“Unity in Diversity” is the perfect term to describe India’s rich and varied cultural heritage.
The country of India gets divided by different provinces, cultures and languages. It is still united by its traditional, historical and cultural festivals.
India is a country with 29 states and 7 union territories. Each state of India celebrates at least one historical festival. Festivals give us a glimpse of the rich cultural and mythological heritage of India. To understand and witness the diversity one has to attend these festivals. It brings you closer to the rich tradition that follows for generations now.
Let’s first take a glimpse into the most important festivals of India!
This is a festival of Lord Ganesha. Preached by the Hindu community before beginning any new venture.
It is one of the most important festivals of India in the state of Maharashtra.
To begin the festival, people welcome this Elephant-headed God with great boom. The festival days begins from his birthday Ganesha Chaturthi.
The festival lasts for 10 days. The idol of Lord Ganesha is worship- as the Lord of success and destroyer of evil and obstacles. Huge pandals (temporary sheds) are build up. Decorations with flower garlands, diya’s and bright lights are worth watching. There is a wave of music and public gatherings all around. ‘Lal Baugh Cha Raja’ is the most famous pandal in Mumbai. Many Bollywood celebs, politicians and businessmen visit this pandal making it more popular. People worship the idol for 10 days and offer him his favorite food called ‘Modak’. One can not afford to miss this festival while planning a trip to India. On the tenth day the idol of Lord Ganesha is immersed in water. There exists a belief and prayer of him returning early next year. The prayer says, “Ganapati Bappa Moriya , Pudchya varshi lavkar yaa.”
It is also known as the ‘Festival of Lights’. Diwali is one of the most popular festivals of India. This festival has mythological belief, which celebrates the victory of good over evil. People believe that Lord Rama returned home (Ayodhya) on this day. After winning his battle against Ravana after his 14 years exile in the forest termed as vanvasa.
Diwali is a festival of worshipping Goddess Laxmi , the Goddess of the riches. This 4-day festival also includes Laxmi Pujan,a special day dedicated to the Goddess.
People start preparing for the festival prior by cleaning their homes. Every house dresses itself with colourful bright lights and lanterns. One can also witness traditional clay diya’s lit all around during this four day celebration. One can also witness traditional rangoli at the entrance of every Indian house. It marks a significant place in the celebration rituals. People burn crackers in the evening. Celebrating the fight against evil, darkness from within. This festival marks its presence in almost every part of the country. People prepare and exchange various sweets and snacks and meet and greet their near ones on this day.
This Indian festival last for Nav ratra meaning 9 nights and 10 days. It is a traditional festival of Gujarat, yet it marks its presence all-round the country. One can witness the rich cultural heritage of Gujarat in these nine nights of Navratri.
Navratri is a festival devoted to Godess Durga – the Godess of power and victory. People worship a new form of Goddess in these 9 days. Devotees observe fast during these nine days to please the Goddess. They perform Garba and Dandiya (Traditional dance form) in the evening. On the mythological tunes and even Gujrati folk music. Many Guajaratis also worship a clay pot named ‘Garba’. People decorate it with mirror and sequenes all over and a diya is lit in it. People dance around this pot and hence the name Garba.
Men and women dress in traditional colourful outfits. Like Kediya and Channiya choli which are full of heavy mirror, sequence and thread work all over.
4. Durga Pooja
Durga Pooja is another name for Navratri in Kolkata. Durga Pooja celebrates the victory of Goddess Durga over demon king Mahishasura.
Durga Pooja’s first day is Mahalaya, which heralds the advent of the Goddess. The celebrations begin on the 6th day. It worships the various forms of Goddess as Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. People raise various huge pandals by forming groups. They decorate it with huge and massive idols of Goddess Durga. The celebrations end with Vijaya Dashami amidst loud chants and drumbeats. The idols in huge processions move to local rivers where they are immersed.
5. Holi: - ‘Festival of colours’
Holi- signifies the popular and eternal love of Lord Krishna and Radha. One can enjoy the festival in its most authentic form in Mathura and Vrindavan. The birth place of Lord Krishna. People here believe that Lord Krishna used to play with colors (Gulaal) and flowers. In return Radha used to beat him with a stick (Lathmar)
People here still follow the same traditional style of playing Holi and Lathmar. Where girls beat boys with a stick. Enjoying Holi in Mathura and Vrindavan can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all the visitors.
According to another mythological story:
Holi is a victory of Prahlad, son of Hiranyakashyapu over Holika (his sister.) Hiranyakashyapu wanted everybody in his kingdom to worship only him. To bring to his disappointment, his son became an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu (Narayana). Hence, Hiranyakashyapu commanded his sister Holika to enter a blazing fire. By keeping Prahlad in her lap.( Holika had a boon whereby she could enter fire without any damage on herself.) She was not aware that the boon works only when she enters the fire alone. As a result, she paid the price for her sinister desires. While Prahlad continued reciting Lord Narayana prayers. By the grace of God, Prahlad gets saved for his extreme devotion. Thus, the festival celebrates victory of good over evil and also the triumph of devotion.
6. Makar Sankranti : Kite Festival
People celebrate Makar Sankranti on a fixed date every year, i.e. 14th January. It marks the termination of winter and beginning of a new harvest season. The festival worships Lord Sun on this day. As from this day onwards the Sun begins its northward journey or Uttarayan journey. Hence, the festival is also known as Uttarayan in Gujarat.
It is also known as the ‘Kite Festival.’ People gather to enjoy flying kites. People organise various kite flying competitions to bring people together. People in Gujarat, exchange Till (sesame) sweets. Another special delicacy which people enjoy on this day named Undhiyu. A mixed vegetable made from all the available winter vegetables.
People celebrate this festival by different names across India. Like Lohri in Punjab, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Bihu in Assam and Sakraat in Bihar. Married women perform Haldi Kumkum ceremony. It is a way that invokes waves of quiescent Adi-Shakti in the universe get triggered. People prepare sweets made of til (sesame) and jaggery (gul) and offer each other by saying, ‘Til Gul ghya gud gud bola’
It celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna with pomp and fervours across India. Since, he was born at midnight devotees usually observe fast. They sing devotional songs and take part in dahi handi celebrations.
Baby Krishna loved Makkhan (white butter), curd and milk. He along with his friends would often steal butter from neighbourhood homes. Mother Yashoda would often tie him up to stop his such adorable deeds.
The largest celebration of Janmashtami takes place in Mathura and Vrindavan. It is the birthplace of Lord Krishna where he spent his growing years. The idols of Lord Krishna are bathed in sacred water of Ganga and Yamuna river, milk and makkhan.
People dress up their young ones in Lord Krishna costume and recite the prayer,
“Nand gher anand bhayo, jai Kanhaiya lal ki” to welcome Lord Krishna in midnight.
8. Raksha Bandhan
One of the most famous festivals in India, Rakhi is a festival of Hindus. It signifies the bond between brother and sister. During the celebration sister performs aarti of his brother. She then applies tilak on his forehead and ties rakhi ( sacred decorated thread) on his wrist. Wishing for the well-being of her brother. The brother in return vows to protect his sister and offers gifts as shagun.
Another similar festival to Rakhi is Bhai Dooj which comes after Diwali.
9. Maha Shivratri
Maha Shivratri is the night when Lord Shiva performes the Tandava Nritya (dance ). To save the world from destruction.
Many Hindu scholars believe Lord Shiva drank poisonous negativity on this day. To protect the whole world. While some believe that it is the day when Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati got married again.
People in India worship Lord Shiva in the form of a ‘Lingam’. Flowers, incense and other offerings are offer to the Lord. Devotees observe fast. They chant the sacred panchakshara mantra dedicated to Lord Shiva “Om Namah Shivaya”
10. Gudi Padwa
It is the grand harvest festival. It is celebrated in the state of Maharashtra marking the beginning of an auspicious new year.
People erect Gudi (a bamboo doll) using a bamboo stick, mango and neem leaves and a kalash. They hang it on the entrance door. They make huge rangoli designs at the entrance door and decorate it with flower garlands. Women prepare traditional sweets like Shrikhand and Puran poli at home.
Christmas is an annual festival. Celebrated on December 25 every year, commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. Goa is one of the states in India that turns the Christmas celebration into an epic spectacle. Due to its sizeable Roman Catholic population. Due to Portugal influence this state acknowledges western traditions.
The houses and Churches dress up with Christmas trees and star shaped lanterns. They also sing around Christmas carols.
As mentioned earlier about ‘Unity in diversity’ of India, everyone waits for this day. Children wait for the surprise gifts from Santa.
It is a harvest festival celebrated by the Malayalis. It is an annual holiday, and its celebration is in the South Indian state of Kerala.
Onam celebrations include boat races. Floral arrangements, worshipping and dancing with family and friends. If one visits Kerala during this festival he can’t afford to miss the spectacular snake boat race. The elephant procession and the mesmerising Kaikottikali dance are also worth watching.
It is a historical and religious festival in Sikkhism. It is a spring harvest festival for Sikhs and Hindus. It is usually celebrated in April.
People decorate Gurudwaras on the festival day and organise kirtans. Sikhs bathe in lakes and rivers before visiting local Gurudwaras.
It is also known as the ‘Festival of breaking the fast.’
It is a religious holiday celebrated by Muslims not only in India but across the world.
It marks the end of the month long dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan. Devotees offer prayers at mosques and decorate them with bright lights.
They visit family and friends and greet each other “Eid Mubarak”. Sweet seviyan is the most famous sweet of Eid.
Easter celebrations begin with great religious solemnization in different parts of the country. Easter is celebrated with great joy by the Christian community of India.
Easter marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Christians celebrate this festival by decorating their homes. Easter eggs and presenting gifts to their loved ones is a common ritual.
Lohri is a Punjabi folk festival celebrated in winter season. It is a festival of the Punjab region of India. It is the celebration of welcoming the long days.
The word Lohri comes from two words til (sesame) and rohri (jiggery). This sweet is peculiar during this festival.
Bonfire is the highlight of the celebrations. Localites gather around the bonfire and sing and dance on folk songs.
Pongal is a multiday harvest festival observed by the Tamil community. The festival’s most significant practice is the preparation of traditional Pongal dish. They cook it in a traditional clay pot decorated with flowers and leaves.
It is a thanks giving festival to the Sun by offering him the first harvest of the year.
18. Goa Carnival
It is a 3-4 day long festival before the Catholics start fasting. It begins 40 days before Easter celebrations.
Visitors around the world can witness parades on every night. Each city hosts them. One can enjoy mouth-watering delicacies with non-stop live music sessions.
19. Rath-Yatra Orissa
It is a Hindu festival also known as the “Car or Chariot festival.” It is a festival of Lord Jagannath at Puri in state of Orissa.
It is a 10-12 day long annual celebration. Lord Jagannath, Balbhadra and Subhadra travel in chariots to stay in Gundicha Temple. It is 3 km away from the main Jagannath temple for 9 days. The size of the Chariots varies. It indicates the hierarchy between the three deities.
Gurupurab is the day dedicated to the Guru (Teacher/Master). Sikh community celebrates this day as the birthday of Guru Nanak Dev- Founder of Sikhism.
The celebrations include assemblies on the teaching of the Guru. Gurudwara's organise early morning and night prayer sessions. Following that is the ‘Langar’, a special community meal in Gurudwaras.
21. Govardhan Pooja
It is a Hindu festival celebrated by Vaishnav’s. ( a Gujarati community)
The devotees worship the Govardhan hill during this festival. It is also known as ‘Anna kut’ (Meaning mountain of food)
According to Vaishnav’s it is the day when Lord Krishna lifted the Govardhan hill. To provide shelter to the villagers of Vrindavan from torrential rains. Devotees offer a variety of food representing Govandhan hill, to Lord Krishna as a ritual.
It is also known as ‘Vijayadashmi’. It is a major Hindu festival which comes at the end of Navratri every year. The 10th day of Navratri is as Duss(10)hera.
It is a religious holiday marking the triumph of Rama, an avatar of Lord Vishnu. People belive Lord Rama's victory over the 10 headed demon king Ravana, who abducted Rama’s wife Sita. On this day, effigies of Ravana are stuffed with fire crackers. They are set ablaze in open fields during nighttime.
23. Kumbh Mela
It is the largest religious gathering in the world. It comes at an interval of every 12 years in rotation at the four holy places. The places are Haridwar, Allahabad, Ujjain and Nashik.
The founding myth of Kumbh Mela according to the Puranas (A book with collection of myths and legends). It recounts on how the Gods and demons fought over the pot (kumbh) of Amrit (nectar). That came across by their joint churning of milky ocean.
Bihu is the most important festival in the state of Assam. The term Bihu is a generic term by which not one but three different Assamese festivals are:
- The Bohaag Bihu: It marks the beginning of seeding time in new year.
- The Kaati Bihu: It marks the completion of sowing and transplanting of paddies.
- The Maagh Bihu: It marks the end of Harvesting period.
On Bihu, farmers and People offer prayers and gratitude to God for the prosperous harvest. The highlight of the festival is the Bihu folk dance. It is performed by young men and women dressed in traditional attire.
25. Ram Navami
Ram Navami is a Hindu festival celebrating the birth of Lord Rama, to King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. Houses are cleaned and a family shrine with small statues of Lord Rama is worship. People offer flowers and fruits on the shrine and recite prayers. To mark the day, the followers observe a full-day fast.
26. Basant Panchami
It is also known as ‘Vasant Panchami’, a festival that marks the arrival of spring.
It is a day of Saraswati puja (Goddess of Education and Music) in Eastern parts of India. People believe that on this day Goddess Saraswati was born to Goddess Durga. Hence, the festival is also celebrated in educational institutions like schools and colleges.
People in India also believe Lord Brahma (The Creator) created the Universe on this day.
Mewar - the second World living Heritage festival of India. Married women pray for marital bliss and good health of their partner. While, unmarried ones pray for an ideal match.
Mewar festival is also observed to welcome the arrival of spring. People of Rajasthan celebrate it great enthusiasm in Udaipur.
The festival organises events of folk music, dance and traditional art and culture. On visit to India, one can also relish delicious Indian Rajasthani food. Every year people celebrate it to preserve the heritage of the city. It is a job of the Maharana (in charge) of Mewar Charitable Foundation.
28. Camel Festival
It is a lively and colourful event organised in Bikaner, Rajasthan. It comes every year in January. The festival starts with a procession of camel. They are adorn in traditional necklaces, anklets and coloured bridles. Competitions for both tourists and locals are worth enjoying. The tug of war, water pot race, kabaddi and turban tying are the ones to name a few.
29. Hampi Festival
Hampi festival is the largest festival of Hampi region of Karnataka. Celebrated in January, this festival is full of activities. They include dance, music, drama, puppet shows and extravagant processions. It gives tourist and local people revive and witness the glory of Vijayanagar times.
Losar is a Tibetian word which translates to New year. It is the most significant festival of North east Indian state of Sikkim. Losar lasts for 15 days with the main celebration observed on first three days. Locals decorate their homes with flowers. They paint walls with auspicious signs such as Sun, Moon and reversed Swastik.
Ugadi is a major festival in Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. On this day people draw rangoli at the entrance. They decorate the house with Mango leaves. Buy new clothes, donate food or clothes to the poor, special oil bath and visiting temples.
This same day is Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra.
32. Mahavir Jayanti
It is one of the most significant festivals of the Jain community. It marks the birth anniversary of Lord Mahavira. As per Jain mythology, Lord Mahavira is the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism. He played a significant role in preaching Jainism. On this day, a procession of Lord Mahavir’s idol takes place on a chariot. People recite religious prayers and songs on the way.
33. Buddha Jayanti
Buddha Purnima or Buddha Jayanti is the birthday of Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. Buddha Purnima falls on a full moon night usually between April and May. Devotees wear white clothes and avoid consuming non-vegetarian food.
34. Hanuman Jayanti
Hanuman Jayanti marks the birth of Lord Hanuman. To pay respect and their prayers to the Lord, people wake up early. They take a bath and perform puja and arti along with devotional Hanuman bhajans.
Devotees also recite Hanuman Chalisa. As people belive that reciting it can ease all sufferings of one’s life. Sweets and flowers are peculiar to please Lord Hanuman.
35. Vat Purnima
Vat Purnima also known as ‘Vat Savitri.’
It is a traditional festival celebrated by married women. They pray for the long life, well-being and properity of their husbands. On this day, Hindu woman ties a ceremonial thread around a Banayan tree. They pray seeking the same husband in the next 7 births.
The celebration comes from the mythological story of Savitri and Styavan. Savitri got back her husband Satyavan’s life from Yamraj. (deity of Death)
36. Guru Purnima
It is a spiritual tradition. It's dedicated to entire spiritual and academic Guru’s (teachers). As they remove the darkness from our minds.
37. Sharad Purnima
It is also known as ‘Khojagiri Purnima’. It is one of the most significant full moon nights observed among Hindu’s. In Bengal, devotees worship Goddess Lakshmi on this day for prosperity. While in Gujarat people believe that on this day Lord Krishna performed ‘Maha-Raas. ’ It is a dance form of Lord Krishna with his Gopis (girlfriends)on this day.
According to Islamic beliefs Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar. The word Muharram means ‘not permitted’ or ‘forbidden’
39. Karwa Chauth
It is a festival celebrated by married Hindu women. They observe a nirjala fast which means they do not even drink a drop of water until they see the moon.
40. Akshay Tritiya
Also known as Akha Teej is one of the most auspicious day among the Hindus. It is believed that purchasing gold on this day brings luck and prosperity.
41. Ambedkar Jayanti
Celebrated as birth anniversary of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. Every year on April 14 people honour his contributions and services to the country.
42. Thrissur Pooram
This is an annual festival held in Kerala making elephant parades a highlight.
43. Hemis Festival
It is an annual festival in Ladakh. Its main attraction is the masked dance performed by the colour dressed Lamas.
44. Teej Festival
Teej is a celebration of the onset of monsoons.
45. Chhath Puja
It is a 4 day long festival dedicated to Lord Sun. Devotees celebrate the festival by observing fast on this day. They offer prayers to Sun by taking a dip in the holy river. People thank Sun for showering his gracious rays on Earth.
46. Hornbill Festival
This is a 10 day long festival. Every year people celebrate it to revive and protect the rich culture of Nagaland. It is a great opportunity to witness the food, culture, songs and customs of Nagaland.
This is a Hindu festival celebrated in Kerala which marks the beginning of the Zodiac New Year.
It is the first day of the five day long Diwali festival. On this day people buy utensils and silver jewellery for good luck and prosperity.
49. Varalakshmi Vratam
Married women celebrate it to worship Goddess Lakshmi for well-being of family. It is a popular festival of Kerala.
National Festivals of India
National Festivals are the pride of every country. On the occasion of the national festival, the Government declares a National Holiday.
India celebrates three major National festivals as under:
50. Independence Day
Independence Day celebrations are on 15th August every year. It commemorates nation’s independence from United Kingdom on August 15, 1947.
Prime Minister does the flag hoisting on Red Fort, Delhi.
21 Gunshots in air to give the salutations to the brave soldiers. The celebrations include patriotic parades and pageants. They focus on honouring those who fought for country’s freedom.
51. Republic Day
Republic Day honours the date on which the Constitution of India came into effect. That is on 26th January 1950. Flag hoisting ceremonies and parades by armed forces and school children is a sight. The grandest and most important of these parades is at Rajpath in New Delhi. It shows a multi-hued image of the country’s rich cultural heritage and military prowess. The President of India presides this parade.
52. Gandhi Jayanti
Gandhi Jayanti is on 2nd October every year, an event to mark the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. It is one of the declared National Holiday of India.
It is a day of offering prayers and tributes to Gandhiji. It includes the Gandhi Memorial, Raj Ghat in New Delhi where his cremation took place.
At Deshpee, we're very proud of our Indian culture. We can say that India has its diversified culture and its valued historical events. Every Indian commemorates the celebration of national festivals. They enjoy it with great honour, pride, national integrity and patriotism. The myriad of important festivals of India boasts nation’s rich and varied culture. They celebrate religious sentiments of the people.
Hope this description of famous festivals of India sparked an urge to travel to India. To visit different places and be a part of the celebrations.
If you want to know and feel a little more about the Indian festive spirit, don’t hesitate to plan a trip to India!