I ndia has more holidays celebrated with festivals than any other country in the world. In fact, India has more festivals than there are days in the year. Most celebrations are religious as every major world faith is practiced in India, with Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism all having originated there.
Many festivals are based on Hindu scriptures with 80 percent of the Indian population being of the Hindu faith. Some festivals honour the change of seasons of which there are six - Spring, Summer, Monsoon, Autumn, Pre-Winter and Winter.
Here is a small sample of a few annual festivals:
THE FESTIVAL OF COLOURS
Holi is known as the Festival of Colours, a two-day celebration of ‘good over evil.’ Taking place the day after the full moon in the month of March it celebrates renewal in a welcome to spring. It is more popular in Northern India and a favourite among tourists.
The first day of the festival family and friends gather around a bonfire to commemorate the burning of Holika, a demon in Hindu scriptures.
The next day’s activities include revellers throwing brightly coloured powders and water on each other till everyone is a drenched in primary colours. There are parties and participants will also dance under sprinklers. Some may also enjoy the consumption of bhang (a paste made from cannabis plants).
THE FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS
Diwali is also a celebration of ‘brightness over darkness.’ A five-day festival it honours the defeat of the demon King Ravana, whereupon Lord Ram (descendent of Hindu God Vishnu) and his wife Sita returned to their kingdom after 14 years in exile.
It is a joyous affair and quite beautiful as the nights are bright with small clay oil lamps, that are lit and placed along windows, balconies and throughout homes to ask for blessings in health and wealth. Diwali is also celebrated with evening fireworks and a number of cultural programmes. There is also an exchange of gifts to mark the celebrations, and it is recognized as a major shopping period.
FESTIVAL OF GANESH
Vinayaka Chaturthis is an 11-day celebration of the birth of Hindu elephant-headed god, Lord Ganesha. Elaborate statues of the deity worshipped by Hindu, Jains and Buddhists, are installed in followers’ homes and as the festival concludes, the statues are paraded through the streets, accompanied by singing and dancing, and then submerged in a river or lake.
This festival is primarily celebrated in the Western and Southern parts of India between Mid-August and September.
Durga Puja is a celebration of the Mother Goddess, and the victory of the revered warrior Goddess Durga over the evil buffalo demon Mahishasura. The festival honors the powerful female force (shakti) in the Universe.
Durga Puja is celebrated in a similar manner to the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. The start of the festival sees huge, elaborately crafted statutes of Goddess Durga installed in homes and beautifully decorated podiums all over the city. At the end of the festival, the statutes are paraded through the streets, accompanied by much music and dancing, and then immersed in rivers or lakes.
This is an extremely social and theatrical event. Drama, dance, and cultural performances are widely held. Food is a huge part of the festival, and street stalls blossom all over Kolkata. In the evenings, the streets of Kolkata fill with people, who come to admire the statues of Goddess Durga, eat, and celebrate
The dates of the festival are determined according to the lunar calendar – usually in October.
Onam is an annual harvest festival celebrated in southern India’s state of Kerala to mark the homecoming of mythical King Mahabali. People decorate the ground in front of their homes with flowers arranged to welcome the King, who is believed to visit every year from the under world to see his people living happily.
Throughout the ten days of the festival, people wear new clothes and consume feasts served on banana leaves. There is dancing, sporting events, games and snake boat races, where thousands of people gather on the banks of the river Pampa to watch.
PUSHKAR CAMEL FAIR
Each November, starting on the night of the full moon 200,00 people, including a number of tourists, come together with livestock in the desert town of Pushkar.
Camels compete for beauty (the longest moustache) the best dance moves, and are often dressed up and paraded though town. Horses, sheep, goats and cattle are part of the festivities as well, with many animals being raced and traded by Rajasthani farmers.
Recently the fair has included an exhibition cricket match between the local Pushkar club and a team of random foreign tourists. Tourists can also expect to compete in a tug of war, or a turban-tying contest.