Published on May 10th, 2013 | by Anusuya Suresh2
Top 10 Festivals in India
Festivals evoke a religious sentiment and remind us of the need for prayer and spiritual practice; they are also important social events, encouraging us to connect with people around us – family and friends. And then we also have the social festivals – events that involve many people coming together to participate or witness a special occasion that showcases a particular cultural aspect of a specific region or group of people. Here in no particular order are the top 10 festivals in India – festivals with a community aspect – that I have chosen with great difficulty out of the myriad occasions celebrated in different parts of this incredible country we call home.
Hemis festival, Jammu and Kashmir
Guru Padmasambhava is the founder of the Tantric Buddhism sect in Tibet; every June or July, his birth is celebrated by a two-day festival at the Hemis Jangchub Choling monastery about 45 kilometres away from Leh. With bright, weird-looking masks and elaborate costumes, the lamas perform the Masked Dance to the rhythmic and strangely hypnotic beat of trumpets, drums and cymbals – to signify good destroying evil. A Buddhist festival featuring on this list of top 10 festivals in India is indeed a testimony to how India imbibes and nurtures all cultures.
Rural Olympics, Punjab
One of India’s best-loved sports festivals that attracts participants from all over the world, the Rural Olympics at Kila Raipur in Punjab is an event worth witnessing. This festival held over three days during February every year includes professional competitions that involve mules, camels, dogs and bullocks with the bullock cart race being the highlight. You can be forgiven for mistaking this event for a shoot for “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” – there are people pulling the most reckless stunts – pulling vehicles with the teeth or ears, for example – with a practiced flair. During the evenings, you get to sample the cultural richness of the Punjab with folk music and Gidda and Bhangra dance performance by seasoned artistes.
Elephant Festival, Assam
If you always associated elephants with the Pooram celebrations in Kerala or the Dussehra procession of Karnataka, here is some news – the tuskers are the focus of a festival even at the diametrically opposite end of the country – Assam. This week-long festival organized by the Forest and Tourism departments of Assam at the Kaziranga National Park aims at spreading the message of the need to conserve the Asiatic elephant. The perfectly groomed and bedecked elephants move in a stately procession; they also play several games and run races on their day out even as the humans ponder over ways to reduce animal-man conflicts.
Hornbill Festival, Nagaland
The Naga tribes have a rich cultural motif and to nurture and protect this, every year, the State Directorate of Tourism in Nagaland organizes the Hornbill festival. People belonging to diverse Naga tribes come together to present their folk art, dance and music. Although their ethnicities may be different, these participants are united by their love of the hornbill – this bird is displayed on most of the tribal headdresses worn during this festival. If you are planning a visit to north-east India, plan to reach Nagaland for this festival held during the first week of December.
Deccan Festival, Andhra Pradesh
The culture of Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh has a rich Islamic influence and this is precisely what the five-day Deccan festival celebrates. This festival organized by the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation during February or March every year serves up a heady menu of mushaira, ghazal and qawwali along with some rich and spicy Nawabi cuisine complete with performances from popular song and dance artistes. This Indian festival is also an opportunity to admire – and maybe even buy – the famed Hyderabadi pearls, bangles and other jewelry.
Cape Festival, Tamil Nadu
If you plan on visiting Kanyakumari, make sure you do so during October because you can be a part of the three-day Cape Festival. Purify yourself by a dip at Kanyakumari where the waters of the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean meet and enjoy the music and dance performances that mark this festival. Spend some time in silent meditation at the Vivekananda Rock Memorial and find yourself uplifted through the music and dance dramas performed by legendary artistes.
Snakeboat Races, Kerala
A water Olympics of sorts, the snakeboat races during Onam in Kerala are a big draw with some corporate houses even prescribing a witnessing of these as a lesson in teamwork for their executives. Each boat is a 120-foot canoe filled with close to 120 oarsmen working in unison to steer their boat to victory. The race is held on the second Saturday of every August in the backwaters of Alleppey which for a brief period converts from a tranquil place to a crowded tourist attraction.
Khajuraho Dance Festival, Madhya Pradesh
For classical dance connoisseurs, nothing can beat the Khajuraho Dance Festival during Feburary-March every year. This unique festival features mesmerizing performances by artistes showcasing a variety of dance forms from every part of India – Kathak, Manipuri, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Bharatanatyam and Kathakali. Considering that dance had its beginnings as a form of worship, it is but fitting that this dance festival is held against the backdrop of the impressive architecture and sublime ambiance of the Vishwanatha and Chitragupta temples at Khajuraho.
Pushkar Camel Fair, Rajasthan
What began as an event to attract people to trade their cattle and camels is today one of the major event on the itinerary of any tourist visiting Rajasthan. The Pushkar Camel Fair gives you an opportunity to view close to 50,000 camels, occupying almost every inch of space in the desert for as far as the eye can see. This five-day festival held every November is the camels’ day out – they are elaborately dressed and adorned to parade in beauty contests and camel races are held. This festival also provides the backdrop to a ritualistic bath in the waters of the Pushkar lake, religious processions and a riot of music, dance and colour.
National Kite Festival, Gujarat
During the festival of Makar Sankranti during January in Gujarat, you find spirits literally soaring on the wings of the kites that fly high into the sky. The kite festival sees the skies beautifully dotted with a variety of kites in different sizes, patterns, shapes and colours as people compete to dominate the sky with their kite. Even nightfall does not dampen their spirits for the dark sky provides the perfect backdrop to fly the tukkal – a kite illuminated with paper lanterns. Since 1989, this festival has gone global – it attracts expert kite makers and flyers from places as far flung as the USA, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, China and Japan – providing a visual treat like none another.
While this post features the top 10 festivals in India, there are several others that are lesser-known, but equally worthy of featuring on such a list. Researching for this post helped me realize that there are so many aspects of our motherland that we know nothing about. I hope that reading about these festivals will inspire us to learn more about our cultural heritage and work towards doing our bit to preserve this rich legacy.