The Indian festival calendar: May – June 2017

Exciting boat races take place at Nakki Lake during Mount Abu's summer festival.
Image courtesy: ©Francesco Pavanetto/500px

The rising mercury is no deterrent for those in the mood to enjoy the interesting array of festivals that the calendar unveils at this time of the year. From the colourful pageantry of Kerala’s Thrissur Pooram to the serene celebrations of Buddha Purnima in Sarnath and the vivacious Sao Joao Feast in Goa, the months of May and June offer an interesting slice of our heritage.

International Flower Festival
When: May 1–31
Where: Gangtok, Sikkim  

Right from the 400 types of orchids to over thirty species of rhododendrons and an exotic variety of blooms, visitors are sure to get charmed by what the Sikkim landscape has to offer at this time of the year. Besides a look at the blooms, ferns, alpine plants and climbers, the capital Gangtok also hosts lectures and seminars on its indigenous foliage.

Thrissur Pooram
When: May 5
Where: Thrissur, Kerala


The parade of caparisoned elephants is the main attraction at Thrissur Pooram
Image courtesy: Kerala Tourism Board

This is a 36-hour non-stop celebration during which about ten deities from the neighbouring temples congregate at Thrissur to bless their devotees. The majestic procession of over 50 caparisoned elephants — a perfect photo-op for shutterbugs – is an unforgettable spectacle. Come evening and the sky is aglow, not just with the spectacular lighting of the temples, but also a fireworks show.

Ooty Summer Festival
When: May 6–19

A 121-year-old flower show is part of the Ooty festival.
Image courtesy: Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation & Department of Tourism

Want to see a mind-boggling variety of dahlias and roses together with a range of flowers from across the world? The 121-year-old flower show, part of the Ooty festival, has it all. It also packs in a wonderful amalgam of fairs and carnivals. Guests are sure to be charmed not just by the vibrant cultural shows but also the vegetable and spice shows.

Mount Abu Summer Festival

When: May 9-10
Offering a feast of folk and classical music, the festival opens with a ballad recounting tales of valour and sacrifice of yore. The focus then shifts to the picturesque Nakki Lake for some exciting boat races where people dressed in their traditional best gather to cheer for their favourite teams. Skating, band shows and a horse race along with traditional sports like tug-of-war are also on offer. But the raison d’etre of the festival are the music shows, particularly the qawwali evening in which well-known artistes enthral listeners.

Buddha Purnima
When: May 10
Where: Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh

Sarnath Temple

Followers from across the world converge at this ancient Buddhist centre to celebrate the birth anniversary of Gautama Buddha. Celebrations at Sarnath are special since the Buddha is believed to have delivered his first sermon after attaining enlightenment here. Prayers, sermons and meditation are some of the important activities of the day.

Shimla Summer Festival
When: Dates still to be confirmed

Organised to welcome summer in Shimla, visitors will be charmed by the celebrations of the local folk who sing and dance to thank the lord for a good harvest. Musical performances, folk dances, food festivals, flower shows, ice-skating competitions and even a Himachali film festival form part of the festival.


Ganga Dusserah
When: June 3
Where: Uttar Pradesh

VARANASI, INDIA - November 25: An unidentified Hindu priest performs religious Ganga Aarti ritual (fire puja) at Dashashwamedh Ghat on November 25, 2012 in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, Central India
Ganga Aarti is a grand ceremony.
Image courtesy: ©Alexandra Lande/Shutterstock

All major towns associated with River Ganga including Haridwar, Varanasi and Rishikesh become a hub of activity with people flocking to have a dip in its holy waters. Right from daybreak, devotees pray and offer gifts to the river. Come evening, the atmosphere on the banks turns surreal as everyone joins in for the aarti to the accompaniment of temple bells and lighting of diyas that are set afloat on its waters.

Saga Dawa
When: June 15
Where: Gangtok, Sikkim

The entire landscape of Sikkim gets imbued with a magical beauty that is coloured by the devotional fervour of the Mahayana stream of Buddhism. On this day, prayers are conducted with the chanting of mantras and lighting of butter lamps as devotees pray for a happy life. Then it is time for a grand pageant commencing from the Tsuklakhang Monastery in which monks chanting hymns carry the holy scriptures through the picturesque city of Gangtok.

Sao Joao Feast
When: June 24
Where: Goa

Reminiscent of Elizabeth jumping with joy on hearing the news of her sister, Mother Mary, carrying baby Jesus in her womb, men in Goa jump into lakes and ponds to the shouts of ‘Viva Sao Jao’. Besides colourful floats that move through the streets, the vicinity of the St. Anthony’s Church comes alive with musicians and mimicry artists. In the evening, decorated floats are put in the lake amid joyful shouts of ‘Viva Sao Joao.’

When: June 25
Where: All across India

Muslims praying.
Eid is celebrated on the sighting of the new crescent moon.
Image courtesy: ©KRISHNASIS GHOSH/Lonely Planet

Also referred to as Ramzan id, this festival is celebrated on the sighting of the new crescent moon. Devotees gather for morning prayers and offer food or its monetary equivalent to the poor. Amidst much feasting – after a month spent in fasting and prayer — everyone exchanges gifts and sweets and it’s a joy to see little children dressed in their traditional best looking thrilled as they get their ‘idi’ (gifts) from all elders on the occasion.

Rath Yatra
When: June 25
Where: Puri, Odisha

Dedicated to another form of Lord Krishna called Jagannath, a wonderful spectacle of colour and pageantry unfolds during the Rath Yatra, especially for the shutterbugs. On this day, devotees carry the idols of Jagannath together with his brother Balarama and sister Subhdra in beautifully decorated chariots for an ‘outing’ to the Gundicha temple amid chants of religious hymns and drum beats.

Magica Festival Bharatha
When: June 25
Where: Kullu, Himachal Pradesh

It’s a veritable party in the beautiful valley of Kullu as music lovers from across the globe gather for an amazing time. Complete with camping, the festival packs in quite a punch with musical treats by artistes from different countries. Adding to the unforgettable experience are fire dancers and jugglers, 3D visuals, an art gallery displaying works by talented artists, meditation, holistic healing and yoga sessions.

Shiva Squad Festival
When: June 25 to 27
Where: Manali, Himachal Pradesh

This one’s for those who share a common goal – celebration of life through different genres of music — from psychedelic trance to EDM and IDM, covering artistes both from India and abroad. Against the backdrop of the divine Himalayas, the music at Shiva Squad is easily a psy-trance lover’s paradise. As some of the most amazing beats ring out, electronic music comes alive at this three-day do.

AUTHOR'S BIO: Life's come full circle for Purnima, who started out as a travel journalist. And now, after more than 20 years in mainstream journalism, she is once again packing her bags and putting on her travelling boots to pursue her first love.