The jangle of golden bangles, sweet aroma of garlands and saris as vibrant as the powder thrown during the Indian festival of Holi epitomize the nation’s celebrations.
29th – 30th May 2023
To the mesmerizing chant of hymns and chime of temple bells, flickering diyas float gently down the River Ganga. Named after a goddess, the mighty waterway river is sacred, and the Indian festival Ganga Dussehra honours it. What’s more, the water is revered for its life-giving force and ability to purify the sins of devotees who bathe in it. The festival is celebrated in the states the river passes through, particularly in Varanasi and Haridwar in northern India.
YURU KABGYAT FESTIVAL
15th – 16th June 2023
Perched on craggy sand-hued cliffs, the 11th century Lamayuru Monastery towers over Lamayuru village in Ladakh. Tranquil and remote, it comes alive during this annual Indian festival. The celebration is dedicated to Yama, the Lord of Death, and Padmasambhava, the Lord of Wealth. Buddhist monks wearing masks to depict the supreme beings perform cham dances. They hope that the dances will keep evil spirits at bay. In addition to watching the dances, you can learn about Buddhism. You can also observe sacrificial offerings amid a whirl of prayer wheels to the clash of cymbals and beat of drums.
Rainbow hued prayer flags flutter in the breeze outside Hemis Monastery, which gleams white against Ladakh’s rugged mountains. During this Indian festival, the place of worship is beautifully decorated. Performers dress in traditional costumes, masks and headpieces to dance to drums, cymbals and horns in the courtyard. The occasion marks the anniversary of the birth of Guru Padmasambhava, an Indian Buddhist mystic.
CHAMPAKULAM BOAT RACE
3rd July 2023
Nestled on India’s south west coast, Kerala has long had a reputation for its fertile tea plantations, spice gardens, palm-lined beaches and network of backwaters. It’s these canals that host the state’s summertime boat contests. Visit in July and you may be in time to cheer on teams in a snake boat race on Pampa River in Champakulam village. The contest marks the beginning of the racing season. Decorated with garlands of flowers, the long, narrow wooden boats gliding through the water as the teams chant ancient songs.
30th August – 8th September 2023
Thrissur city in Kerala comes alive during the Indian festival of Onam. Floats, musicians and elephants adorned with silk parasols and bejewelled golden plates parade through the streets. The festival celebrates the harvest and King Mahabali. According to legend, jealous gods banished the ‘King of Kings’ to the underworld, only permitting him an annual visit. Today locals celebrate that visit by feasting and decorating their homes with flowers. As well as the procession, there’s a boat race on the River Pampa at Aranmula and a kaikottikali folk dance. You can also watch archery, combat displays and team ball games.
Local calendars determine many Indian festivals, so dates are subject to change. Check news sites a few weeks in advance for accurate dates.
Feature images © Elephants at an Indian festival Mazur Travel/Shutterstock; Ganga Dussehra Indian festival Money Sharma/Shutterstock; Puppet parade at Indian festival Yuru Kabgyat Ivanov Oleg/Shutterstock; Puppets at Hemis Indian festival Images of India/Shutterstock; Boat race at an Indian festival Mr Wichai Ruangchoengchum/Shutterstock; Indian festival Onam Santhosh Varghese/Shutterstock