India’s Most Popular Festivals – What You Need to Know

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India is renowned for its spirituality – so as a melting pot of beliefs, it is unsurprising that religious festivals form a huge part of life in India. The festivals are many and varied and take place throughout the year. If you wish to witness a unique slice of Indian culture, then don’t miss the following:

  1. Holi: March 2, 2018

Vibrant colours brighten faces (and clothes) in this effervescent Hindu festival. Holi celebrates the victory of good over evil, as well as the arrival of the spring harvest season. Known as the ‘Festival of Colours’, this carefree event involves people enthusiastically throwing coloured powder over one another and dancing under sprinklers and water guns filled with coloured water. Bhang (a paste made from cannabis plants) is also traditionally consumed during the celebrations, so watch out for people who are a little too enthusiastic!

This is a fun-filled and energetic festival during which you’ll get to see India’s most exuberant side but be aware that you may end up dirty and wet. It’s a good idea to wear old clothes (possibly ones that you’re happy to throw away afterwards) and rub coconut oil into hair and skin beforehand as this could make the job of cleaning up afterwards a little easier.

As Holi provides the opportunity for people in this largely religious country to let loose, it’s not uncommon for people to get carried away. If you’re travelling alone or want to avoid the most frenzied elements, get up and out early and avoid the busiest streets in the afternoon and evening.

The best place to celebrate: all over India but Delhi, Jaipur and Agra in particular

  1. Diwali – November 7, 2018

Diwali is one of India’s biggest and most anticipated festivals thanks to the array of beautiful lights it is famed for. While the ‘Festival of Light’ is a Hindu festival, it is also embraced by other faiths including Sikhism and Jainism. In Hinduism, it celebrates the replacement of darkness (ignorance) with ‘inner’ light. Celebrated with fireworks, clay lamps, and candles, Diwali is a warm and atmospheric festival filled with joy and happiness, not to mention the delicious and spectacular array of mithai, a type of Indian sweet coated in silver leaf.

While this is a positive and good-natured festival, be prepared for lots of smoke and noise from the fireworks and firecrackers, it’s a good idea to use earplugs if you have sensitive ears.

The best place to celebrate: All over India but the fireworks over the Ganges in Varanasi are a sight to behold.

  1. Krishna Janmashtami: September 3, 2018

The story goes that on a stormy night by the banks of the Yamuna river in Mathura, Lord Krishna was born in order to ward evil away from earth. Krishna Janmashtami also known as Govinda, commemorates the day of his birth with singing, dancing and joyful celebration. There is much to look out for: the Abhishek (anointment) ceremony which involves bathing Krishna idols with milk, curd, honey, and ghee in the morning, as well as the devotional dance performances telling the story of Krishna’s life, and delightful singing throughout the night.

Perhaps most striking of all though is the ritual that takes place the following day, Dahi Handi. The ceremony involves building a human pyramid to try to break open clay pots filled with curd, which have been strung up high from buildings (these were thought to be young Krishna’s favourite food).

The festival is a fun and cheerful occasion where you will witness lots of joyful exuberance. Lookout for the endearing sight of children dressed as Lord Krishna and his companion Radha. On the whole, the festival is safe and friendly but the crowds can be intense and be wary of any participants falling during the Dahi Handi festivities!

The best place to celebrate: You will find celebrations across India but particularly in Mathura and Brindavan. 

  1. Ganesh’s Birthday (or Ganesh Chaturthi) – September 12-23, 2018

The spectacular Ganesh Chaturthi festival takes place over 12 days and honours the birth of elephant-headed god, Lord Ganesha, the God of New Beginnings. The start of the festival sees huge and elaborately-decorated statues of Lord Ganesha being placed in homes and public spaces. It continues with the reading of sacred texts, group feasting, and athletic and martial arts competitions. At the end of the festival, the Ganesh statutes are marched through the town’s streets to the accompaniment of singing, chanting and dancing. The clay statues are then fully immersed in nearby rivers and dissolved to signify Ganesh’s return to Mount Kailash. The ritual is said to bring good luck to all those who take part.

This lively festival is a joyous celebration and often creates good-natured competition between local community members. While the festival is safe and jovial, you can expect very crowded streets, filled with boisterous devotees, and lots of music.

Where to celebrate: Predominantly celebrated in Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Try Tamil Nadu for a slightly calmer experience.

  1. Pushkar camel fair – November 15-23, 2018

Held on the Kartik Purnima full moon in November, the Pushkar camel fair is an experience like no other. This unique festival sees an overwhelming number of camels descend on the desert town of Pushkar (located in Rajasthan). Primarily a Hindu pilgrimage, it is also a livestock trading event. Aside from the vast number of camels (who play a large part in a number of the festivities, notably the camel race and prettiest camel competition!), visitors can also expect cultural spectacles including dancing, tug of war and even a longest moustache competition. The Pushkar camel fair is a great opportunity to witness an old, traditional style Indian melee.

The festival is good-natured fun but due to its relatively rural location be aware of locals handing out flowers or priests offering blessings as they may demand large sums of money in return. Similarly, camel traders may demand a princely sum for pictures of their beautified camels.

The best place to celebrate: Pushkar

The festivals listed are just a few that take place throughout the year so be sure to check what’s happening on the dates of your trip. One thing is for certain, India knows how to celebrate a festival like nowhere else in the world. For a great selection of cruise deals, visiting this amazing part of the world, head over to our homepage, or call us today on 0808 274 6777.

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Claire Wilde

Claire has worked in the travel industry since leaving college in 1994. One of this blog’s most regular contributors, Claire covers cruise news and industry trends.

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