Oh, the many, many places I have yet to see! It spins my mind to think of all the adventures that await me. Still, there are those few countries that stand apart from the rest, beckoning with their unique allure. Will they be as I have imagined?
One of the top three countries I have yet to visit is India. I was supposed to go back in 2006, but plans fell through and I was only able to see Japan and China that year. Maybe it was better that way. With more experience in the chaos and color of Asia, I hope traveling to this land of fairy tales will be a little less overwhelming. I’ve heard many people say you either love it or hate it, that it’s an intense roller coaster of emotion and juxtapositions, but it remains a fascinating mystery in my mind.
Interested in learning more about the culture, I turned to Rohit Argarwal, owner of Trans India Travels, for some knowledge. I’d previously read about Holi, so I asked him if he could further explain India’s festivals. This is what he had to say about the four main Hindu celebrations in his country:
Celebrating India: Four Major Hindu Festivals
by Rohit Argarwal
edited by Cristina Luisa
India is the home and birthplace of one of the most illustrious religions in the world: Hinduism. Hinduism is one of the primary religions in India, and nearly 80% of the Indian population is Hindi. Although not connected to one single person, the origin of Hinduism dates back to the pre-historic era, making it the oldest religion in the world. This is evidenced by the old texts of the Rig-Veda, written between 1700- 1100 BC.
Due to its distinct customs and traditions, Hinduism is known all over the world. It is most famous for the Hindu festivals celebrated in India. While there are Hindu festivals throughout the majority of the year, we will briefly discuss the most extravagant and vibrant Hindu festivals in India that every visitor should experience.
1. Diwali, or Deepawali
Diwali, the prime Hindu festival, is alternatively known as Deepawali, which means “The Festival of Lights”. The very name of the festival describes the philosophy behind its celebration: The victory of darkness over light. Diwali is known as the day when the Hindu deity Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya after his exile and slew the demon king Ravana. Occurring between mid-October and mid-November, the festival is celebrated by decorating the houses with lamps and candles. The various decorated cities, religious parades, and Indian sweets attract a huge number of tourists from across the world, making it one of the major shopping seasons in India.
Known as the Festival of Colors, Holi is the second most important celebration in India. This spring festival lasts for two days, occurring between late February and mid-March. Its revelry is considered one of the most amazing cultural experiences in the country. As the festival of colors, people smear paint and colored powder over their bodies, often dancing and merry-making. Bhang, or cannabis, is openly consumed and distributed. Participants can indulge in bhang mixed with milk, snacks and sweets.
The word “Holi” originates from Holika, who was the sister of the Demon King Hiranyakashipu. His son Prahalada was a devotee of Lord Vishnu. According to legend, the Demon King did not approve of his son’s devotion. He told his sister Holika, who was impervious to fire, to sit in a bonfire with Prahalada to kill him. However, Lord Vishnu intervened, burning Holika to death and saving Prahalada. The Demon King’s son was then reincarnated as Narsimha, a half-lion/half-man who went on to kill his father.
3. Dussehra, or Vijaya Dashami
Celebrated between September and October, Dussehra marks the end of summer (in most regions) and the beginning of India’s festive season. This festival commemorates the day when the God King Rama slew the Demon King Ravana in the Hindu Epic Ramayana. For the 10 days of Navratra, various stage shows are performed in the city, depicting the story of Ramayana. A massive, elaborately decorated idol of Ravana is often filled with fireworks and ignited, marking the victory of light over darkness. Dussehra kick-starts the preparation for Diwali, and is also accompanied by various fairs and festivities throughout Indian cities.
4. Makar Sankranti, or Sakrat
Makar Sankranti is a harvest festival, observed in mid-January every year. While it is celebrated all across India, the best festivities can be experienced in Ahmadabad, Bareli and Jaipur (The Pink City) . In these three cities, Makar Sankrati is regarded as a massive kite flying festival. Since it falls in the winter month of January, it is a very popular tourist attraction. Several specialty sweets are prepared for Makar Sankranti, and entire cities climb onto the terrace of their houses to celebrate and fly their kites.
The Hindu religion is widespread throughout India, and has influenced the country’s various cultures, religions and traditions. The range of Hindu festivities and cultural programs make India one of the most colorful places in the world. The best time to visit this country is during the time of the abovementioned festivals.
Have you been to any of these festivals while visiting India? What was your experience?
Rohit Agarwal is an architect by profession and also owns and maintains Trans India Travels. His deep interests in discovering new cultures in India and abroad have made him a keen traveler and a blogger.