Festivals in South India: Lights, Colours and Celebrations

The rich and vibrant culture of South India is reflected in the unique festivals of each state, from Andhra Pradesh to Tamil Nadu, encompassing Kerala, Karnataka, Telangana, Lakshadweep and Puducherry. Each state brings its unique flavour to the diversity of the southern culture. These festivals have their unique histories and legends associated with them along with the varied ways in which they are celebrated.

Let's explore the Festivals of South India - the culturally colourful states, go back in time, travel across linguistic borders and experience the joy of our rich heritage.
  • Onam 
  • Mysore Dasara
  • Pongal
  • Hampi
  • Karaga
  • Thrissur Pooram
  • Chithirai Thiruvizha
  • Ugadi
  • Mahamaham Festival

1. Onam


Place: Kerala
Time: It is celebrated at the beginning of the first month of the Malayalam calendar, Chingam. In the Gregorian Calendar, it usually falls in the months of August or September.

The harvest festival of Kerala, Onam is celebrated across religions and communities with equal enthusiasm. It was declared the national festival of Kerala in 1961. The carnival of Onam ranges from four to ten days. The first and the tenth day, Atham and Thiruonam respectively, are the most significant days. The festival is celebrated to welcome the King Mahabali who, according to the popular legend, visits his people annually on the festival of Onam.
Celebrations include Vallam Kali, a unique boat race where snake-shaped boats are oared by people for prestigious races like Aranmula Uthrattadhi Boat Race and the Nehru Trophy Boat Race. Next is the Atthachamayam a form of a parade which includes elephants marching to drum beats accompanied by colourfully dressed people in masks. It showcases the folk music and the art forms. Other important features are the Pookkalam which includes flower arrangement to create beautiful floral carpets surrounding the Onathappan statue and games like Tug of War. The traditional dance forms Pulikali, Thumbi Thullal Onam Kali and Kummattikali add to the festivities and richness of the day. However, Onam is incomplete without mentioning the Onam Sadya. The Sadya is a reflection of the season's spirit on a platter, a nine-course meal which includes the seasonal vegetables served on plantain leaves.

2. Mysore Dasara

Mysore Dasara,

Place: Karnataka
Time: It is celebrated on the tenth day of Hindu month of Ashvin which usually falls in September or October in the Gregorian Calendar.

Dussehra, the festival that marks the victory of good or evil, is one of the most popular festivals in India. The grand celebration of Dussehra in Mysore spans over a period of ten days. The festival's origin dates back to 15th century and was initiated by the kings of Vijayanagar kingdom. The festival celebrates the victory of Goddess Chamundeshwari who killed the demon Mahishasura on the day of Vijay Dashmi, the tenth day of Dasara.

The traditional procession of the festival includes the Jamboo Savari, a parade of beautifully adorned elements that carry the idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari. These elephants are accompanied by dance, music and folklore. This torch-light parade, known as Panjina Kavayithu, starts from Mysore Palace and ends at Bannimantap. Other festivities include the exhibition opposite to the

Mysore Palace, concerts and the Kusti Spardhe or the wrestling-bout.
The main attraction of the festival is the Mysore Palace which is illuminated with 100,000 bulbs daily in the evening and the special durbar where the royal sword is worshipped. The festival, therefore, is also a celebration of the warriors and the state.

3. Pongal

Pongal, Most famous South Indian Festival

Place: Tamil Nadu
Time: 14th January

Pongal is the harvest festival of Tamil Nadu that spans over a period of four days. The word Pongal translates into 'to boil' which is associated with the idea of milk boiling in a clay pot, a symbol of prosperity in Tamil Nadu. It is a form of thanksgiving to nature celebrated in the month of Thai in Tamil Nadu. The festival dates back to the Sangam Age and is celebrated as Lohri and Makar Sankranti in other parts of the country.
On the festival, people harvest crops like cereals, sugarcane, turmeric and rice. The first day of Pongal is called the Bhogi festival, celebrated in honour of Lord Indra. Bhogi Mantalu is an important ritual observed on this day where people toss useless household items in a bonfire. The second day of the festival is called Thai Pongal or the Surya Pongal. Two important features of the day are the boiling of rice and milk in an earthen pot which is offered to the Sun God and the Kolam, a traditional and auspicious design drawn with lime powder at the entrance of the house.
The third day is called the Mattu Pongal where cows are worshipped and decorated with bells, beads and garlands. It is associated with the legend of Basava who was banished by Shiva to plough the fields and help people produce more food. The final day of Pongal is the Kaanum Pongal where the leftover food and Pongal, along with betel leaves, nuts and sugarcane and kept on a turmeric leaf in the courtyards by women who pray for the prosperity of their brothers.

4. Hampi Utsav


Place: Hampi, Karnataka
Time: First week of November

This is the largest festival of Hampi celebrated over three days in the first week of November. This festival, also called the Vijay Utsav, dates back to the Vijayanagar reign. The festival is extravagantly celebrated in all liveliness, colours and happiness.
The puppet shows, fireworks and the processions display the cultural extravaganza of the place. It includes various state-sponsored programs to promote this heritage site such as rock climbing, rural and water sports. It also displays the handicrafts and puppets created by the local craftsmen. The streets reverberate with the sounds of drums and pipes with men posted under Gopuras, dressed in the military fashion of the golden era.
The folk song concert called the Janapada Kalavahini and the Jumbo Savari or the elephant march are important features of the festival. The ethnic Kannadigas and drama are also something to look forward to.

5. Karaga


Place: Karnataka
Time: Full moon day of Chaitra. March/April in the Gregorian Calendar.

One of the oldest festivals of Karnataka, Karaga is celebrated in honour of Goddess Shakti at the famous Dharmarayaswamy temple in Bangalore. The festival showcases the rich cultural heritage of Karnataka. It is an auspicious festival of the Thigala community who according to the popular legend was part of a mythological army who helped Draupadi in her fight against a demon. Draupadi took the form of Shakti and gathered an army of Veerakumaras, the ancestors of the Thigala community.
The festival is celebrated for nine days with splendid rituals and processions. The Karaga is an earthen pot that supports a floral pyramid and a figure of the goddess. The procession starts at the Dharmarayaswamy temple with the Karaga carrier dressed in women's attire, surrounded by a number of Veerakumaras carrying uncovered swords. The procession halts at the Dargah-e-Sharif of Hazrat Tawkal Mastan, a Muslim saint of the 18th century and immersing the Karaga in a pond. This marks the procession with communal harmony. The festival attracts devotees from across the country.

6. Thrissur Pooram

Thrissur Pooram

Place: Kerala
Time: The month of Medam in the Malayalam calendar when the moon rises with the Pooram star. April/May in the Gregorian calendar.

Thrissur Pooram is considered as the Mother of all Poorams. The festival was started by Raja Rama Verma and is centred at the Vadakkunnathan Temple. Lord Shiva is regarded as the presiding deity of the festival. Processions are sent by the temples to pay obeisance to Shiva.
The festival begins with flag hoisting followed by fireworks on the fourth day called Sample Vedikettu. Various crafts like the golden elephant caparison, elephant accoutrements and ornamental fans are prepared and exhibited. This is followed by the main Pooram and another round of fireworks. The last day is called the Pakal Pooram where idols are taken back to their respective temples and the festival is concluded by fireworks.

7. Chithirai Thiruvizha

Chithirai Thiruvizha, festivals in south india

Place: Tamil Nadu
Time: Tamil month of Chitirai. April in the Gregorian calendar.

This annual celebration of the city of Madurai is the longest festival in the world, celebrated for a month. The first fifteen days of the festival celebrate the coronation of Goddess Meenakshi and the next fifteen days celebrate the journey of Lord Azhagar from Kallazhagar temple in Alagar Koyil to Madurai.
This festival attracts one million devotees and tourists from across the national borders. The festivities include flag hoisting by the chief priest, the coronation ceremony and the grand celebration of the marriage of Goddess Meenakshi with Lord Shiva. The ceremonies include a procession which attracts a large number of people.

8. Ugadi


Place: Andhra Pradesh
Time: Hindu month of Chaitra. March/April in the Gregorian calendar.

Ugadi translates into the beginning of a new age. The festival welcomes the Telugu New Year, the beginning of the Hindu lunar calendar. The festival is celebrated with harmony and joy with nature marking the beginning of a new year when the buds bloom and blossom.
Ugadi celebrates the aroma of raw mangoes, a key ingredient of the Ugadi Pachadi, a unique festive dish of the Telugu community. The culinary delights of this festival include Atukulu Payasam, Bellam Garelu, Semiya Payasam, Pappu Pulusu and Vankaya Batani. The Ugadi Pachadi is a combination of six different flavours, from sweet to bitter, symbolic of the different phases of life.
The festivities begin with a holy, oil bath after which people don new clothes. The women make spectacular rangolis and mango leaves are used to decorate the entrances of homes and shops. The people visit temples to seek blessings for wealth, prosperity and success.

9. Mahamaham Festival

Mahamaham Festival of South India
Place: Tamil Nadu
Time: 2028. It is celebrated when Jupiter enters the sign of Leo.

The Mahamaham festival is celebrated once in twelve years in the holy Mahamaham pond in the Kumbakonam town in Tamil Nadu. The festival begins with taking a dip in the Mahamaham tank. It is believed that once in twelve years, the holy rivers like Ganga and Yamuna meet in this tank and taking a dip there the sins of a person are washed away. The tank has twenty holy wells which are named after the twenty holy rivers flowing across India. The festival deities from the temples of Kumbakonam are bathed with the devotee. This ceremony is called the Theerthavari. It is an auspicious day which attracts a large number of devotees.

These are just a handful of festivals that are a part of the rich diversity of our nation and display our vibrant culture. So, the next time you plan to visit the wonders of the south, make sure to witness the splendour of these festivals. We hope this catalogue aids you in planning and enriching your next trip.

This post was published by Gauranshi Saran

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