16 Most Celebrated Religious & Cultural Festivals and Fairs in India

Published: 25 Oct, 2019 /

How about doing something unconventional on a vacation in India? Let’s not just restrict yourself to a mundane itinerary that only includes sightseeing and shopping experience. Rather, explore the real India by being a part of its one or more festivals. Being a diverse country, India is the land of innumerable festivals and each one of them beautifully portrays the rich culture and tradition of the country. Whether you visit the country in spring, summer, winter, autumn or monsoon, India never runs out of reasons to celebrate. Hence, just for you, we have compiled a list of 16 famous religious and cultural festivals of India that you can’t afford to miss. So, let’s get started!

Makar Sankranti

Makar Sankranti

Considered as the New Year of the North Indians, Makar Sankranti is celebrated the day after another Indian festival of Lohri and marks the end of winter and beginning of the harvest season. The festival is observed in almost all parts of the country with different names and rituals. Unlike other Hindu festivals, the date of Makar Sankranti is fixed and is set according to the solar cycle. On this auspicious occasion, people can be seen flying kites and making a savoury dish (Bajre ki Khichdi) and sweets (Til ke Ladoo).

When: 14th January

Best Places to Go:

  • Jaipur, Rajasthan
  • Haridwar, Uttarakhand
  • Guwahati, Assam- For Bhogali/Magh Bihu
  • Ahmedabad, Gujarat- For Uttarayan Festival
  • Bageshwar, Uttarakhand- For Uttarayani Fair

Pongal

Pongal

Another harvest festival celebrated in the month of January is Pongal. This four-day-long festival displays the rich culture and traditions of the Tamilians. On this pious day, people harvest the crops and worship the gods. The main attraction of this cultural festival in India is Pongal food. Kheer, Chitrana, Medu Vada, Coconut Rice, and Curd Rice are some popular dishes made during this festival.

When: The festival is celebrated in mid-January every year

Where: Pongal is celebrated by Tamilians all over India, primarily in Tamil Nadu

Best Places to Go:

  • Madurai- For Jallikattu
  • Thanjavur
  • Pollachi
  • Salem
  • Coimbatore

Rann Utsav

Rann Utsav

A cultural carnival of music and dance of Gujarat- Rann Utsav is one of the most anticipated cultural fests in India. The festival begins every year in the month of November and continues till February. In the backdrop of the white salt desert of Kutch, Rann Utsav showcases the state’s rich culture and heritage. From folk dances, music, and food stalls to adventure sports, cultural shows, and beautiful handicrafts, the festival hosts various activities. Rann Utsav was first celebrated in the year 2006 with an aim to create a new identity mark on the global map of tourism.

When: November to February

Where: Dhordo Village, The Rann of Kutch, Gujarat

Kumbh Mela

Kumbh Mela

The largest congregation on Earth, Kumbh Mela is of four types – Purna Kumbh (held after every 144 years), Maha Kumbh (celebrated after every 12 years), Ardh Kumbh (held after every 6 years), and Kumbh Mela (observed after every 3 years). As per the astrological calculation, the fair is held when Jupiter is in Aries, which falls between mid-January to February/March. During this religious festival in India, devotees along with Sadhus (Hindu holy men) bathe in the rivers where according to Hindu mythology Amrit (elixir/nectar) fell. Since the fair witnesses lakhs of people, both locals and foreigners.

When: Mid-January to March

Where: Prayagraj, Haridwar, Nashik, and Ujjain

Highlight: Shahi Snan (Royal Bath) and Naga Sadhus

Upcoming Mahakumbh Mela 2021: Haridwar

Maha Shivaratri

Mahashivaratri Festival

Maha Shivaratri is the festival of Lord Shiva and is celebrated on the 14th day of the dark fortnight in the Hindu month of Phalgun (February – March). As per the beliefs, worshipping Lord Shiva on this day cleanses one from all the sins. Not just this, keeping a fast on the day of Maha Shivaratri believes to bring marital bliss for unmarried and married women.

When: February – March

Where: All Over India, especially in the northern region

Best Places to Go:

  • Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh- For Shiva Wedding Procession
  • Mandi, Himachal Pradesh- For Biggest Mahashivratri Celebration in India
  • Srikalahasti, Andhra Pradesh
  • Sibasagar, Assam

Holi

Holi

Undoubtedly, one of the top position holders on this list of important festivals in India, Holi is not just a festival but a way to spread love and happiness. It marks the arrival of the spring season. Also, it signifies the victory of good over evil. The celebration begins on the eve of the festival. As a part of the celebration, huge bonfires are lit and people celebrate it by singing and dancing around it. The ritual of bonfire signifies the burning of demon – Holika. The real fun begins on the day of the festival when people throw colours and water on each other. One of the key highlights of the festivity is the delicious Indian snacks prepared on this day.

When: March

Where: All Over India, especially in the northern region

Best Places to Go:

  • Mathura, Uttar Pradesh
  • Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh- For Holi Played by Widows with Flowers
  • Barsana, Uttar Pradesh- For Holi Played with Sticks and Shield
  • Shantiniketan, West Bengal- For Basant Utsav
  • Manipur: For Yaoshang Festival

Baisakhi

Baisakhi

Celebrated by Sikh community, Baishakhi marks the commencement of the harvest season for the rabi crops. Baisakhi is both a historical and religious festival in Sikhism and Hinduism. This must-see festival in India commemorates the day when the tenth Sikh Guru – Guru Gobind Singh, formed the Khalsa order back in the year 1699. People celebrate the festival by decorating their houses and Gurudwaras and performing folk dances like Giddha and Bhangra.

When: April

Where: Punjab

Best Places to Go:

  • Amritsar
  • Pinjore
  • Chandigarh
  • Jalandhar

Eid-ul-Fitr

Eid-ul-Fitr

An important religious festival for Muslims, Eid-Ul-Fitr is observed every year in the month of May-June by the Muslim community. The festival marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. Along with offering prayers at mosques, people visit friends and families, and feast with their dear ones. Sevaiyan (a dessert) is a signature dish which is prepared on the pious day of Eid-Ul-Fitr. What is worth noticing is that the entire month of Ramadan is a season of feasting on some specific delicacies. Places like New Delhi, Lucknow, Hyderabad come to life in this holy month with mouth-watering food on offer during iftar (breaking of the fast). The markets remain open till late-night or wee hours of the morning. So, Eid-ul-Fitr is not the only reason but the entire Ramadan period is.

When: May

Where: All Over India

Best Places to Go:

  • Hyderabad, Telangana
  • Mumbai, Maharashtra
  • Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
  • Delhi
  • Bengaluru, Karnataka
  • Kolkata, West Bengal

Janmashtami

Janmashtami

Commemorating the birth of Lord Krishna, Janmashtami is yet another popular Hindu festival observed in the month of August. On this day, it is believed that Lord Krishna was born. Varieties of delicacies are offered to the deity in order to please him. Lord Krishna was born in Mathura and his childhood spent in Vrindavan; hence, both the places hold a special status of being must-visit places to visit to celebrate Janmashtami. As a part of the celebration, people fast throughout the day and break it in the evening (after dusk). Besides, visiting temples, praying, dancing, and singing bhajans are some other rituals of the festival. Temples often host narration of the life story of Lord Krishna.

When: August

Where: All Over India

Best Places to Go:

  • Mathura, Uttar Pradesh
  • Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh
  • Gokul, Uttar Pradesh
  • Mumbai, Maharashtra
  • Dwarka, Gujarat
  • Puri, Odisha
  • Udupi, Karnataka
  • Guruvayur, Kerala
  • Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan- For a unique celebration in Dargah of Narhar

Ganesh Chaturthi

Ganesh Chaturthi

A 10-day-long festival which is celebrated with all the devotion, Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the highly revered Hindu festivals observed in India. It marks the birth of Lord Ganesha – the son of Lord Shiva. The festival begins with the installation of idols of the deity in homes and special public pandals. For the next eight days, people worship the idol with all fervour and gaiety. Various offerings are also offered to Lord Ganesha which includes sweets and fruits. On the last, i.e., the tenth day, the idol of the deity is immersed in the water in order to conclude the festivities. On this day, various processions escorting the deities of Lord Ganesha are carried out to a water body for the immersion of the idol.

When: August – September

Where: All Over India, especially in Maharashtra

Best Places to Go:

  • Mumbai, Maharashtra
  • Pune, Maharashtra
  • Hyderabad, Telangana
  • Goa

Onam

Onam

Festivals are the best way to explore the different traditions of different states of India. And for those who wish to explore the cultural and traditional side of Kerala, Onam festival is the best to be a part of. It is one of the most important festivals in the region and is observed to welcome King Mahabali, whose spirit is said to visit his people during this time.

Not just this, the festival marks the Malayalam New Year and the festivities span for over ten days. The festivities include a lot of fanfare including worshipping, floral arrangements, feasting, and dancing. But above all, the main attractions of this popular festival of South India is the snake boat race (takes place at Aranmula River) and Kathakali dance. Pulikali procession (where artists dressed and painted like hunters and tigers) is also held as a part of the celebration of Onam.

When: August – September

Where: Kerala

Best Places to Go:

  • Thiruvananthapuram
  • Kochi
  • Pathanamthitta
  • Thrissur

Navratri

Navratri

Navratri is reckoned to be one of the major religious festivals in India. The literal meaning of Navratri is ‘nine nights’, and hence, the festival is observed for a period of nine days. Throughout these days, Goddess Shakti (another form of Goddess Sati) is worshipped and the people keep fast to appease the deity.

As per the beliefs, each of these nine days is devoted to nine different forms of Goddess Shakti. Though Navratri is celebrated in several parts of the country, Gujarat has something special and fun to add to it. As a part of the festivity, people perform Garba dance and dandiya raas in their traditional attire in Gujarat which is worth seeing and participating in as well.

When: September – October

Where: All Over India

Best Places to Go:

  • Ahmedabad, Gujarat
  • Vadodra, Gujarat
  • Mumbai, Maharashtra
  • Delhi

Dussehra

Kullu Dussehra

Also known as Vijayadashami, Dussehra is celebrated the day after the conclusion of Navratri festival. The celebration of the festival goes back to the time of Ramayana. As per Hindu mythology, it is the day when Lord Rama defeated Ravana, and hence, the day celebrates the victory of good over evil. The key attraction of this popular religious festival is the enactment of scenes from the Hindu epic Ramayana which ends with burning the effigies of Ravana and his son Meghanath and brother Kumbhakarna.

When: September – October

Where: All Over India

Best Places to Go:

  • Mysore, Karnataka
  • Kullu, Himachal Pradesh
  • Delhi
  • Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
  • Barara, Haryana- For tallest Ravana effigy

Durga Puja

Durga Puja

Beautifully representing the culture and traditions of Bengali community, Durga Puja or Dura Pujo as the Bengalis like to call it, is one of the liveliest festivals of India. It is celebrated for a period of four days and concludes on the day of Dussehra also called Bijaya Dashmi.

The highlights of Durga Puja are the large and creative Puja Pandals which house the idols of Goddess Durga. During the Pujo season, people relish a wide variety of food and the celebration keeps getting grander with each passing day with dance and music performances in these pandals. The festival marks the victory of Goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasura. It honours Shakti – the female force, in the universe. Much like Ganesh Chaturthi, the festivity of Durga Puja also includes immersion of the idol of the deity in water.

When: September – October

Where: West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Jharkhand, Bihar, and Odisha

Best Places to Go:

  • Kolkata, West Bengal
  • Guwahati, Assam
  • Mumbai, Maharashtra
  • Delhi
  • Patna

Diwali

Diwali

Well, Diwali needs no introduction. It is undoubtedly the most popular religious festival in India. Often referred to as the festival of lights- Diwali is all about spreading, peace, and happiness. The festival of Diwali marks the arrival of Lord Rama, Goddess Sita and Lakshman in Ayodhya, a city in Uttar Pradesh, after 14 years of exile. As per the beliefs, in order to welcome Lord Rama, the entire city of Ayodhya was lit up with thousands of earthen lamps. People decorate their homes with earthen lamps, candles, and lights. Exchanging gifts with friends and families is one of the key attractions of the festival. For children, this festival is special as they get to burn crackers on this day along with having various types of sweets. Goddess Laxmi and Lord Ganesha are worshipped on Diwali.

When: October – November

Where: All Over India

Best Place to Go:

  • Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh- For Dev Deepawali
  • Amritsar, Punjab- For Bandi Chhor Divas
  • Kolkata, West Bengal- For Kali Puja
  • Jaipur, Rajasthan
  • Udaipur, Rajasthan
  • Goa- For Narak Chaturdashi Procession

Gurpurab

Gurpurab

An important festival for Sikhs, Gurpurab is the celebration of the birth of Guru Nanak- the first Sikh Guru. The celebrations begin at least two days in advance with the reading of the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikh community also called Akhand Path for 48-hours. The next day, a grand procession is organized which is known as Nagarkirtan in which several performances like martial art is also made. On this day, people decorate their homes with lamps and candles and the streets are decorated with Sikh flags and flowers. Gatherings are organized in several Gurdwaras along with that, special langar (community meals) are also arranged. People also burn crackers to celebrate the day. Some even set up free meal stalls on the roadside.

When: October – November

Where: The festival is celebrated by Sikh community all over India, particularly in Punjab

Best Places to Go:

  • Amritsar, Punjab
  • Kartarpur, Punjab
  • Kullu, Himachal Pradesh
  • Delhi

Each of these festivals is the mirror to see the reflection of rich culture and traditions of different regions in India. Hope you’ve enjoyed this list of popular religious fairs and festivals in India and now cannot wait to plan a trip. For more such amazing blogs, keep following us.

Nidhi Singh

From the Lake District, Nainital, Nidhi Singh is a travel writer whose love for mountains can be seen in her write ups. Talk about solo travelling, indulging in adventure activities, binging on good food, planning budget trips or the Aurora Borealis and you will get all her attention. It is the wanderlust that keeps her going and if at all she could get one wish granted she would love to live a life less ordinary.

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