Immersing yourself in the everyday beauty of an unfamiliar culture can be one of the most rewarding parts of traveling, but sometimes, it’s enthralling to go beyond the day to day. No matter where you are in the world, people love a good party – a day (or days!) in which to celebrate identity and family, unite in honoring the past, and perhaps even show off a little bit! There is no more spectacular example of this than in India, which begins its annual festival season in late August and wraps up the festivities in January. Below, we offer a glimpse into some of the celebrations marking this most festive time of the year.
Art of Onam
September brings with it the most important festival in Kerala– Onam, is a 10-day harvest festival honoring beloved king Mahabali, who brought prosperity to ancient Kerala but whose arrogance, the story holds, caused his banishment to the underworld by the gods. However, because he loved his people so much, he was allowed to visit them once a year. The Onam celebration, which is also associated with new life, humility, truth, and piety, celebrates this visit.
Onam kicks off with a thrilling carnival called Athachamayam, held in the historic city of Tripunithura (a suburb of Kochi). The main spectacle is the Onam parade – here you can view dozens of floats depicting myths and legends, as well as incredible examples of Keralan folk art. When the parade finishes, check out the cultural competitions and entertainment, as well as the incredible trade fair organized specifically in honor of Onam!
Nights in Navratri
Arriving right after the monsoon season, Navratri, the Festival of Nine Nights, is a joyous festival of worship and dance. The most prominent story associated with this festival is the defeat of the demon Mahishasura by the goddess Durga, so Navratri is a time for celebrating the victory of goodness over evil, as well as the greatness of female power.
In Gujarat, Navratri is marked with ecstatic nightly performances of the Garba and Ras Dandiya, dances set to percussive beats that mimic the battle between the Goddess Durga and Mahishasura. Dancers even carry sticks called dandiyas that are symbolic of the sword of the Goddess, and her victory pulses with every footstep.
One of the grandest celebrations of Navratri is held in Karnataka, which tradition maintains is the site of Durga’s victory. Here the Dasara Festival, held on the 10th and last day of Navratri, draws thousands of festival-goers each year to the city of Mysore, which is actually named after the demon Mahishasura. Celebrations begin with the illumination of the Mysore Palace (seen above) and a magnificent elephant parade!
Pushkar Camel Fair
The annual Pushkar Camel Fair transforms this normally serene town of 15,000 people on the banks of Lake Pushkar into a bustling hub of nearly 250,000 people – and camels! This ancient festival celebrates the revered agricultural role of the camel in Rajasthan, and camel trading still plays a large part in the festival activities. But the spotlight on camels doesn’t stop there – from beauty pageants to races, the camel is truly the star of the show, definitely stealing attention from the shopping bazaar and midway rides lining the fairgrounds. You can read more about the fair here.
Rajasthan International Folk Festival
A modern-day attraction quickly rising to the top of India’s festival must-see is the Rajasthan International Folk Festival (also called the Jodhpur RIFF) which brings together musicians and storytellers from across India and around the world to Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort during the brightest full moon of the year. From traditional folk music to contemporary jazz to reggae, the RIFF is one of the most unique showcases of musical artistry around the world. Learn more about the festival here.
Warming up with Pongal
You’ve probably heard of pongal before – the delicious rice dish that is a favorite in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. But Pongal is also a harvest festival in Tamil Nadu, one that marks the first harvest of rice, sugarcane, and turmeric and celebrates the warming of the earth after the coldest night of the year. Each day of Pongal dawns on a new element of celebration – from the opening day rituals in honor of Lord Indra (the god of rain) featuring bonfires and praise-filled dancing to the Mattu Pongal – the day of Pongal for cows, who are dressed up with flower garlands and bells in the town square. For four days straight, town squares and front steps alike are awash in colorful kolam designs made from rice flour and chalk to mark the occasion.
Go beyond the day to day, and be a part of India’s most festive time of year! What’s more – let the Immersion Journeys team do the planning for you.Contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org or at
+1-917-686-2620 to get started!