India is a land of diverse cultures and traditions. Hundreds of festivals are celebrated across the country, where people from different religions come together and participate in ceremonies, performances and parades. Indian festivals generally revolve around a deity’s birth (Janmashtami), the advent of a new season (Makar Sankranti), triumph of good over evil (Dussehra), relationships (Raksha Bandhan), and patriotism (Republic Day), amongst many others.
Tourists from the world over visit India during the festival season to witness the celebrations and revel in the merriment. While festivals in India are celebrated throughout the year, August - January is the time when the country can be seen rejoicing the most.
Here are five of most famous festivals of India which are celebrated throughout the country. Participating in these colorful festivities allows you to embrace Indian traditions, see the melding of cultures, and better understand the nation’s glorious past.
Diwali, the festival of lights, is the most popular festival in India. It is amongst the most prominent Hindu festivals and is celebrated in a grand fashion with a lot of pomp and show. Diwali is a five-day event during which houses are adorned with oil lamps (locally called diyas) and sparkling lights. In addition, people burst crackers, worship Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth), and share sweets with their family and friends.
Diwali is to Indians what Christmas is to Westerners. It is celebrated on a large scale and across all faiths. Schools and colleges in India observe a one-week Diwali vacation for the students to celebrate with family and participate in the festivities.
Though Diwali is celebrated across the country, to experience a truly beautiful celebration, head to Varanasi to witness magnificent lighting, processions of decorated deities, and oil lamps set afloat in the river.
Diwali is celebrated for five days between mid-October to mid-November, where the last day coincides with the new moon (deemed the darkest night of the Hindu calendar).
Diwali signifies the return of Lord Rama with his wife Sita to their kingdom after 14 years of exile and defeating an evil demon. It symbolizes the victory of good over evil.
Holi is a festival of colors celebrated with a lot of zeal across the country. On the eve of Holi, crowds gather around bonfires (believed to be burnt effigies of demons) and sing and dance around them.
As Holi symbolizes the start of the spring season, people dress in vibrant clothes and apply dry and wet colors to each other. The kids move around with water guns and colored water-filled balloons, ready to start a colorful fight.
Most vibrant Holi celebrations can be seen in the town of Vrindavan and Barsana in the Mathura district (where Lord Krishna and Goddess Radha were born).
Holi is a night and a day festival that begins on the evening of the full moon day, falling in the Phalguna month of the Hindu calendar, mainly in the middle of March. It continues for the entire next day when people play with colors.
The festival of Holi has multiple values. It celebrates the eternal love of Goddess Radha and Lord Krishna. It marks the triumph of good over evil, as it signals the victory of Narasimha (an avatar of Lord Vishnu) over Hiranyakashipu (the demon). Holi also indicates the end of winter and the start of the spring season.
Celebrated for nine nights, Navratri is among the longest Hindu festivals. Nav means ‘nine,’ and Ratri means ‘night,’ hence the name. The festival comes with a multitude of reasons to ring in festivities. One common aim is to worship the Goddess Amba as she turns into new forms each day to defeat demons.
In Gujarat, Navratri is celebrated through performance arts on all nine days of the festivals. Devotees of Goddess Amba adorn traditional attire and dance in concentric circles with claps accompanied by a live orchestra and folk songs. The coordinated dance moves sometimes deploy the striking of sticks (dandiyas) between the dancers.
Sometimes, these dance circles grow to reach thousands to lakhs of devotees, dancing and clapping in sync. The elders worship the goddess by fasting, meditating, and praying.
Celebrated almost across the entire country, the most vibrant Navratri celebrations take place in Vadodara city of Gujarat State.
Navratri is celebrated on the first nine nights falling in the Ashwin month of the Hindu calendar, typically in the months of September or October.
Navratri represents the celebrations and worship of 9 different forms of Goddess Amba (the goddess of power).
The festival of Durga Puja features elaborate bamboo/ cloth pandals (sheds) sheltering vibrant statues of Goddess Durga. She is standing in a triumphant pose over a demon, wielding weapons in all of her ten arms. Pandal-hopping is an annual tradition for locals and tourists when they visit the city’s many displays.
Durga Puja is celebrated for four days. On the last day, women bid farewell to Goddess Durga in a ritual called Baran, where they feed sweets to the idol and wish her a safe journey back to her husband, Lord Shiva. The idol is then paraded through the city and then submerged in a holy river with lots of dance, show, and music.
Devotees flood the streets to witness the journey of Goddess Durga from the pandals to the river. It’s like a giant carnival where women play with sindoor (red powder).
Durga Puja is the most important of all Bengali festivals and is celebrated on the grandest scale in Kolkata city in West Bengal state.
Durga Puja is celebrated on the ninth night in the Ashwin month of the Hindu calendar, which typically falls in September or October.
Durga Puja marks the victory of Goddess Durga over Mahishasura (the mythological demon).
Lord Ganesh is an elephant-headed Hindu God whose birth is celebrated as a 10-day festival. Huge, hand-made idols of Lord Ganesha are placed in homes, business places, and outdoors. Each neighborhood competes to make the most beautiful idol of Ganesha.
Lord Ganesha idols are worshipped in the morning and evening with religious rituals and chanting of prayers. On the tenth day, the idol is carried in a procession through the streets of the city and finally submerged in the ocean.
The carnival features traditional dancing, theatrical performances, and music shows. Submerging the idol in the ocean signifies the return of Lord Ganesha to heaven.
Although Lord Ganesha is worshipped across India, the city of Mumbai in Maharashtra State holds a particular love for him and throws a huge celebration in his honor every year.
Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated for 10 days starting from the fourth day of the month of Bhadrapada of the Hindu calendar, which falls in August or September.
Ganesh Chaturthi signifies the birthday of Lord Ganesha – the elephant God and the God of good luck, success, and wisdom.
These are just a few out of the thousands of festivals celebrated in India. These are a true reflection of the religious and cultural diversity in the country. Each Indian festival has a charm and spirit of its own and should be experienced first-hand.
Last Updated 14 July 2022