Medley – songs and dances, Fashion shows, Beauty Contest, Traditional Archery, Naga wrestling, Indigenous Games, and Musical concerts.
Torgya Monastery Festival, Arunachal Pradesh
Torgya is celebrated every January on the 28th to 30th of Dawachukchipa (11th of the moon calendar), which corresponds to January 10-12. The celebration goes for three full days. A festival to welcome a new year, the Torgya festival is celebrated by the Monpa community of Arunachal Pradesh.
The basic belief of the people is that the celebration will eliminate any kind of evil spirits from Earth and protect them from natural calamities.
Celebrated in the courtyard of the Tawang Monastery, the celebration starts with the recitation of religious texts and Monastic dances. A ritual monastic dance called chham is the main attraction. The dances are performed by the monks from the monastery itself. This traditional dance is accompanied by huge drums and cymbals, gigantic horns and clarinets. The colourful costumes and robes worn while dancing brings it to life.
Madai Festival, Chhattisgarh
Despite being a popular tribal festival in Chhattisgarh, Madai Festival is little known to people from other parts of the country. During the festival, folk dance and music, prayers performances, and the sacrifice of goats are rituals that take place. It is associated with the conclusion of the annual harvest and focuses on thanking local gods and goddesses for their protection and goodwill.
The Madai festival is celebrated by the tribes of the Kanker, Dantewada and Bastar regions and is spread from December to March. In December, celebrations start in Bastar to honour the goddess Kesharpal Kesharpalin Devi. In January, the people of Kanker, Charama and Kurna celebrate the festival. In February the festival goes back to Bastar towards the end of February, and the festival goes to Antagarh, Narayanpur and Bhanupratappur. Finally, in March it goes to Kondagaon, Keshkal and Bhopalpattanam. You can also get a taste of the delicious food in the region while scouting through tribal handicrafts at the festival.
If you are a traveller who is fuelled by curiosity and has an unapologetic love to discover new cultures, bookmark these festivals of India to plan your travels around the country.