5 of the best visual festivals to see in India

India is a visually stimulating destination with colourful scenes at every corner. It is also a land rich in culture and religion and some of the best sights are to be had at one of the many festivals held throughout the year. The list below focuses on the public displays that are best for visitors to see and record.

Diwali

Dates: late October or early November
Best locations: Goa, Varanasi, Jaipur and Amritsar

The Festival of Light is celebrated over five days and is significant for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs alike. The light referred to is a pure and eternal one, a little of which exists inside us all. The festival is therefore also seen as representing the triumph of truth over sin. As with any major festival the actual celebrations vary somewhat with local flavour.

Indian girl hands holding diwali lights

In Goa the focus is on the destruction of demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna and huge masks are made, to be burnt at dawn. Gambling is also popular but not advised.

In Varanasi the sacred Ganges plays a major role with firework displays through the night. The locals also like to send clay boats with lit candles down the river providing another visual spectacle.

The government of the ‘pink city’, Jaipur, sponsor neon decorations for the local markets and there is strong competition to lay on the most dazzling display. Think Las Vegas unrestrained.

The foundation stone of the Golden Temple in Amritsar was laid on Diwali, in 1577 and celebrations there are just as significant. Lamps and candles are lit around the lake for the evening, with intermittent firework displays later.

Holi

Dates: Usually in the first half of March, sometimes in late February
Best locations: Vrindivan, Jaipur

The Festival of Colours is becoming one of the best known events in India with many fantastic images of crowds daubed in brightly coloured powders racing across social media. The festival begins the night before with a bonfire to burn bad habits and bad influences. Everyone wakes the next day feeling refreshed and ready to spread their blessings, which take the form of significant colours. For instance, red is the symbol of love and affection for others.

Holi festival enjoying by a crowd in Krishna Temple

If you do decide to join an event be prepared to get plastered with powders and maybe even soaked in coloured water. This is all meant in the best possible spirit so cover up your camera et cetera and enjoy. Do remain streetwise – some participants do drink and can become excessively enthusiastic. Best take a local guide along who will be able to emphasize the positives and help to avoid the negatives.

Lohri

Dates: 13th January
Best locations: Amritsar, Chandigarh, Ludhiana and Delhi

Lohri is celebrated across the Punjab and the locations given above are merely those with the best access. The festival celebrates the end of winter and the coming of a new year. A bonfire is seen as a symbol for the spark that gives life to everything and the main attraction is the puja performed around a bonfire, requesting a blessing for the land and, hence, abundant crops in the coming season. Festivities include a special family meal, with revelry often inducing impromptu displays of bhangra and other dances.

Lohrionfir

Other festivals in Northern India mark the winter solstice, especially in Haryana and the North-eastern States.

Hemis

Dates: late-June or early-July
Best locations: From Leh (Ladakh)

Hemis Monastery lies about 40 Km from Leh in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir State in India’s far north-west. It is worthy of a visit at any time but especially during this two-day festival celebrating the birth of the founder of Tantric Buddhism.

Ladakh Hemis

The main attractions are the colourful masked dances accompanied by traditional cymbals, drums and horns. These depict Good prevailing over Evil, although you will need a good local guide to truly understand the characters and plots. Photographers will have a field day as will those with the equipment to record video and sound.

Kalpathi

Dates: early to mid-November
Best locations: From Kochi (Kerala)

This annual Chariot Festival takes place in a relatively small temple up in the hills of Kerala behind the city of Kochi (aka Cochin) on the east coast of the southern tip of India. It is therefore essential that you plan a visit well ahead and with a reputable agency who can secure the essential rooms nearby.

kalpathy-cart-festival

Over the last three days of this event thousands of devotees draw huge and ornately-decorated chariots through the streets with even larger crowds cheering them on. The scale and excitement are unmatched except, perhaps, by the carnival in Rio. Visitors are advised to seek out a vantage point, for their own personal safety as well as to get a better view of the activities. The vantage point should come with facilities and food as there will be many hours before it will be convenient to move on again.

Visitors to this festival can extend their trip with a delightful boat-house trip on the backwaters of Kerala, from Aleppy near Cochin. Reward yourself after the cultural immersion with some tranquil hours in another world.

backwaters-of-kerala

Ian Ford is Operations Manager at Photo Tours Abroad.

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Comments (6)

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  1. amy fidler says:

    ive always loved the festival of colours,but didn’t know about the rest of the festivals,on offer in india x

  2. Ian Ford says:

    Hi Amy. Thanks for pointing that out. Actually, during my research I came up with lots of options and am already thinking about follow-up pieces with other festival themes. Happy travels

  3. Natalie says:

    I have always heard of the Holi festival, but I would love to attend the others. I can imagine that the festivals in India are awesome.

  4. Ian Ford says:

    Thanks for commenting Natalie. The festivals listed here are just the tip of the iceberg. If you do start planning a trip be sure to check the many online calendars and see what is going on during your trip and close to your intended route. It would be well worth a small diversion.

  5. Nafisa Habib says:

    I had no idea about Kalpathi festival in Kerala. In my upcoming Kerala tour will like to attend. And can’t just miss the backwaters trip in Kerala. Thanks for sharing! :)

  6. Ian Ford says:

    Expect crowds for the festival so see that you book accommodation early through a reputable agency. Enjoy your trip. Sure to be warmer than here today.

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