The people of India celebrate countless festivals. During our three months there we must have witnessed or taken part in a dozen celebrations. There seems to be a festival for every occasion—festivals honoring many of the faiths, religions, and beliefs of the country’s 1.25 billion inhabitants. Because there are so many festivals, it can be overwhelming for first-time visitors to try and figure out where to begin. Here, in no particular order, is our rundown on some of the festivals of India.
Holi is possibly the most famous Indian festival of them all. Celebrated in the spring, Holi is a time for people to put aside all caste, creed, and prejudice. During the festival people throw colored powders through the air at anyone who passes by. The powders cover people from head to toe, making everyone equal for one brief moment each year. Holi is celebrated from two to five days throughout the country to commemorate the victory of good over evil. It also commemorates the arrival of spring. When taking part in Holi, anyone is fair game for powder. By the end of the day, every inch of your body will be covered and you will be filled with pure joy as you take part in this celebration of life.
Diwali is known as the Festival of Lights and is the biggest festival of the year. Celebrated in the autumn, it lasts five days and signifies the victory of good over evil. (I see a trend here, many festivals seem to celebrate the triumph of good.) Each day of the festival observes a different tale. The first day remembers Lord Krishna vanquishing a demon. The second day celebrates the goddess, Lakshmi, fulfilling wishes. The third day celebrates lighting clay pots and lanterns, symbolizing light over darkness. The fourth day brings families together to give gifts and well-wishes for the season ahead. The fifth and final day celebrates the bond of brotherly and sisterly love. Diwali is celebrated throughout the entire country and by all faiths, including Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains.
Viewfinder Tip: If you plan to attend Indian festivals, make sure to bring a waterproof camera and wear clothes you don’t care about.
Pushkar Camel Fair
Every November thousands of camels converge on the town of Pushkar, located in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan. They come to celebrate the Pushkar Camel Fair. This festival began as an event to buy and trade livestock, but since has become a major tourist attraction with musicians and entertainers wowing the crowds of more than 400,000 people. The event also is a festival that attracts pilgrims who travel to bathe in the holy waters of Pushkar Lake during the two days of the full moon. Those who do so will receive special blessings throughout the year.
Less than 2 miles outside the city of Udaipur, one can visit the Shilpgram Fair, an event designed to promote rural artisans and local crafts. Performers, artists, and tradespeople come from all over India for this 10-day festival to show off their talents and sell their wares. You can spend an entire day shopping and watching the festivities unfold. Performers are happy to have you join them in dance or try your hand at weaving a rug. They also are incredibly friendly, and are more than happy to chat with you (and others!) about their lives and professions. All told, the Shilpgram Fair is an excellent way to immerse in the culture and get a feel for local life in small-town India.
Deb, on Holi
Gujarat Kite Festival
In the western state of Gujarat, the annual kite festival takes place each January. Families and friends come together and perch on rooftops to fly kites in the air. The event is a celebration of days becoming longer and skies becoming clearer. People who participate take their kite-flying very seriously and have mid-air dogfights to try and take down competing kites through means of dive-bombing and more. The scene is quite a spectacle—the sky alights with color and faces light up with joy as everyone celebrates the season ahead.
The state of Gujarat alone celebrates 2,000 festivals a year, so you can imagine how many festivals take place throughout India in the span of 356 days. We’ve barely scratched the surface of Indian festivals to experience, but that’s half the fun of exploring India—you’ll never be able to see it all but you’ll have a great time trying!
What’s your favorite holiday or festival?