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The India festival calendar: March–April 2014

The Goa Carnival is a riot of colours with dancers in fancy costumes.
Image courtesy: Goa Tourism Board

The last month of the travel season, March is a great time to explore not only wildlife sanctuaries and other tourist hotspots but also check out some pretty interesting festivals.

Losar, 2 March: Tibetan New Year is celebrated with processions, music and dancing, and masked performances by monks in Buddhist monasteries. Head to places like Ladakh, Mcleod Ganj, Lahaul and Spiti, Darjeeling or even Bylakuppe near Coorg to join in the celebrations. Houses and shrines are decorated, illuminated and people hang an image of an ibex – the symbol of fertility and good fortune – in their homes. If you’re in Sikkim, don’t miss the impressive masked chaam dances during this time. The dances feature masked monks acting out Buddhist parables, stories from the life of Guru Padmasambhava and the victory of good over evil. Performances are supported by a crew of clowns, demons and dancing snow lions, all entertaining a crowd of spellbound locals dressed in their festive best.

Goa Carnival, 1–4 March: While the origins of the Goan Carnival are disputed, this annual extravaganza, just before Lent, is a riot of colours. People dress in fancy costumes, wear masks and pour into the streets to dance with the passing floats. A king of Chaos or King Momo is elected to head the carnival, and elaborately dressed, he urges everyone to join the parade. It begins at Panjim, moves to Margao, Vasco da Gama and Mapusa. Bands perform all day and shouts of ‘Viva Carnaval’ resound in the air.

Holi is celebrated with huge fervour across North India.
Image courtesy: Creative commons/ Nikolas Becker

Holi, 17 March: A Monday that you will love! Holi, one of India’s most colourful festivals marks the beginning of spring according to the lunar calendar. Celebrated with great vigour in the northern parts of the country; head to Barsana, Varanasi or even Delhi to capture the real feel of the festivities. Dry and wet colours, bhaang, music and dancing consume the atmosphere on this day! Make a choice between the contemporary Holi parties in the city or head to more traditional grounds to get the real flavour.

Goa’s version of Holi sees coloured powders thrown about and parades in most towns.
Image courtesy: Goa Tourism Board

Shigmo, 16­–31 March: Back to Goa. Shigmo coincides with Holi and is set to the lunar calendar in spring. It is somewhat like Goa Carnival with floats, festoons, folk dances and music. A unique feature of Shigmo is the Ghodemondi, where men perform a martial dance, brandishing swords, with a wooden horse strapped to the lower halves of their bodies. Shigmo is celebrated with great fanfare for five days at some major temples in the state.

After the frenzy of Holi, April seems a little low-key. But for the offbeat traveller, this may be a chance to explore unchartered territories.

The Aoling Festival, 1–6 April: The Konyaks of Mon district in Nagaland are considered the fiercest tribe; they continued headhunting till as recently as 1960s. The Aoling, however, is a celebration of spring, when the countryside explodes into green making it a perfect time to visit the state. The experience is quite special as it is a largely tourist-free tribal festival.

Gangaur, a festival honouring Shiva and Parvati’s love is celebrated with great fervour in Rajasthan.
Image courtesy: Rajasthan Tourism Board/Paroma Mukherjee

Mewar and Gangaur Festivals 2–4 April: If not Nagaland, head to Rajasthan for two of the most colourful festivals of the state: Gangaur and Mewar, both celebrated on the same days. During this time, Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva are worshipped by married women for the health and long life of their husbands, as well as a long and happy married life. Women step out of their homes with idols of the deities and participate in colourful processions. They decorate their hands and feet with mehendi and dress up in traditional finery, adding colour and glitz to the processions. At the Mewar festival in Udaipur, idols of Goddess Gauri are submerged in Lake Pichola, amidst much fanfare.

Baisakhi 14 April: Punjab’s largest festival, Baisakhi, marks the Sikh New Year and the founding of the Khalsa. Folk music, dance, food and fairs make for the carnival-like atmosphere. Though the entire state is engrossed in festivities, it would be wise to visit Amritsar at this time and witness the celebration at the Golden Temple.

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