Festivals are a huge part of Indian culture. There are roughly about 42,000 festivals in India including both national and local festivals. In other words, India is a land of festivals. Indeed, India is a melting pot of cultures. This culture is passed down to us from our ancestors. In which, some are inspired by the regimes that ruled us, while others originate from ancient myths and legends. Anyways, no matter where these festivals may originate from, Indians take great pride and joy in celebrating them.

I remember going to school in India. It was amazing. I would just look at the monthly calendar and sure enough, we had at least 2 holidays a month apart from the holiday we had on Sundays. Exactly, we have 24 national festivals that are celebrated throughout India. Alongside, there are many local festivals that are special to a specific region, village, or city. Believe me, your visit to India would be incomplete if you didn’t indulge in at least a few of these festivals.

So, here is a list of festivals you just cannot miss. I have also included the months they celebrate in and the best place in India to experience it.

1. Sekrenyi Festival

Sekrenyi is a major festival for the native tribes of Nagaland. This 6 day-long celebration filled with spiritual rituals that hold great significance in the purification and sanctification of young men. Traditionally, it’s seen as a ritual done before going to war. In which, the first few days spent in the joyous preparations for the main events and feast. People pray to the Almighty to bless and purify their souls. Hence, the initiation of various rituals for the purpose is carried out. The main event of this festival is observed with music, dance, and cooked meat that is hunted by the tribes.

Young men of Nagaland are celebrating Sekrenyi Festival
Young men of Nagaland in Sekrenyi festival. Photo Courtesy: explorenagaland.com.

Best place to enjoy Sekrenyi: Nagaland.

Time of the year: January.

2. Holi

Holi is the festival of colors. Each year, Holi falls on a full moon night. Annually, this is celebrated in the 12th month of the Hindu calendar which happens to be March. This festival is celebrated as a symbol of new beginnings. Like most festivals in India, Holi too has different origin stories around India. However, the common underlying theme is the same. On this day, friends and families gather around in their front yards, backyards, or any open space where there is enough space to run around. They smear bright colorful powders on each other’s faces and on their clothes. Evenly, some communities hire a large water tanker that sprays water on the people while they’re playing Holi. In short, it’s a fun-filled festival with delicious food and buzzy drinks!

Holi India festivals
One of the most fun India festivals – Holi. Photo Courtesy: Bhupesh Pal.

Best place to enjoy Holi: Jaipur, Rajasthan.

Time of the year: March.

3. Eid al-Fitr

Eid takes place at the end of the Ramadan season. During this season, the Muslims fast from dusk until dawn. During Ramadan, Muslims fast, abstain from pleasures and pray to become closer to God. Also, it is a time for families to gather and celebrate. This period of fasting ends after 29 to 30 days upon the sighting of the crescent moon leading to the celebration of Eid. During this season Iftar is all the hype around the country.

The meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan is called Iftar. Yes, I know it sounds a little insensitive to the main purpose of Ramadan, but it’s true! Streets are lined with food vendors after dusk. And these streets see thousands of people every evening during this period. The sizzle of the meat made on the barbeque, the crowd calling out for their kebabs, and the large variety of Moghul sweets take you on a food journey that just cannot miss.

A food vendor on the street in Eid al-Fitr Indian festival
BBQ from a food vendor in Iftar. Source of photo: Sandip Dey, National Geographic Traveller, India.

Best place to celebrate Eid al-Fitr: Mumbai, Maharashtra.

Time of the year: May.

4. Onam

Onam is the harvest festival celebrated in Kerala, the Southernmost state of India. Actually, this is a major event for Malayalis, people who speak the Malayalam language. Onam celebrations include Vallam Kali (boat races), Pulikali (tiger dances), Pookkalam (flower Rangoli), Onathappan (worship), Onam Kali, Tug of War, Thumbi Thullal (women’s dance), Kummattikali (mask dance), Onathallu (martial arts), Onavillu (music), Kazhcha Kula (plantain offerings), Onapottan (costumes), Atthachamayam (folk songs and dance), and other celebrations. In fact, it is New Year’s day for Malayalis. This celebration is truly a treat to the eyes.

During this festival, only vegetarian food is served on banana leaves. This meal is known as the ‘Onam Sadhya’. Usually served as lunch, it consists of parboiled pink rice, side dishes, savories, pickles, and desserts. This meal is extremely wholesome and tasty. Surely, you wouldn’t want to miss it, one of the most enjoyable India harvest festivals!

a man masquerades as a tiger in Onam india hindu festival
A man masquerades as a tiger at the Oman festival. Photo source: Subin Pullazhy on AFAR Magazine.

Best place to join Onam: Kerala.

Time of the year: August.

5. Krishna Janmashtami

Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated as a symbol of Lord Krishna’s birth. Literally, the trinity of the Hindu religion is attributed to three gods. They are Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Maheshwara the destroyer. Lord Krishna was born to destroy the reign of the evil king Kansa. Hence, it became the reason for celebration. It is believed that Lord Krishna was born on a dark, stormy, and windy night to end the rule of his maternal uncle Kansa. Thus, the actual celebration of Krishna Janmashtami takes place at midnight.

Lord Krishna was considered to be a naughty child who often stole food from the houses in his village. According to the mythology, the village folks would hand a clay pot filled with freshly churned butter high up to save it from Krishna. Nevertheless, Krishna is the naughty kid who broke these pots to steal the butter. On this day, people hang pots of butter and milk in the streets tied onto the poles. Then, participants form pyramid-like formations to reach the top and break the pots. This is famously known as Dahi Handi.

Indian people are celebrating Krishna Janmashtami
People form a pyramid to break the pot on Krishna Janmashtami. Photo source: Rajanish Kakade on Boston.com, Scenes from India.

Best place for Krishna Janmashtami: Mumbai, Maharashtra.

Time of the year: End of August and beginning of September.

6. Durga Puja

Durga Puja is one of Indian festivals that mostly celebrate with great pomp in the states of West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Odisha, and Bihar. People believe that this festival exemplifies the victory of good over evil, as Goddess Durga killed the demon Mahishasur. This festival coincides with Diwali. According to tradition, Hindu women, whose husbands are alive, wear the vermillion mark on their forehead. The goddess Durga is bid farewell before being taken out for immersion in the river.

During this festival, clay pots are filled with burning charcoal. Then, people take it in their hands and start dancing to the beating of dhaak, a large barrel-like instrument. Especially, some experts dance with these clay pots on their heads and sometimes, even hold them with their teeth. One of the rituals includes Sindur Khela where married women offer vermillion and sweets to the goddess. After that, they smear each other with the vermillion. This whole festival is truly a visual delight.

A woman dances in Durga Puja India festival
A woman is dancing with pots of burning charcoal at Durga Puja. Image source: Shivang Mehta/Alamy Stock Photo.

Best place for Durga Puja: Kolkata, West Bengal.

Time of the year: October.

7. Dussehra

Dussehra, also called Dasara or Vijayadashami, is a festival marking the triumph of Rama. To describe, he is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, over the 10-headed demon king Ravana, who abducted his wife, Sita. This festival is celebrated after 9 pre celebratory nights called the “Navarathri”. Dussehra is celebrated with great fervor and fanfare. Throughout India, communities perform the ‘Ram Lila’, a gala theatrical enactment of Rama’s life story. People play the ‘Garba’, a dance form that originated in the Indian state of Gujarat. Furthermore, some places even build a large effigy of the demon king Ravana and burn it as a part of the festivities.

A couple is joining Dussehra Indian festival
Re-enactment of Sita’s abduction. Photo source: Marjorie Lang, Getty Images.

Best place to join Dussehra: Kolkata, West Bengal.

Time of the year: October / November.

8. Diwali

Diwali is the festival of lights. Originally celebrated by the Hindus, this festival has now become a common festivity in all households. Yet, the story behind this celebration is deeply rooted in Indian mythology. Observances of Diwali differ from region to region and tradition. In fact, there are multiple stories connected to its origin. Explaining that could be a whole article in itself. Therefore, I will link this here so you can read about the numerous origin stories behind this beautiful festival.

One symbolism that is common throughout all of these stories is the triumph of “Good over Evil”. We light deepas/diyas (earthen clay lamps) around the house to welcome “the good” into our homes. This festival is a five-day affair with the main event being held on the third day.

Indian festival Diwali
Indian festival Diwali. Photo Courtesy : Manisha Mithpaibul.

Best place to visit: Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.

Time of the year: First two weeks of November.

9. Pushkar Camel Fair

Pushkar is located to the northwest of Ajmer in Rajasthan at a height of 510 meters. The Pushkar fair is one of India’s largest camel, horse, and cattle fairs. Apart from the trading of livestock, it is an important pilgrimage season for Hindus to the Pushkar lake. During this 5-day festival, you can see various camel traders travel from far and beyond to trade their animals. On top of that, they dress the camels up in colorful clothing and sometimes even put up shows. This festival attracts tourists from around the country and the world. Exceptionally, the architectural brilliance and the mesmerizing natural sights coupled with the rich traditional celebration of this festival are truly a sight to see.

Pushkar Camel Fair celebrates at Pushkar, Rajasthan
A dressed up camel in the Pushkar Camel Fair. Image source: Srimathi Jayaprakash.

Best place to visit: Pushkar, Rajasthan.

Time of the year: November.

10. Christmas

Christians only form 2.3% of India’s population. In fact, Christmas wasn’t celebrated with much pomp in India until the Portuguese started ruling Goa. Christmas celebrations in India begin with a midnight mass on the eve of Christmas. Most Christain households build a replica of the nativity scene of Jesus Christ. They prepare sweets and distribute them to their friends and family. Besides that, they decorate the Christmas tree and have special pork preparations for their meals. Christmas in most of modern-day India has become more of a commercial statement and a Marketing gimmick. However, the streets of Goa scream Christmas! From beautifully decked up Churches to jolly streets, you truly feel the spirit of Christmas here.

Christians in Goa are celebrating Christmas
Christmas decor and other goodies at a Goan Christmas market. Source of image: nexter.org.

Best place to celebrate Christmas in India: Goa.

Time of the year: December.

A Summary of Best Places and Time to Participate India Festivals

In brief, most of these Indian festivals celebrates depending on the position of the moon. Therefore, the dates may vary from year to year. If you do plan on partaking in any of these traditional festivities I would encourage you to check out what the date would be on Google. Otherwise, here is a summary of Indian festivals from January to December mentioned in this post:

No.India FestivalsTimePlaces to Participate
1Sekrenyi FestivalJanuaryNagaland
2HoliMarchJaipur, Rajasthan
3Eid al-FitrMayMumbai, Maharashtra
4OnamAugustKerala
5Krishna JanmashtamiEnd of Aug – Beginning of SepMumbai, Maharashtra
6Durga PujaOctoberKolkata, West Bengal
7DussehraOctober / NovemberKolkata, West Bengal
8DiwaliFirst two weeks of NovemberVaranasi, Uttar Pradesh
9Pushkar Camel FairNovemberPushkar, Rajasthan
10ChristmasDecemberGoa

So, what festivities excited you the most? Let me know in the comments below!


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READ MORE ABOUT INDIA

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18 COMMENTS

  1. I have only heard about Holi and Diwali. Thanks for this list! Your Christmas photo looks amazing! And I am quite intrigued with Onam.

    • India has such a rich culture with so many celebratory festivals, it becomes difficult to publicize them all. Therefore most of these celebrations go unnoticed. I’m glad you liked the article!

  2. I think India’s festivals are as colorful as our festivals here in the the Philippines. I definitely want to see even just one of those in your list.

  3. My granddaughter is half Indian and even though they live in the US, they still dress her for the festivals and celebrations.

  4. I participate in most of these festivals, although I haven’t experienced the Pushkar festival or the Sekrenyi festival. Maybe one day, I”ll get lucky and will be able to go there.

    • Same here. Never had the opportunity to participate in it. I’ve only heard of it and seen visuals of it! I guess that’s the thing about India, there are just so many festivals, it’s hard to keep track of them all.

  5. These are all so colorful and joyous looking festivals. I have not been to India yet, but it is sure high up on my travel bucket list. Saving this post for future reference.

  6. You would need to dedicate a year to see all of these festivals! What a cool vacation that would be! I had only heard of Holi and Diwali myself. Thank you for sharing!

  7. I am only familiar with the Holi festival and didn’t know about the others. Glad I came over this post, now I have more to look forward to. Indeed experiencing and seeing these festivals are worth every travel.

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