Have you ever travelled to India? If you’re thinking about an Indian sojourn, then it makes sense to align your trip with some of the best Indian festivals.
Hinduism is India’s predominant religion and is called ‘the eternal tradition’ by scholars, who believe it to be the world’s oldest religion with no single founder. Thousands of years of history, myth, ritual and tradition combine to produce some of the most spectacular celebrations on earth.
Holi is Hinduism’s spring festival of colour – a celebration of good over evil signified by the start of spring and a day to meet others in love, laughter, fun, and to forgive transgressions.
Over a full night and a day – starting on the evening of Purnima in Hindu month of Phalgun – participants gather to perform rituals then as day dawns to run through the streets throwing brightly coloured powders at each other no matter if it’s a friend or stranger. Rainbow hues fill the air, and the sound of laughter and music is everywhere. It’s a truly unique time to visit India and will provide some of the best happy snaps from your Indian adventure.
Stay at: Karma Royal Haathi Mahal, in sunny Goa.
In the arid north-Indian State of Rajasthan, the Indian festival of Gangaur celebrates the spring harvest. Starting a day after Holi and running for sixteen days, the festival is a much more passive experience for international guests yet no less colourful. The women of Rajasthan decorate their hands and feet with myrtle paste in astronomical designs, including the sun and the moon, as well intricate geometric designs.
In Jaipur – known as India’s Pink City and also Rajasthan’s capital – Gangaur reaches its climax with a huge procession through the streets carrying the image of Gauri (Paravati), the Hindu Goddess of fertility, love and devotion. The procession winds from the City Palace, past the Tripolia Bazaar and Chaugan Stadium.
Gangaur in Jaipur is also famous for Ghevar – a disc-shaped cake soaked in sugar syrup and unique to Rajasthan- which people buy to eat and share with family and friends.
Stay at: Karma Haveli, in Jaipur.
Pushkar Camel Fair
Also in Rajasthan, you’ll find the tiny town of Pushkar, which for a week every autumn swells to bursting with over 400,000 people, 50,000 camels and thousands of cattle and horses, for one of the world’s largest livestock events. The air swirls with dust and the guttural groans of camels as they’re bought and sold by Rabadi herdsmen from across the vast expanse of India’s arid north-west.
Most of the horse trading (ahem) wraps up a day or two before the event, so when the festival begins, Pushkar’s adopted population gets down to the serious business of having fun. Visitors can expect to experience camel races, get propositioned to join in a ‘touring’ cricket side against the locals and even see Moustache competitions between the local herdsmen.
Stay at: Karma Haveli, in Jaipur.
Falling around August-September each year and unique to the state of Kerala, Onam is a Hindu festival celebrating the Keralan rice harvest. Historically Kerala was one of India’s largest rice producing regions, and the crop still looms large in religious ceremonies, food, and the local economy.
Over almost two weeks the people of Kerala mark Onam with everything from traditional boat races, parades, dances, music and even a traditional tug of war. Don’t miss out on the Vallamkali – the snake boat races – along the length of the Pampa River, where oarsmen compete in serpentine-shaped boats to the cheers of thousands of people. It’s an electric atmosphere and fun for all.
Stay at: Karma Chakra, in Kerala.
Diwali is India’s festival of lights and remains one of India’s most popular festivals, celebrated throughout the country. During Diwali people placing millions of lights inside and outside their houses to symbolise the victory of light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance.
In true Hindu style, the lighting is often extravagant in both colour and scale, with many cities crafting elaborate public lights displays strewn across streets and draped over buildings, followed by fireworks. People don their festive best and walk the streets with friends and family, taking in the visual feast.
Stay at: Karma Royal Palms, Goa.