Durga Puja is one of the largest and most splendid festivals in the country.
Community pujas (prayer service) in Bengal are organized in every locality. Families visit each other and spread the communal goodwill. On Bijoya Day, idols of Durga are taken in elaborate processions and immersed in the river or sea.
A traditional fair that has remained pristine in its charm through the ages. Legend has it that two brothers, devotees of Lord Vishnu, one wily and the other honest, cast a spell upon each other. As a result of this, one became an elephant and the other a crocodile. On a Kartik Purnima day, the honest elephant went to the confluence of the holy rivers Ganga and Gandak to bathe and was attacked by the wily crocodile. Lord Vishnu himself intervened and delivered good from evil. The central draw of the fair is cattle trade. All species of birds, poultry, bovines and beats of burden, especially elephants, have a market here. The fair entertains visitors with nautankis – typical musical drama performances. Other attractions are the circus, fortune-telling parrots and peddlers of fancy goods.BIHU, Assam (14th April)
The festival ushers in the New Year, with dancing, music and feasting. There are three such festivals in Assam in the months of Bohang (April), Maagh (January), and Kaati (Kartik or October). Each Bihu coincides with a distinctive phase in the farming calendar. The Bohang or the Festival of Merriment. True to its name, it ushers in the period of greatest enjoyment and marks the arrival of spring. The festival lasts for several days during “the young people in the village may be seen moving about in groups, gaily dressed or forming circles in the midst of which the prettiest girls dance.” (The History of Human Marriage, by Edward Western-March). In towns and cities, there are well-organised Bihu fairs, where professional or amateur troupes perform songs on stage, with accompanying dancing. Bihu Kunwori (The Princess of the Bihu) contests are also held. Young women compete in dancing to the tune of Bihu songs. The best dancer is given the title of Bihu Kunwor.RATH YATRA, Puri (July)
Every year in July, the sacred coastal town of Puri celebrates the Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath. According to popular legend, Lord Jagannath is said to have expressed his desire to visit his birthplace. Gundicha Ghar. Yet another mythological story in the Bhagavad Puran attributes the festival to Lord Krishna and Balaram, who went to Mathura on the invitation of Kansa (their evil uncle), to participate in a competition. The entire Ratha Yatra is a symbolic humanisation of God. All rituals associated with the festival demonstrate an attempt to bring god down from His pedestal of glory to a more human level. On the day of the journey, a fabulous choice of Raths is lined up for the deities. Three chariots – the yellow Nandighosa, the blue Taladwaja and the Deviratha – lie waiting for them outside the temple. The deities are then carried to their respective modes of transport. Each divine rath is swept with a golden broom and blessed with scented water, by the king of puri (the human representative of Lord Jagannath). The deities finally embark on their journey to the Gundicha Ghar – in resplendent chariots, pulled along by enthusiastic devotees.KONARK DANCE FESTIVAL, Orissa (1st-5th December)
The Konark Dance Festival brings to fore India’s eminent classical dancers, who perform against the backdropof the floodlit Sun Temple. The temple has been described as a poem in stone and is one of India’s greatest architectural sights. During the festival, the building reverberates with the beats Raga and Tala, as the performers present their interpretations of various classical dance forms, including Odissi, Bharat Natyam, Manipuri Kathak and Chhau Dance.
TEESTA TEA FESTIVAL, Darjeeling (November-December) The Teesta Tea Festival commences in Darjeeling and Sikkim and ends in Dooars. The Dooars area, which is the gateway to Bhutan, is an enchanting land encompassing historic plains, tea gardens, rolling hills and close forests. The Teesta Festival includes a variety of cultural programmes. One can enjoy a pleasant ride through beautiful landscapes, in the toy train at Darjeeling, recognized as a World Heritage. The Teesta Festival includes a variety of cultural programmes. One can enjoy a pleasant ride through beautiful landscapes, in the toy train at Darjeeling recognized as a World Heritage. The Siliguri-Alipur Dooars Intercity Express runs through tea gardens and lush forests. It is a delight for photographers and tourist alike, to click wildlife and exotic birds as the train chugs along the meandering track.GANGA SAGAR MELA, West Bengal (14th January)
This festival is celebrated on the day of Makar Sankranti at Ganga Sagar Island in the Ganges delta. People convene to take a holy dip at the confluence of the sea and the river Ganga. A large fair is held for three days during this period.DOVER LANE MUSIC CONFERENCE, Kolkata (22nd-26th Januray)
The largest Indian classical musical event inn Kolkata, the Dover Lane Music Conference has been taking place for the last 25 years. The festival is presented annually at Nazrul Mancha.NATIONAL THEATRE FESTIVAL, Kolkata (16th-25th December)
TThis is one of the largest theatre festivals of the country, with troupes participating from several neighbouring countries.HORNBILL FESTIVAL, Nagaland (1st -15th December)
he festival showcases Nagaland’s heritage in all its diversity and grandeur. It is a tribute to the Hornbill the most revered bird of the Naga tribes.ANANYA, Delhi (Last week of Auagust)
Set amidst the historical background of the Qutub Minar, a number of cultural events are held as a part of the festival. Veterans of India classical music and folk dance give spectacular performances. There are Kuchipudi, Odissi, Manipuri, and various classical dance performances by famous artistes from all over the nation. Sarangi and sitar recitals mesmerize the audience, while ghazals and qawwalis mark the end of the festival. Artistes like the illustrious three generations of the Sarabhai family, Mrinalini, Mallika and Anahita Sarabhai, as well as ghazal maestros Ustaad Ahmad Hussain and Ustaad Mohammad Hussein are amongst the many stalwarts who have made the festival a memorable one. The regional food stalls at the complex add a local flavour to the evening with cuisine from Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and The North-Eastern states.KHAJURAHO DANCE FESTIVAL, Madhya Pradesh (6th-12th March)
The Khajuraho Dance Festival is held every spring in the town of Khajuraho-renowned for its sculptured temples. It celebrates the glory of the temples and the life-like dance forms carved on the stone walls. The festival showcases the finest classical dances in the country. TAJ MAHOTSAV, Agra (18th-27th February) The Taj Mahotsav is an apt introduction to the majesty of the country and its cultural variety. The festival is a vibrant mosaic that brings to force the finest of Indian arts, crafts and cultural nuances.INTERNATIONAL YOGA FESTIVAL, Rishikesh (February)
The ‘yoga capital of the wolrd’ is an appropriate setting for an introduction to this ancient practice. This annual festival attracts great yogic masters from all over the world, who arrive at the banks of the Ganges to demonstrate and explore the major traditions of Yoga (hatha, raja, karma, bhakti, mantra, laya and jnana). The town boasts of numerous Yoga school, as well as plenty of places to visit when your charkas are fully aligned. Apart from the Yoga schools, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the many ashrams (rest houses) in Rishikesh that offer courses on meditation, Yoga and Hindu philosophy. The Hatha Yoga and Pranayama meditation classes at Sri Ved Niketan Ashram are well known. The Shivananda Ashram, opposite the Shivananda Jhula, is also a favourite.DESERT FESTIVAL, Jaisalmer (21st-23rd February)
The festival is a showcase of the performing arts of the region, on the stretches of sand around the desert citadel of Jaisalmer. It is characterized by a number amusing turban tying competitions and camel races. The region also has its very own Mr. Desert contest. Lively craft bazaars and a sound and light spectacle make it a celebration of life amidst an arid landscape. Folk artistes performing against a backdrop of sand dunes, on a full-moon night, heighten the romantic lure of the desert.JAIPUR HERITAGE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL, Jaipur (14th-23rd January)
If one were to capture the essence of this festival in a single sentence, it would be – to save the vibrant culture of Jaipur, by stimulating alternative ways of development that are rooted in the unique strengths of the people. Spread over fourteen days and in locations difficult to find anywhere else in the world, the festival stands out for its superb events. Children’s programmes, sports, exhibitions, crafts bazaars, and a succession of seminars on key issues, make it a rich, dynamic interaction amongst the people of the city. The Jaipur Heritage International Festival pays homage to the beauty of the old, reflects on the contemporary relevance of past wisdom and leads to a better understanding of the city’s fabulous resources and assets.JAIPUR HERITAGE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL, Jaipur (14th-23rd January)
If one were to capture the essence of this festival in a single sentence, it would be – to save the vibrant culture of Jaipur, by stimulating alternative ways of development that are rooted in the unique strengths of the people. Spread over fourteen days and in locations difficult to find anywhere else in the world, the festival stands out for its superb events. Children’s programmes, sports, exhibitions, crafts bazaars, and a succession of seminars on key issues, make it a rich, dynamic interaction amongst the people of the city. The Jaipur Heritage International Festival pays homage to the beauty of the old, reflects on the contemporary relevance of past wisdom and leads to a better understanding of the city’s fabulous resources and assets.TANSEN SAMAROH, Gwalior (19th-22nd November)
The great classical vocalist, Miyan Tansen, was one of the ‘nine jewels’ in Emperor Akbar’s court. His memorial, in Gwalior, is a classic representation of Mughal architecture. It is also the venue of the annual Indian classical festival held in November. Renowned singers of the land regale audiences with five mesmerising sessions of the much-loved classical ragas. An interesting fact is that performers, before the sessions begin, chew the leaves of a tamarind tree by the tomb. This is believed to make the voice better.HEMIS FESTIVAL, Ladakh (27th- 28th June)
The Hemis Festival us dedicated to Lord Padmasambhava, revered as the representative reincarnate of the Buddha. It is believed that the purpose of his life was to improve the spiritual condition of all living beings. The festival takes place in the rectangular courtyard of the Hemis Monastery. A raised dais, with a richly cushioned seat and finely painted small Tibetan table, is placed with the ceremonial items – cups full of holy water, uncooked rice, tormas made of dough and butter, as well as incense sticks. A number of musicians play traditional music with four pairs of cymbals, pan drums, small trumpets and large wind instruments.SINDHU DARSHAN FESTIVAL, Ladakh (18th-20th June)
The Sindhu Darshan Festival, as the name suggests, is a celebration of the river Sindhu (also known as the Indus). People travel for a darshan and puja of this river, which originates from the Mansarovar in Tibet. The festival aims at projecting the Sindhu river as a symbol of multi-dimensional cultural identity, communal harmony and peaceful co-existence in India. Whilst promoting tourism in this are, the festival is also a tribute to the brave soldiers of India who have valiantly fought the odds at Siachen, Kargil and other places.SURAJKUND CRAFTS MELA, outskirts of Delhi (1st-15th February)
The Surajkund Crafts Mela, organized by Haryana Tourism, celebrates the finest handlooms and handicrafts traditions of country. It is a fortnight-long event, during which master crafts persons display their assortment of wares-mirror-work embroidery, delicate lace work, folk motifs on terracotta forms, metal and cane ware, bangles of all hues, iridescent silks and beautifully-crafted toys. The Mela is more than just a celebration of crafts. At the fan-shaped, open-air theatre, ‘Natyashala’, rich folk dances and musical evenings keep crowds of tourists entertained.