Amarnath Yatra - Jammu & Kashmir
In the month of Shravan, thousands of pilgrims make an arduous trek up to the Amarnath cave in the Kashmir Himalayas. They come to worship the sacred ice lingam - a symbol of Lord Shiva, which is a natural phenomenon.
Baisakhi - Punjab (April 14th)
A rural festival of North India, marking the beginning of the solar year (New year), celebrated in Punjab with great fervour. For the Sikhs the day is a collective celebration of New Year along with the commemoration of the founding of the Khalsa Panth (Sikh brotherhood) by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699.
It also signifies the end of harvest of the main crop. During Baisakhi the farmers give 'thanks' to the Lord Almighty for their fortune and pray for a better crop the next year. Baisakhi involves a lot of socialising where friends and relatives are invited and delicious meals are served.
The holy book of the Sikhs, 'Granth Sahib' is taken in a procession, led by the 'Panj Pyaras' (five senior Sikhs) who are symbolic of the original leaders. The occasion is celebrated with great gusto at Talwandi Sabo, where Guru Gobind Singh stayed for nine months and completed the recompilation of the Guru Granth Sahib and in the Golden temple in Amritsar. On Baisakhi day, water is drawn from all the sacred rivers of India and poured in to the huge tank surrounding the golden temple.
Christmas - All Over India
Christmas the birth anniversary of Jesus Christ, is celebrated in India with great fervor all over India by the Christians.
People decorate their houses, erect Christmas trees, make cribs with figures of baby Jesus, Mother Mary, Joseph, the three kings who come to visit the baby and shepherd boys and their herds grazing around depicting the scenes of Jesus's Birth in the Bible. They decorate the Christmas tree, hang stars, gifts and illuminate them. On the Christmas day, people enjoy a sumptuous Christmas lunch. Christmas cakes and wine are served to visitors and exchanged as gifts among friends and relatives.
Christmas celebrations vary in different parts of India. In some parts, small clay oil-burning lamps, mango leaves etc are used as Christmas decorations and mango and banana trees are decorated. All the major Indian cities wear a festive look. Shops and bazaars are decorated for the occasion and offer attractive bargains.
Carol singing, get-togethers and the exchanging of gifts enhance the Christmas spirit. Christmas parties launch off celebrations for the New year, thus retaining the festive mood for at least a week.
Durga Puja - West Bengal
In West Bengal Navratri is celebrated as Durga Puja where beautifully decorated images of the goddess are worshipped in specially erected Puja Pandals. Community pujas in Bengal are organised in every locality. Families visit each other to share feasts. On the final day the idols are taken in elaborate processions to be immersed in the river or the sea.
This Hindu festival is celebrated all over India to mark the defeat of Ravana by Lord Rama. Dussehra symbolises the triumph of good over evil. The 'Ramlila' - an enactment of the life of Lord Rama, is held during the nine days preceding Dussehra. On the tenth day, larger than life effigies of Ravana, his son and brother -Meghnath and Kumbhakarna, are set alight.
In Himachal Pradesh, a week -long fair in the hill town of Kullu, is a part of the Dussehra celebrations. From the little temples in the hills, deities are brought in procession to the 'maidan' in Kullu, to pay homage to the reigning deity, Raghunathji. In Mysore, South India the Mysore palace is illuminated for a whole month during Dusshera and caparisoned elephants lead a colourful procession through the gaily-decorated
Diwali, or Deepavali, perhaps the best-known Hindu festival, marks the end of the season that opens with Dussehra. Diwali is celebrated throughout India, as well as in Indian communities throughout the diaspora. It usually takes place eighteen days after Dusshera in October/November. Diwali is called the "festival of lights", and the name itself means an array of lamps (Deep = Lamp, Vali =Array). Indeed, illumination is characteristic of Diwali. The array of lamps are symbolic of welcoming Lord Rama back to Ayodhya after his 14 years of exile, and the common practice is to light small oil lamps, diyas, and place them around the house.
Elephant Festival - Jaipur, Rajasthan
The Elephant Festival is held every year during Holi, in Jaipur (Rajasthan). Here, as you would expect from the name of the Festival Elephants are the centre of attraction. During the festival, Jaipur comes alive with elephants, dancers, musicians and draws visitors from all over the world. The elephants stride majestically parading their decorated trunks and tusks. The festival begins with a procession of elephants, camels, and horses, painted and tastefully attired with glittering ornaments and embroidered velvets, followed by lively folk dancers. The elephants greet the visitors, offer garlands to the guests and walk past the ramp before a jury of experts and tourists to select the best amongst them for the "Best decorated Elephant" Shield. Elephant races and elephant polo matches are special features. The tug of war between elephants and men is probably the most hilarious highlight of the festival. The unique "Gaj Shringar" exhibition displays everything connected with the elephant-ornaments, textiles (Jhoo), howdahs and carriages, paintings, medicines and food.
The tourists have an opportunity to mount the elephants and play Holi. Participants dance with great vigor-the excitement rising to a crescendo.
Guru Parab - Punjab
The birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev - the first or the founder guru of the Sikhs, is celebrated with great fervour on the full moon day of Kartika. Guru Parab, also known as Jyototsava is one of the most sacred festivals of the Sikhs.
Hemis Festival - Ladakh, Jammu Kashmir
The courtyard of Hemis Gompa-the biggest Buddhist monastery in Ladakh, is the stage for the famous 'Hemis' festival that celebrates the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava. The colourful two-day pageant falls on the 10th day (Tse-Chu) of the Tibetan lunar month. The local people are seen dressed up in their finest traditional garb for the occasion. Lamas called 'chhams' perform splendid masked dances and sacred plays to the accompaniment of cymbals, drums and long horns. The head lama presides over the function. The festival takes an auspicious turn every 12 years in the Tibetan Year of the Monkey, when the two-storey high 'Thanka' depicting Padmasambhava is displayed. This famous 'Thanka', richly embroidered with pearls and semi-precious stones, is due to be displayed at this years festival i.e in 2004. A colourful fair, displaying some beautiful handicrafts, is the special highlight of the festival.
Id-ul-Fittr - All over India
This festival celebrates the end of Ramzan, the Muslim month of fasting. It is an occasion of feasting and rejoicing. The faithful gather in the mosques to pray, friends and relatives meet and exchange greetings. Prayers, family get-togethers and feasts are the major highlights of the festival.
Janmashtami - All over India
The birth anniversary of Lord Krishna, the incarnation of Vishnu is celebrated with great fervour all over India especially at Mathura and Brindavan where Lord Krishna spent his childhood. Temples and homes are beautifully decorated and lit. Nightlong prayers are offered and religious hymns are sung in temples. The priests chant holy mantras and bathe the idol with Gangajal (water from the holy Ganges river), milk, ghee (clarified butter), oil, and honey pouring all these from a conch shell.
Lohri - Punjab, Delhi
In the North Makar Sankranti is called Lohri. Lohri is the time after which the biting cold of the winters begins to taper off. On this day children go from door to door to collect funds for community bonfires which are lit up in the evening. Lohri is more of a community festival as people gather around the bonfires and offer sweets, crisp rice and popcorn to the flames.
Mahashivratri - All over India
On this day, the great night of the Lord Shiva, devotees stay awake throughout the night offering prayers to Lord Shiva. They offer special food made from the fruits of the season, root vegetables and coconut to the Lord. Special celebrations are held in some of the major Shiva temples at Varanasi, Kalahasti (Andhra Pradesh) and Chidambaram (Tamil Nadu)
Pongal - Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh
In South Sankranti becomes Pongal. It is a celebration of the harvest, which is observed for three days in January. Bhogi Pongal, Surya Pongal and Mattu Pongal, are the three days of Pongal festivities on successive days. In certain parts cattle races still enliven the village festivities. Pongal is a colourful and traditional festival with many a ceremony devoted to various deities.
In Madurai, Tiruchirapalli and Tanjore a kind of bull fight called the Jellikuttu is held. Bundles containing money are tied to the horns of the ferocious bulls, and unarmed men try to wrest the bundles from them.
Pushkar Fair - Pushkar, Rajasthan
This fair is held at Pushkar town, 11 km from Ajmer in Rajasthan for twelve days annually. This cultural and trade cum religious fair is an attractive and lively spectacle with Rajasthani men and women in their colourful traditional attire, saffron-robed and ash smeared Sadhus (holy men) and thousands of bulls, cows, sheep, goats, horses and camels in richly decorated saddles. Perhaps the largest cattle fair in the world, it attracts more than one lakh people, from all over Rajasthan as well as tourists from different parts of India and abroad.
Trading of cattle, camel races and dazzling displays of bangles, brassware, clothes, camel saddles and halters make the fair colourful. Necklaces of glass beads from Naguar, pottery, printed textiles from Jodhpur and Ajmer are all on sale here. Farmers, cattle traders and breeders buy and sell their animals, leather whips, saddles etc. There are facilities for camel rides also. This livestock fair coincides with the climaxing of a religious celebration. Pushkar is among the five main places of pilgrimage mentioned in the Hindu scriptures. It has a large number of temples including one of the only two temples dedicated to Lord Brahma in India. Hundreds of thousands of devotees take a ritual dip in the holy Pushkar lake on the day of the Kartik Purnima (full moon night of the Kartika month) and worship at the Brahma temple (Jagat Pita Shri Brahma Mandir). Pilgrims flock from all over India to be in Pushkar at this auspicious time. They also believe that all the 330 million Gods and Goddesses are present at Pushkar Lake during the occasion.
Apart from the religious rituals and trading, people participate in a number of cultural and sporting events. The sweeping expanse of the desert becomes dotted with thousands of camels, stalls and camping families. The Rajasthan tourism Development Corporation has taken adequate measures to facilitate convenient access of the fair site and to accommodate the fairgoers.
Rathyatra - Chariot Festival - Odisha
This spectacular chariot festival celebrated for 8 days is held at the famous Jagannath Temple at Puri (Orissa). Thousands of devotees flock to Puri during the occasion, as they believe that a glimpse of Lord Jagannath in his chariot gives salvation. Images of Lord Jagannath - the Lord of the Universe, his sister Subhadra and brother Balbhadra are taken out in a procession in three immense chariots. The main chariot is 14 meters high and 10 meters square with 16 wheels. Thousands of devotees pull these chariots to Gundicha Mandir, a temple 3 km away. After a week, on 'Ashadha Sukla Dasami', the 10th day of the bright fortnight of Ashadha (June-July), return journey or 'Bahuda Yatra' of the deities commences in the same manner from Gundicha temple to the main temple like Rath Yatra. When two months of Ashadha fall in one year, Rath Yatra is observed as the festival of 'Nabakalebar' the old deities are buried within the temple premises ('Koilibaikuntha') and are replaced by new deities, carved out of Margosa trees for which there are set procedures. Double Ashadha occurs at intervals of 8 to 19 years. Construction of the chariots begin as early as April
Sindhu Darshan Festival - Leh
The Sindhu Darshan Festival is organised annually at Leh. People travel for a Darshan and Puja of the River Sindhu (Indus) which originates from the Mansarovar in Tibet. The festival is a celebration of this river. The Festival aims at projecting the Sindhu river as a symbol of multi-dimensional cultural identity, communal harmony and peaceful co-existence in India. It is also an opportunity for people from around the country and overseas to visit the beautiful regions of Leh and Ladakh.
Teej - Rajasthan and Chandigarh
This swing festival welcomes the advent of the monsoon. Swings are hung from trees and decorated with flowers. Women, colourfully attired, swing on them and sing songs in celebration.
**source Ministry of Tourism, Govt of India