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Float Festival (Madurai, Tamil Nadu) January 9
Float Festival is celebrated in Madurai (Tamil Nadu) on the night of the full moon between mid January and mid February every year. The ornamented icons of the two deities, the God Sundaresa (incarnation of Shiva) and the goddess Meenakshi (incarnation of Parvati) with pearl crowns on their heads and riding on a golden bull are taken out in a splendid procession from the Meenakshi temple. The occasion is God Alagar (incarnation of Vishnu) giving his sister Meenakshi, in marriage to Sundaresa amidst great rejoicing. Devotees clothed in yellow and red dance among the crowd and spray coloured water on them. The icons are floated around the temple tank (Mariamman Theppakulam in Vandiyur ) on a specially constructed raft decked with flowers and flickering lamps to the sound of traditional music.
Camel Festival (Bikaner, Rajasthan) January 10 – 11
Dedicated to the 'ship of the desert', it starts with a grand procession of bedecked camels. There are displays, competitions, lots of colour and music.
International Kite Festival (Ahmedabad, Gujarat) January 13 – 15
In Gujarat, Makar Sankranti is celebrated as the kite-flying day. Kite-flying day in Gujarat is an extraordinary day, unlike at other places. Ahmedabad, Gujarat's premier city, leads the way in the celebration of Uttarayani, and is the venue of the International Kite Festival.
Pongal (Tamil Nadu) January 15
Pongal is one of the most popular harvest festival of South India, mainly Tamil Nadu. Pongal falls in the mid-January every year and marks the auspicious beginning of Uttarayan - sun's journey northwards. Pongal festival lasts for four days. Celebrations include drawing of Kolam, swinging & cooking of delicious Pongal.
Kutch Festival (Kutch, Gujarat) January 28 - February 1
A guided tour of the life and times of Kutch, its beauty, nostalgia, ethos, traditions, culture and spirit. The festival organized by the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat, is a tour into the heartlands of Kutch, including a visit to Bhuj at the heart of Kutch; Mata no Madh, an old temple dedicated to the mother goddess believed to be 1200 years old and Lakhpat, a deserted port.
Nagaur Fair (Nagaur, Rajasthan) February 2 – 5
Also called as the Cattle Fair, is the 2nd largest animal fair of India. Thousands of animals are gathered at the cattle fair for trading. Traders come to buy and sell cows, bullocks (Nagauri breed is renowned), oxen and camels.
Desert Festival (Jaisalmer, Rajasthan) February 7 – 9
Jaisalmer exercise immense charm, but with the staging of the annual Desert Festival (January - February), it has also become one of the more important events on the annual calendar. Essentially, it is a showcase of the performing arts of the region on the stretching sands around this desert citadel. A number of amusing turban tying competitions and camel races.
Surajkund Crafts Mela (near Delhi) February 1 – 15
The Surajkund Crafts is an annual event that highlight some of the finest handloom and handicraft traditions of the country. From 1st to 15th February rural India basks in the warmth of admiration at Surajkund mela village that lies some 8 km from South Delhi. The Mela also celebrates the rhythms of folk theatre- and a theme State that makes each visitor marvel
Maha Shivaratri (Across India) February 23
A major Hindu festival, this is when Lord Shiva is said to have danced the Tandav, a cosmic dance. Devotees observe a fast and pray all day long. The major Shaivaite temples at Varanasi, Kalahasti (Andhra Pradesh) and Chidambaram (Tamil Nadu) have large-scale celebrations.
Taj Mahotsav (Agra, Uttar Pradesh) February 18 – 27
Much awaited by tourists and locals, the event displays India's extensive crafts and culture - folk music, classical dance, elephant and camel rides, games and food. All this in the company of the Taj!
Konark Dance Festival (Konark, Orissa) February 19 – 23
After the Taj, this clearly makes for some big draws. The Sun Temple, a World Heritage Site, is a magnificent structure designed as the chariot of the Sun God. It's drawn by 7 exquisitely carved horses standing in solitary splendour on the beach of Konark. Against this backdrop takes place an annual festival of classical dance and music. The best names from the world of classical dance perform in an open-air auditorium to the sounds of ghungroo bells, flutes and drums. An occasion not to be missed.
Goa Carnival (Goa) February 21 – 24
A 100-km coastline with some of the world's most beautiful beaches celebrates this annually. Held in mid-February, before Lent, the days-long event is a time for lively processions, floats, the strumming of guitars and dances.
Deccan Festival (Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh) February 25 – 28
Hyderabad, the old capital of the Nawabs comes alive during the Deccan Festival. Remember that Hyderabad is the place for pearls and colourful bangles. And, one can savour the yummy Hyderabadi cuisine with some traditional music strumming in the background.
Elephanta Festival (Mumbai) February (dates to be declared)
It's held across the Mumbai harbour on the Elephanta Island, near the World Heritage Site, Elephanta Caves. The island turns into an open-air stage for music and dance functions.
International Yoga Week (Rishikesh, Uttar Pradesh) March 1 – 7
A must for every Yoga votary! Rishikesh, a picturesque town by the side of the gurgling Ganges and Himalayan foothills, hosts lectures and demos by well-known gurus. (By the way, Rishikesh is one of the best places to raft in the country and February-March is a good time to indulge in some adventures on the mighty Ganga).
Elephant Festival (Jaipur, Rajasthan) March 10
In true Rajput style, this is a royal procession - bedecked elephants, camels and horses march down followed by lively folk dancers. There are elephant races, elephant polo matches and the very interesting tug-of-war between elephants and men.
Holi (Across North India) March 11
Spring is the time to play with water and colours. With song and dance, people smear each other with coloured powder. The Holi celebrations in Mathura and the small towns of Braj Bhoomi, Lord Krishna's home-town, are spectacular.
International Flower Festival (Gangtok, Sikkim) March 14 – 16
Since Sikkim is home to many exotic flowers, it's not surprising that it hosts this Festival. And guess what? There's rafting on the gurgling Teesta, Yak rides through mountains, and much more...
Mewar Spring Festival (Udaipur, Rajasthan) March 29 – 31
This is a treat with Rajasthani songs, dances and fireworks to welcome spring. The romantic city of Udaipur sees women in their colourful best carrying idols of goddess Gauri to Lake Pichola. What follows is an unusual procession of boats on the lake.
Ellora Festival (Aurangabad, Maharashtra)
Ellora festival is the festival of classical dance and music organised under the backdrop of the Ellora caves. This festival, which is organised by Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) in the month of March showcases the best talents from across the country in the field of classical music and dance.
Ramanavami (Across India) April 3
This is the birthday of Lord Rama. In most big cities, there are processions with floats that depict his life from the epic Ramayana.
Mahavir Jayanti (Across India) April 7
It's the birth anniversary of Lord Mahavira, the founder of Jainism. Special prayers offered at all Jain temples and shrines.
Baisakhi (Across North India) April 14
This marks the Hindu New Year. Celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm by the Sikhs, there are dances and feasts.
Buddha Purnima (Across North India) May 8
Buddhists get together and pray on this occasion of Lord Buddha's birthday.
Rath Yatra (Puri, Orissa) June 24
Ratha Jatra, the Festival of Chariots of Lord Jagannatha is celebrated every year at Puri, the temple town in Orissa, on the east coast of India. The presiding deities of the main temple, Sri Mandira, Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra, with the celestial wheel Sudarshana are taken out from the temple precincts in an elaborate ritual procession to their respective chariots. The huge, colourfully decorated chariots, are drawn by hundreds and thousands of devotees on the bada danda, the grand avenue to the Gundicha temple, some two miles away to the North. After a stay for seven days, the deities return to their abode in Srimandira.
Amarnath Yatra (Jammu and Kashmir) June 30 onwards
Amarnath is a cave shrine, situated in the Northern State of Jammu and Kashmir. Pilgrimage is organised to this holy shrine coinciding with Sravana Pournima. The Shivalingam at Amarnath is formed of ice and it is popularly known as ICELINGAM. It is the firm belief and trust of Hindus that those who are able to visit this shrine will have no re-birth. One of the holy trinity, Shiva is a living God. The most sacred and most ancient book of India, the Rig-Veda evokes his presence in its hymns. Vedic myths, ritual and even astronomy testify to his existence from the dawn of time. But Shiva, the destroyer, the mendicant, is undefinable: he is the great yogi, the guardian of the absolute. His actions are the themes of the myths in which his nature unfolds.
Hemis Festival (Leh, Ladakh) July 1 – 2
Catch monks in bright robes perform masked dances to the beats of cymbals and drums in Ladakh, the coldest desert of the world. The Hemis Monastery is the biggest and the richest in the world. This is also the birth anniversary of the Buddhist Guru Padmasambhava.
Teej (Rajasthan) July 24 – 25
Another season changes and it's time again to celebrate! With monsoon showers around the corner, ladies decide to have a good time. Earlier, they would dress up, sing and enjoy themselves on swings hung from trees. Similar celebrations still continue in some communities in Rajasthan.
Urs (Ajmer, Rajasthan) July 7
An annual event to celebrate Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti's symbolic union with God. Pilgrims arrive from all over the world. At the Dargah, they sing qawwalis and poems in the saint's honour. A huge fair draws people looking to buy religious books, rosaries, silver ornaments and embroidered carpets.
Raksha Bandhan (Across North India) August 5
A day for all brothers and sisters. Sisters tie threads or Rakhis on their brother's wrists. The brothers in turn promise to protect their sisters and give them gifts.
Nehru Trophy Boat Race (Kerala) August 8
Adrenaline pumping action at the beautiful backwaters of Kerala. This is the famous annual boat race of Alappuzha. Crews of over hundred men in long snake-like boats sweat it out for a coveted trophy. Hundreds gather to watch the boatmen zoom past.
Janmashtami (Across India) August 14
On the occasion of Lord Krishna's birthday, there's great fervour amongst Hindus all over the country. In Maharashtra, earthen pots of curd and butter are hung high up over the streets. Young men enacting an episode from Krishna's childhood form human pyramids by climbing on each other's shoulders and try to break these pots. The story goes that young Krishna would go to any heights (literally!) to have his fill.
Independence Day (Across India) August 15
As the name goes, India gained freedom from the rule of the British on this day. There are flag hoisting ceremonies and cultural programs in the state capitals. The biggest of them all happens at Red Fort in Delhi.
Ganesh Chaturthi (Maharashtra and Karnataka) August 23
Gala festivities happen in west India during this 10-day long annual festival. It's dedicated to Lord Ganesha, the elephant headed Hindu God who is said to bring success. Images of Lord Ganesha are mounted and worshipped. And, on the last day, these are carried in processions and immersed in flowing waters. The sea face in Mumbai is packed with people who attend the immersion. Quite a sight, this!
Ardh Kumbh Mela (Nasik, Maharashtra) August - September (dates to be declared)
One of the oldest and most important of the Hindu festivals, it takes place once every three years, at one of the four great holy cities - Nasik (Maharashtra), Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh), Prayag or Allahabad and Haridwar (both in Uttar Pradesh). It is attended by millions of pilgrims who take a dip in the holy waters.
Onam (Kerala) September 2
Celebrated to honour the ancient demon King Mahabali, as also to greet harvest time, Onam is an important day. Decorating one's house with flowers, preparing extravagant meals are some of the many things done during these 10-day long festivities. There are snake boat races too along the backwaters.
Navratri Festival (Across Gujarat) September 19 – 27
Colorful Gujarat goes dancing prior to Dussehra! They call it Navratri here and everyone is seen doing the lively garba and dandiya folk dances.
Id-ul-Fitr (Across India) September 21
This day marks the end of the holy month of Ramzan, the month of fasting and prayers. Time for families to feast and pray together.
Marwar Festival (Jodhpur, Rajasthan) October 3 – 4
This festival is devoted to the music and dance of the Marwar region and offers a good opportunity to see the folk dancers carrying pots on their heads and singers who assemble here and provide hours of lively entertainment. These folk artistes provide a glimpse of the days of yore, of battles and valiant heroes who still live on in their songs...
Dussehra (Across India) October 17
This is a page out of the great Hindu epic, Ramayana. It marks the defeat of demon Ravana by Lord Rama - the lesson that good will always defeat evil. Huge cardboard effigies of the evil Ravana, his son and brother are set afire. Days prior to Dussehra, the Ram Lila is enacted. These plays stage the life of Lord Rama.
Dussehra takes a different shape in West Bengal. They worship Goddess Durga who also destroys evil. Huge idols of Durga are adorned and amidst prayers, communal feasting, song and dance, they are drowned in flowing waters. In Himachal Pradesh, the town of Kullu celebrates Dussehra for a week. From little temples in the hills, idols are brought in processions to a sprawling ground in Kullu to pay homage to Raghunathji, Kullu's sovereign God.
The city of palaces, Mysore, plays royal on Dussehra. It's a 10-day festivity with grand processions, a torch light parade and musical events. Don't miss the Mysore Palace - it's fully lit with thousands of bulbs.
Pushkar Fair (Pushkar, Rajasthan) October 25 - November 2
A sleepy town turns into an open air partying ground for a week. Nomads and villagers collect to trade camels, cattle and horses. Later, there is a colourful fair – there are handicrafts, jewellery, traditional garments on sale, magicians and fire-eaters, acrobats, dancers, games, contests and folk music too. The bash ends with a dip in the holy lake of Pushkar. Easily the most happening Indian fair of all!
Ganga Mahotsava (Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh) October 29 - November 2
Thousands of Hindus converge on the banks of the Ganges to immerse themselves in the holy waters believing that they would be reprieved of all their sins. A colourful and well lit up affair with oil lamps floating on the flowing waters of the River Ganga.
Hampi Festival (Hampi, Karnataka) November 1 – 9
Hampi Utsav, also known as the Vijaya Utsav, festival of Hampi has been celebrated from the times of the Vijayanagar reign. Bright colored handicrafts, leather puppets done by the traditional craftsmen of the past are reproduced with the same skill by their present generation. Musical instruments such as pipes and drums traditionally played vibrate the air with past grandeur. The Government of Karnataka promotes this festival every year to attract people all over the world to this magnificent land.
Guru Purab (Across India) November 2
The birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev - the first or the founder guru of the Sikhs, is celebrated with great fervour on the full moon day of Kartika. Guru Parab, also known as Jyototsava is one of the most sacred festivals of the Sikhs.
Diwali (Across India) November 05
The most important Hindu festival, this relates to the Ramayana too. It celebrates the return of Lord Rama, the hero of the epic, from a 14-year exile. Cities and towns are lit that night with lights - candles, earthen lamps and bulbs. There are fireworks in the sky all night long. People worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. Houses are cleaned and given a fresh dab of paint to welcome the Goddess. Exchanging gifts and sweets, wearing new clothes are all part of the merry-making too.
Lucknow Festival (Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh) November 25 - December 5
This festival is celebrated between 25th November and 5th December in Lucknow, the capital city of U.P. It captures the undying elegance and splendours of ancient city Awadh, now known as Lucknow. This festival celebrates Lucknow's living culture, which provides an insight into the old, cultured, atmosphere of the city.
Id-ul-Zuha (Across India) November 28
An important Muslim festival, it's an occasion for people to offer prayers and to feast on special delicacies.
Diu Festival (Diu) December 19 – 22
A large number of people from various communities take part in the four-day festivities, cultural events and other functions that mark the annual Diu Festival. A former Portuguese enclave, Diu has six golden beaches and facilities for numerous water sports besides forts and museums.
Christmas (Across India) December 25
All major Indian cities have a festive look during Christmas. Shops and bazaars are especially decked up and parties and get-togethers happen everywhere. In fact, in the metros, Christmas parties seem to launch off New Year celebrations.
Muharram (Across India) December 27
Muharram festival commemorates the martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). This festival starts at the 1st day of Muharram and lasts for 10 days until 10th of Muharram. Muharram is the first month of Islamic calendar.
Mamallapuram Dance Festival (Tamil Nadu) December 25, 2009 - January 25, 2010
Watch some of the best classical dances in this ancient port. Bharat Natyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak and Kathakali…all against the magnificent backdrop of the ancient Pallava rock sculptures.