7 festivals in India… you need to visit
Do you want an authentic taste of India at its most vibrant? Visit during its festivals. Here, we introduce you to some of the best.
Nowhere is the rich culture and colourful traditions of India more easily evident than in its festivals. Indeed, the nation has an incredibly exciting programme of annual festivals, which for the traveller provide the ideal opportunity to get under the destination’s skin and experience an authentic taste of the country.
So full and varied is India’s festival calendar that listing each and every one could easily occupy several books. As such, we will share with you a selection of the most interesting – but remember, there are plenty more.
Jaisalmer Desert Festival
Rajasthan, India: 29-31 January 2018 & 17-19 February 2019
One of India’s most exotic festivals takes place amid the golden sands of the Thar desert and medieval havelis of Jaisalmer. This 3-day extravaganza showcases everything from traditional handicrafts and folk dances, including the swirling Kalbelia and fire dancers, to camel races and camel polo. Other attractions include snake charmers, puppeteers and acrobats. Few events can boast such a riot of colour and music.
The final evening of the festival sees a musical performance by folk singers under the moonlit sky at the dunes in Sam, just outside Jaisalmer. With the majestic Jaisalmer fort as a backdrop and fireworks illuminating the night sky, the festival is a wonderful display of all things Rajasthani.
Discover more about Jaisalmer >
Sufi Spirit Festival
Nagaur, India: 12-15 February 2018 & Jodhpur, India: 16-18 February 2018. The 2019 dates are to be confirmed, but will be mid-February.
Sufism can be simply defined as the inner philosophical dimension of Islam, where advocates devote themselves to ‘the reparation of the heart, turning it away from all else but god’. Experience the culture of this ancient world religion at the World Sufi Spirit festival.
This annual event showcases Sufi performers from India, Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Jordan. It is quickly becoming one of the world’s pre-eminent Sufi music festivals, held both at the historic Nagaur Fort in Nagaur, a rural town and once an important centre of the Sufi movement, and at the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur.
Read more about Nagaur and Jodhpur >
Celebrated widely across northern India: 2 March 2018 & 21 March 2019.
One of India’s best-known and most popular festivals, Holi is a must-do experience. Celebrating the end of winter and welcoming in the new year, it is marked on the last full moon of winter. As with many Indian festivals, the dates vary slightly from one year to the next, but Holi typically falls at the end of February or the beginning of March.
This vibrant festival is famously marked with the throwing of coloured powder and water – onto each other. Locals and tourists alike come together in a frenzy of fun which transcends social barriers to become something truly joyous and magical.
Some of the best locations to enjoy the Holi festival are Jaipur and Udaipur. Jaipur hosts the resplendent Elephant Festival in which a procession of royal elephants, painted in a riot of colours and bedecked with jewellery, anklets and bells, parade through the streets to the accompaniment of drums. Udaipur celebrates Holi in a grand manner by burning hundreds of pyres across the city. Udaipur’s Mewar royal family lead a procession from the royal residence to the City Palace where the Holi pyre is lit.
To experience the Festival of Colours in Udaipur, join the March departures of the Grand Tour of Northern India.
Kerala, India: 15-27 August 2018 & 1-13 September 2019.
Onam marks Kerala’s biggest cultural event, when the entire state celebrates the golden age of mythical King Mahabali. This 10-day festival is filled with folk performances like Kummatti Kali, elegant dances and game playing. In Thrissur, men paint their bodies to look like tigers and wear tiger masks as they perform the Pulikali, or tiger dance.
Food plays an integral part, with the grandest feast being Onasadya. This nine-course meal is served on banana leaves with guests seated on mats on the floor. Another highlight is the Snake Boat Race, or Vallamkali, on the River Pampa. Decorated boats, oared by hundreds of boatmen, compete amid the chanting of songs and raucous cheering.
Read more about the state of Kerala >
Kolkata, India: 15-19 October 2018 & 4-8 October 2019.
This Hindu festival celebrates the victory of goddess Durga over the demon Mahisasura, and no other Indian city celebrates Durga Puja quite as fervently as Kolkata (Calcutta). The city takes on a carnival atmosphere with streets bedecked with lights, fairs with merry-go-rounds and food stalls. More than 4,000 pandals (fabricated structures) clamour for attention with their captivating decorations. The most popular include Bagbazar with its strikingly beautiful idol of the goddess Durga, and Kumartuli Park, located in the area where many of the Durga idols are handcrafted.
On the last day of the festival, the idols are carried out in large processions towards the ghats of the River Ganges where they are immersed in the water amid frenzied chanting and ceremonial drumbeats.
Find out more about the vibrant city of Kolkata >
Celebrated across India & Nepal: 7 October 2018 & 27 October 2019.
The festival of Diwali, known as the Hindu Festival of Lights, is one of the most important festivals in India. The festival’s name is derived from the Sanskrit word deepavali meaning ‘row of lamps’ after the small clay lamps, known as diyas, that are fuelled with oil. The light from the lamps is said to help guide the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, into people’s homes.
As a traveller visiting during Diwali, you can expect to venture into a world of lamps, fireworks and phenomenal food. During Diwali, the country takes on a homely yet vibrant hue that sees the air tinged with excitement, thankfulness and a real joie de vivre.
One of the best places to celebrate Diwali is Amritsar where the magical Golden Temple is lit by thousands of candles reflecting on the water and lavish fireworks streak across the night sky. In the erstwhile ‘City of Lights’, the Varanasi ghats are illuminated by the light of thousands of diyas, making Diwali a truly spectacular celebration.
To experience this magical festival in Varanasi, join the 31 Oct ’17 departure of our Grand Tour of Northern India.
Pushkar Camel Fair
Pushkar, India: 15-23 November 2018 & 4-12 November 2019.
One of the largest camel fairs in the world, the five-day event is held annually on the banks of Pushkar Lake. The event has become increasingly popular with tourists and features events such as the longest moustache, in honour of the camel traders dressed in their finery, and camel race which starts the festival.
There are various events held throughout the day with the strangest featuring a cricket match between the local Pushkar club and a team of tourists. There are also jewellery and material markets, and a general hive of activity throughout the colourful event.
Read more about Pushkar >
Find out more about Cox & Kings’ India group tours here. Alternatively, call 020 7873 5000 to discuss Indian festivals with our experts.