20 Must Experience Festivals of India - 2018

20 Must Experience Festivals of India

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India is the land of diversity, where different regions have different cultures, traditions, food, and festivals. Every month there is some or the other festival in India. All festivals of India are celebrated on auspicious days according to the local calendar. Usually, festivals are more of a family or friends affair but some of the Indian festivals are community festivals. These are the festivals which anyone can be a part of and enjoy.

There are so many different festivals and one should experience these to understand the culture of India. Here is a list of some of the festivals of India, which one must experience in India. To become part of these festivals of India one doesn’t need an invitation. The only thing required to experience or participate is to be there at the right time at the right place. In India, we welcome everyone with an open arm.

Also, read about Most beautiful places in India and Must visit places in India

These are some of the festivals of India, which one should attend to explore the culture of India.

Desert Festival Jaisalmer

7th February to 9th February 2020

This three-day festival is organized by the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation in the Shahid Poonam Singh Stadium in Jaisalmer, which is one of the main venues of this desert festival. The festivities begin with a ceremonial procession called Shobha Yatra. The local Rajputs men attend this procession in their traditional attire with members of the other clans.

These Rajput men carry traditional weapons while riding atop camels, horses, and elephants. There are snake charmers, puppet shows, live folk music and dance performances in this festival. Many local Rajasthani folk dancers and singers, who are popular all over the world participate in this festival.

The main attraction of the festival is the performances of Manganiyar folk singers and dancers during the festivals. The traditional acrobatic performers are locally known as “Nats” also perform here, their acts are inspired by nomadic acrobats and gymnastic style. It is the end of the winter season and the weather is perfect to enjoy the Desert festival.

Where: In the city of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan Festivals of India

Goa Carnival Festival

22nd February to 25th February 2020

The carnival marks the celebrations before the month of Lent. During three days and nights, the streets of Goa come alive with festivities. The Carnival is set into motion with a procession headed by King Momo on the first day. The King Momo is selected from local Goan people and its a position of pride. In the procession, there are dancers, bands of troubadours dressed like fortune tellers, men, and women in funny clothes, with local Goan music and dances.

This procession is characterized by mock battles among men with fake weapons or guns stuffed with colored powder and chaff-filled bombs. At night firecrackers blasted with the rhythm of the drums. The hawkers put up the food stall near carnival area and there is the abundance of good quality local food round the clock. Goa carnival is a street festival of India which anyone can attend and there are no tickets for it.

Where: In city of Goa. Goa Carnival Credit: Wiki Commons

Festival of colors Holi

10th March 2020

Holi is one of the most celebrated festivals of India but in Northern India, it is celebrated more in comparison to Southern India. This is also known as the festival of colors and it marks the beginning of spring season. Holi signifies the victory of good over evil.

On the night before the Holi, a bonfire is made to signify the destruction of evil in the form of Holika in this fire. Next morning everyone from children to elders gathers outside their houses on streets and smear powder color on faces or throw watercolors on each other. Drums and music played to add the festive flavor to color playing and to dance.

It is a festival when children, young and old people come out and meet each other, they celebrate it as a community. Holi is an occasion to meet people and forgive & forget the past bitterness. It is a street festival, here are some tips for Holi to enjoy the festival. Special delicacies are made and eaten. The playing with colors, dance and food parties goes on until the afternoon.

Where: Anywhere in northern India if interested in playing with colors. Vrindavan’s Holi is popular and it is played in the temple compound. Varanasi and Pushkar are other popular places. Holi festival

Read more about Festival of Holi and safety tips

Hola Mohalla – Rural Olympics of India

10th March to 12th March 2020

Hola Mahalla begins on the first day of the lunar month of Chet and it follows the Hindu festival Holi. This is a three-day event but many participants come before the start of the festival and stay for a week. Tenth Sikh Guru Gobind Singh started this festival for Sikhs to practice and sharpen their battle skills.

The groups of Nihang Sikhs camp around the Anandpur Sahib practicing & displaying their fighting skills. They do kirtan (Praying in praise of guru), listening to traditional music. These Nihang Sikha are the warriors of Sikhism, they wear distinctive blue traditional robes and turban which are often embellished with different items.

The activities happen in the main Mela (Fair) ground and thousands of people gather to see them perform. This fair is also known as Rural Olympics of India. The people attending this fair need not worry about the meals because community kitchens are an integral part of Hola Mohalla.

Apart from the main kitchen in Gurudwara, many small community kitchens run by volunteers for people and everyone is welcomed here. The meals provided here are commonly known as “Langars” and where everyone sits together in Queues and eats vegetarian food.

Where: Anandpur Sahib in Punjab Hola Mohalla festivals of IndiaCourtesy: Khabar India

Mewar Festival Udaipur

27th March to 29th March 2020

Mewar festival coinciding with the Gangaur festival, which is celebrated to mark the spring season. This festival is very significant for women of Mewar region. They dress in their finest costumes and jewelry during this festival. Woman and girls apply henna on their hands and feet. Many days before the festival women craft and dress up the idols of Lord Vishnu and his consort Goddess Gangaur for this day.

According to belief, the Gangaur is the goddess of marital happiness and conjugal bliss. The married women pray to the Gangaur goddess of marital bliss and good health of their husbands. Single girls also pray for a good match of their choice. During the festivities, women carry the idols on their head for a religious and ceremonial procession.

Men/women sing and dance while the procession goes from one part to another part of the city. Along with procession, local artists also perform. Women carry the idols on their heads. Finally, this procession concludes at the Gangaur Ghat at Lake Pichhola in Udaipur. The sight at Gangaur Ghat is colorful and a delight to watch.

Where: Udaipur in Rajasthan. Mewar festivals of India

Thrissur Pooram

2nd May 2020

Thrissur Pooram is, without doubt, the mother of all temple festivals in Kerala. On this occasion around 100 caparisoned elephants stand in a row and a big firework is displayed for the public, the sheer grandeur of this event makes it one of its own kind. These vibrantly decked up elephants line-up in a big ground and it is marked by a ceremony called “kudamattom”.

This ceremony involves rhythmic changing of brightly colored embellished parasols and it is the most attended ceremony of this festival. Music is an integral part of this festival, around 250 artists participate in the traditional orchestra led by “Chenda” artists using traditional instruments of Kerala.

Thousands of spectators, who are attending the festival wave their hands in accordance with the rhythm generated by this music. This performance is another high point of the festival. This music performance is more like any popular live band’s performance, where people become the part of the concert. The grand finale of this festival is marked by a big fireworks show.

Where: Thrissur in Kerala Thrissur Pooram Festivals of IndiaCourtesy: Wikimedia

Hemis Festival in Hemis Monastery

30th June to 1st July 2020

Hemis festival’s celebrations are dedicated to the birth of Buddhist Lord Padmasambhava, who is the founder of Vajrayana Buddhism in Ladakh. It is celebrated on the 10th day of the Tibetan lunar month in Leh.

The masked dance performers are the main attraction of the festival with their uproaring dance moves. They are dressed in bright colored attires and dramatic paper-mache masks. In these dance performances, they depict the tales of war between good and evil, synchronizing their dance moves with the sounds of the traditional Ladakhi music instruments.

Celebrations of the Hemis festival commences early in the morning with playing the music with cymbals, drums, and trumpets. The dance performances start after prayers and religious rituals to Lord Padmasambhava. The temporary stalls are set up around the monastery and they sell antique objects, artifacts like Buddhist idols, Tibetan gems & jewelry, unique handicrafts items, and handwoven dresses.

Where: Hemis Monastery in Leh (Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir)Traditional Mask Dance
Read more about Leh travel experience.

Jagannath puri Rath Yatra in Puri

23rd June 2020

Ratha Yatra or Chariot Festival is held at Puri in the state of Orissa. This festival is associated with Lord Jagannath and is considered to be the oldest Ratha Yatra taking place in India. Preparation for the festival starts months in advance with the making of wooden Chariots. Three chariots are made resembling temple structures and then these are decorated in multicolor fabrics, paints, and embellishments.

These Chariots are pulled by thousands of devotees with the help of ropes through the streets of Puri. It commemorates the annual journey of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, and their sister Subhadra to their maternal aunt’s place “Gundicha Temple”. This temple is situated at a distance of 2 km from the main Jagannath temple.

This is the only day of the year when non-Hindus and foreigners can see the deities as they are not allowed to enter the temple premises. Millions of people from all over the world gather in Puri to participate in this annual festival. The huge processions of drum, tambourines, trumpets players accompany these chariots. The streets are very crowded during Rath Yatra but the view from the balconies on both sides of the street is spectacular.

Where: Puri in OrissaJagan Rath yatra Festivals of IndiaCourtesy: Jagannathpuri Temple

Also, read about other temples in India – Kashi Vishwanath temple Varanasi and Somnath Temple Gujarat

Nehru Trophy Boat Race Allepy

08th August 2020

It is one of the most popular snack boat race. The long canoes of 100–120 feet made of wood carry 90- 100 rowers that move like a snake through the backwaters of Lake. The course of the race is 1.4 km in Punnamada (Vembanad) Lake in the backwaters of Kerala.

The Nehru Trophy Boat Race is named after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who started this race. It is conducted on the Punnamda Lake near Alleppey on the second Saturday of August. For the people of the villages in Kuttanad, a victory at this race for their boat is celebrated for months to come.

The main event has 16 snake boats generally called “Kings of Water” with 100 rowers with four at the helm to guide, sitting on both sides and all the others paddle in unity. Thes decorated rowing boats are a spectacle to remember.

It is a community event and if anyone wants to participate then they can approach the village people. People stand on both sides of the backwater channel shouting for their favorite boat team.

Where: Punnamda Lake near Allepyin Kerala.Kerala boat race Credit – Wiki Commons

Onam – The Harvest Festival

30th Augusr to 31st August 2020

Onam is the biggest and the most important festival of the state of Kerala. It is harvest festival and is celebrated all over the state by people of all communities. According to a popular legend, this festival is celebrated to welcome King Mahabali.

According to legends, the spirit of King Mahabali visits Kerala at the time of Onam. It is believed that during the reign of the mighty Asura king Mahabali, Kerala witnessed its golden era. Due to the good deed was done by him for the people, Gods were jealous.

They bring an end to his reign as they felt challenged by Mahabali’s popularity. But for all the good deed done by King Mahabali, God granted him a boon that he could visit his people annually.

It is this annual visit of King Mahabali that is celebrated as Onam. There are celebratory possessions with traditional music of Kerala and people dress in colorful costumes, paint themselves as Tigers. On the last day of Onam festival a grand meal of 26 dishes is prepared, which is first offered to Mahabali and then the feast starts. This feast is known as Onam Sadhya.

Where: All over Kerala. Onam Sadhya is also available in other parts of India (The details places for feast available nearer the date) Onam Sadhya Festivals of India

Also read about Traditional food of Kerala


12th August 2020

It is celebrated to mark the birthday of Lord Krishna. This festival is celebrated all over India in different ways. In some parts tableau of Krishna’s birth and events associated with his birth are displayed in temples. In the state of Maharastra, it’s celebrated differently and known as “Dahi Handi”. The groups of boys and nowadays girls also make human pyramids and break an earthen pot hanged high with a rope.

The group who breaks the “Dahi Handi” gets the prize money for breaking the pot. Sometimes the issue of security of this human pyramid is raised because the height of pot is very high but none the less it is a festival to watch and enjoy as a spectator.

Where: For Dahi Handi any big city like Mumbai or Pune in Maharastra

Also read more about Must do things and places to visit in Mumbai

Ganesh Chaturthi

22nd August 2020

This ten-day festival starts with the installation of clay idol of Ganesha. There are many Pandals who install the idol and they do ceremonial prayers every evening & morning. The festival is publicly celebrated in Pandals as well as people install Lord Ganesha’s statue at their home.

For someone who wants to enjoy it as a spectator, these Pandals are the best place to see the celebration. On 10th day idol is taken out from pandals in a ceremonial procession with drums and music. In this procession, people dance on music and finally, the idol is immersed in sea/river/ponds water.
Where: In the state of Maharastra, Telangana and Karnataka mainly. Ganesh Churthi Festivals of India

Also, read about Hyderabad – The Capital of Telangana


17th October to 25th October 2020

It’s a festival spread over 10 days & 9 nights and celebrated all across India but in different styles. On these nine days, Goddess Durga is worshipped in different forms representing the energy of Universe.

According to the legends, Goddess Durga fought with evil demon Mahisasur for 9 days and killed him on 10th Day. In many parts, these days are considered the so scared that people don’t eat nonvegetarian food or don’t drink alcohol. During nine days of Navratri, in many places, there is a live performance of epic Ramayana’s story on a big stage for people and there is no ticket for this show.

In Gujarat, people do a folk dance known as “Dandiya” and “Garba” wearing colorful dresses. Nowadays these dance programs are organized in big grounds or stadiums and people dance to the live music, song & DJ music.

The dance events for “Dandiya” and “Garba” are organized all over India but the state of Gujarat has a totally different electric environment. Usually, there is an entry ticket for attending these programs.

Where: All over Gujarat. Also in other parts of India (Usually event details come out nearer the date). Navratri Credit: Wiki Commons

Also, read about the places in Gujarat – Places to visit from Ahmedabad and Kutch in Gujarat

Durga Puja

22nd October to 26th October 2020

This is the most celebrated festival in West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Orissa. It is more of a community festival of India because a big theme-based “pandals” are made for the celebrations. The idol of Goddesses is installed in these “Pandals” and celebrations starts. These “Pandals” have shopping areas and many food chains or stand-alone restaurants put up their food stall here.

Every morning and evening Goddess is worshipped in a particular manner with songs and music. These pandals remain open almost all night and the atmosphere here is more like a party. People visit different Pandals to see the decoration and taste food.

This going from one place to another is popularly known as “Pandal Hopping” and it is very popular among people of all ages especially the younger generation.

Where: Best place to experience this is Kolkata in West Bengal. Durga Puja Festivals of India


25th October 2020

Dussehra is celebrated for the god Rama’s victory over the demon king Ravana, which is a symbol of victory of good over evil. According to Ramayana, the demon king Ravana kidnapped the wife of Rama to Lanka. To get his wife Sita back, Rama fought with the mighty army of king Ravana. That is why the festival of Dusshera is also known as Vijay Dashmi (Means day of victory).

This festival is celebrated by burning the effigy of Ravana, his brother Kumbhakarna and son Meghnath. These huge effigies are made with paper and bamboo, then filled with firecrackers. These effigies are burned on the evening of Dusshera in a big Mela (Fair) ground.

These fairgrounds are a good way to explore local culture as there are stall selling traditional clothes, local products for decoration and different food stalls churn local delicacies. There are giant wheels and different kind rides for kids as well as adults. It is a good place to enjoy the evening.

Kullu ka Dusshera is a weeklong festival starts with a procession of Lord Raghunath and other minor deities from different villages of Kullu on a Rath (Chariot) across the town. All the festivities happen in Kullu’s Dhalpur maidan.

On the last day of the festival celebrations, local people sacrifices a fish, a rooster, a buffalo or a lamb and a huge bonfire are lit. Finally, the idol of Lord Raghunath is brought back to its original temple through a grand procession. The performers from different places and countries are invited, they all participate to makes this festival celebration grand.

Also, read more about Indian souvenirs & what to buy in India and What to wear in India

Mysore Dussehra is a 10-day celebration. The King has a special durbar in the Mysore Palace during Dussehra and it is attended by members of the royal family, special invitees, officials and by the masses. On the 9th day, the royal sword is worshipped and is taken on a procession involving elephants, camels, and horses.

The main attraction of this celebration is Mysore Palace which is illuminated daily for 10 days with nearly 100,000 light bulbs from 7 pm to 10 pm. Different cultural programs of dance and music are performed in front of the illuminated Mysore Palace.
Where: To see the burning of effigy Delhi.

For Kullu Dusshera in Kullu in Himachal Pradesh.
Mysore Dussehra in Mysore, Karnataka.Mysore Palace Festivals of India

Read more about city of Mysore


14th November 2020

Diwali is celebrated all over India and is biggest among festivals of India. This is the festival of light, Diwali is on one-day but festivities start a few days before and last 2-3 days after the main day. Diwali is celebrated to mark the homecoming of Lord Rama with his wife Sita and brother Laxmana.

Diwali is one of the biggest shopping seasons in India and people buy clothes, jewelry, home appliances, and everything. Gifts and sweets are given to friends & family members.

Diwali is an excuse to indulge. Markets, houses and other buildings are decorated with flowers, string lights, and oil lamps. Everything looks beautifully illuminated on Diwali night and it is a sight to cherish.

The goddess of wealth and prosperity Laxmi is worshipped on Diwali night. At night almost everyone burst firecrackers, the sky is lit up with fireworks though some of the crackers are very noisy. Over the years Firework becomes an integral part of this festival.

Diwali festivals of India
Credit – Pixabay

Where: Anywhere in North India.

Read more about must visit places in North India – Hills stations in North India, First timer’s guide for Delhi and Offbeat places in Delhi

Pushkar camel fair

22nd November to 30th November 2020

Traditionally this annual fair was all about selling and buying of livestock specially Camels but in last 2 – 3 decades it has become a tourist attraction for Indian and International travelers. Everyone comes here to see a display of traditional India and to click vibrant photographs of villagers in traditional attire.

Village people come here with big hoards of camels for trading. They pitch the tents in open area near the fairground. They cook in open and stay here for at least a week or 10 days for the trading of animals. It is said that approximately 50,000 camels are brought in for trading every year.

There are different events for 5 days from the morning and go on until evening. These events are designed in a way to attract tourists. People can participate in these by making team with other tourists.

The popular games held here are a tug of war, turban tying competition, dance programs, Kabaddi matches are some of those. In these games, they usually make two teams, in one team they have locals people & Indians tourists and others they have foreign tourists. This is most colorful and diverse in festivals of India.

Where: In Pushkar, Rajasthan. Pushkar camel fair in morning

Dev Diwali in Varanasi

29th November 2020

Dev Deepawali is different from “Diwali” celebrated all over India, it’s celebrated on Karthik Purnima (Full moon night) of Hindu calendar which comes 14-15 days after the Diwali festival. It’s believed that on this day Gods descend to the ghats of Varanasi to bathe in the Ganga river. Dev Diwali is celebrated in this form only in Varanasi and the city has a special feel during this time.

People decorate their houses with earthen lamps at night, make rangoli in front of houses and fire creakers are burned at night to celebrate. The main attraction of this festival is illuminated ghats on river Ganga. The steps of all the ghats are decorated with thousands of earthen lamps with oil on this occasion and the atmosphere on ghats becomes very electric. This is a beautiful site to watch from a boat in the river or from the ghats itself.

Where: In Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. Dev Diwali Festivals of India

 Read more about Ghats of Varanasi, Places to visit, stay and eat in Varanasi and Dev Diwali in Varanasi.

Rann Utsav

1st November 2018 to 28th February 2019 & 2020

It is a three-month-long festival held in the Great Rann of Kutch, which is the largest salt desert in the world. The weather is perfect at this time of the year and salt marsh looks white.

The full moon nights are the best time to visit the Rann Utsav because Great Rann of Kutch looks silver-white in the moonlight and it’s a spectacular sight. There are luxury tent accommodations available near Rann and every evening traditional song, dance, and music programs are organized for people staying here.

There are stalls selling traditional handicraft items made by Rabari, Ahir, Sindhi, Banni, Mutwa, Ari and Soo communities. These handicrafts are mostly handmade embroidered items with mirrors and beadwork. The accommodation cost is high in Rann so people stay in eco-resorts in the nearby villages. The budget-conscious people stay in Bhuj and leave at night from Great Rann after the excursion.

Rann Utsav festivals of India
Credit – Pixabay

Where: Near Great Rann of Kutch in Gujarat. It’s 90 Km from Bhuj.

Hornbill Festival Kohima Nagaland

1st December to 10th December 2019 & 2020

This ten-day festival is celebrated in Kisama Heritage Village near Kohima. This festival is a good opportunity to experience the culture, food, handicrafts, songs, and dances of Nagaland. All major tribes of Nagaland attend this festival.

The festivities begin by nine in the morning and goes on until late at night. The replicas of tribal hutments with wood carvings are made in the fair area. There are exhibitions cum sale of Naga Morungs, Arts, and Crafts. During the day many cultural activities are organized for visitors these are mainly traditional dance & song performances, Archery, Indigenous Games, Naga wrestling, beauty contest, and fashion shows.

The main attraction of the festival is the Hornbill National Rock Concert after sundown. Various bands from all across the country come to compete here. The concert is followed by a night market and Food stalls.

Where: Kisama Heritage village in Kohima, Nagaland. Hornbill Festivals of India

Read more about Guwahati – Gateway to northeast India and Shillong

These are some of the most vibrant and famous festivals of India.

Also, read about Train travel in India and How to plan & travel in India

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19 thoughts on “20 Must Experience Festivals of India”

  1. Wow I want to do them all! Often times we only hear about Holi, but there are so many wonderful festivals across India. I am going to India in 2019, and I hope to be able to experience one or two of these, I will have to see what works with our plans.

  2. Thank you so much for putting this post together. I was planning on being in India around the time of Navaratri and after reading about it I know I need to go for it so thank you!

    1. Wow.. It means you will be traveling to India during festive season before Diwali. Great, I am sure you will like Indian culture and festivals.

  3. Pingback: 15 Most unusual religious festivals of india | Passport Symphony

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