For those who have missed Nagaland's Hornbill Festival and the Pushkar cattle fair in Rajasthan and are feeling a bit under the weather, they can still sample some of India's colourful customs, traditions and celebrations by taking part in any of the five festivals that we have listed below. As the months roll on, there would be more to choose from, given India's eclectic mix of people, myths and legends that have survived for centuries, binding people and in recent years, learning to showcase their uniqueness and inviting others to also join in. Most of these festivals see a large flow of tourists, photographers and domestic travellers gripped with a sense of urgency to sample a taste of India.
Jaisalmer Desert Festival, 5-7 February
The Desert Festival is an annual event that takes place in the heart of Rajasthan. The three-day festival is organised in association with the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation, Jaisalmer, providing an excellent window to the state's folk culture and concluding on the day of Poornima.
During the festival, the desert folks sing and dance eloquently to the triumphs/victories and tragedies of the land. And if you are a history watcher, you will know that there have been plenty in this part of the world. Other major attractions include the traditional gymnasts, mystical snake charmers, entertaining puppet shows and captivating folk music concerts. It is a great opportunity also to see some of the local and national musicians perform. The tourists are particularly enthralled with some of the competitions that are part of the festival - turban tying competition, longest moustaches competition, camel racing/dancing festivals. The food is great and there are a lot of knick knacks to be picked up.
Kala Ghoda Festival, Mumbai: February, 4-12
The nine day-long festival has become a much looked forward to event with a true celebration of art, culture, folk music, theatre, films, literature and other creative pursuits. Mumbaikars are quite proud of having given shape to this annual event that keeps growing every year. Organised by the non-profit, Kala Ghoda Association since 1999, it sees a liberal sprinkling of film screenings, plays, workshops for adults and children, photography sessions, visual arts and heritage walks. Every evening, at Rampart Row Street there are doll parades, art shows and street playes. The festival takes place in multiple locations in the famous Kala Ghoda area of south Mumbai and is widely attended by people of all age groups and backgrounds. Some of the prominent venues hosting events of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival include Jehangir Art Gallery, National Gallery of Modern Art, Elphinstone College and the David Sassoon Library.
Konkan Turtle Festival, February, 2012
The Konkan Turtle Festival was first held in 2009 and is gradually getting more organised. The festival is conducted jointly by the Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra (SNM) and Kasav Mitra Mandal (KMM) and is held in Ratnagiri. During the 29-day festival, as many as 1,000 Olive Ridley hatchlings are released in the sea. After the Orissa coast, the Konkan coast of western India has become the most important nesting site for the large Olive Ridley turtles. They are also found in smaller numbers on the Goa and Tamil Nadu coasts. In view of the large scale poaching of the Olive Ridleys here and theft of eggs, the SNM initiated the turtle conservation project in 2002 with considerable success. In the past seven years, as many as 25,000 hatchlings have been released into the Arabian Sea.
The festival is part of the conservation efforts of the SNM and KMM and is fast gaining ground with ecologically sensitive people from India and abroad. Last year, more than a thousand tourists, including many foreigners, landed in and around Velas coastal village. They were provided basic accommodation at nominal rates by the local villagers on the beach to enable them view and photograph the tiny turtles flipping out to the sea. The festival is gradually gearing up in terms of arrangements and related activities. This year's dates are yet to be announced.
Elephant Festival, Jaipur, 7th March
Although the Pushkar fair and the Camel fair have just gotten over, you can still make it to the Elephant fair. Elephants are regarded precious and majestic since the "puranic" era. Their supremacy is also well illustrated in Hindu Mythology where according to legend, at the time of 'Samudra Manthan' when demon and Gods were busy "churning the ocean", the Gods were fortunate to receive an elephant called "Airavata" which later became the divine vehicle of Indra, the king of lords.
Since then the elephant is regarded as a symbol of royalty in Indian culture and many festivals are associated with it. The most popular is the Elephant Festival, held in Jaipur, on the day of Holi in Phagun. People gather in large crowds to see elephants, dancers and musicians which draw visitors from all over the world. The elephants are all dolled up for the occasion, with decorated trunks and tusks. And the most noticeable feature of this festival is that all the Elephants which take part in this festival are female Elephants.
Gangaur, March 25-26, Rajasthan
Gangaur is celebrated all over Rajasthan, and is one of the state's most important festivals. Most of the action during the festival period is seen in Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, and Nathdwara. In Udaipur. Gangaur coincides with the Mewar Festival. The central attempt is to honour goddess Gauri who is none other than a manifestation of Parvati, Lord Shiva's wife. She represents purity and austerity and the festival in a sense highlights the supreme love and respect that Shiva and Parvati shared. Legend has it that Parvati returns to her parental home during Gangaur, to bless her friends with marital bliss. On the last day, she is given a grand farewell by her loved ones and prepared for her departure, when Lord Shiva arrives to escort her back home.
The festival is mostly for women, allowing them to dress up in all their finery, pray for a good husband if unmarried and for their welfare in case they are married. The last few day of the festival sees colourful processions of bejeweled images of the goddess Gauri winding their way through lanes and busy areas of cities and villages, accompanied by local bands. In Udaipur, there's a boat procession on Lake Pichola accompanied with fireworks. Women balance several brass pitchers on their heads and move in unison to local music. In Jodhpur, thousands of women carry water and grass in pots, dressed in colourful attire. In Jaipur, a traditional procession starts from the Zanani-Deodhi of the City Palace, passing through Tripolia Bazaar, Chhoti Chaupar, Gangauri Bazaar, Chaugan stadium, and finally converging near the Talkatora. Elephants, old palanquins, chariots, bullock carts, and folk performances are all part of the entourage.
Sadhana is a Delhi-based travel researcher who would love to be a gypsy, living frugally and travelling where her heart took her and seeing the world on a budget