India has fun and fascinating festivals every single month of the year, and the Indians don't miss the chance to enjoy as many as possible. You can, too, if you know what events take place each month. Here is a month-by-month rundown of the most popular and unusual Indian festivals, holidays and special events. Attending any one of these is a great way to experience Indian culture first-hand and make your vacation in India even more special.
Post-monsoon cool lingers throughout the country, with downright cold in the mountains. Pleasant weather and several festivals make it a popular time to travel, while Delhi hosts big Republic Day celebrations.
Free India Republic Day commemorates the founding of the Republic of India on 26 January 1950; the biggest celebrations are in Delhi, which holds a huge military parade along Rajpath, and the Beating of the Retreat ceremony three days later. There are pigeon races in Old Delhi.
Kite Festival Sankranti, the Hindu festival marking the sun's passage into Capricorn, takes place on either 14 or 15 January, and is celebrated in many ways across India - from banana-giving to cockfights. But it's the mass lcite-flying in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra that's most spectacular.
The Tamil festival of Pongal, equivalent to Sankranti, marks the end of the harvest season. Families prepare pots of pongal (a mixture of rice, sugar, dhal and milk), symbolic of prosperity and abundance, then feed them to decorated and adorned cows.
The huge Hindu pilgrimage, Kumbh Mela, takes place every three years, rotating between four different locations. All involve mass devotion - mass as in tens of millions of people. The next ritual group bathings are in Prayag (2019) and Haridwar (2021/22).
This is a good time to be in India, with balmy weather in most non-mountainous areas. It, still peak travel season; sunbathing and skiing are still on.
On Vasant Panchami, Hindus dress in yellow and place boolcs, musical instruments and other educational objects in front of idols of Saraswati, the goddess of learning, to receive her blessing. The holiday sometimes falls in February.
Tibetan New Year
Loser is celebrated by Tantric Buddhists all over India - particularly in Himachal Pradesh, Silddm, Ladakh and Zanskar - for 15 days. Loser is usually in February or March, though dates can vary between regions.
Skiing the Northern Slopes
Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttaralchand have some fine siding and snowboarding for all levels. Snow season tends to be January to March; February's a safe bet.
This day of Hindu fasting recalls the tandava (cosmic victory dance) of Lord Shiva. Temple processions are followed by the chanting of mantras and anointing of linga (phallic images of Shiva). Shivaratri can also fall in March.
This 10-day carnival of culture, cuisine and crafts is Agra's biggest and best party. Held at Shilpgram, the festival features more than 400 artisans from all over India, a potpourri of folk and classical music, and dances from various regions and enough regional food to induce a curry coma.
The It month of the travel season, March is full-on ht in most of the country, with rains starting in the northeast. Wildlife is easier to spot as animals come out to find water.
One of North India's most ecstatic festivals; Hindus celebrate the beginning of spring according to the lunar calendar, in February or March, by throwing coloured water and gulal (powder) at anyone within range. Bonfires the night before symbolise the demise of demoness Holika. (Upcoming dates: 2 March 2018, 21 March 2019, 10 March 2020.)
When the weather warms up, water sources dry out and animals venture into the open to find refreshment: your chance to spot elephants, deer and, if you're lucicy, tigers and leopards.
During Rama Naval., which lasts anywhere from one to nine days, Hindus celebrate Rama's birth with processions, music, fasting and feasting, enactments of scenes from the Ramayana and, at some temples, ceremonial weddings of Rama and Sita idols. (Upcoming dates: 26 March 2018, 14 April 2019, 2 April 2020.).
Mahavir Jayanti commemorates the birth of Jainism's 24th and most important tirthankar (teacher and enlightened being). Temples are decorated and visited, Mahavir statues are given ritual baths, processions are held and offerings are given to the poor. (Upcoming dates: 29 March 2018, 17 April 2019, 6 April 2020.).
The heat has officially arrived in most places, which means you can get deals and avoid tourist crowds. The Northeast, meanwhile, is wet, but it's peak time for visiting Sikkim and upland West Bengal.
The Christian holiday marking the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated simply in Christian communities with prayer and good food. (Upcoming dates: 1 April 2018, 21 April 2019, 12 April 2020.).
It's hot almost everywhere. Really hot. Festivals take a back seat as humidity builds up, awaiting the release of the rain. Hill stations are hopping, though, and in the mountains it's pre-monsoon trekking season.
The celebration of Buddha's birth, nirvana (enlightenment) and parinirvana (total liberation from the cycle of existence, or passing away), Buddha Jayanti is quiet but moving: devotees dress simply, eat vegetarian food, listen to dharma talks and visit monasteries or temples. (Upcoming dates: 22 May 2018, 12 May 2019, 30 April 2020.).
Thirty days of dawn-to-dusk fasting mark the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Muslims traditionally turn they attention to God, with a focus on prayer and purification. Ramadan begins around 16 May 2018, 6 .y 2019 and 24 April 2020.
May and June, the months preceding the rains in the northern mountains, are good times for trekking, with sunshine and temperate weather. Consider Himachal Pradesh, Kashmir (but not Ladakh) and Uttarakhand.
Mangoes are indigenous to India, which is why they're so ridiculously good here (seriously, it's ridiculous). The season starts in March; in May the fruit is sweet, juicy and everywhere.
June is low, low season for travellers in India on account of the heat, but a good time to trek up north. The rainy season, or pre-monsoon extreme heat, has started just about everywhere else.
Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan with three days of festivities. Prayers, shopping, gift-giving and, for women and girls, mehndi (henna designs) may all be part of the celebrations. (Upcoming dates: 15 June 2018, 5 June 2019, 24 May 2020.).
All going well, it should be raining almost everywhere now, with many remote roads being swept away. Consider visiting Ladakh, where the weather's surprisingly fine, or do a rainy-season meditation retreat, an ancient Indian tradition.
Odisha Festival of Chariots
Rath Yatra (Chariot Festival) sees effigies of Lord Jagannath (Vishnu incarnated as lord of the world) and his siblings carried through towns on vast, colourful chariots, most famously in Puri, Odisha (Orissa). Millions come to see them. (Upcoming dates: 14 July 2018, 4 July 2019, 23 June 2018.).
Monsoon should be still going strong, but this is prime time to visit Ladakh. Some travellers love tropical areas, such as Kerala or Goa, this time of year: the jungles are lush, green and glistening in the rain, and rainfall is sometimes only a few hours a day.
This public holiday on 15 August celebrates lndia's independence from Britain in 1947. Celebrations indude flag-hoisting ceremonies and parades. The biggest celebrations are in Delhi, where the Prime Minister addresses the nation from the Red Fort and there's pigeon racing and kite flying in Old Delhi.
Janmastami celebrations can last a week in Krishna's bhthplace, elsewhere the festivities range from fasting to puja (prayers) and offering sweets, to drawing elaborate rangoli (rice-paste designs) outside the home. Janmastami is held August/September. (Upcoming dates: 15 August 2018, 3 September 2019, 23 Augu. 2020.)
Parsi New Year
Parsis celebrate Pateti, the Zoroastrian new year, especially in Mumbai. Houses are cleaned and decorated with flowers and rangoli, the family dresses up and eats special fish dishes and sweets, and offerings are made at the Fire Temple.
Muslims commemorate Ibrahhn's readiness to sacrifice his son to God by slaughtering a goat or sheep and sharing it with family, the community and the poor. (Upcoming dates: 22 August 2018, 12 August 2019, 31 July 2020.)
In August or September, Onam is Kerala's biggest cultural celebration, when the entire state celebrates the golden age of mythical King Mahabali for 10 days. (Upcoming dates: 24 August 2018, 10 September 2019, 30 August 2020.)
The Hindu festival Naag Panchami venerates snakes as totems against flooding and other evils. It's dedicated to Ananta, the serpent upon whose coils Vishnu rested between universes. Women return to their family homes and fast. (15 August 2018, 5 August 2019, 25 July 2020).
Brothers & Sisters
On Raksha Bandhan (Narial Purnima), which means 'protective tie', girls tie amulets known as rakhis to the wrists of brothers and close male friends to protect them in the coming year. Brothers reciprocate with gifts and promises to take care of their sisters. (Upcoming dates: 26 August 2018, 15 August 2019, 3 August 2020.).
The rain is now petering out (with temperatures still relatively high), and the monsoon is usually finished in places such as Rajasthan. The second trekking season begins mid-month in the Himalaya and runs through October.
Hindus celebrate the 10-day Ganesh Chaturthi, the celebration of the birth of the much-loved elephant-headed god, with verve, particularly in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai. Clay idols of Ganesh are paraded through the streets before being ceremonially immersed in rivers, tanks (reservoirs) or the sea. (Upcoming dates: 13 September 2018, 2 September 2019, 22 August 2020.).
Shiite Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of the Prophet Mohammed's grandson Imam Hussain, an event known as Ashura, with fasting, beautiful processions and a month of grieving and remembrance. Sunni Muslims also mark this, but with fasting and celebrations marking when Moses (Moosa) fasted because Allah saved the Israelites from their enemy in Egypt. (Upcoming dates: 21 September 2018, 10 September 2019, 29 August 2020.).
This is when the travel season starts to kick off in earnest. October, aka shoulder season, brings festivals, mostly good weather with reasonably comfy temperatures, and lots of post-rain greenery and lushness.
Mahatma Gandhi's Birthday
The national holiday of Gandhi Jayanti is a solemn celebration of Mohandas Gandhi's birth, on 2 October, with prayer meetings at his cremation site in Delhi, RajGhat.
Let it Rain
Let it Rain Water bodies are full up after the rains, making for spectacularly thundering white-water falls. This is also the season for rafting in some areas;
The conquest of good over evil is exemplified by the goddess Durga's victory over buffalo-headed demon Mahishasura. Celebrations occur around the time of Dussehra, particularly in Kolkata, where thousands of images of the goddess are displayed then ritually immersed in rivers and water tanks.
The ochuberant Hindu 'Festival of Nine Nights' leading up to Dussehra celebrates the goddess Durga in all her incarnations. Festivities, in September or October, are particularly vibrant in West Bengal, Maharashtra and Gujarat; in Kollcata, Durga images are ritually immersed in rivers and tanks. (Upcoming dates: 9 October 2018, 29 September 2019, 17 October 2020.).
Colourful Dussehra celebrates the victory of the Hindu god Rama over the demon-lcing Ravana and the triumph of good over evil. Dussehra is big in KuLi, where more than 200 village deities are carried into the town on palanquins and festivities go on for a week. (Upcoming dates: 19 October 2018, 8 October 2019, 25 October 2020.).
Pushkar Camel Fair
Held during Kartika (the eighth Lunar month, usually October or November), this fair attracts around 200,000 people, bringing some 50,000 camels, horses and cattle. It a swirl of colour, magic and mayhem, thronged with musicians, mystics, tourists, camera crews, traders, devotees and animals.
The climate is blissful in most places, still hot but not uncomfortably so, but the southern monsoon is sweeping Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
In the lunar month of Kartilca, Hindus celebrate Diwali for five days. There's massive build up to this, and on the day people exchange gifts, light fireworks, and light lamps to lead Lord Rama home from exile. One of India's prettiest and noisiest festivals. (Upcoming dates: 7 November 2018, 27 October 2019, 14 November 2020.)
Guru Nanakes Birthday
Nanak Jayanti, birthday of Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism, is celebrated with prayer, kirtan (devotional singing) and processions for three days, especially in Punjab and Haryana. The festival may also be held on 14 April, possibly Nanak's actual 1469 birth date.
December is peak tourist season for a reason: it's an escape from the cold elsewhere, you're guaranteed glorious weather (except for the chilly mountains), the humidity, low, the mood is festive and the beach rocks.
The Prophet Mohammed's Birthday
The Islamic festival of Eid-Milad-un-Nabi celebrates the birth of the Prophet Mohammed with prayers and processions, especially in Jammu and Kashmir. It falls around 1 December 2017, 21 November 2018, and 10 November 2019.
Many of India's 1250-plus bird species perform their winter migration from November to January or February, and excellent birdwatching spots are peppered across the country; www.birdingin is an excellent resource.
Camel Treks in Rajasthan
The cool winter (November to February) is the time to mount a camel and ride through the Rajasthan desert. Setting out from Jaialmer or Bikaner, you can explore the Thar Desert and sleep under a shedload of stars.
Christian Goa comes alive in the lead-up to Christmas, midnight Masses are held on 24 December, and Christmas Day is celebrated with feasting and fireworks.