Just about the time when the earth starts cracking with heat and harvesting activities commence fervently in the northern states of India, the only thing that offers respite is a number of local spirited festivals. Here’s our pick of some of the most intriguing ones across India in the months of April and May! Dust those cameras and take to the streets with joyous processions in the middle of a heady blend of colour, food, dancing and more.
Gangaur – For those who want to pitch in some prayers in return for marital bliss, Rajasthan’s Gangaur festival provides just the occasion! Celebrated largely by women, Lord Shiva’s consort, Gauri is the focus of devotion on this day. Marital fidelity and welcoming of Spring converge during an 18 day period of fasting, followed by a feast on the last day. You can see small groups of young women going about with clay pots on their heads, with a lit lamp inside. The last three days are the peak of the festival when women bid farewell to the Goddess Gauri. The capital city of Jaipur is an apt location to witness this as a procession starting from the City Palace, goes past important markets and ends at Talkatora. Don’t forget to take a bite of the sweet ‘ghewar’ dish, which is served on this day. Book ahead at the heritage Rani Mahal Hotel (www.ranimahaljaipur.com) to stay close to the action. This year, Gangaur will be celebrated on 13th and 14th April.
Baisakhi – If dancing to the rhythmic beats of a ‘dhol’ comes to you naturally, spare no time and head out to the Punjab on 14 April. The contagious vigour of Punjabis is bound to grip you as they celebrate the harvest festival of Baisakhi. Amritsar, home to the Golden Temple, is a safe bet to see the action at the Gurudwara, where the day also commemorates the formation of the Sikh brotherhood, Khalsa. You can also see the village celebrations at close quarters by staying at Prakriti Farms (www.prakritifarms.com), 45 km from Chandigarh. Join in the festivities of Rail Majra village as street processions pass you. Get spoilt by the ghee dripping Punjabi food and the comforts of a typical rural mud house with thatched roof; perfect ambiance to feel the pulse of Baisakhi.
Pulikkali – Small troupes of boys dressed in Tiger masks and bodies painted with stripes, scrounge the streets of Thrissur in the month of April. Pulikkali or ‘tiger dance’ dates back 200 years ago when the Maharaja of Cochin introduced this folk art as an annual performance during Onam celebrations to denote the vigour and the spirit of his army. Now performances are held in the centre of the town at Swaraj grounds in Thrissur. Stealthy movements and wild actions are induced in the dance to add interest. This year Pulikkali will be held on 12th April. For closest access to Swaraj Grounds, stay at the Hotel Pooram International (www.hotelpooram.com) that overlooks the venue.
Karni Mata- Deshnok village (30km from Bikaner) is abuzz with impassioned devotees of Karni Mata (an incarnation of Goddess Durga) during the Navratras. As the gates open at 4am, jostle into the temple much like its furry inhabitants, over 20000 rats! The Karni Mata festival usually falls in April, but was celebrated in March this year. The sight is still worth your time, if you can spot a white rat amidst the bustle of brown ones, who are also known as ‘kabbas’. Said to be the reincarnation of the Mata herself, if you happen to trample a rat, you have to replace it with one made in silver or gold. Don’t be alarmed if the scampering company has taken a bite of your ‘parasad’; their saliva smothered food brings plenty of god fortune. Use Bikaner as the base camp to visit here. Hotel Raj Vilas Palace (www.rajvilaspalace.net) is a decent option to stay.
Thrissur Pooram – One of the grandest festivals of Kerala, Thrissur Pooram, brings about a complete metamorphosis in the otherwise sleepy town of Thrissur. The day is replete with enticing photo opportunities as parades of caparisoned elephants start from Paramekkavu Bhagavathy and Thiruvambadi Bhagavathy temples and converge at the Vadakkunnathan Temple at Swaraj Grounds. This temple lies in the middle of the city on a small hill. Religious ceremonies accompanied by musical instruments go on for the day till the much-awaited fireworks’ display starts in the evening. Make sure that you stay the entire night as the festival reaches a crescendo in the wee hours of the morning. Hotel Pooram International (www.hotelpooram.com) overlooks the Swaraj Ground and provides a great vantage point for photography, but the tariff is sky rocketing on this day. The festival will be held on 21st April this year.
Bum Festival – The full moon, some alcohol and many whims construe the dates of ‘Kunde Habba’ or the Bum Festival! You will not be giving your camera a rest with tribals dressed in bright colours and hurling playful abuses at the local deities! This is one of those many festivals in India, which has gotten lost in the elusive jungles of Coorg. It is help in April on a full moon night, and the dates can only be locally sourced closer to the festival.
Urs, Ajmer Sharif – Quwwallis, massive preparations of sweets and brightly lit markets enliven the mosque area in Ajmer, as thousands descend on the town to commemorate the death anniversary of Sufi saint, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in May each year. Though the occasion is a solemn one, the atmosphere is upbeat as lakhs of devotees from all walks of life congregate here. This year, Urs will fall on 11th May Hotel Mansingh (www.mansinghhotels.com) is one of the better options to stay in Ajmer.
Akshaya Tritiya – For the ladies, Akshaya Tritiya brings about yet another reason to splurge on gold. While the modern day inference has been deduced to buying new jewelry for good luck, originally this festival has many somber conjectures: the birthday of Lord Parasurama and the day that Ved Vyasa started writing the Mahabharata. The predominantly Hindu and Jain festival is largely celebrated in South Indian cities and towns with large Jain communities. Akshaya Tritiya is slated for 13th May this year.
Moatsu Festival, Nagaland – Come May, and the quiet town of Mokokchung erupts into merriment to celebrate the Moatsu Festival. Members of the Ao tribe celebrate this to laud the harvest bounty as they complete the next batch of sowing. The annual cleaning of fields and houses takes about a week. The community immerses in gatherings by the fire, wearing their best attire and serving sumptuous meals of meat and wine. The festival is celebrated in the first week of May. There are very few places to stay in Mokokchung – Hotel Whispering Winds can be contacted on 09436 006062.
With a penchant for travelling ‘ungoogled’, Supriya has willingly got lost a number of times in the most obscure places of India for the last 8 years. She lives on a healthy diet of anecdotes and tea with auto drivers, co-passengers and locals! Supriya currently runs a Bangalore based travel-photography outfit called Photography Onthemove and writes regular features for India and International travel publications. More on www.supriyasehgal.com