India is a large country with a diverse culture embracing many different religions. The Hindu faith is predominant and many of the nation’s colorful festivals, such as the famous Diwali festival of lights, relate to their calendar. Farming is another strong influence, with harvest festivals such as the floral Onam festival in Kerala popular events.
Republic Day is a national holiday in India every January 26 to commemorate the adoption of the Constitution in 1950 and the declaration of independence in 1930. The capital of New Delhi is the focus of the celebrations, including a flag raising ceremony, wreath laying, 21-gun salute, Presidential speech, and presentation of awards for selflessness and bravery. A massive military parade includes elephants ridden by children who have received national accolades.
The Hindu festival of Thaipusum usually occurs in January or February and commemorates Murugan, the Tamil god of war receiving a spear from his mother, Parvat, to vanquish the demon, Soorapadman. A major feature is the procession of devotees bearing kavadi along a set pilgrimage route to repay the debt of answered prayers. Kavadi are burdens, ranging from a simple pot of milk to elaborately decorated shrines or icons. Many undertake manipulation of the flesh by piercing tongues or cheeks with spears or hanging limes by hooks from the back or chest while under a religious trance.
India’s annual two-day Hindu Holi “festival of colors” takes place during the March full moon. The triumph of good over evil and an abundant spring harvest is celebrated by participants throwing water and colored powder at each other. Parties, dancing, sprinklers, and the consumption of bhang (cannabis paste) characterize this exuberant occasion.
Gandhi Jayanti is a national public holiday commemorating the birth of the peaceful activist, Mohandas Gandhi on October 2, 1869. The celebration coincides with the United Nations’ International Day of Non-Violence. In India, Gandhi is remembered through statues, flower and candle offerings, prayers and singing the devotional hymn Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram. The Indian government issues special mint rupees and postage stamps bearing his picture.
The traditional 10-day Onam harvest festival takes place in Kerala during August or September and marks the return of the mythical King Mahabali. The Hindu celebration welcomes the monarch by arranging flowers outside their houses, wearing new clothes, feasting, dancing, and racing in snake boats.
The ten-day September festival of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrates the birthday of the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesh with culture, concerts and feasts. The biggest events take place in Maharashtra where people worship an idol for ten days before taking it to the river or sea and drowning it.
Navarathri, Dussehra Festival
This theatrical Hindu festival takes place over ten days in October. The first nine feature dancing to honor the Mother Goddess. The tenth day commemorates Lord Rama’s defeat of demon king Ravana and goddess Durga’s triumph over Mahishasura, the buffalo demon. The event is called Durga Puja in east India where the faithful create huge statues to immerse in the Ganges River.
Diwali is the five-day festival of lights held in India in late October or early November each year. The widely celebrated Hindu event marks Lord Rama’s victory over the demon Ravan. Homes and streets are decorated with lights, candles and small clay lamps, and new clothes are worn and sweets are exchanged.
Pushkar Camel Fair
November’s full moon is the traditional time for the annual congregation of camels to the Rajasthan desert town of Pushkar. This huge event attracts around 300,000 people who come to buy and sell camels, shop at the bazaars and handicraft stalls, eat food, or just enjoy the Indian spectacle.