It is often said that India is a country of contrasts, and to a certain extent this may well be true. Dramatic foothills clash with open desert, garish colours mix with powerful smells and swarming sounds to create a whirling dance of culture, and 1.2 billion people of different caste, religion and language co-exist within one of the world’s oldest civilisations. What is certainly true is the undisputable fact that for all of this, India is alive with a magic that is wrapped up in a blending of ancient customs and traditions.
Most true of all however is how apparent this energy thrives within its festivals; Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, regional or national- India loves a celebration. No other country has as fantastic a collection of festivals as India, a cultural melting pot that has much to celebrate. Of all the states in India, the cultural hub of Rajasthan boasts the most colourful and eclectic festivals, that are spread over its vast deserts and ancient walled cities. There are so many in fact that navigating them all is a bit of a minefield, so our well versed India experts have compiled a guide to help you experience the very best of Rajasthan’s surprising, bewitching, but always unforgettable festivals.
30th October 2016
One of the most widely celebrated festivals in India Diwali is big, bright, and beautiful. This festival of lights is a poetic nod to the eventual victory of light over dark, a common theme in the Hindu religion. Spiritually speaking this refers to an inner light of higher knowledge emerging over bodily ignorance to realise an understanding of man’s true nature- infinite and transcendent. The festivities last for five days with Diwali taking place on the third, and each is equally significant. Fireworks adorn the sky, as Hindus in their best dress light Diyas (lanterns) and offer prayers to Lakshmi, whilst exchanging gifts and sweets with family and friends over a feast. Celebrated across the whole of India, Diwali is extremely popular in Rajasthan due to the large Hindu majority and each of its antique cities lights up in a most incredible fashion.
Desert Festival, Jaisalmer
8th – 10th February 2016
42 kilometres from the golden city of Jaisalmer, across the vast rolling sands of the Thar Desert, are the Sam Sand dunes that play host to the Desert Festival. This three day extravaganza is a showcase of the beautiful but bizarre madness of Rajasthan- a creation of the tourist board, and whilst it may not be the most organic of festivals in India it makes up for it with variety. Revel with local dance and music in between bouts of camel racing, turban tying, and a most spectacular opening parade. The rare Gair and fire dancers will marvel you with their flames whilst the Mr Desert moustache completion is most amusing- the Desert Festival has something for everyone, and will sate even the most curious of culture seekers searching for an authentic Rajasthani experience.
Jaipur literature festival, Jaipur
19th – 23rd January 2016
India has a long and rich literary tradition that started with the dogmatic Sanskrit texts of the four Vedas over 3000 years ago and continues with an exceptional group of Indian writers that includes Nobel Laurates and Booker prize winners. It is only appropriate therefore that every January Jaipur hosts the largest literary festival of its kind in the world. This cultural catalyst in the Rajasthani capital saw 245,000 people gather over five days in 2015 to read, discuss and celebrate the importance of literature. The 2016 edition is striving to be just as impressive with a list of speakers that ranges from poets and authors to photographers and academics. The highlight of which is perhaps Colin Thubron, president of the Royal Society of Literature and author of the award winning ‘Mirror to Damascus’. The festival promises to provide a space to ‘dare, dream and imagine’, and no city if so apt for this than Jaipur- India’s famed pink city.
Gangaur fair, Udaipur
29th – 30th March 2017
The Gangaur festival is celebrated with colourful fevor by devotees of Parvati, consort of Shiva and mother of Ganesh, and the immensely powerful Goddess of love and fertility. Commencing on the first day of Chaitra (the day that follows Holi) the festivals continue for 16 days as women across Rajasthan offer prayers and devotion for spring, the harvest, and marital fidelity. Traditionally a festival where married women give devotion to help their husbands, and the unmarried seek to find one, the Ganguar festival is a remnant of an antiquated time but the celebrations are stunning nevertheless. Although a regional festival, Udaipur is the perfect place to bear witness due to the incredible boat procession that floats across the Pichola Lake. This year the Gangaur fair is set to kick off on the 9th April, the perfect time to catch India’s off-season delights.
Holi, across the country
13th March 2017
One of the oldest and best known festivals in India, Holi sees an explosion of colour, love, and laughter across India. Giving thanks to the start of spring, the celebrations begin the night before with a pyre for the symbolic burning of the demon Holika, and people gather to sing, dance and give praise. The day following is markedly different with a country-wide water and coloured powder fight that leaves it participants full of joy and Bhang. It is believed that Lord Krishna celebrated Holi in this fashion, and so it is quite wonderful that today’s celebrations maintain this jubilant feel. Udaipur captures the intensity of Holi like no other place in India as the beauty of the lake city provides the perfect backdrop of a bright and alive festival of colour.
Kite Festival, Jaipur
13th – 14th January 2017
India is a country obsessed with colour, and in the city of Jaipur this obsession thrives. The Kite Festival, held every January, is a celebration of such colour and one of India’s most popular pastimes. Kites flood the sky and cast striking silhouettes against the pink buildings and clear blue sky in reverence to the sun and season’s transition. Observed on Makar Sankranti, a government holiday, the streets are packed with people partaking in the lively festivities and religious rituals, making this incredible festival idea to either participate in or simply watch float by.