India Festivals and Rajahs

Holi day, a wild festival of colours in February/March, India

Holi day, a wild festival of colours in February/March.

Indian Festivals

Around 80% of the 1. 1 billion people living in India are Hindus. With hundreds of different gods, as well as other world religions, it is hardly surprising that there are frequent celebrations in this deeply religious country.

Here are a few of India’s many, madly colourful festivals

Dates are usually based on non-Gregorian calendars, so change year-by-year.

Mid Jan SE (eg. TN, Kar, AP) Pongal (Harvest) festival, 3 days.

Mid Jan Ahmedabad (G) Kite Festival, 1 day.

Mid Jan Trivandrum & Thrissur (Ker) Elephant march, 1 day

Jan, Delhi, Republic day. Parade and festival, 2 days.

Jan/Feb Madurai (TN) Float Festival. 1 day.

Late February/early March. Jaisalmer (Raj) Desert Festival. 3 days

Feb/March North India, Holi (Festival of Colour). 1 day

Feb/March Khajuraho (MP) Dance Festival.

Feb/March Goa Carnival.

Feb/March/April Ajmer (Raj) Urs Ajamer Sharif Islamic Festival. 6 days

April/May, nationwide, Hindu New Year (Baisakhi), 1 day

April/May Thrissur (Ker) Pooram. Elephant, fireworks etc. 1 day.

April/May Madurai (TN) Chitra Festival. Divine marriage at OTT Meenakshi temple. 10 days.

June/July Puri (Or) Chariot Festival. The original juggernauts. 1 day

July/Aug, nationwide, best in Jodhpur, Naag Panchami. Snake Festival.

Aug/Sept Allepey/all Kerala, Onam Harvest Festival and Snake Boat Racing. 10 days.

Aug/Sept all Maharashtra, Ganesh Chaturthi, 1 week.

Sept/Oct, nationwide, Dussehra(Ram Lila), 10 days

Oct/Nov, nationwide, Diwali (Festival of Lights), 1 day.

Oct/Nov Pushkar (Raj) Camel Fair. 1 week?

For some precise dates, more suggestions and information see: Exotic Festivals

Kumbh Mela

Kumb Mela beside the Ganges river in Haridwar 2010, India

Kumb Mela beside the Ganges river in Haridwar 2010. Photo by Coupdoeil.

January/February, Kumbh Mela, every 4 years rotating between Haridwar, Allahabad, Nashik and Ujjain. ‘The Greatest Religious Show on Earth. ‘ About 80 million Hindus attended the event in Allabad February 2013.

Many millions of Hindu pilgrims and sadhus bathe (cleaning them of all sins), swim and perform miracles in perfect peace. Every 3 years, for six weeks.
Beware overcrowding and stampedes that frequently lead to fatalities – not a bad thing if you’re an ageing Hindu pilgrim perhaps as you’ll be heading straight for nirvana but not so good for foreigners on holiday! If you want to go there get a guide who knows what he’s doing to avoid a crushing time.

Pushkar Camel Fair

Pushkar Camel Fair, Rajasthan, India

Pushkar Camel Fair in October or November, Rajasthan.

The desert around the small Rajasthan town of Pushkar provides a stunning setting for the world’s largest camel fair. As well as the trading, camels are paraded and raced while a circus entertains visitors. Pushkar is a sacred spot for Hindus and during the festival its otherwise tranquil lake is engulfed with thousands of devotees bathing in its holy waters.


Pushkar’s Brahma Temple at festival time, a reminder that India is already crowded in urban areas and gets horrificly jammed on festive occasions. Kumbh Mela’s frequent stampedes, for example, often cause large numbers of casualites.

Raja(h) means king and maha means great, hence maharaja(h) = great king.

Rana means the same as raja but historically had a slightly higher status. e. g. the Udaipur maharana used to be consulted by maharajahs about their marriage plans. Rani is the name of the queen. Nowadays these titles are ceremonial and carry no political power.
There was a simple system for establishing royal rankings – if less than 100 villages were under a king’s control he was a simple rajah, if between 100 and 1000 villages then he became a maharajah, and if there were more than 1000 villages the title was elevated to emperor.

Palace – the official residence for the maharaja/rana and his wife/wives : the harem was the residence for his concubines. In the case of the wives, the first one always had a higher status as her son was heir to the throne and she could have ceremonial duties such as welcoming the maharaja.

ps. -sthan means ‘place’, thus Rajasthan = the place of the rajas, Afghanistan – the place of the Afghans.
-pur or variations means town, walled city, thus Jaipur or Udaipur, or even Singapore (different spelling obviously) = Lion City.

pps. Ironically Rajasthan is the only Indian state where you can not only stay in a Maharajah’s palace – at a price – but also find one as your visible host, though they don’t wear their finery in public these days.