An exquisite display of Kerala’s ancient traditions, Kerala Temple Festivals are best known for their temple elephants – adorned with riches, mounded with idols of Hindu gods, and paraded in vibrant countryside processions – a feast for culture seekers and photographers. Held between February and April, the festivities at each temple last for 8-10 days, and vary in flavor and magnitude with the legends associated with the deity presiding over the temple.The Thrissur Pooram festival, held at the Vadakkumnathan temple in Thrissur (a small town in South Kerala) in the months of April or May (exact dates vary by the temple calendar), is the biggest of temple festivals, involving 60-100 elephants, a temple orchestra of 300-400 musicians, and over 300,000 visitors! This sensory treat, complete with special lighting and displays across town, takes over Thrissur with all-night-long festivities that include pulsating street processions, lavish fireworks, traditional prayer ceremonies, colorful floats, and much revelry.
Nicknamed the “festival of lights”, Diwali (short for Deepavali) is celebrated in autumn(usually the month of November) with much love and merriment in Hindu homes across the country, with the lighting of traditional lamps, exchanging of gifts, preparation of traditional feasts, prayers to signify the victory of good over evil, and fireworks.Based on ancient legends in Hindu mythology, Diwali marks the ‘good’ king Ram’s victory over the ‘evil’ king Ravana, and his joyful unison with his kingdom. The legend varies across the length of India, but is celebrated with the same enthusiasm. Unlike most ancient festivals, Diwali continues to largely remain a family affair, a time for families to reunite and celebrate over 2-4 days, depending on which part of India they come from.
Holi, the most lively of all Hindu festivals, is observed all over North India. It heralds the end of the winter and the beginning of the spring and marks the rekindling of the spirit of life. It is a festival of joy when all is forgiven.
People throw coloured powder at each other and make merry. Singing and dancing add to the gaiety of the occasion. Holi celebrations in Mathura and the small towns of Braj Bhoomi, the land of Sri Krishna, are spectacular.
The world’s largest camel fair sees over 50,000 camels groomed, dressed up, paraded, made to dance, raced, and traded. This festival has put the small, holy desert town of Pushkar on the world tourism map. Watch the dunes of the golden Thar Desert of Rajasthan come alive with camel traders, pilgrims, tourists, local musicians, gypsies, magicians, and beautifully decorated camels, in the most spectacular desert extravaganza you’ll ever witness!
The Pushkar Camel Fair, centered on the full moon period of November, originally started as a business gathering for camel and cattle traders across Rajasthan. This 5-day affair now attracts a whopping 200,000 visitors to partake of the traditional festivities along with pilgrims from across India that gather here on the full moon night of the festival to take a dip in the holy waters of Pushkar lake. Book your hotels early, and beat the crowds with stunning aerial views of the fair, on a hot air balloon ride over Pushkar.
The high Himalayas of Ladakh mark the advent of autumn with a 15-day cultural carnival in the capital city of Leh. Marked by colorful street processions, fascinating mask dances, and traditional competitions at Buddhist monasteries, the Ladakh Festival is an introspective glimpse into the traditions and culture of some of India’s most remote villages and a treat for photographers, spirituality seekers, and mountain lovers.
Starting on 1st September every year, the start of the festival is marked by the descent of the village folk through mountain passes, into the city of Leh, in their exquisite ornaments and headgear. The city comes to life with women wearing their traditional Ladakhi dresses, monks wearing colorful masks, traditional music echoing through the Himalayas, archery contests and ceremonial dances, and stays in festive mode until 15th September. Go to experience traditional mountain life in the Himalayas, and join the friendly locals in their days of merriment.
The traditional harvest festival of Kerala, Onam celebrates the state’s rich cultural heritage with much gusto, over 10 days of festivities.
The capital city of Kochi marks the start of the festive season between August and September (the dates vary by the Malayalam calendar), with hundreds of colourful floats and montages depicting cultural influences that have stood the test of time. The much-photographed snake boat races of South Kerala, with hundreds of oarsmen from different villages pitted against each other, is one the biggest and most visited attractions of Onam’s ten-day celebrations. Extravagant parades of temple elephants, fireworks, sumptuous local feasts, regional rituals and traditional dance performances, including the world-famous Kathakali, are all compelling reasons to visit Kerala during Onam.