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Friday
Mar112016

Top 10 Festivals in India - Time Your Travels around India's Most Popular Festivals

There are endless reasons to visit India - Indian cuisine, tiger safaris, national landmarks ranking among the 7 Wonders of the World, a diverse landscape including the northern Himalayas and the golden beaches of Goa, and an incredibly vibrant culture largely contributed to by India's most popular festivals. As a year-round destination with so much to offer, when to visit India can often be a tricky undertaking, so why not plan your travels around India's best festivals? There are said to be more festivals in India than there are days of the year so we have compiled a list of the top 10 festivals in India that should absolutely be taken into consideration when planning your next visit. So make the most of your travels and celebrate some of India's most popular festivals where beautiful colors, music, food, arts, religion and people come together and bring even more life to an already extraordinary destination.

Keep in mind that some of these festivals have a specific location and others are celebrated country-wide, so make a note of which Indian cities are at the top of your list and select festivals accordingly - or vice-versa.

Read on for Epic Road's list of India's Top 10 Festivals. And if you're looking for travel experts to plan a custom itinerary for you so that you can have a worry-free vacation, visit our signature travel to India page or email us at hello@epicroad.com and we'll take care of everything, from the moment you leave and until you return, down to the very last detail. We were recently selected as 'Top Travel Specialist' by Travel+Leisure so rest assured, you'll be in good hands.

1. Diwali - The Festival of Lights

Diwali is one of India's most popular and prominent Hindu festivals, also known as the Festival of Lights. During Diwali, people celebrate all over the country by decorating their homes with clay lamps, candles and Ashok leaves. Everyone takes to the bustling streets and markets to show off their new clothes, to share sweets with friends, family and visitors alike and to light the night with fireworks and crackers.

Diwali takes place over the course of 5 days between mid-October & mid-November every year. (Specifically scheduled for the darkest new moon night during the month of Kartika in hte Hindu lunisolar calendar)

2. Ganesh Chaturthi - The Elephant-Headed God, Pujas & the Final Day of Visarjan

Ganesh Chaturthi is another very important Hindu festival in India, celebrating the birthday of Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed God. Beautifully crafted life size idols of Ganesha adorn both the interiors and exteriors of homes and are further used to compliment public pandals or fabricated structures that are commonly used in religious ceremonies. During this festival, people celebrate with song, dance, theater, and a special focus on giving back with the setup of free medical and blood donation stations.

Ganesha Chaturthi is a 10-day affair that takes place in either August or September. (Specifically scheduled for the 4th day of the 1st fortnight during the month of Bhadrapada in the Hindu lunisolar calendar) Pujas are performed every morning and every night and the last day of the festival is known as the day of Visarjan - the immersion of an idol in a body of water. You probably won't be present for the entirety of the festival so you should definitely try to make the last day as it's said to be the most special.

3. Holi - The Festival of Colors

You could say that Holi is a prime contender and Diwali's main competition for the title of India's most famous festival. Not only is it celebrated country-wide, Holi is internationally acclaimed and probably the most well-known Indian festival beyond national borders - Holi is often referred to as the Festival of Colors. On the eve of Holi, people celebrate by constructing enormous Holika bonfires and thereafter singing and dancing through the night. On the actual day of, everyone gathers to partake in the world's largest paint fight - people cheerfully decorate each other with every color imaginable and some come fully decked with water guns and colored water filled balloons. The festival commemorates the victory of good over evil and the onset of spring.

Holi is held in March (Specifically scheduled for the full moon during the month of Phalgun in the Hindu lunisolar calendar) and though it is celebrated all over the country, the most vibrant celebrations can typically be found in the North.

4. Navrati & Dussehra or Durga Puja - The Holy Ganges & a 10-day Celebration

The first 9 days of this festival are known as Navrati and are filled with dance in honor of the Mother Goddess; the 10th day is called Dussehra and this 2-part festival is observed country-wide. In Eastern India however, the same festival is referred to as Durga Puja, where large statues of the celebrated Goddess are made and then immersed in the holy waters of the Ganges. Regardless of where it takes place, what it's named or how it's celebrated in different regions, this is by far one of India's best festivals and an incredibly social oriented event, allowing you the amazing opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture and both observe and partake in the dramatic dance performances that Navrati, Dussehra & Durga Puja are so well-known for.

The festival takes place between the months of September & October. (Specifically the first 10 days of the month of Ashwin in the Hindu lunisolar calendar)

5. Krishna Janmashtami - Mathura, Vrindavan & Human Pyramids

Krishna Janmashtami is a particularly esthetic and colorful festival beyond being one of India's most important religious festivals. People fast during the day, they break with a special meal after dusk and then go on to visit temples, pray, dance and sing throughout the night. Younger children are often dressed up like Lord Krishna as this festival celebrates Krishna's birthday. A special traditional component of the festival involves people forming massive human pyramids in an attempt to reach and break clay pots which have been strung up high for the occasion.

The festival occurs in either August or September (specifically the 8th day of the month of Bhadrapad in the Hindu lunisolar calendar) and is celebrated by the Hindu community all over India - though the festivities in Mathura and Vrindavan are especially popular.

6. Pushkar Camel Fair, Rajasthan - 50,000 Camels & the World's Largest Pop-up Marketplace

The Pushkar Camel Fair is an incredible event where 50,000 camels and as many as a quarter-million people assemble in the tiny desert town of Pushkar, Rajasthan. It is a 5-day affair and is exactly what it's called - a camel fair - where merchants come from near and far to buy, sell and trade camels. The camels are adorned with jewels and dressed to impress, and the festival is accompanied by great feasts, cultural shows and the world's largest pop-up marketplace.

The Pushkar Camel Fair occurs in autumn, at the same exact time as the Kartik Purnima Full Moon Festival. So you're actually getting 2-1 as a livestock fair converges with a religious festival and takes over the beautiful rural town of Pushkar. If you prefer to avoid the larger crowds that inevitably come with the fair, you can always arrive a few days before the actual event as the traders and their camels will already be there.

7. Kerala Temple Festivals, Kerala - Thrissur Pooram & Exotic Elephant Processions

The southern state of Kerala is a must when visiting India, regardless of any special festivities. That being said, Kerala's exotic temple festivals are definitely worth planning your travels around. Magnificent processions of bejeweled elephants fill the streets and are accompanied by colorful floats, fireworks, drummers and other musicians.

The temple festivals are only held in Kerala and the most popular of them all takes place at Vadakkumnathan Temple in Thrissur - it is hence referred to as Thrissur Pooram. They are held between the months of February and May and each one typically runs for about 10 days.

8. Goa Carnival, Goa - Never-ending Party on India's Beaches

Similar to Kerala, we recommend a visit to the golden hippy beaches of Goa any day of the year, but if you can, you might as well visit when it's exceptionally lively and experience a fantastic cultural celebration. Goa Carnival is greatly anticipated by all and attracts people from all over the world. During the festival, the streets come alive with color, enthusiastic parades, guitarists, musicians, traditional dance and all-around never-ending party.

The Goa Carnival typically lasts 3-4 days and is of course only held in Goa. It takes place during the month of February.

9. Onam, Kerala - Intricate Floral Designs & Snake Boat Races

Onam is yet another one of India's most important festivals as it marks the homecoming of legendary King Mahabali. People celebrate by wearing traditional dress, decorating the ground in front of their homes with incredibly intricate floral designs known as 'Pookalam' and preparing a very elaborate meal consisting of 13 dishes called 'Onasadya'. The main attractions of this lively festival include snake boat races (Vallamkali), as well as public dances such as Kaikottikali clap dance and the Pulikali procession where artists are disguised as tigers and hunters.

Onam is a 10-day harvest festival that occurs in either August or September and is only celebrated by the communities of Kerala. (Specifically corresponds to the month of Chingam in the Malayalam calendar)

10. Ratha Yatra, Puri (Orissa) - Colorful Chariot Parades

Ratha Yatra is a huge Hindu celebration and one of India's most famous festivals. The main attraction of the festival are the enormous, colorful and intricately designed chariots that are built to resemble temples and pulled through the streets of Puri. People come from all over the world and volunteer to help local priests pull these chariots all the way to the grand avenue of the Gundicha temple.

The festival is held during the months of June & July and only takes place in Puri, Orissa.