Although the Indian calendar is choc-a-bloc with colorful festivals through the year, the allure of those celebrated in the first two months is particularly exciting. From bracing weather to a vibrant mix of events January and February pack in quite a punch.
When: January 13–16
Where: Tamil Nadu
One of the most important festivals for Tamilians, it’s celebrated by devotees all across the state and marks the end of the harvest season as people pray for happy and fruitful times ahead. The celebrations that traditionally last four days includes rituals like Bhogi Mantalu, a bonfire that is believed to burn away all evil, the offering of a sweet made of rice and milk to the sun god, worship of household cattle and ceremonies believed to bring in wealth and prosperity to the home.
INTERNATIONAL KITE FESTIVAL
When: January 8–14
Where: Ahmedabad, Gujarat
This is one festival that could give you a crick in the neck – and you wouldn’t mind getting it, because no one can keep themselves from looking up at the sky that unveils beautiful kites. Organised on the banks of the River Sabarmati the festival gives visitors a chance to learn the Gujarati style of kite-flying. A photographer’s delight, it’s fun to spot kites with social messages, exclusive patterns and designs on them.
When: January 13
While many say it marks the end of the peak winter season, Lohri is generally associated with the harvest of the rabi crop by farmers in Punjab. Come evening it’s time to gather around the bonfire munching gur rewri, gajak, peanuts and popcorn. Sarson da saag and makki di roti or ’til rice’ – sweet rice made with jaggery and sesame seeds – at dinner complete the picture. No Lohri celebrations can be complete without the boisterous dances synonymous with Punjab — the bhangra and gidda.
BIKANER CAMEL FAIR
When: January 14–15
Where: Bikaner, Rajasthan
The brown sands of the desert burst into a riot of colours when it’s time for the fair dedicated to the stately animal referred to as the Ship of the Desert. The festival unveils a variety of spectacular events in which the beautiful humped beast stays centre stage, be it camel dances, races, parades and even beauty contests for camels. Completing the picture are their owners who turn out in their traditional best.
MUKTESWAR DANCE FESTIVAL
When: January 14–16
Where: Bhubaneswar, Odisha
Bhubaneswar’s Mukteswar Temple complex resounds with the sound of ghungroos as the dance festival offers solo, duet and group Odissi performances. With its aim to concentrate mainly on Odissi dance and music, the festival has performances by a number of reputed troupes from India and the US as well. Krushna Chandra Ray, Sangita Panda & Group, Saswati Gorai Ghosh and Subhalakshmi Padhi & Arati Kar, among others are slated to perform this year.
JAIPUR LITERATURE FESTIVAL
When: January 19– 23
Where: Jaipur, Rajasthan
Often described as the ‘greatest literary show on Earth’, it brings together some of the world’s greatest minds, historians, politicians, business leaders, sports people and entertainers from all walks of life together on the same platform. This year, as JLF celebrates its 10th year, it features writers Gulzar, A.N.D. Haksar, Sadhguru, Vasanthi, Anne Waldman, among others.
INDIA ART FAIR
When: February 2–5
Where: New Delhi
Art lovers can’t afford to miss this one – the four-day India Art Fair that is regarded as one of South Asia’s biggest events for modern and contemporary art. This year’s fair promises to be particularly special as it will showcase the most critical contemporary art in South Asia. Also on the cards are 16 specially-curated art projects by stalwarts from the art industry, including Pakistani-American contemporary artist Anila Quayyum Agha and Delhi-based artist Mithu Sen.
KILA RAIPUR RURAL SPORTS FESTIVAL
When: February 3–5
Where: Kila Raipur, Punjab
Also known as Rural Olympics, the Kila Raipur Sports Festival has competitions for some of the more popular rural sports like cart-racing, rope-pulling, kikli, gheeta pathar, khidu, lukan miti, among others. Needless to say, it’s a spectacular sight to also see handsome bullocks, camels, dogs, mules and other animals competing in several events – all of which present plenty of splendid photo-ops as well.
When: February 3–5
Where: Sula Vineyards, Nashik, Maharashtra
Known for its diverse mix of music genres, Nashik’s famous festival, organised at Sula Vineyards, is all set to feature bands like Indian Ocean, Bit of Both and Ska Vengers. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, SulaFest celebrates the love of food, wine and music. It’s a must-visit for music aficionados.
When: February 4–5
Where: Mumbai, Maharashtra
Big bets and lots of pulsating moments, the Indian Derby is not just about an exciting horse racing event held on the first Sunday of February every year, but also a smart crowd dressed in their Sunday best. One of Mumbai’s premier sporting activities, it was first run in the year 1943 and since then has been attended by those who enjoy the thrill of horse-racing.
KALA GHODA ARTS FESTIVAL
When: February 4–12
Where: Mumbai, Maharashtra
The South Mumbai area becomes a throbbing hub as this festival brings together a kaleidoscope of events that present the best, not just in the world of music, dance and cinema but also has something for those who love food, street stalls, good cinema and literature. It’s spread across a whole block that includes venues like the National Gallery of Modern Art, Kitab Khana and Asiatic Society Library, among others.
JAISALMER DESERT FESTIVAL
When: February 8–10
Where: Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
When the town gets ready to celebrate its desert festival, there’s no escaping the pulsating energy that grips everyone. A colourful procession from Jaisalmer Fort to the Shahid Poonam Singh Stadium sets the ball rolling with artistes like the Gairs, kalabaz and fire-dancers, among others, putting up thrilling acts. The festival also includes camel polo, besides gymnastic stunts on camel back and camel-dancing. Competitions like tug-of-war, turban-tying, Maru-Shri (Mr Desert) complete the picture.
When: February 18–27
Where: Agra, Uttar Pradesh
Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Taj Mahotsav’s roster includes artisans from across the country, who woo tourists with their crafts – be it marble or zardozi work from Uttar Pradesh, wood and stone carvings from Tamil Nadu, carpets from Bhadohi, pottery from Khurja, etc. Tourists also get a chance to witness dance and music performances by renowned artistes – a perfect slice of the rich cultural heritage of India.
KHAJURAHO DANCE FESTIVAL
When: February 20–26
Where: Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh
Visitors from across the world gather to witness an unusual spectacle, when the Chitragupta and Vishwanatha Temples resound with the sound of ghungroos as maestros of dance forms like Kathak, Bharathnatyam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Manipuri and Kathakali take to the stage and perform against this picturesque backdrop. It’s also time to pay tribute to the artisans who created this mammoth structure and brought to life the exquisite carvings of the Khajuraho Temples.
When: February 25–28
Fun and revelry have always been synonymous with Goa, but during its carnival time, it gets multiplied manifold. The piece de resistance of it all is a colourful parade led by an impressive float depicting King Momo, a character derived from the Greek god Momus, believed to be the god of satire. Equally impressive are floats depicting men from his court – fire eaters, jesters, dancers, a brass band and other revellers – as they make their way down the streets of Panaji. As people throng to partake in the revelry, the King Momo encourages them to have fun and be merry. The festivities that continue over a period of three days culminate with the famous Red and Black Ball.