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Festivals

Throughout the sub-continent a multitude of festivals take place each year. Their origins are both religious and cultural, and many events demonstrate a profound depth of spiritual feeling that is a fundamental part of society. If youd like to experience the atmosphere and visual spectacle of a festival this can be taken into account in planning your itinerary, subject to the logistics of your route and dates of travel.

Below find listed a selection of secular and religious festivals that occur through the year. We will be pleased to advise concerning the exact date on which a festival falls in a particular year and discuss the possibilities with you.

Select the country of interest, India - Nepal Bhutan Sri Lanka. The listings show the location and are in chronological month order.



India

Uttarayan - Kite Festival (January  Gujarat)

The festival of Uttarayan is a uniquely Gujarati phenomenon, when the skies over most cities of the state fill with kites from before dawn until well after dark. The festival marks the days in the Hindu calendar when winter begins turning to summer, known as Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan.



Republic Day Parade (January 26th  Delhi)

Republic Day commemorates the date on which the Constitution of India came into force on the 26th January 1950. A national holiday, the celebrations are focused in New Delhi with a huge parade featuring the armed forces, police and civil defense, bravery award winners and cultural displays from all parts of the country. It is a celebration of national pride culminating with an air force fly by, saluting the crowd and the president.



Nagaur Fair (January/February Naguar)

Nagaur is India's 2nd largest animal fair, where thousands of animals are gathered for sale. Traders buy and sell cows, bullocks (Nagauri), oxen, camels and horses. Some animals are lavishly decorated and their owners wear colorful turbans. Games are organized during this four-day festival, including tug-of-war tournaments and camel races. Jugglers and puppeteers entertain the crowds. In the evenings, folk music floats on the desert air creating a magical atmosphere, with voices echoing across the tranquil sand while people dance into the night.



Desert Festival (February  Jaisalmer)

The Desert Festival of Jaisalmer is vibrant and colorful, conceived to showcase the culture, crafts and performing arts of the region. For 3 days the fortress city is alive with music and dance, camel races and competitions, markets and street entertainers.



Holi (March  National)

Holi is India's spring festival of colours. It welcomes spring and asks the Gods for good harvests and fertility. It is a time of fun and exuberant gaiety. There is a good-natured mischievous undertone to the celebrations, and people colour their faces and throw paint powder at each other. Have fun - wear old clothes!!!!!



Elephant Festival (March Jaipur)

The Elephant Festival is a unique aspect of Jaipur's Holi celebrations. During the festival, the city comes alive with elephants, dancers and musicians. Elephants, lavishly decorated with vibrant colourful designs, jhools (saddle cloth) and heavy jewelry, parade through the streets, and at Chaugan Stadium elephant polo, races and tugs-of-war between an elephant and 19 men and women are featured events. Curiously all the elephants that take part in this festival are female.



Khajuraho Dance Festival (March  Khajuraho)

Khajuraho's Chandela Temples, with their superb architectural excellence and erotic carvings make a superb setting for this festival of dance. The 5-day event features some of India's most illustrious performers and dance troops, performing diverse styles and routines. These include the intricate footwork of Kathak, the highly stylized and sophisticated Bharathanatyam, the soft lyrical temple dance of Odissi, the dance dramas of Kuchipudi, the ancient dance of Manipuri, and Kathakali stage fights with elaborate masks.



Hemis Festival (June/July  Ladakh)

The Hemis Festival takes place each year at the Hemis Gompa (monastery) in Ladakh, and commemorates the birth of its founder Guru Padmasambhava. Lamas gather in the monastery's courtyard to perform dances and sacred plays wearing elaborate masks accompanied by drums, cymbals and long horns. There is also a colourful fair selling Ladakhi craftwork. Every 12 years a huge Thanka (religious painting), depicting Guru Padmasambhava and richly embroidered with pearls and semi-precious stones, is displayed.



Teej Fair (July/August  Jaipur)

Teej is a colorful festival dedicated to the Goddess Parvati, and commemorates her union with Lord Shiva. Teej is celebrated in a number of places but the main festival is in Jaipur. An elaborate procession threads through the city on two consecutive days conveying the Teej idol, richly decorated with ornaments and extravagant fabrics, and gaudy dresses, and covered with a canopy.



Onam Harvest Festival (August  Kerala)

Onam is the harvest festival in the state of Kerala, traditionally welcoming the spirit of the legendary King Mahabali. Celebrated with great zeal and exuberance it demonstrates Keralan culture and tradition at its best. Intricate floral designs are created in homes and business premises, an ambrosial nine course vegetarian feast is enjoyed, exotic and elegant Kaikottikali folk dance is performed, and the spectacular Snake Boat Race thunders across Lake Vambenad.



Janmashtami (August  National)

Lord Krishna's birthday is celebrated on the 8th day of Bhadon in the Hindu calendar. On this auspicious occasion temples are beautifully decorated and illuminated. In the town of Vrindavan, where Lord Krishna spent his childhood, the celebrations are extravagant. Priests chant holy mantras and pour Panchamrit (a mixture of water from the river Ganges, milk, gee, curd, and honey) over an idol of the infant Krishna.



Dussehra (October  National)

In the climax of a 10-day celebration of good over evil, Dussehra is the legendary battle in which Lord Rama killed the demon-king Ravana. It is re-enacted throughout India with huge effigies of Ravana, his brother and his son being burned. During the build-up the life of Lord Rama is enacted during the 9-day Ramilila.



Diwali (October/November - National)

Diwali, the Hindu 'Festival of Lights', celebrates victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance. It is a very happy time and the biggest Hindu festival. On this auspicious day people illuminate their houses with dozens of earthen-ware pots, called diyas and candles, and perform Laxmi Puja in the evening to seek divine blessings from the Goddess of Wealth. Gifts are exchanged, and fireworks are closely associated with this joyous festival.



Pushkar Fair (November  Pushkar/Rajasthan)

During full moon in November the sleepy town of Pushkar comes alive in a riot of colour and activity. Traders, visitors and pilgrims descend on this remote outpost in Rajasthan's desert, and over five days camels are richly dressed and decorated, paraded, shaved, entered into beauty contests, raced, and traded. A huge carnival is held, with an array of musicians, magicians, dancers, acrobats, snake charmers and carousel rides. A festive mood prevails, and on the last day, Kartik Purnima, pilgrims bath in the waters of the sacred lake and pay homage to Lord Brahma (Creator of the universe) at the only temple in India dedicated to him.



Kumbh Mela

Kumbh Mela is almost certainly the most extraordinary religious gathering and expression of faith on earth, attracting millions of devotees from throughout India and abroad to journey to and bathe in the sacred waters of the River Ganges. It occurs every 3 years at Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain or Nashik subject to astrological determination. The full Kumbh Mela takes place every 12 years. It is a spectacle of immense proportion at the full Mela in 2001 it was estimated that 60 million people attended and bathed in the Ganges.

 

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Nepal

Holi (February/March  National)

The ancient Hindu festival of Holi, named after the mythical demoness Holika, is the festival of colours (Phagu). Celebrating the victory of good over evil when Holika was consumed by fire at the hands of Lords Vishnu and Bramha. It is a joyful and mischievous festival when the streets fill with exuberant people throwing balloons filled with coloured water (Lolas) at each other. Lots of good-natured fun wear old clothes!!!



Ghode Jatra (March  Kathmandu)

Ghode Jatra is an equestrian festival when horses are paraded through the city and a gymkhana takes place in central Kathmandu at the Tundikhel parade ground. Legend has it that Tundikhel is where the demon Tundi died and people rejoiced by dancing on his body with horses. More likely it derives from when the kings of Kathmandu went to worship at Bhadrakali Temple in a cavalcade with the Living Goddess Kumari, and over time it has evolved into today's colourful festival.



Naya Varsha New Year (April  National)

New Year in Nepal is Naya Varsha, which falls on the first day of Baisakh in the Nepali calendar. It is a national holiday when people have picnics and celebrate the day socializing in various ways.



Balsakh Poornima Lord Buddha's Birthday (May  National)

Balsakh Poornima is Lord Buddha's birthday. Nepal was his birthplace and the triple anniversary of his birth, enlightenment and death is observed with joyous and colorful ceremonies. Pilgrims and devotees pay homage at Swayambhunath, Bouddhanath and Lumbini.



Indra Jatra  Festival of Dance (September  Kathmandu)

Hindus and Buddhists come together to celebrate the festival of Indra Jatra, a delightful eight-day festival of classical dance. The week is marked by festivities which include singing, dancing, feasting and the performing of many and varied traditional classical dance forms. The living goddess Kumari, the incarnation of the Goddess Taleju, is taken in procession through the city streets.



Dashain (September/October  National)

The longest and most auspicious Hindu festival in the Nepali calendar, Dashain is a 15-day celebration taking place during the bright lunar fortnight in the month of Kartik (September/October) and ending with the full moon. It celebrates the victory of good over evil, represented by the Goddess Durga slaying the terrible demon Mahisasur. Houses are cleaned, new clothes are purchased, temples are decorated and devotees pay homage to the Gods. The first 9 days represent the bitter battles between gods and demons, until on day 10 Durga is victorious. Victory celebrations follow, leading to the final day, Tika, when elders give a blessing signified by placing a coloured spot on the forehead of younger relatives.



Tihar (Dipawali) (October  National)

The festival of lights in Nepal is called Tihar. Many animals are venerated for their close relationship with humans, and the Goddess of good fortune and wealth, Laxmi, is worshipped. During the 5-day celebration special meals are prepared, gifts are exchanged between brothers and sisters, kites are flown and cards played. It is a time for rest and relaxation.

 

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Bhutan

Tsechu Festival (March  National)

Tsechu are festivals of Drukpa Buddhism held in each district (Dzongkhag) of Bhutan. Of these the Paro Tsechu at the Paro Dzong monastic fortress is the most spectacular and deeply symbolic. The focal point of Tsechu is the sacred Cham dances. These richly costumed, masked dances are moral vignettes based on incidents from the life of Padmasambhava. This 9th century teacher of the Nyingmata school of Tibetan Buddhism instigated the first Tsechu in Bumthang with eight forms of Cham dance. On the final day is the unfurling of a huge Thanka (religious painting) at dawn with great religious fervor. It depicts Guru Rinpoche (builder of the Paro Dzong) surrounded by holy beings, which is said to cleanse the viewer of sin.



Gomphu Kora Festival (March  Eastern Bhutan)

The Great Circumambulation at Gomphu Kora takes place each March at the Gomphu (cave) close to the Tarshigang Dzong, where Guru Rinpoche vanquished the demon Myongkhapa after 3 days of meditation in the cave. Now a site of pilgrimage the 3-day festival attracts great numbers from all over eastern Bhutan, who descend upon the valley in their finery to enjoy the festivities, worship and be reunited with their illustrious past.



Takin Festival (June  Jigme Dorji National Park)

The Takin is the national animal of Bhutan, a curious looking creature with the body of a cow and the head of a goat. It is unique to the mountains of Bhutan and the eastern Himalayas. Legend says it was created by Lama Drukpa Kunley (the divine madman) in the 15th Century from the left overs of a meal. Held at Thsajarithang in Jigme Dorji National Park the festival celebrates the Takin and is a forum to find ways to improve conservation. The park is home to royal Bengal tiger, snow leopard, clouded leopard, red panda, Asiatic wild dog, Himalayan black bear, deer and over 300 species of birds.



Thimpu & Wangdu Festivals (October  Wangdu)

Two grand festivals, these very colourful events take place in huge Dzongs (monasteries) and take the form of stories, played out by masked dancers in resplendent traditional costumes. Watched by large crowds drawn from the Wangdu and Punakha valleys and from outlying villages, dressed in traditional finery, they are also very social occasions. The Festivals commemorate the birth of Guru Rimpoche, the great Saint who introduced Buddhism to the Kingdom.



Jambay Lhakhang Festival (November  Bumthang)

Jambay Lhakhang Drup holds a significant place in Bhutanese culture and has a duel purpose. It is a tribute to Guru Rimpoche, who introduced the Tantric form of Buddhism to Bhutan, and commemorates the establishment of the Jambay Lhakhang Temple in 7th century. Traditional masked dances are performed, each bearing a significant meaning, but the highlight is the fire ceremony called Mewang and the dance known as Tercham. In addition are Dola Pangtoy (drum beat dance), Dola Pangtoy Shazam (clown dance) and Raksha Mangcham (life after death). It is a magnificent spectacle.



Black-Necked Crane Festival (November  Gangtey)

Black-necked cranes are the epitome of elegance. This majestic bird is endemic to the Tibetan Plateau and migrates to lower altitudes, including Bhutan, in autumn. They flock to the Phobjikha Valley during this annual migration, but with less than 3,000 of them left they face the very real threat of extinction. This yearly festival aims to raise awareness of the Black-necked cranes' plight and improve their conservation. Organized by the Phobjikha community, which receives assistance and sponsorship from the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) and the International Crane Foundation (ICF).

 

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Sri Lanka

Duruthu Perahera (January  Colombo)

Duruthu Perahera, held on the day of the full moon, celebrates when Buddha first came to Sri Lanka 2,500 years ago when he visited the Kelaniya Temple near Colombo. The colourful, fun but serious celebrations consist of processions on the three nights preceding full moon, called the Poya. Whip-crackers lead each procession, followed by fireball performers, drummers and costumed dancers with ornately decorated elephants parading between the groups.



Independence Day (4th February Colombo)

Prior to 1972 Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon. For more than a century it had been a British crown colony but on 4 February 1948 it became a Democratic Socialist Republic. Independence Day is a great national occasion celebrated with parades and pageants, combined with the spirit of patriotism and national pride.



Aluth Avurudu  New Year (April  National)

New Year occurs in the month of Bak in the Buddhist calendar and is determined astrologically. It signals the end of the harvest season and coincides with one of two yearly occasions when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. Marked by the cleaning of houses, lighting of oil lamps and making of Kiribath (rice milk), there is much celebration and loud firecrackers are ubiquitous.



Vesak (May  National)

Vesak is the most important Buddhist festival in Sri Lanka. It is a triple celebration of Lord Buddha's birth, attaining enlightenment and passing away into Nirvana. Colourful bamboo-framed lanterns adorn the interior of every home, and luminous displays decorate the streets of most towns. Vesak marks the first month of the Buddhist calendar and is a time for reflective prayer and a break from worldly pursuits. Devout Buddhists pray in temples from dawn until dusk. As the sun sets devotees join processions, returning to their temples later in the evening to hear monks read stories from sacred texts. Roadside stalls distribute free refreshments to passers-by and there are mime and street theatre performances staged on tall platforms near temples in cities and towns throughout the country.