“Unity in Diversity” is a motto that can be seen and felt in every aspect of Indian life.
Rightfully so, since the unique assortment of rituals & festivals of India reflects its rich heritage & diverse culture, regions, & religions which have been built over centuries.
India is one of the very few countries across the globe that supports people from all communities and religions. Every religious festival in India is celebrated with equal zeal and vigor and each faith follows its own calendar for deciding the day on which the festival is to be celebrated. With over 3.3 million gods and goddesses that this country has, no wonder why every month brings a unique Indian festival with it! To name a few, there’s Holi-the festival of colors- celebrated in early Spring, Makar Sankranti, Kumbh Mela, Onam to mark the late harvest season & Baisakhi for the early harvest season, Durga Puja, Christmas, Ganesh Chaturthi, Eid, and Buddh Poornima, etc.
However, if you want to really explore and understand the heritage, history, and culture of this country, you should focus on the cultural festivals in India.
1. Snake Boat Race, Kerala
Vallam Kali, popularly known as Snake Boat Race, gets its name from the canoe-style traditional war boats that are used in the race.
This 650-years-old festival is celebrated during Onam every year around major lakes and rivers, with the most prominent one being the Nehru Trophy Race held on Alleppey’s Punnamda Lake. Traditionally dressed rowers position themselves on their team boats, with nearly 2200 players competing at the same time in 20 teams, as musicians & folk artists cheer them up from the shores while the audience looks on.
Out of all the cultural festivals of India, the Snake Boat Race stands out because of the exhilaration and thrill it inspires in all who attend and witness this mini Olympics on water. Plus, the exquisite Onam feast, where you can devour special Keralan cuisine and celebrate this harvest festival with a local family, is an added advantage.
Celebrated In: Midway during the Onam festival; usually in late August or early September
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2. Desert Festival, Jaisalmer
Sandy dunes, folk tunes, enthusiasm, colors, and happiness- the Jaisalmer Festival, filled with people from all spheres of Rajasthan’s cultural landscape, makes the otherwise bland desert come alive with vigor.
With an undivided focus on showcasing the local elements and tradition of the desert state, this three-day-long extravaganza exhibits the harmonious balance between Rajasthani art, music, folk dance, and lifestyle. In addition to the performances, you will also get a chance to see exciting events like camel races, rural fashion shows, turban-tying competitions, the longest mustache competition, etc. and participate in them as well.
Amidst the magnificent tour of Rajasthan’s Havelis, palaces, forts, lakes, and remnants of its imperial past, the Desert Festival in Jaisalmer is a perfect way to indulge in an out-of-the-world experience.
Celebrated In: Early to Mid February
3. Thrissur Pooram, Kerala
While most festivals of India have either religious roots or social ones, Thrissur Pooram is one of the few that has both- It was created over 200 years ago to ensure communal harmony through mass celebrations by the then Maharaja of Cochin- Raja Rama Verma.
The grandest event of Thrissur Pooram is the public display of elephants, decorated distinctively like chariots of Gods, with golden headdress, decorative bells & ornaments, and beautifully crafted Kolam. The event is marked with a huge fireworks display, traditional music, and cultural representation.
Watching neat rows of elephants standing calmly as drums blast religious tunes and the awe-inspiring procession of chariots passes by you is a truly magnificent experience. No wonder why Thrissur Pooram is called the “festival of festivals.”
Celebrated In: Usually in April or May, during the Malayalam Calendar month of “Medam”
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4. Hemis Festival, Ladakh
Hemis Festival, a prominent festival of North India’s Ladakh, is a celebration of faith and tradition hosted annually in Hemis Gompa, the largest Buddhist Monastery in the wilderness of Ladakh’s freezing, rugged landscape.
You’ll find the centuries-old monastery a sight to behold. But, it is the fete that will catch your attention and keep your heart.
If you ever find yourself longing to experience Ladakh’s real culture, there is no better way to achieve so than spending two days wrapped in the Hemis Festival. Dedicated to Lord Padmasambhava, the ceremony begins early in the morning, followed by the festivities. The most mystical of these is the Sacred Mask Dance where people dress up in vibrant costumes and peculiar outfits, wear remarkable masks designed to depict celestial & divine figurines, and follow the master artists who perform the eloquent Padmasambhava dance on the medley of drums, trumpets, and cymbals.
Celebrated In: Usually in June or July, during the 5th Month of Tibetan Calender.
5. Pushkar Camel Fair, Rajasthan
Pushkar Fair, India’s largest cattle fair, is an annual festival of India that mirrors the 100-years-old, vibrant & gracious Rajasthani tradition and celebrates religious reverence of the Pushkar Lake.
Hosted on the banks of the Pushkar Lake, this unique Indian festival is hosted in the small town of Pushkar, that’s a three-hour drive from Jaipur, and registers thousands of foreigner tourists each year.
In addition to the gorgeously dressed animals being sold for the best price by quite articulate owners, the appeal of the Pushkar festival lies in exquisite jewelry markets and shops for local garments, tie-and-dye scarves, tattoos, and patchwork. Each day is celebrated with a series of spectacularly impressive and breathtaking competitions, including camel races, cultural dances, longest mustache competition, tug of wars, and bridal competitions.
The last five days of the Pushkar fair are dedicated to Hindu pilgrims, who come to ward off their sins in the holy water of the Pushkar lake.
Celebrated In: Usually in November.
So, What’s the Wait? Go Ahead and Explore These Cultural Festivals of India
The list is never-ending. In addition to the five, you just read about, there are a lot more items in the list of festivals of India that let you explore its unique cultural aspects as well.
• Durga Puja
• Makar Sankranti
• Basant Panchami
• Mahavir Jayanti
• Losar Festival
Truly, the list is too long to compile at once. However, if you want to know more, just let us know and keep checking back for updates.