Festivals and events

India has a wealth of festivals with many celebrated nationwide, while
others are specific to a particular state or community or even a particular temple. Many fall
on different dates each year depending on the Hindu lunar calendar so check with the tourist office.

The Hindu calendar

Hindus follow two distinct eras: The
Vikrama Samvat
which began in 57 BC and the
Salivahan Saka
which dates from AD 78 and has been the official Indian calendar since 1957. The
new year starts on 22 March and has the same length as the Gregorian calendar. The 29½ day lunar month with its 'dark' and 'bright' halves based on the new and full moons, are named after 12 constellations, and total a 354-day year. The calendar cleverly has an extra month (
adhik maas
) every 2½-3 years, to bring it in line with the solar year of 365 days coinciding with the Gregorian calendar of the West.

Major festivals and fairs


New Year's Day
1 Jan
) is accepted officially when following the Gregorian calendar but there are regional variations which fall on different dates, often coinciding with spring/ harvest time in Mar and Apr:
in Ladakh,
Naba Barsha
in Bengal (14 Apr),
in Assam,
in Andhra,
in Kerala and
Jamshed Navroj
for the Parsi community.
14 Jan
Makar Sankranti
marks the end of winter and is celebrated with kite flying, especially in Gujarat.
is Tamil Nadu's harvest festival.
26 Jan
Republic Day Parade
in New Delhi. Communist-style display of military strength.


Vasant Panchami
, the spring festival when people wear bright yellow clothes to mark the advent of the season with singing, dancing and feasting. In Bengal it is also
Saraswati Puja
when the goddess of learning is worshipped.
Desert Festival
- Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.
Nagaur Camel Fair
in Rajasthan.
Surajkund Crafts Mela
in Haryana.
Inter- national Yoga Festival
in Rishikesh, Uttarak- hand.
Elephanta Festival
in Maharashtra.
Konark Festival
in Orissa.


Maha Sivaratri
marks the night when Siva danced his celestial dance of destruction (
), which is celebrated with feasting and fairs at Siva temples, but preceded by a night of devotional readings and hymn singing.
in Goa. Spectacular costumes, music and dance, float processions and feasting mark the 3-day event.


Ellora Festival of Classical Dance and Music
in Maharashtra.
Khajuraho Dance
in Madhya Pradesh.
Gangaur Mela
in Rajasthan.
, the festival of colours, marks the climax of spring. The previous night bon- fires are lit in parts of North India symbolizing the end of winter (and conquering of evil). People have fun throwing coloured powder and water at each other and in the evening some gamble with friends. If you don't mind getting covered in colours, you can risk going out but celebrations can sometimes get very rowdy (and unpleasant). Some worship Krishna who defeated the demon Putana.


Mahavir Jayanti
in North India.


Buddha Jayanti
, the first full moon night in Apr/May marks the birth of the Buddha.
in Thrissur, Kerala; a grand spectacle staged by rival temples with elaborately ornamented elephants.


Rath Yatra
in Puri, Orissa.
Hemis Festival
in Leh, Ladakh.
in Jaipur,


Raksha (or Rakhi) Bandhan
symbolizes the bond between brother and sister, celebrated mainly in North India at full moon. A sister says special prayers for her brother and ties coloured threads around his wrist to remind him of the special bond. He in turn gives a gift and promises to protect and care for her. Sometimes
are exchanged as a mark of friendship.
Narial Purnima
on the same full moon. Hindus, particularly in coastal areas of West and South India, make offerings of
(coconuts) to the Vedic god Varuna (Lord of the waters) by throwing them into the sea.
15 Aug
Independence Day
, a national secular holiday is marked by special events, and in Delhi there is an impressive flag-hoisting ceremony at the Red Fort.
Ganesh Chaturthi
was established just over 100 years ago by the Indian nationalist leader Tilak. The elephant-headed God of good omen is shown special reverence. On the last of the 5-day festival after harvest, clay images of Ganesh are taken in procession with dancers and musicians, and are immersed in the sea, river or pond.


, the birth of Krishna is celebrated at midnight at Krishna temples. Special festivities are held in Mathura his birth place and nearby at Vrindavan where
(dance dramas) are performed all night.


has many local variations. In North India, celebrations for the 9 nights
are marked with
, various episodes of the Ramayana story are enacted with particular reference to the battle between the forces of good and evil. In some parts of India it celebrates
's victory over the Demon king
of Lanka with the help of loyal
(Monkey). Huge effigies of
made of bamboo and paper are burnt on the 10th day (
Vijaya dasami
) of
in public open spaces. other regions the focus is on Durga's victory over the demon
. Bengal celebrates
in Kerala.


Gandhi Jayanti
2 Oct
), Mahatma Gandhi's birthday, is remembered with prayer meetings and devotional singing.

Sanskrit ideepa
lamp), the festival of lights, is celebrated particularly in North India. Some Hindus celebrate Krishna's victory over the demon
, some Rama's return after his 14 years' exile in the forest when citizens lit his way with oil lamps. The festival falls on the dark
(14th) night (the one preceding the new moon), when rows of lamps or candles are lit in remembrance, and
are painted on the floor as a sign of welcome. Fireworks have become an integral part of the celebration which are often set off days before Diwali. Equally, Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth (as well as Ganesh) is worshipped by merchants and the business community who open the new financial year's account on the day. Most people wear new clothes; some play games of chance.

In Bengal
Kali Puja
is celebrated the day before Diwali but is a distinct festival.
Pushkar Fair
in Rajasthan.
Guru Nanak Jayanti
commemorates the birth of Guru Nanak.
Akhand Path
(unbroken reading of the holy book) takes place and the book itself (
Guru Granth Sahib
) is taken out in procession.
Sonepur Fair
in Bihar.


Christmas Day
25 Dec
) sees Indian Christians celebrate the birth of Christ in much the same way as in the West; many churches hold services/mass at midnight. There is an air of festivity in city markets which are specially decorated and illuminated. Over
New Year's Eve
31 Dec
) hotel prices peak and large supplements are added for meals and entertainment in the upper category hotels. Some churches mark the night with a Midnight Mass.
Shekhavati Festival
in Rajasthan.
Hampi-Vijaynagar Festival
in Karnataka.

Muslim holy days

These are fixed according to the lunar calendar . According to the Gregorian calendar, they tend to fall 11 days earlier each year, dependent on the sighting of the new moon.

is the start of the month of fasting when all Muslims (except young children, the very elderly, the sick, pregnant women and travellers) must abstain from food and drink, from sunrise to sunset.

Id ul Fitr
is the 3-day festival that marks the end of Ramadan.

is when Muslims commemorate Ibrahim's sacrifice of his son according to God's commandment; the main time of pilgrimage to Mecca

(the Hajj). It is marked by the sacrifice of a goat, feasting and alms giving.

is when the killing of the Prophet's grandson, Hussain, is comme- morated by Shi'a Muslims. Decorated
(replicas of the martyr's tomb) are carried in procession by devout wailing followers who beat their chests to express their grief. Hyderabad and Lucknow are famous for their grand
. The Shi'as fast for the 10 days.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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