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The India festival calendar: January–February 2014

An exquisitely dressed Theyyam performer.
Image courtesy: Kerala Tourism Board

Pleasant weather and several festivals make the first two months of the year a popular time to travel. Whether it’s the crack of the whip at the Kambala Buffalo Race or the reverberating dance steps of Theyyam performers in Kerala, the entire period is packed with splendid celebrations.


Theyyam: Head to the Northern Malabar belt of Kerala for an induction into the enthralling Theyyam possession rituals. Even though the Theyyam season starts in November, it’s really in January that it picks up momentum. Clad in deep red, with elaborate masks and costumes, Theyyam performers mesmerise onlookers with their energetic dances. The schedules are often based on local calendars, so it’s important for you to get in touch with someone from the vicinity to know the exact time.

Chennai Festival of Music & Dance: The six-week annual classical music and dance festival starts in December, but reaches a crescendo in January. This is the best place to catch classical music and dance performances from both upcoming artistes to renowned stalwarts. The festival dates back to 1928 when the Madras Music Academy was set up. You can either buy season tickets (available well in advance) or daily show tickets depending on your convenience.

Lohri, 13 January: A day to celebrate the winter solstice – the time when days start to inch slightly longer after a harsh winter. Crackling woodfire in homes, families gathered around a bonfire and musical evenings are in store, especially in Punjab.

Pongal, 14 January: The Tamil festival of Pongal, equivalent to Sankranti, marks the end of the harvest season. The festival is held over four days in mid-January and is one of the year’s most important occasions for families to get together. It’s named after a Tamil rice-and-lentil dish cooked at this time in new clay pots. For many, the celebrations begin with temple rituals, followed by family gatherings. Later it’s the animals, especially cows, that are honoured for their contribution to the harvest.

Kite Festival and Makar Sankranti, 14 January: North India celebrates Makar Sankranti to mark the beginning of a new harvest year. This day is identified by the splash of colourful kites in the sky. Friends and families camp on the terrace the whole day engaging in some serious kite battles with neighbours. The festival is celebrated with extra vigour in Gujarat and is known as Uttarayan.

An indigenous take on the Grand Prix, Kambala Buffalo Race.
Image courtesy: Creative Commons/ wildxplorer


Kambala Buffalo Race: The dry mud tracks in the coastal villages of Karnataka are filled with water to make them slushy for the Kambala Buffalo Races. The festival starts in December and goes on till early March. February is a great time to visit Eedu village to see this thousand-year-old sport in which buffaloes are raced to please the harvest Gods. More than 150 pairs of buffaloes bred especially for the season are pegged against each other in muddy battlefields for the prize. The word ‘Kambala’ literally translates into ‘slushy field’ in Tulu, a language spoken on the Karnataka-Kerala border.

Maha Shivratri, 27 February:  Of the many reasons why Maha Shivratri is celebrated, the most popular is that it honours the marriage of Shiva with Parvati. Shiva temples are abuzz with festivities as large processions start in the day and go on till late night. The festivity in Varanasi is especially ‘spirited’ because of the availability of ‘bhaang’, an intoxicating drink loved by Lord Shiva.

Camel race is a popular attraction during the Jaisalmer Desert Festival.
Image courtesy: Rajasthan Tourism Board

Desert Festival, Jaisalmer: The desert city of Jaisalmer bursts into life during this festival. Folk music recitals, local competitions, camel races are in store for travellers who want to see Rajasthan at its vibrant best.

AUTHOR'S BIO: 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