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Festivals of the month: January

Yoga practitioners gathered for a session
Image courtesy: ©Flickr/Brad Coy/CC BY 2.0

January, the month of transitions and new beginnings, sets the tone with some of the most interesting festivals. And the chill in the air at this time adds that perfect dash of magic and masti to its veritable smorgasbord. Take a look at some of the events and celebrations that lie just round the corner.

International Yoga Festival

Where: Pondicherry

When: Jan 4 – 7

As the rippling waters of the Bay of Bengal add magic to the salubrious climate of Puducherry, the positivity of this beach town gets further enhanced, with seasoned and new yoga practitioners from across the world touching down at Subhalakshmi Mahal to participate in the International Yoga Festival.  Kick started in 1993, the four-day festival offers classes of asanas, meditation, lecture-demonstrations, workshops, yogic dance-and-drama sessions and even the perfect yogic cuisine that helps cleanse the body naturally. Don’t forget to get yourself registered; it can be done online.

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Colourful camels at Rann Utsav
Colourful camels at Rann Utsav
Image courtesy: ©Flickr/Kaushik Patel/CC BY 2.0

Rann Utsav
Where: Gujarat
When: Jan 1 – Feb 20

The surreal salt plains of the Rann of Kutch spring to life with a thousand hues during this cultural extravaganza organized at the Tent City that’s set up over an area of 5,00,000 sq mts close to the Dhordo village. Shutterbugs will enjoy shooting the beautifully caparisoned camels, women dressed in their multi-hued attires, men sporting colorful turbans, cultural performances, variety of cuisines and handicrafts that the state is famous for, together with being part of animal-cart rides, spa and meditation sessions, gaming areas, dirt biking and para motoring activities. Let your itinerary also include a full-moon night when the combo of dance, music and the mesmerizing white desert landscape in the moonlight looks magical.

National Street Food Festival
Where: Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Delhi
When: Jan 12 – 14

This one’s for the true gourmets who also enjoy the myriad tastes and varieties of street food that India offers. And they will tell you that gol gappe, bhel puri, pao bhaji, tikki, dahi bhalla etc. taste best when eaten from roadside stalls. Celebrating this genre of food, the National Street Food Festival would feature over 500 best street food vendors who will offer lip-smacking food, snacks, meals and desserts that no one will be able to resist.

Where: All over North India
When: Jan 13

One of the most joyous festivals of Punjab, Lohri, is traditionally believed to mark the end of the severe winter season. And in the pinds (villages), the rabi crop that stands looking glorious gives farmers good reasons for celebration and cheer. Come evening and everyone gathers around the sacred bonfire enjoying its crackling sounds and warmth. Soon, to the sounds of the dhol, it’s time for the boisterous bhangra and gidda dances with everyone joining in step. The Lohri following the birth of a baby or a wedding in the family becomes extra special and is celebrated with a grand feast.

Preparation of Pongal
Preparation of Pongal
Image courtesy: ©Flickr/Kamala L/CC BY-SA 2.0

Pongal Festival
Where: Tamil Nadu
When: Jan 14-17

Celebrated over four days as a form of thanksgiving for a good harvest, devotees pray asking for blessings in the coming season as well. The celebrations include dancing around a bonfire that is believed to burn away all evil, cooking of a sweet made of rice and milk that is offered to the Sun God, worship of the household cattle in which new bells are tied around their necks and then, after their aarti, they are offered sweets. The last day of Pongal sees special prayers being performed for brothers and their families.

Colourful skies during Kite Festival
Colourful skies during Kite Festival
Image courtesy: ©Flickr/Kaushik Patel/CC BY 2.0

International Kite Festival
Where: Ahmedabad
When: Jan 7 – 15

Although celebrated in many regions across the country, the skies in the city of Ahmedabad- also known as the kite capital of Gujarat- seem to come ablaze with colour as kites of all shapes and hues bob up and down as those flying them enjoy tangling and untangling the line strings. Visitors from across the world come here to enjoy not just the festival’s myriad hues but also walking down the fascinating Patang Bazaar that remains open 24X7. Another must-do in the city: a visit to the Kite Museum that houses a massive collection of unique kites from across the world.

Basant Panchami
Where: All over North India
When: Jan 22

It’s a day when Saraswati, the Goddess of learning, arts and music, is worshipped. Little children are encouraged to write their first letters of the alphabet and start singing or dancing lessons on this day. For many, it’s the Hindu Valentine’s Day too- when Kamadev, the deity of love is invoked by sending flowers to one’s spouse or the loved one. While Goddess Saraswati is also dressed in yellow, a lot of people too like to don outfits in shades of this hue and eat rice of this colour to emulate the mustard (sarson) flower fields that are in full bloom.

Jaipur Literature Festival
Where: Jaipur, Rajasthan
When: Jan 25 – 29

Touted as one the greatest literary shows on Earth, the Jaipur lit fest brings in litterateurs and book lovers from across the world onto a single venue. It’s a great time to interact with authors about their latest work, hear them talk on a variety of interesting subjects and participate in discussions with them too. This year, the JLF’s list of participating authors includes names such as Pico Iyer, Patrick French, Zakir Hussain, Nasreen Munni Kabir, Marina Warner, Dan Jones, among many others.

Tribute is paid at Amar Jawan Jyoti on Republic Day
Tribute is paid at Amar Jawan Jyoti on Republic Day
Image courtesy: ©Flickr/Public.Resource.Org/CC BY 2.0

Republic Day
Where: Delhi, all state capitals
When: Jan 26

As the day dawns, many an Indian heart swells up with pride, for it was on this date in 1950 that the country’s Constitution came into effect. All eyes are focused on the majestic Rajpath, the beautiful long pathway in Lutyens’ Delhi, that unveils a spectacular parade, showcasing not just the country’s defence capability but also its amazing cultural heritage and diversity. It’s also a day when the Prime Minister lays a floral wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti in honour of the martyred soldiers at India Gate.

Decorated camel at Jaisalmer Desert Festival
Decorated camel at Jaisalmer Desert Festival
Image courtesy: ©DEBA PRASAD ROY/Lonely Planet

Jaisalmer Desert Festival
Where: Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
When: Jan 29 – 31

Organized against the backdrop of the sprawling 12th century sandstone fort, the festival unveils some of the most fascinating cultural slices of Rajasthan. Starting with a fun-filled procession that features the naats and fire-dancers, among others, it also offers activities such as camel polo, races and even a beauty contest of the humped beasts. There’s an enjoyable tug-of-war between the village and urban folk, turban-tying for men and sari-tying for women competitions- all of which are any lensman’s delight. During evenings, the picturesque Sam sand dunes turn on the magic, and as you enjoy the warmth of bonfires, folk musicians and dancers keep you mesmerized with their traditional performances.

AUTHOR'S BIO: After close to three decades in mainstream journalism, it's back to freelance writing for Purnima Sharma who enjoys writing about people, places... and just about anything that touches the heart...