Here is a list of unmissable festivals through the year in India, dedicated to arts and culture, local colour and just pure fun. Roll up your sleeves and join in the celebrations.
1. Jaipur Literature Festival
Where: Jaipur, Rajasthan
When: Friday to January 21
This month, all roads lead to Jaipur. Held at the Diggi Palace in the Rajasthani capital, the Jaipur Literature Festival is now in its ninth year and bills itself as “the world’s largest free literary event”. In the past, the festival has attracted celebrities ranging from the Dalai Lama to Oprah Winfrey. This year, the best-selling author Amish Tripathi (of the Shiva trilogy) and the Pulitzer Prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri are likely to attract large crowds. Free entrance on registration on the website.
2. Kala Ghoda Arts Festival
Where: Mumbai, Maharashtra
When: February 1-9
Now in its 15th year, the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival is drawing bigger crowds than ever to its myriad cultural performances, literary workshops, rows of street-food stalls and theatre events. It also includes children’s events, film screenings and heritage walks (Mumbai boasts dozens of colonial-era structures), all within the Kala Ghoda art precinct in south Mumbai’s commercial hub. Entrance is free.
3. Khajuraho Dance Festival
Where: Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh
When: February 20-26
Every year, classical dancers from all over India converge on Khajuraho, which is renowned for its cluster of temples from the 10th century. The week-long festival is simultaneously an ode to spring and to the subcontinent’s rich tradition of dance. Apart from traditional dance styles such as Odissi, kathak, Bharatanatyam and mohiniattam, recent years have included recitals with a contemporary twist.
4. Goa Carnival
When: March 1-4
Goa hosts India’s biggest street carnival early on in the year – a legacy from its days under the Portuguese. The music, dance, partying and merrymaking go on for three days just before the beginning of Lent. The highlights are the colourful parades in four cities: the capital Panaji, Margao, Vasco and Mapusa. Entrance is free.
5. Nehru Trophy Boat Race
Where: Alleppey, Kerala
When: August 9
The lazy backwaters of Alleppey in Kerala come alive during this regatta, introduced in 1952 and held on the second Saturday of August. Go early to grab a spot on the banks of Punnamada Lake, from where you can watch the thrilling contest among the long, narrow “snake boats”, each with more than 100 men at the oars and four at the helm. Ticket prices are usually announced later in the year (from about 60 rupees for standing space on makeshift bamboo decks to about 1,540 rupees for VIP access).
Where: Leh, Jammu & Kashmir
When: September 1-15
Go as much for the stunning destination as for this festival itself. During this time, Ladakh (from La-dags, meaning the land of high passes) reveals its best secrets to visitors. Celebrations include ritual dances at the Buddhist monasteries, polo matches, archery contests, exhibitions of rare thangka (paintings on silk with embroidery) and music concerts. Entrance is free.
7. Prithvi Theatre Festival
Where: Mumbai, Maharashtra
When: Early November
Prithvi Theatre, originally set up by the Bollywood thespian Prithviraj Kapoor, celebrates the best of the performing arts during its annual event. It is usually held every November. Between performances, browse through the bookshop or sip chai at the cafe within the theatre complex. Tickets for the plays can be bought online.
8. Pushkar Mela
Where: Pushkar, Rajasthan
When: October 30 – November 6
With camel trading at the centre of all activities, the large fairground in Pushkar comes alive with makeshift food stalls, handicraft shops, fun rides and astrology booths. Don’t miss the quirky competitions – turban tying, the longest moustache and, of course, the camel races. Entrance is free.
9. Hornbill Festival
Where: Kohima, Nagaland
When: First week of December
If you haven’t visited India’s north-east yet, then attend the Hornbill Festival. The unique culture of Nagaland – one of the seven states in the region – is showcased in the form of music and dance performances, art exhibitions and sporting events. And if you have it in you, enter in the Naga King Chilli-Eating Competition. But be warned: trying to eat bhut jolokia (ghost pepper), one of the hottest chillis in the world, is not for the faint of heart. Entrance is 10 rupees.
10. Kochi-Muziris Biennale
Where: Kochi, Kerala
There is already a buzz about the second edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and there are high expectations of the newly named curator, the Indian artist Jitish Kallat. Not surprising in the least, given that Muziris gave India its first biennale (December 2012 to January 2013), for contemporary art, showcasing the work of 94 artists from more than 20 countries. Tickets cost 50 rupees.
This was published in The National on January 14, 2014 as 10 Ways to Celebrate India.