A Hindustan Calendar: festivals and events in India
By Cosmo Brockway
(Photo credit: worldsacredspiritfestival.org)
India is undoubtedly the globe's largest collection of 'happenings'. From the smallest jungle village to the sprawling cities, the joyful clamour and colour of festivals and events are a daily part of life. Millennia-old ceremonies and contemporary exhibitions jostle together in the most buzzing calendar in the world.
Festivals are perhaps the most eye-opening glimpse into a local culture and discovering one while travelling can often produce unexpectedly special experiences not to mention images to capture. Whether religious, secular or downright bizarre, India has a myriad of festivals that would take a lifetime to explore. We have hand-picked eight of the most special events that promise a lifetime of sighing memories! Festivals in India happen throughout the year but October to March is the time to see this land at its vibrant best.
There is no more vivid place to celebrate this festival of lights than the blue desert city of Jodhpur. Houses are adorned with clay lamps, flickering candles, and 'Ashok' leaves. Families perform 'puja' or prayers together, share sweets with friends and neighbours and the city comes alive with a cacophony of firecrackers. The roof terrace of boutique hotel RAAS is an elegant and memorable setting to have a bird’s eye view of proceedings, gasp as the night sky and the mighty silhouette of the Mehranagh Fort is illuminated by a thousand fireworks. The festival is the most treasured in the Hindu calendar and marks the return of god Lord Rama, along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana, after a long exile of 14 years.
STAY: RAAS, Tunwar ji ka Jhalra, Makrana Mohalla, Jodhpur, Rajasthan 342001
Pongal, Tamil Nadu
This Indian equivalent of Thanksgiving is celebrated in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. A 5,000-year-old festival heralded by the end of the wet month of Maargazhi (mid-December to mid-January), the event begins a new Tamil month marking a period of abundance, peace and contentment. Be sure to try the sweetened dish of rice boiled with lentils, cardamom, raisins, Green gram and cashew nuts, ritually consumed on the day and served on a banana leaf.
STAY: Svatma, No. 4/1116, Blake Hr Sec School Road, Maharnonbu Chavadi, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu 613001
Kumaon Literary Festival
(Photo credit: kumaonliteraryfestival.org)
The understated younger sister of Jaipur Literature Festival, head to the Himalayan foothills for the newly launched Kumaon Literary Festival in the scenic state of Uttarakhand. It may lack the glitz of Jaipur but has sophistication and literary kudos in spades and is set in a beautiful mountain village. Founded by lawyer and museum owner, Sumant Batra, KLF is self-described as a 'festival determined to make a difference' and is partnered with several charitable initiatives including United Nations Women. Come here to meet some of India's most influential thinkers and influencers as well as experience village treks, fabulous local food and stargazing sessions.
STAY: Eco-lodge set in renowned tiger sanctuary: Jim's Jungle Retreat, Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand
Ganesh Charturthi, Mumbai
This 10-day Hindu festival, Ganesh Charturti, also know as Ganapati, celebrates the birthday of the elephant-god, Ganesha and is believed to bring happiness, good luck, and prosperity to all. Go to Mumbai for the throbbing celebrations, where towering idols and vibrant pandals (temporary shrines) line the city. Stay for the last day of the festival were the idols are taken out in a colourful and musical procession and immersed traditionally in water.
STAY: Taj Mahal Palace, Colaba, Mumbai
International Yoga Festival, Rishikesh
(Photo credit: internationalyogafestival.org)
Every March, yogacharyas, teachers, students and seekers descend on the Ganges-side town of Rishikesh for a journey of discovery and exploration of the eight limbs of yoga. With nearly 150 classes, sample every type of yoga you can think of including Ashtanga, Kundalini, Vinyasa and Iyengar plus the more esoteric Raja and Bharat. Also, on offer are sessions in meditation, mudras, Sanskrit chanting, reiki and Indian philosophy.
STAY: Ananda in the Himalayas, The Palace Estate, Narendra Nagar Tehri - Garhwal, Narendra Nagar, Uttarakhand 249175
Dev Deepavali, Varanasi
Held on the 15th day of Diwali, thousands of pilgrims arrive in the city to commemorate a divine descent to earth. It is a feast for the eyes – watch pilgrims take a solemn dip in the Ganges and listen to the holy Vedic mantras chanted by priests. Hop in a boat in the evening and be rowed down the ghats to get a spectacular view of the Diyas (earthen lamps) decorating the ghats – the Dasaswamedh Ghat is particularly breathtaking.
STAY: Ganges View, Assi ghat, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221005
India Art Fair, New Delhi
South Asia's leading contemporary art happening takes place in Delhi every February and sets the city abuzz with curators, collectors and glitterati flying in from all over the globe. There are exhibitions for every taste, from video installations to ceramics, photographs and interior design. The acclaimed Speakers Forum is a space to hear prominent gallerists, philanthropists and experts discuss diverse topics around the art world. Delhi is a growing hub of international art and there are trails, private views and openings all over the city to attend.
STAY: The Lodhi, Lodhi Road, New Delhi
World Sacred Spirit Music Festival, Nagaur, Rajasthan
(Photo credit: worldsacredspiritfestival.org)
The ancient royal fort of Nagaur is the setting for this intimate festival celebrating the music of Sufi-ism, a mystical branch of Islam. Choose between staying the fort’s ramparts at boutique hotel Ranvas or in a regal tented camp. This is a timeless and soul-enriching experience. Get lost in the whirling bodies of the dancing dervishes, in the beat of the tabla drums and Persian poetry recitals under the starlit desert sky. The location perfectly captures the mingling of history and spirituality.
STAY: Ranvas, Ahhichatragarh Fort. Gandhi Chowk, Nagaur, Rajasthan
Durga Puja, Kolkata
Commemorating Lord Rama's invocation of the goddess Puja before going to war, Durga Puja is celebrated with a grand fervour in Kolkata attracting millions of pilgrims - this is not an event for the faint-hearted! Taking place each September-October and lasting 10 days, Durga Puja sweeps the entire city up in its wake, the powerful goddess, Durga, the embodiment of feminine power, being much revered here. The magnificently dressed idols are processed through the streets on the first day and the festival culminates in the last day with the immersion of the goddess in water - an unforgettable sight. Babu Ghat, near Eden Garden is one of the most popular places to watch. Women initiate the ceremony by anointing the idols and each other with vermillion powder symbolising fertility and marriage.
STAY: The Oberoi Grand, 15 Jawaharlal Nehru Rd, Kolkata
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