Experience the Real India by Attending These Festivals
India not only boasts one of the world’s oldest cultures, but it also has some of the most colorful and exciting festivals found anywhere. If you’re planning a trip to this vast and ancient land, you should consider coming during one of these exhilarating occasions. Here are some of the top festivals to see when traveling in India.
Diwali, which represents the victory of good over evil (or light over dark) is probably India’s best-known festival. Also called the Festival of Lights, this event marks the end of the old year and the start of a new one. As the Hindus base their New Year on the lunar calendar, the exact date varies from year to year. Because India is such a large country with many traditions, you’ll often see variations in the specific practices and rituals. For example, in Northern India, Diwali honors the god Rama and his wife Sita and their victory over the demon Ravana. In other parts of the country, observances center on other divinities, such as Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.
While customs vary from place to place, Diwali is always a massive display of fireworks, parades, and lots of candles and lanterns. It’s traditional for oil lamps to decorate every home. There are also lots of savory foods associated with Diwali, as well as sweets such as gulab jamun, a kind of doughnut made from milk and sugar. The next Diwali falls on November 7, 2018.
Ganesh Chaturthi Festival: August or September
Ganesh Chaturthi, which honors the birth of the elephant-headed god Lord Ganesha, is most widely celebrated in the state of Maharashtra, which includes India’s capital Mumbai. This event is one of the longest running in India, and preparations begin months in advance.
During this joyous 10-day festival you’ll see many shrines to the god on exhibit, as well as people performing traditional songs, dances, and rituals. Statues and other representations of Ganesha in homes and businesses and paraded all over India. As with many holidays in India, lots of sweets get consumed. For this one, be sure to try Modak, a fried or steamed pastry filled with coconut. Ganesh Chaturthi, slated for September 13-23 this year, will return September 2 in 2019.
Goa Carnival: Winter
If you want to experience a wild party atmosphere by the beach, you should attend the Goa Carnival at some point. Unlike most of India’s festivals, its roots are not in ancient Hindu traditions but European history. Brought to India from Portugal in the early colonial era, Goa Carnival takes place before Lent; you can think of it as India’s version of Mardi Gras or Carnival in Rio de Janeiro (which also originated with the Portuguese who colonized Brazil).
The gala features parades full of colorful floats, with the most massive procession led by King Momo, a figure dating back to Roman times. You’ll also get to see traditional dances and sample the foods of this tropical region on the shore of the Arabian Sea, which has influenced the cuisine. You’ll find lots of seafood as well as rice and curry dishes that are a mixture of Portuguese, Middle Eastern, and Indian recipes. The next Goa Carnival is March 2-5, 2019.
Uttarayan Kite Festival: Winter
Uttarayan, also known as the International Kite Festival, takes place every January in the Western state of Gujarat. The occasion marks the end of winter as the days start to get longer. Uttarayan is a fantastic spectacle, where the skies of entire cities are swarming with kites of every size, color, and shape. If you’ve only seen people flying kites in your local park, you’ll be amazed at how elaborate the kites at this festival are. Many are indeed works of art that the owners spend days crafting. There are also competitions where the kite-flyers battle to bring each other’s kites down. Nor does the excitement fade away after dark. At night, you’ll get to see the kites known as tukkals, which are lit up, creating a beautiful and colorful skyline.
Kites are on display everywhere in Gujarat during Uttarayan. However, if you want to be in the center of the action, head to Ahmedabad, the capital city where millions of kites are on display. You can buy one or more of your own and participate, or watch and take lots of photos. As it’s known as the International Kite Festival, you’ll find people from all over the world who arrive to test their kites against the competition.
Traditional Hindu Wedding
While a wedding is not exactly a festival, if you want to get an authentic flavor of a culture, there’s no better way than to attend a wedding. Traditional Hindu weddings are lavish affairs, meticulously prepared with elegant fashions, ornate decor, and elaborate ceremonies. Marriages are traditionally arranged by the parents, often with the help of an astrologer to ensure the couple is a good match. The bride’s family must pay for the wedding, which can be a costly affair with hundreds of guests. You’ll notice the bride’s hands and feet adorned with henna; customarily, female guests also wear a henna design. The main focus is on the groom, who often arrives on a white horse while guests dance around him, while the bride’s primary function is to greet the groom.
If you’re lucky enough to get invited to a Hindu wedding, you’ll be able to see everything up close. Some travel companies let you buy tickets to weddings in India, odd as that might sound, as many families there have discovered that charging admission helps to offset the high cost of the occasion. Hindu weddings last at least three days, but unless you’re on the guest list, you probably won’t be staying that long. The third or final day of the wedding is usually when the main ceremony takes place, so if you’re buying a ticket, you should try to arrange to attend the final day.
There are countless sights and attractions to keep you busy in India. Attending a festival (or, if you get the chance, a wedding) gives you an opportunity to participate in a traditional event and get a real taste of the local culture. Because India is such a large and diverse nation, there are hundreds of public affairs dedicated to various deities, beliefs, and occasions. If you’re fortunate enough to be traveling to India, attending a festival will give you a more in-depth experience.
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