1. Makar Sankranti & Pongal
Celebrated in the second week of January, Makar Sankranti and Pongal signify the end of the harvesting season in the country when farmers put down their tools and come together in joy and harmony. The Sankranti festivities are marked in different ways across north India such as through kite flying in Gujarat and parts of Rajasthan. Pongal is a four day long cultural Indian festival primarily celebrated in Tamil Nadu. On the second day of Pongal, the festivities are marked by boiling milk in new clay pots during sunrise and when the milk boils over shouting “Pongalo Pongal”. It is an important festival in the state when people pray for abundance in wealth and health and the best time to visit Tamil Nadu.
One of the, if not the most colourful festivals celebrated in the world, Holi is representative of India’s essence and vibrancy. The beautiful cultural festival celebrated with colours and water in the month of March is a special festival marked all across the country. Celebrated across two days; the night before the colour playing family and friends gather to burn a bonfire to commemorate the sacrifice of Holika and the next day people come out and play with colours and water in the spirit of joy. Among the famous places to celebrate Holi in India, Mathura, Vrindavan, Dwarka and Kumaon region of Uttarakhand are best.
A very special and auspicious day for the Christians, Easter Sunday is celebrated in April to mark the resurrection of Jesus Christ upon his death on Good Friday. The day holds lots of religious importance for the Christians and is celebrated with great fervor. People buy new clothes, decorate eggs and prepare tasty lamb dishes to mark the celebration of the day. The Easter Basket is prepared filled with chocolates, decorated eggs and many other things and brought to the church to be blessed by the Father. Goa and Kerala are the best places to celebrate Easter, where this religious festival is celebrated with greater zeal in Christian dominated regions and one gets to experience the beauty of the festival even more.
4. Maha Shivratri
Among the biggest days in a Hindu calendar year, Maha Shivratri is celebrated as the day Lord Shiva married Goddess Parvati. This religious Indian festival is celebrated on the 14th/15th day of the month of February with devotees flogging to the temples to offer their prayers. The festivities are marked with all-day fasting and all-night vigils through singing and dancing.
5. Eid-al-Fitr (Ramadan)
One of the biggest religious festivals in India, Id and the month long fasting prior to that which is known as Ramzan is fervently celebrated by millions of Muslims all across the country. It is a great advantage to have Muslims friends around this time as you get to enjoy the Iftar Parties every evening during Ramzan and gorge upon some delicious sweet dishes on the day of Id. Cities such as Lucknow, Delhi and Hyderabad see joyous celebrations and fanfare during Id. The festival is also symbolic of the brotherhood and cultural uniqueness of India.
The birthday of Lord Krishna a revered Hindu God is celebrated on this day. The Krishna temples all across the country are decorated beautifully and see crowds of thousands turn up to offer their prayers to the god. The twin cities of Mathura and Vrindavan become a place of great festivities during this time with many famous temples such as ISKON and Bake Bihari decorated beautifully and are full of devotees late into the night. This religious festival is usually marked in the months of August or September.
7. Durga Puja/Dussehra
The beginning of perhaps the happiest point in a calendar year in India, Durga Puja – celebrated over nine days and Dussehra are twin Indian festivals that bring loads of joy to the people here. Durga Puja marks the return of Goddess Kali to her maternal home for nine days, during these nine days the goddess is worshipped every day during the morning, with Bhog being offered during the afternoon and evening spent in watching cultural events such as dancing and singing. Durga Puja in Bengal is known worldwide for the celebrations and Kolkata is the best city to experience the charm of this amazing religious festival in India. Dussehra is celebrated on the tenth day celebrating the victory of Lord Ram over Ravana, marked by the burning of Ravana effigies all across the country.
If you are planing to celebrate Navratri. Check out Navratri Celebrations in India
The festival of festivals, Deepawali is one of the most widely celebrated cultural festivals in India, marked across communities and regions. The festival of light marks the home coming of Lord Ram from his exile to his kingdom. The festival sees households decorated in beautiful electronic lights along with diyas and rangolis. In the evening there is a grand puja of Goddess Laxmi the harbinger of wealth with crackers burnt after it to mark the end of the festival. Deepawali celebrations are best seen in the northern parts of the country such as UP, Rajasthan, Punjab and Delhi.
9. Buddha Purnima
The biggest day in the life of a Buddhist, Buddha Purnima is celebrated across the Buddhist world as the day of birth, enlightenment and death of Gautam Buddha. India, the land of Gautam Buddha’s enlightenment and death sees great celebration of his life and teachings by the Buddhist temples and followers in the country. Devout Buddhists gather around at their nearest temples with flowers and candlesticks, offering prayers and singing hymns. Bodh Gaya in Bihar is the best place to witness the enchanting celebrations of Buddha Purnima in India.
10. Losar Festival
Losar Festival is the celebration of the New Year by Tibetan Buddhists in the country. It is believed that this festival pre-dates the emergence of Buddhism in India and is one of the most culturally stimulating Indian festivals. Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh are the best places to celebrate Losar festival. Losar celebrations go on for fifteen days with the first three days being the most important. The festival is usually celebrated during February-March with folk dancing, music and local beverages part of the festivities.
Perhaps one of the biggest and widely celebrated as cultural as wells as religious festivals in the world, Christmas is also celebrated with the same zeal and zest in India too. The decorated churches, the Santa Claus and the Christmas Eve gifts are part of the whole experience of celebrating Christmas by not only Christians but people from other religion too. The best place to experience the beauty of Christmas is in Old Goa, Meghalaya and Cochin where one can visit beautiful churches and witness the excitement on the streets which is usually missing in northern and western parts of the country.