As the curtains come down on winter, it’s time for the festivals that bring in the joys of spring. The coming months unfold an unusual fare of events from the Matho Nagrang monastery celebrations in Leh to the grand Arattupuzha Pooram in Kerala, each more interesting and colourful than the other.
International Yoga Festival
When: March 1–7
Yoga, the ancient Indian holistic practice of wellness and health, will be celebrated at the International Yoga Festival organised by the Paramartha Niketan in Rishikesh. Besides over 150 classes on different styles of yoga and discourses by around 70 presenters from 20 countries, you can join other sessions such as meditation classes, Sanskrit chanting and reiki.
When: March 11
Where: Palakkad, Kerala
About 30 caparisoned elephants form part of a spectacular cultural extravaganza held at the Chinakkathoor Bhagavathy Temple in Kerala. The elephants present perfect photo-ops for shutterbugs. You are also sure to enjoy the strains of the panchavadyam, the traditional Kerala orchestra and art forms like theyyam, kathakali and kumbakali besides shadow puppet performances.
When: March 11–12
Where: Leh, Ladakh
As strains of melodious Tibetan music played by monks ring out, lama dancers wearing huge masks, depicting gods and goddesses and attired in silk and brocade robes present dance-dramas called chhams that are performed mainly as ritual offerings to the tutelary deities and guardians of the faith. Look out for the two oracles that make their appearance after a month of secluded meditation to make predictions and offer advice to the needy.
When: March 13
Where: Santiniketan, West Bengal
Everyone is sure to be charmed by this gentle, artistic avtar of Holi that was started by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore at the ashram to celebrate the onset of spring. The grounds come alive with a riot of colours as women dressed in yellow sarees take centre stage and melodious strains of Rabindra Sangeet fill the air. People sing, dance and play with dry abeer colour. Baul singers, the mystic minstrels from Bengal, enthrall everyone with their song and music.
Jaipur Elephant Festival
When: March 13
Where: Jaipur, Rajasthan
On Holi, the Jaipur Chaugan or polo field comes alive with a procession of elephants walking past a crowd of fascinated onlookers. To the sound of the trumpet, these pachyderms, all beautifully painted and attired in sequined velvet ‘outfits’ complete with glittering ornaments, get set to participate in races and even a beauty pageant. Yet another delight for visitors is the polo game in which team members seated atop elephants try to score goals with long sticks and a football. A cloud of colour fills the grounds when guests are invited to mount the elephants and play Holi.
When: March 13
Where: All over India
Counted among the most exuberant of Indian festivals, celebrations begin the previous evening with a bonfire that depicts the triumph of good over evil. The next morning people play with dry colour and splash water on each other. Besides delicious food, bhang, an intoxicating drink is popular at this time. The Braj area around Mathura unveils something amusing – men walking around with shields lest women beat them playfully with sticks! That’s what’s called Lathmaar Holi!
When: March 24–April 7
Shigmo was traditionally celebrated to welcome warriors home after months of battle. It’s now a street festival complete with delightful music and spirited dancing and of course, a vibrant float parade. Dressed in colourful outfits, people walk holding multi-colored flags and play large musical instruments like the dhol tasha and flutes. Traditional folk dances like Ghode Modni and Fugdi, an integral part of Goa’s tradition, complete the picture.
When: Mar 29–31
The Gangaur Ghat on the banks of Lake Pichola comes alive with a burst of hues as the wedding of Goddess Parvati and Isar (Lord Shiva) is celebrated. Women set afloat clay idols of the two on little boats as they sing and dance, praying for a happy married life. This ‘wedding celebration’ forms part of the festival that offers a slice of the rich cultural heritage of the city. A beautiful fireworks show that’s best viewed from the Gangaur ghat winds up the festivities.
When: April 1–6
In the picture-perfect Mon district of Nagaland, the Konyak tribe celebrates as the first set of seeds are sown for the next harvest season. While the first three days of the festivities are spent in weaving traditional garments and preparing rice beer, the fourth day sees everyone celebrating with music and dancing that is reminiscent of their head-hunting days. A grand feast amid revelry and laughter on the last day brings down the curtains on the celebrations.
When: April 2-8
Where: Thrissur, Kerala
The sheer magnitude of this temple festival is sure to enthrall you. While each day of the festival packs in much merriment, the last two days offer an assembly of caparisoned elephants and the staging of percussion ensembles as part of a ceremony called Sasthavinte Melam. In fact, the temple offers the largest assembly of percussion artists among all the night poorams of Kerala.
When: April 5
Where: All over India
One of the most sacred Hindu festivals, Rama Navami celebrates not just the birth of Lord Rama but also the day he married Sita. Joyous celebrations can be witnessed in Ayodhya, the birthplace of Rama as a chariot procession moves through the city accompanied with people singing and dancing.
When: April 14
Heralding the harvest season, it commemorates the day when the tenets for the Sikh religion were laid down by Guru Gobind Singh. A festive atmosphere is prevalent and fairs and programmes of folk music and dance can be witnessed all across the state. The highlights are the boisterous bhangra performances to the cries of ‘Jatta aayee Baisakhi’ and lip-smacking feasts cooked in homes.