India is a land of festivals and fairs. Every day of the year there is a festival celebrated in some part of the country. Some festivals welcome the seasons of the year, the harvest, the rains, or the full moon. Others celebrate religious occasions, the birthdays of divine beings, saints, and gurus (revered teachers), or the advent of the New Year. A number of these festivals are common to most parts of India. However, they may be called by different names in various parts of the country or may be celebrated in a different fashion.
Diwali or Deepavali, the “festival of lights” is one of the most important of all Hindu festivals. It is believed that it was on this day that Lord Rama entered Ayodhya after fourteen years of exile. Deepavali is also celebrated as Naraka Chaturdashi, the day when the demon of darkness and dirt, Narakasura, was destroyed by Lord Krishna. The celebrations commence with a purifying oil bath and the lighting of lamps, symbolic of the spiritual light pervading the earth and the destruction of darkness and ignorance. It also celebrates the day Mother Goddess destroyed a demon called 'Mahisha' & Victory of Good over evil. The day is celebrated by lighting lamps, diyas, visiting relatives, feasting, and displaying fireworks.
Dusshera is usually celebrated in October. The mode and the fervor vary by a great deal across the subcontinent; the celebration in Mysore is one of the most famous.
Different parts of India celebrate the festival in different ways. Some celebrate it as Navaratri, some as Vijaya-Dashami, and some as Dussehra, in worship of Goddess Durga or celebrating Rama's victory over Rawana. The celebrations vary from a day to nine days (for Navaratri) to a month (for Mysore Dusshera).
Besides Hinduism, India is also the home of innumerable other faiths and the religious and cultural diversity of this nation is manifested in the large number of non-Hindu festivals.
The sizeable Muslim communities have their Eids in common with Muslims across the world. Eidu'l Fitr, Eidu'l Zuha and Eid-e-Milad are the three festive occasions widely celebrated by Muslims in India.
Eid is celebrated with great enthusiasm all over the country, and one can see Muslims of all age groups and from all stratas of society attired in new clothes, visiting mosques to offer namaaz. The tombs of Sufi saints attract devotees of all religious persuasions, especially during the urs or death anniversaries. The best-known urs are centered at tombs in towns like Ajmer, Delhi, Manakpur, Nagore and Dongri.
Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Ganesh. It is among the most celebrated of the festivals in India, and one of the few public celebrations (most involve families and friends and are celebrated privately). The festivities include fund-raising, building all kinds of innovative forms Ganesh idols, public performances of music and dance, cooking grand feasts and making a lot of noise. The festivities end when the idol of the year is immersed in water (visarjan), accompanied by loud shouts of Ganapati Bappa Moraya!
The colorful festival of Holi is celebrated in most parts of India during February-March. The celebrations vary depending on region and local traditions, but the common part is exchange of colors. On the day of the Holi, people (men and women) irrespective of caste and creed mingle together and exchange colors. The celebrations can get wild and rowdy - it is one of the few occasions of the year that the sexes are allowed to mix freely. People use tools and tricks to spray, paint and drown friends and relatives in color
Pongal or Sankranti
This holy day marks the commencement of the Sun's northern course in the Heavens, known as the Uttaraayana patha. Interestingly, this is the only festival in Hindu calendar that follows a solar calendar and is celebrated on the fourteenth of January every year (all other Hindu festivals are computed using the lunar calendar). Sankranti is termed as Pongal in Tamilnadu, and is celebrated with a popular dish with the same name. Kolams (Rangoli) and prayers constitute the celebration of the festival. People buy new clothes, ornaments, sugarcane and sweet candy for the festival. The farmers worship their harvested crops and share with friends and relatives. Women and young girls wear new clothes, gold and silver ornaments, offer flowers and visit their relatives and friends.
In different parts of India, the Sankranti is celebrated very differently. In the west the emphasis is on exchanging sugar coated seeds and nuts of different colors prepared by the housewives. In some other parts, exchange a mixture of teel, jaggery, fried gram, groundnuts (peanuts) which is called "Ellu Bella.
In the Mysore region, people decorate their houses and cattle. They also worship their crop and cattle. As part of the celebration they sing and dance, and look forward for flowering of the trees and singing of birds.
In Hindu belief, a person dying on this auspicious day directly goes to the heaven. Bhishma, an elder in the epic of Mahabharata, is said to have waited for this day to breathe his last. It is also on this day every twelve years the Great Kumbh-Mela is held at Prayag.
Pushkar Camel Fair
Back in a legendary time, Lord Brahma was flying over the Rajasthan desert on his swan, when some petals fell from his hand and drifted down. Miraculously, blue lakes sprang up where the flowers touched the soft sands. Lord Brahma realized that this was the auspicious moment to perform a fire sacrifice so he landed near one of the lakes, completed the powerful ritual and, thus, laid the groundwork for the first Pushkar Fair.
Ever since then, when the full moon shines on Purnima during the autumn period of kartik, the desert tribes meet to commemorate this epic event.
Brotherly duties and sisterly love are symbolized during the Rakshabandhan (ruk-shaa-bum-dha-na) festival in India. Women, old and young alike tie specially made threads and thread watches (rakhis) to their brothers to ensure their welfare, and protection from the evil.
Snake Boat Race
The most colorful water sport in Kerala is held on Punnamada Lake in Alappuzha on the second Saturday of every August. The Nehru Trophy was inaugurated in 1952 when the then Prime Minister Jawaharal Nehru visited the area and traveling from Kottayam to Alappuzha was escorted by the huge Snake boats.
Snake Boats, Chundaanvallam, are the traditional battle vessels of Kerala. They are usually 60-65 meters in length and are named for their high sterns shaped like the hood of a snake. During races the stern is majestically caparisoned and decorated with a flag and brass ornaments. Silken parasols are arrayed along the entire length of the boat. There may be up to 95 oarsmen, 5 amarakkar (controllers) and 10 nilakkar (persons supposed to enhance the vigor and enthusiasm of the oarsmen).
Other boat races are held throughout Kerala in July and August.
Yugadi – Hindu New Year
Yugadi (a.k.a. Ugadi) is the first day of the Hindu calendar. In some parts of India, the tender leaves of neem mixed with jaggery are distributed on the occasion. The neem, extremely bitter in taste, and the sweet and delicious jaggery, signify the two conflicting aspects of human life - joy and sorrow. The combination is exchanged between friends to symbolize renewed warmth and love overcoming the difficulties of life. It is also an occasion to forgive old debts and forget old disputes.