Fun fact: India has over 1.2 billion people and is the second largest population in the world. That’s a lot of people who want to celebrate. So, there are some biiiig festivals in India!
The diversity across the 29 states of India is perhaps why no place quite does a festival like India. Whether it’s glittering elephants or dousing each other in dust, they’ve swapped the traditional festival glamping for serious festival greatness – perfect for keen photographers or anyone looking to experience a festival beyond headliners and wellies.
Here are just 10 of the major festivals of India for you to try and hit up on your trip.
11 Biggest Festivals in India
There’s genuinely no way of knowing how many festivals in India there really are, but here’s a look at the most popular Indian celebrations. Your essential guide to India’s festivals…
1. Holi Festival
Topping the festivals of India list, given its notoriety, is Holi, which is celebrated country-wide in March following the month’s full moon. An ancient Hindu festival, it marks the arrival of spring, celebrates good versus evil and signifies the cleansing of any ill feeling between friends. What better way to do that cleansing than by getting filthy with fistfuls of colourful powder?
Otherwise known as the Festival of Colors, you can find some of the best Holi parties, bonfires and fireworks in Jaipur, Vrindavan and Mathura. Holi Festival is also the Indian festival that’s most celebrated throughout the west. Just look out for that colourful powder.
2. Diwali Festival
A biggie on the Indian festival calendar, Diwali is another one that celebrates that age-old legend of good guys defeating the baddies and encourages people to think about their own lightness and darkness within.
Known as the Festival of Lights, you won’t be surprised to see lots of candles, fireworks and bonfires lighting up entire towns across India. Each day of the five day event has its own special activity and while it usually takes place in October or November, the exact date depends on the lunar cycle.
3. Kumbh Mela
As India’s most religious festival, if you can give a festival that accolade, the Kumbh Mela is a huge, huge festival in India that I’ve experienced for myself. Millions gather for this Hindu festival every four years.
It was a fascinating collection of sadus, worshippers and holy men and women coming together to bathe at the point where the Ganges meets the Yamuna River.
If you want to know more: Simple Guide to the Kumbh Mela in India. And if you’re wondering which is the biggest festival in India, then this is it.
4. International Kite Festival
Purely for the pictures alone, this one needs to be on your must-visit festivals of India list. On the 14th of January, thousands of kite lovers descend on Ahmedabad in Gujarat. From sunrise to sunset, crowds gather and the skies are chocca with colourful kites from all over the world.
Friends get together to party, special foods like laddoos are dished up and people just watch the magic happen above. Although other states have since adopted the tradition, Ahmedabad is where the official viewing party is at but do pop into Patang Bazaar, a pop-up kite market, that in the week before is open 24 hours.
5. Onam Festival
Move over monsoons and hello harvest. Onam takes place in Kerala around September and is an annual 100day event that celebrates the harvest period as well as the arrival of the soul of King Mahabali who was once banished to the underworld but visits earth annually.
A real knees up celebrated by everyone despite the event’s Hindu origins, you’ll see bejewelled elephants, people painted as tigers and a snake boat race on the Pampa river. Then there’s the 13 traditional dishes to try, music, floats, parades and folk dance. Expect ten days of Indian celebrations packed full of culture, fun and food for this harvest festival.
6. Pushkar Camel Fair
Hailed as India’s greatest tribal gathering, the Pushkar Camel Fair brings hundreds of camels and their riders to the small desert town of Pushkar in Rajasthan.
The event kicks off under the Kartik Purnima full moon in November and carries on for 14 days. Think colour, music and I don’t think you need to work hard to imagine the smells.
Originally this major tourist attraction was just a trading fair but now there’s loads more to one of the most well known Indian festivals. By day you can bathe in the lake at the Pushkar Camel Fair which is tradition, watch camel races or camel pageants and at night tribal desert performers showcase their traditional dance and music around a campfire.
7. Ganesh Festival
Next up on this list of cultural festivals in India is the impressive Ganesh Festival. Again depending on the moon, Ganesh Festival happens at the end of August or early September and is one of the most important festivals of India.
It’s all about giving thanks and honouring Lord Ganesh, a Hindu god with an elephant for a head. Local communities across the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh compete to craft the best Ganesh god statue and then parade them through the down before dunking them in water.
Pune in Maharashtra is probably the best place to see the celebrations because it’s thought to be the festival’s birthplace, but Mumbai gives it a run for its money with its display of 10,000 plus statues.
8. Nag Panchami
On the 5th of August, our scaly friends slither out in force as the country celebrates snakes. Not something I’d be too excited about but it’s all about appeasing the snakes and warding off the evil.
Nagpur in Maharashtra is probably the biggest place it’s celebrated but you’ll see temples across India, especially in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh also performing special snake rituals. One of those rituals involves married women feeding snakes milk as a way to safeguard their family from snakes bites.
Visitors, if dressed appropriately can pay their respects in the temples and catch some of these quirky ceremonies.
9. Durga Puja
Who runs the world? Girls. And West Bengal knows it. Durga Puja is the ultimate girl power event, celebrating the Mother Goddess and the Goddess Durga who once won a battle against a demon. Held in October over 5 days, it’s an annual event to bow down to shakti, the female force.
Like we’re learning, no cultural festival in India is complete without a huge statue of a god and Durga is no different. Various Durga statues decorate the city before they complete the compulsory parade and water dipping. Depending on where you are, different rituals take place to honour the goddess, but generally you can just enjoy the amazing food stalls, nightly music and fun street parties.
10. Krishna Janmashtami
Gods giveth the best excuses for celebrations and Janmashtami is one of the biggest. Celebrating the Hindu god of Krishna, it also takes place around August or September. Day one is all about fasting, visiting temples, singing and praying while day two is about making human pyramids in order to reach hanging clay pots full of butter, curd and money. Weird combo but apparently these were Lord Krishna’s favourite foods and who doesn’t love money? Then there’s decorations, dancing, and kids dressed up as mini Krishnas.
Celebrated India-wide, you can take your pick of where you’d like to celebrate but Mathura is said to be where Lord Krishna was born, although once again Mumbai hosts some of the best festivities.
11. Hampi Festival
Come November, the state of Karnataka, throws it back to when the city of Hampi was the capital of an empire. Now, each year the ruins that are left in Hampi, and considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are transformed into a stage for a line up of various cultural performances to make up this final India festival (for today).
The idea is to remember the area’s significance in history and is one of the fave national festivals of India. While there’s traditional dance, song and of course, more parades, in recent years other activities like rock climbing and water sports have made their way into the agenda.
More on travel in India
All about the mistakes I made in India, and what I’d do differently next time.
I spent 3 weeks in India, travelling around Mumbai, Kerala and Goa. This is my route.
Just a few stories of the lessons I learned in India, based on the prejudices and preconceptions of India I’d had before.