What else can seize your eyes to discover the vigorous and animated colours of India other than its cultural resonation? You can’t escape the percussion instrument of Indian culture… its resonance, spectacle of colours, affinity between religions, and strange rituals. Everything seems to be new every year if you are revisiting and reliving the same festivals. And did I just say festivals??? Then I must say that if you are seeking to explore the best of Indian culture, you must not overleap any of the cultural festivals in India. Below is just a comprehensive list of “top cultural festivals in India” that one must experience once in a lifetime… also not just in 2019-20 but relive year after year. If you go beyond this list, I will say… ‘you love Mamma India’ [this is what I always hear from the international travellers].
An unusual and uncommon religious event but popular amongst the south Indians and travellers with enthusiasm for Indian culture… the Thaipusam Festival is a Hindu festival that commemorates the occasion of Parvati giving Murugan a Vel “spear” so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman. Devotees during this religious event perform various ritualistic acts that include fasting for 48 days, shaving of heads and undertaking a procession with a pot of milk, and Kavadi cavadee Attam (a local dance form). The most unusual part of this religious event is body piercing with spears.
Date: Feb 08, 2020
Nearest Railhead: Coimbatore (CBE)
Nearest Airport: Coimbatore International Airport
Every year, usually in the month of February, the sandy dunes of Rajasthan comes to live with Jaisalmer Desert Festival. The festival is a unique showcase of rich and colourful folk culture. Once you are there you will be welcomed by the folk singers, puppeteers, acrobats, fire dancers and many more in their traditional, colorful and vibrant attires. Between all this traditional glitters you will find a special place for the ships of the desert, the camel. Apart from a camel ride you can enjoy watching the camel polo and the Camel Decoration. One can even participate in competitions like Tug of War and Matka Phod Race.
Date: Feb 07 – Feb 09, 2020
Venue: Sahid Poonam Singh Stadium and SAM Dunes, Jaisalmer
Nearest Railhead: Jaisalmer (JSM)
Nearest Airport: Jodhpur Airport
Khajuraho, famous for its erotic sculptures and aesthetic temples that date back to a period between 10th century A.D. and 11th century A.D., hosts this yearly cultural dance festival to welcome the spring season. Reputed dance troupes and famed classical dancers from different corners of the world assemble here to perform on the biggest stage for classical dance forms. The performance includes Bharatnatyam, Odissi, Mohini Attam, Chhau, Kathak, Kuchipudi and more. It is a weeklong event and each day is scheduled with different form of classical dance programs.
Date: Feb 25 – Mar 03, 2020
Venue: Chitragupta Temple and Vishwanatha Temple, Khajuraho
Nearest Railhead: Khajuraho (KURJ) and Mahoba (MBA)
Nearest Airport: Civil Aerodrome Khajuraho
Bihu is a set of three Assamese Festivals falling round the year coinciding with different farming phases. The Bihu Festival is divided into Bohag Bihu, Kongali Bihu and Magh Bihu.
Bohag Bihu or Rangoli Bihu is a seven day long festival that celebrates the Assamese New year and starts from 15th of April and goes on till 21st of April. This time of the year is when farmers start plowing their fields. Each of the seven days of the Bohag bihu is named as Chot Bihu, Goru Bihu, Manuh Bihu, Kutum Bihu, Senehi Bihu, Mela Bihu and Chera Bihu.
Kongali Bihu, is celebrated in mid October. Generally this is the time when the paddy fields are in the growing stage. The Assamese people pray for the wellbeing of the crop and seek their protection from pests and bad weather.
Magh Bihu is celebrated in the month of January to mark the end of the harvest season. This is basically eating and enjoyment season.
Nearest Railhead: Guwahati (GHY)
Nearest Airport: Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport, Guwahati
The Hornbill festival is a yearly celebration held by Nagaland State Government in the first week of December. The weeklong celebration is a rendezvous of the Naga tribes and travellers from different corner of the world. The fanfare during the festival is carried out with colorful events and folk dance and songs performances, sports and ceremonies. The traditional arts of Nagaland including paintings, wood carvings, and sculptures are good souvenirs for the travellers. Further, if you are a FOOD AFICIONADO apart from being a HARDCORE NON-VEG CONNOISSEUR you are simply going to relish each day of the Hornbill Festival.
Date: Dec 1 – 10, 2019
Nearest Railhead: Dimapur (DMV)
Nearest Airport: Dimapur Airport
Onam is celebrated in the beginning of the month of Chingam, the first month of the Malayalam Calendar. There are actually four days of Onam. The most important day of Onam is the second day. Festivities actually commence around 10 days before this day (on Atham), with the preparation of floral arrangements on the ground in front of homes. One of the major attractions during the Onam festival is the Puli Kali event, which is an unusual but colourful form of folk art, dance, music, and drama. Other events that attract travellers are the Aranmula Snake Boat Race, feasting, elephant procession and various forms of classical and south Indian dance.
Date: Sep 10 – Sep 13, 2019
Nearest Railhead: Thrissur (TCR)
Nearest Airport: Cochin International Airport
Dussehra, marks the end of Navratri and mythologically it is believed that on this day Lord Rama killed the Demon Ravana and freed Goddess Sita from Lanka. It is also believed that Ram fought for nine days in Lanka to win over Ravana.
Although it is celebrated throughout the country, still there is something special about the Mysore and Kullu Dussehra festivals.
Mysore Dussehra is a royal festival that celebrates the killing of Mahishasura by the Hindu Goddess Chamundeshwari. As a part of the royal celebration, the day includes elephant processions and lighting up of the city with nearly 1 lakh light bulbs.
Kullu Dussehra, is a seven day festival in the city of Kullu, that commences from the day of Dussehra. On this very day in the seventeenth century, King Jagat Singh of Kullu valley made an idol of Lord Raghnatha. From that day it is believed that Raghunatha is the ruler of the whole valley.
Date: Oct 08, 2019
Venue: Mysore, Karnataka and Kullu, Himachal Pradesh
Nearest Railhead: Mysore (MYS), Karnataka and Kalka (KLK), Haryana (for Kullu)
Nearest Airport: Mandakalli Airport, Mysore and Kullu Manali Airport, Himachal Pradesh (for Kullu)
Pongal is a celebration of harvesting season by the Tamilians. The celebration goes on for 4 days, generally between the 15th of January and the 18th of January. The word pongal in Tamil signifies abundance of crop. It is mainly celebrated as thanksgiving to the Sun, the primary source of energy for crops to grow. The symbolic ritual of boiling fresh milk in a new clay pot at sunrise is a major part of the Pongal festival.
Date: Jan 15 – 18, 2020
Nearest Railhead: Chennai Central (MAS)
Nearest Airport: Chennai International Airport
The Durga Puja in Kolkata is a jubilation of the Bengalis and is 4-5 days of extravaganza bringing in kinship among people belonging from different caste and creed. Locally the festival is also known as “Akal bodhan”, an uncustomary time for commencement of the worship. Mythology says that the customary time of worshiping goddess Durga is April, but Lord Rama worshiped Durga Mata during this period to get a boon to kill Ravana. No matter what ever the consequences are but during the Durga Puja festival the Bengalis from different corners of the world will reunite with their family and friends. It is the time when you will come across the vibrant mood, art and colours of the Bengalis mostly in traditional wears and temporary thematic and artistic pandals and idols of goddess Durga.
Date: Oct 04 – 08, 2019
Nearest Railhead: Howrah (HWH) OR Sealdah (SDAH)
Nearest Airport: Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata
This is the day when Lord Shiva got married to Goddess Parvati. The night of Maha Shivratri is called the “Great night of Lord Shiva” and is observed every year in the month of Falgun; according to the Georgian Calendar it falls in the month of February/March. The day is celebrated by night long Puja and offering Bael or golden apple leaves.
Date: Feb 21, 2020
Venue: Best place to be part of this Festival is Bhubeneshwar
Neraest Railhead: Bhubeneshwar (BBSR)
Nearest Airport: Biju Patnaik International Airport, Bhubeneshwar
One of the five sacred sites of the Hindu devotees, Pushkar is internationally famed for hosting the Pushkar Camel Fair, which is an annual festival. The weeklong gala affair spread various shades of the royal state of Rajasthan. With marvelous art and architecture from the bygone era being major attractions, the Pushkar Fair is a wonderful eye candy for the travellers around the world. The main aim of the Pushkar Fair is to promote trade of cattle such as camels, horses, cows, goats, sheep etc. For tourists the Pushkar fair is an experience of a lifetime that with camel safari, local music, and cultural performances.
Date: Nov 04 – 12, 2019
Nearest Railhead: Ajmer (AII)
Nearest Airport: Jaipur International Airport
Janmashtami or Krishna Ashtami marks the annual birth celebration of the Hindu deity Lord Krishna. The day is celebrated on the eight night of the dark fortnight in the month of Shravana. The celebration continues for a minimum of 2 days to 8 days. The sacred towns of Mathura and Vrindavan host several events like Rasa lila, and dramatic enactments depicting the life of Lord Krishna. Regions following Vaishnavism in Manipur also host such events. Janmashtami is also celebrated in other parts of India by different names.
Date: Aug 11, 2020
Venue: Mathura and Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh
Nearest Railhead: Mathura (MTJ)
Nearest Airport: Kheria Air Force Station, Agra
The festival is an international meet for all kite lovers. People from round the world meet up at different locations of the country like Delhi, Mumbai, Kutch, Ahmedabad and many more. The main group of kite lovers assembles at Kutch, with their handmade kites.
Date: Jan 07 and 14, 2020
Venue: Sabarmati River Front, Ashram Road Ahmedabad
Nearest Railhead: Ahmedabad (ADI)
Nearest Airport: Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport, Ahmedabad
The Rann Utsav or the Kutch Mahotsav is a quarter year long winter celebration in the white sandy deserts of Kutch. During the Rann utsav makeshift tents are set up in the desert for the tourists, and the Goverment facilitates tourists the opportunity to experience the local culture, cuisine and hospitality. The Kutch region is also famous for its handicrafts. The main embroidery-related items include Rabari, Ahir, Sindhi, Banni, Mutwa, Ari and Soof made by the local women and girls. Whereas the other major travellers’ attractions includes Kite flying, camel ride and desert safari.
Date: Oct 28, 2019 – Feb 23, 2020
Nearest Railhead: Bhuj (BHUJ)
Nearest Airport: Bhuj Airport
Before Lokmanya Tilak, Ganesh Chaturti used to be a small celebration in every household by worshiping the Lord Ganesh. In the year 1893, Lokmanya Tilak transformed it into a large, well organized domestic celebration. Since then it has become a big event in Maharashtra and central India and has rapidly spread across south India and parts of east and north India. The 10-day event sees several cultural programs, dance, art craft sells and a grand procession at the end of the event.
Date: Aug 22, 2020
Nearest Railhead: Mumbai Central (BCT) and Mumbai CST (CSTM)
Nearest Airport: Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai
It has its roots in the Christian tradition that was brought to Goa by the Portuguese in the early 16th century. This is the local version of the carnival which is celebrated worldwide before Mardi Gras. The four daylong celebration starts on Saturday before Ash Wednesday. According to Christianity it is the first day of fasting out of forty fasting/ avoidance meat days before Easter. The events at the Goa Carnival combine fiestas of diverse cultures, religions and beliefs and many street shows. It closes with a colorful parade which can be compared to the holiday parades in South America.
Date: Feb 22 – 25, 2020
Nearest Railhead: Madgaon (MAO)
Nearest Airport: Dabolim Airport, Goa
Losar Festival is the Indo-Tibetans’ biggest event marking the start of the Tibetan New Year. The locals come out in large numbers on the street and pray, pass fire torches, dance and sing. The 3 day long celebrations see decoration of monasteries, newly painted houses, families dress in new clothes and food fun.
Time of the year: Feb 24 – 26, 2020
Nearest Railhead: NA
Nearest Airport: Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, Leh
It is that time of the year when Muslims from all over the world gathers to show a common goal of unity representing the cultural exuberance of the Islam religion and marking an end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting (sawm). Hence it is also dubbed as “Feast of Breaking the Fast”. During the auspicious day of Eid-ul-Fitr… thousands of Muslims from different corners of respective cities in India unite at the nearest mosque to celebrate the joyful occasion by greeting each other, which is immediately followed by a formal embrace, sharing of gifts and sweets, and feasting. The traditional and popular way of Eid greeting is “Eid Mubarak”, a phrase that you will often hear if you encounter a Muslim gathering on the particular day. Eid-ul-Fitr in other terms and alike all other religious festivals in India is a festival of togetherness and happiness. Nowadays, in India, people belonging to other religions also participate in the festive mood with their friends and neighbors… this signifies the UNITY between MUSLIM and OTHER RELIGIONS in India. On the day of Eid-ul-Fitr, Muslims offer prayer at the local Masjid that is followed by Eid Salaat and reading of the takbirat in an open field. Muslim women are encouraged to join the Eid Salaat.
Date: May 24, 2020 (Tentative)
Venue: The best place to experience Eid-ul-Fitr is at the Jama Masjid, New Delhi
Nearest Railhead: New Delhi Railway Station (NDLS)
Nearest Airport: Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi
Often dubbed as the “festival of lights”… Diwali today is not an ancient Hindu festival that is celebrated to mark victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair… but has also religious significance in Sikhism and Jainism religions. That’s not all!!! People hailing from Buddhism, Muslim and Christian religions also partake in the eventful occasion by lighting up candles or traditional lamps (Diyas) and firecrackers.
Date: Oct 27, 2019
One of the popular festivals in India that has gained its cultural significance in other parts of the world… Holi, which is the “festival of colours” is actually beyond just a colourful event. It is one of the most joyous occasions for the people in India and is celebrated with gulal (perfumed and coloured powder), pichkari (Water Gun), and buckets of coloured water and is followed by distribution of sweets and feasting. On the occasion of Holi, people throw and spray colours at each other that mark the major part of the celebration along with sharing of smiles and formal embrace. The traditional way of celebrating Holi is still followed in major parts of India. Nowadays… International travellers also participate in the joyous and colourful occasion of Holi, which is personally experienced during my trip to Pushkar on the occasion of Holi 2014.
Date: March 10, 2020
Dedicated to Lord Jagannath… the Chariot Festival in Puri, popularly known as the “Puri Rath Yatra”, witnesses a huge gathering of Hindu pilgrims and travellers from different corners of the world who seek to explore the cultural diorama of India. The Puri Rath Yatra is a sacred journey on a richly decorated chariot of the Hindu deities of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Subhadra from the Jagannath temple to Gundicha temple via Mausi Maa Temple, which is near Balagandi Chaka in Puri. It is a part of the festival that Lord Jagannath along with the other Hindu deities remain at the Gundicha temple for nine days and later return back to the main temple. The return journey of the Puri Rath Yatra is termed as Bahuda Jatra.
Date: June 23, 2020
Nearest Railhead: Bhubeneshwar (BBSR)
Nearest Airport: Biju Patnaik International Airport, Bhubeneshwar
Hash, I think I have covered most of them. Add in the comments if you know of any other popular cultural festival or event in India that I may have missed. Also, which would be your personal favorite festival that you would want to attend in India?
By the way lets test how many of you know the place in India which is popular for Holi celebration.