Whether it be through folk songs, traditions, costumes or simple colourful decoration; if there is one country that knows how to be joyful, it is India. What’s most special is that each month of the year, there is a celebration going on in some or the other part of the country!
Travelling all around the year indulging in joyous, loving and happy funfair of the country, is all that you need to realise that ‘Life may not be a part we all hoped for but while we are here, we must dance!’ (Jeanne C.Stein).
Take the year off and get going to ‘Incredible India’. Here’s guide to travelling in India, all 12 months of the year celebrating its myriad of festivals and understanding just what keeps this country of more than 300 languages and a myriad of religions dance together in harmony!
January: The Kite Festival In Gujarat
Leave it to us to celebrate the natural movement of sun that signifies the end of the long dry months of winter and coming of spring which is the harvest season for the majorly agrarian community of the country. It falls on the same day every year i.e. January 14. Although, it is important to people all over the country, the festival is most spectacularly celebrated in Gujarat with Kites! Yes! Colourful kites dominate the blue skies, children scream from rooftops and mothers prepare yummy delicacies with sesame seeds, jaggery and clarified butter. The manjha (thread attached to the kites), flying the first kite and claiming other’s kites in the sky, are all a part of the tradition.
When: 14th January
Where: Ahmedabad, Gujarat
February: Mahashivratri in Varanasi
Considered to be the place where Lord Shiva hold immense religious importance, Varanasi is a place that truly decks up in all its finery on the joyous occasion of Mahashivratri. All the temples dedicated to Lord Shiva are tastefully decorated with marigolds, lights and different hymns can be heard filling up the atmosphere. Say ‘Om Namah Shivay’ (I offer to Siva, a respectful invocation of His Name) and partake in the celebration with a tasty bhang milk at the celebrations. However, make sure you ask the locals where to obtain this from as the concoction is a heady mix of milk, sugar, cannabis leaves and buds, spices, ginger and rosewater which can cause quite a few adverse effects if not consumed correctly.
Where: Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
March: Holi in Vrindavan
If there is one festival that is celebrated with equal fervor irrespective of caste, colour, creed, language or tradition it’s Holi. What better place to see the revelry of this occasion than the birthplace of the God in whose honor, the day is celebrated! It is believed that Lord Krishna, the blue God of India was born in the land of Vrindavan – an ancient city on the banks of the Yamuna River. Everybody engages in merry making and tales of the love between Krishna and the village belles are told, danced, sung and extolled!
Where: Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh
April: Bihu in Assam
The traditional beginning of the New Year for the Assamese, Bihu is a dual celebration of new beginnings and the coming of Spring, signifying the beginning of the fertile Spring season for the farmers. The month long celebrations consist of the traditional dancing, music and foodstuffs being prepared by the locals. It is indeed a stunning spectacle to watch young boys and girls dancing in fields on countrysides and local farms. Research further and you are sure to find pretty homestays to stay at and travel to Assam.
When: Usually on 14th or 15th April
Where: All over Assam
May: Maharashtra Day in Maharashtra
On May 1, 1960, an agreement was reached which led to the formation of state of Maharashtra and Gujarat. To commemorate the historic occasion, the entire state observes a mandatory holiday and a joyous parade is held in the grounds of Shivaji Park in Dadar, Mumbai. The governor of the state officiates the parade chair and members of Central Reserve Police Force, Mumbai Commando Force, Home Guards, Civil Defence, the Fire Marshals and city police take part in the parade. The procession is often decked out in various colours and traditional dance performances.
When: 1st May
Where: Dadar, Mumbai
June: Hemis Festival in Ladakh
The largest Gompa (Monastery) in Ladakh, the Hemis Gompa plays host to this festival called the Hemis Festival, which is celebrated on a yearly basis. It marks the birth of Padmasambhava, who is highly regarded as the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. Over the two days of the festival, the celebrations are in the form of dancing, socialising and frolicking. Particularly a spectacular dance performed by the Lamas, which is called as Chaam is worth witnessing. The mystical dance is accompanied by drums, traditional horn instruments and cymbals and is a part of the Tantric traditions of Buddhism.
When: 3-4th July
Where: Hemis Monastery, Ladakh
July: Rath Yatra in Odisha
The Rath Yatra or the Chariot Festival is a celebration that is associated with the Lord Jagannatha and is majorly celebrated in the state of Odisha in the Eastern part of India. One of the oldest Ratha Yatras in India, it dates back to 10-11th century and finds mention in the Skanda Purana. As a part of the Ratha Yatra, the idols of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and the youngest sister Subhadra are taken out in a decked up chariot to the temple of Gundicha and the procession is accompanied by a tremendous fanfare. The chariots play traditional hymns, songs, drums and other instruments and the chariots themselves measure over 45 FEET!
When: 25th June
Where: Puri, Odisha
August: Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra
The beloved Elephant God of India ‘Ganesh’ is revered as the God of Dance as well as knowledge. It is no surprise then that this festival is brought in with a lot of revelry and fervor in the state of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. It is particularly spectacular sight in the cities of Mumbai and Pune where the procession of the installation as well as the 10th day of immersion, called Ganesh Chaturthi and Chaturdashi respectively, is accompanied by ‘Dhol Pathaks’. The beats struck by young boys and girls on cymbals, large drums and smaller rhythm percussions called ‘tasha’. There are also spectacular traditional dances, women and men dressed in traditional attire, amazing sweets to be eaten and of course, melodious invocations to be heard. It is a sight that you must travel to see!
When: 25th August
Where: Mumbai and Pune in Maharashtra
September: Tarnetar Fair in Gujarat
Take time off the mundane black, white and grey of your daily life and travel to Gujarat where a riot of colours explodes every year in the month of September as the state plays host to the Tarnetar Fair! The fair is essentially a celebration of love that commemorates the legend of the ‘Swayamvara’ i.e. groom picking ceremony of a mythological Indian princess- Draupadi. The celebrations revolve around young tribal women seeking marriageable partners for themselves. Even without all the matchmaking; the swirling Ghagras, dances, tribal dances called rahado, traditional local entertainment, joyrides and much more are sure to keep you on your toes at all times.
Where: Thangadh in Gujarat
October: Durga Puja in West Bengal
If you truly want to see the celebration of life, love, devotion and happiness, then all you have to do is head to Kolkata in West Bengal in the month of October as the city decks up for the arrival of the Goddess Durga. It is a larger than life spectacle that simply cannot be described in words. The glamour, glitz, grandeur is all centered around the beautiful idol of Durga in installations called ‘Pandals’. More than 5000 Pandals are erected in Kolkata during these 10 days and each day holds the promise of a different spectacle. Travelling here during these days is stressful but truly worth it.
Where: Kolkata, West Bengal
November: Pushkar Camel Fair and Diwali in Pushkar
Come November and at the time of Kartik Purnima, Pushkar gears up for a very special event- the Pushkar Camel Fair. It is one of the festivals for which many Indians as well as foreigners travel all the way to Pushkar in Rajasthan. The sand swirls around the vast open grounds as more than 11000 camels, horses and other livestock are traded amongst much fanfare. The eccentric competitions, colorful attires, rolled turbans, long mustaches and women dressed in bridal attire are just some of the highlights of this fair. Accommodations for travellers can be found in form of tents, guesthouses as well as big hotels. It is indeed a spectacle worth visiting and writing home about.
When: Beginning of November
Where: Pushkar, Rajasthan
December: Christmas in Goa
You may have seen the traditional ‘White Christmas’ in the western part of the civilization, but how about bringing in this joyous festival, sitting by the beach and partaking in the traditional carnival that has become a part of the popular culture all over? There is simply no escaping from the merrymaking during this time as all the houses in the tiny beach state are decked up in Christmas colours, lighting, decorated trees and other finery. Attend the midnight mass with the locals and participate in the revelry of the carnival. Indulge in the local cashew liquor called Feni and other goodies like Bebinca and the famous Christmas cake.