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Festivals in India showcase the vibrant cultural differences in this amazing country. Expect celebrations involving camel races, coloured powder, kites, music, dance and more.
While we have listed most of the major festivals, there are many more throughout the year; if you would like to find out more or discover how to visit one of these celebrations, please contact Cox & Kings.
Please note any dates listed below are subject to change, as many are based on the Hindu calendar.
This annual event takes place for two days in early January. The beginning of the festival sees lines of camels leave Junagarh Fort, decorated in effusive traditional Rajasthani garments and colours, to parade to the festival site. There follows various forms of camel competitions, from the best decorated and best haircut to the amazing spectacle of camel dancing as they sway to their owners’ commands. The second day of the festival focuses on camel races, with fierce competition for prizes. The festival is popular with locals, and culminates each night with traditional folk performances from renowned local singers and a spectacular firework display on the last evening.
An annual event that takes place in early January, this festival displays the art of kite fighting. It is one of Gujarat’s most participatory festivals where people throng to terraces to fly kites. Traditional kites are generally made from bamboo and tissue paper perfectly balanced to allow quick control from the ground. The thread used to fly the fighter kites is a ‘manjha’, made from cotton and coated with an abrasive material – with the ultimate aim to cut other kites out of the sky. Competition is fierce and skilful with vocal crowd support for the participants. Other events at the festival include a sound and light show, and workshops on kite making and flying, which contribute to the unique nature of this colourful spectacle.
Held in mid-January at the Sun Temple of Modhera in Gujurat, the temple forms the backdrop for a series of beautiful traditional dances performed by some of the best dance troupes in the country. The temple itself is illuminated at night by atmospheric lighting that highlights the temple’s architecture which, coupled with a sound system, provides the setting for the visitors to enjoy the dances, which begin after sunset. The Sun temple was built in the 11th century, and sits by the Pushpavati river – adding to the scenic beauty of the festival.
The largest free literary festival in the world, the Jaipur Literary Festival is held annually, around mid-January. The festival began in 2006 and is run by luminaries such as Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple. Drawing writers and literature from across the world, the event encompasses a range of readings, talks, debates, performances and interactive activities for people to participate in, leading the Daily Mail to describe the festival as ‘the grandest literary festival of them all’.
The second largest of its kind in India, this festival is starts in late-January, in Nagaur, Rajasthan. Lasting eight days, more than 70,000 animals are traded annually with many horses, bullocks and camels as well as cattle. Animal owners during the fair are seen in their best clothes with immaculate turbans, vivid colours and impressive moustaches, while the animals for sale are decorated for the fair. There are a series of events organised from camel races to tug-of-wars, while an array of entertainers such as puppeteers and jugglers ply their trade among the crowds. At night, there is a bonfire while folk musicians from Jodhpur sing traditional songs to entertain visitors.
Set in the middle of Rajasthan, Nagaur is a district town with a rich history as a centre of the Sufi movement many centuries ago. Sufism itself is Islamic mysticism, where individuals seek to find divine truth through the personal experience of god. Experience the culture of this ancient world religion at the vibrant Nagaur Sufi music festival, held within Ahhichatragarh Fort. Atmospherically lit with thousands of candles, the event showcases Sufi performers from India, Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Jordan.
The dry and semi-arid region of Kutch, Gujurath is endowed with a rich and diverse tribal culture, celebrated during the Kutch Rann Utsav festival every year. There are many prominent tribes that have made this region their home, including the Rabaris, the Bharwads, the Kolis and the Bajanias to name a few. The festival is a colourful celebration of all the traditional arts, music and dance of people who make Kutch their home. From the detailed embroidery of the Ahir women who do all the embroidery work by counting the warp and weft of the material without a plan to refer to, to colourful dancers, Sindhi Bhajan performances and Langa desert music, the festival provides a unique experience of Gujarati life.
The beautiful sun temple of Konark is a Unesco world heritage site. The stunning 700-year-old Natyamandir dancing hall of the temple has been decorated with a multitude of sculptures in Odissi dancing poses. This forms the backdrop to the Konark dance festival, which showcases classical music and dances such as the Odissi, Bharatnatyam, Manipuri, Kathak and Chau. The open-air stage with floodlit temples, colourful dancers and the drumming of the Raga and Tala’s provides a captivating experience, while, between performances, there are food stalls and a handicraft market to wander through.
This one-week festival is held annually against the backdrop of the Khajuraho temples in the first week of February. The festival showcases both classical Indian dances such as Kathak, Bharathanatyam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Manipuri and Kathakali along with new more contemporary modern dances. The open-air auditorium is usually built in front of the beautiful Chitragupta Temple, which is dedicated to the sun god Surya, a stunning backdrop to an exhibition of Indian dance performed by some of the world’s leading exponents.
The city of Hyderabad was founded by Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah on the banks of the Musi river in 1591. The city became a centre of the diamond and pearl trade and is still known as the ‘city of pearls’. The Deccan festival is a five-day-long festival celebrating the city’s art, crafts, culture, music and popular Nawabi cuisine. Attracting some of the best performers, cultural programmes exhibit examples of Qawwallis – Sufi devotional music – performed as a group using traditional instruments such as the harmonium accompanied by clapping. They are performed in honour of love and the gods. There is also an accompanying Pearl and Bangles fair where vendors show off their jewellery. Throughout the festival, the air is a buzz with laughter, music and the aromas of mouthwatering dishes and spices, all examples of life in this historical city.
The elephant festival is a colourful event held annually in Jaipur to coincide with Holi celebrations. The day begins with a spectacular parade of decorated elephants, before an afternoon of music and folk dancing, culminating in an enormous game of elephant polo. Held in the Chaugan stadium in Jaipur, the day-long festival is a celebration of the elephant, the traditional bearers of royalty throughout the ages and a symbol of power.
Holi festival, also known as the festival of colours, is celebrated at the end of winter during the last full moon of the month, usually around the end of February and beginning of March. The festival lasts two days and is celebrated throughout India by the throwing of water coloured with red dye, while in the evenings bonfires are lit. The festival’s unique nature is coupled with the breaking down of Hindu social constraints. For two days, men and women, rich and poor, and all the different castes enjoy one another’s company in an outpouring of joy commemorating many important Hindu mystical events, celebrating the end of winter and the hope for good harvests. One of the least religious festivals in India, it is also one of the most joyous and exhilarating.
Held on the banks of the Ganges river in the picturesque town of Rishikesh in the foothills of the Himalaya, the international yoga festival is held annually at the beginning of March, and attracts yoga masters from around the world. There are demonstrations, lectures and classes in Kundalini, Hatha, Reiki, Pranayama and Power yoga as well as meditation classes, music and special satsangs – group meetings where important yoga teachings can be heard and discussed.
Hemis Tsechu, a two-day festival, is one of the biggest and most famous held in the town of Leh. It is dedicated to Padmasambhava, the patron saint of Tibetan Buddhism who brought Buddhism from India to Tibet. The celebrations take the form of traditional dance-dramas called ‘chhams’ performed by the monks that depict the magical feats of Padmasmbhava, in his eight different manifestations as he vanquishes the enemies of Buddhism.
The Phyang Tsedup is the second largest held in Leh. Monks perform ‘chhams’ and every three years a giant 10-metre brocaded silk ‘Thangka’ is displayed for the culmination of the festival. Situated in the Himalaya with stunning views dominated by the Leh Palace, the monasteries with their summer festivals are colourful exhibitions of life in the most northern Indian state of Ladakh.
Also known as the festival of lights, Diwali is celebrated everywhere in India and is one of the most important festivals in the country. Symbolising the victory of light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance, the celebrations last for five days. The festival’s name is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Deepavali’ meaning ‘row of lamps’ after the small clay lamps known as diyas. The light from the lamps is to help guide Lakshmi (goddess of wealth) into people’s homes, which are decorated with Rangoli, intricate patterns in a lotus design in honour of the goddess. It is a time of giving and camaraderie, with people visiting friends and family with small gifts, a time or renewal and hope for the future all across India.
A leading Indian newspaper summed up the modern day significance of the festivals as: ‘a religiously sanctioned celebration of the simple – and some not so simple – joys of life.’
One of the largest camel fairs in the world, the five-day event is held annually on the banks of Pushkar Lake. A camel race kicks off the festival, and events such as the longest moustache honour of the camel traders dressed in their finery. There are various events held throughout the day, including 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.
Although Christmas is celebrated throughout India, the celebrations would only be partially recognisable to westerners – except in the case of Goa and Mumbai. In these two areas, the celebrations are closer to the western ideal involving a church service, a Christmas tree and decorations. The festival is not limited to Christians, however, with whole communities regardless of faith enjoying the festival, with street decorations, feasting and good will to all men. People dress in their best clothes and exchange gifts with loved ones while the street parties continue into the night.
The festival was first held 1927 in conjunction with the opening of the Madras Music Academy. It began as a month long exhibition of local Carnatic music, with a mixture of large and small Kutcheris or concerts featuring prominent and upcoming musicians. Gradually the festival has grown and expanded into six weeks and now features not only classical Indian music, lectures and Harikathas, a religious story sung in verse, but now also dance and dramas. There are more than 1,200 performances by over 600 artists during the six weeks, making it one of the world’s largest cultural events.
If you would like to travel during one of these festivals, please contact our India team >