As the rain begins to ease up, it’s time to shed all your inhibition and dive into the festive frenzy the next 60 days has to offer.
Ganesh Chaturthi, 29 Aug–8 Sept: Though Mumbai holds the bastion of Ganesh Chaturthi hysteria, the birth of the elephant-headed god is celebrated with equal gusto in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. But if you really want to immerse yourself in the madness, then Mumbai is the place to be. The celebrations here are certainly not for the faint-hearted. The best way to see all the action is to visit one of the five famous pandals in the city (Ichhapurti Ganesh Mandal, Fort Vibhag Ganesh Utsav Mandal, Sarvajanik Utsav Mandal, Rangari Badak Chawl Mandal, Akhil, Anjeerwadi Mandal, Kamatchawl Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal). Here, a large idol of Ganesha looms over the area packed with people. At home, the celebrations are more sober. What you really shouldn’t miss is the visarjan, when the mighty idols are immersed in the water.
Onam, 7 Sept: Kerala pulsates with energy during Onam, a ten-day harvest festival celebrated to mark the homecoming of the mythical King Mahabali. The King is seen as the protector of the people of the state. Houses are bedecked with colourful flowers, new clothes are bought, but the highlight is definitely the delicious Onam Sadya. This vegetarian repast often has over 15 dishes served on plantain leaves.
Durga Puja, 29 Sept–4 Oct: While the month starts with the birth of Lord Ganesha, it ends with yet another vibrant festival, celebrated throughout the country but with extra vigour in West Bengal and other eastern states. Durga Puja is celebrated to mark the victory of Goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasura. For around five days people venerate elaborately painted idols of the goddess Durga and her entourage displayed in pandals that dominate yards, block roads and fill little parks. The festival brings the Bengali community together for a week of fasting, feasting, dancing and finally leading up to the immersion of the idol in water.
Ladakh Festival, 20–26 Sept: As the touristy summer months come to a close, Ladakh slips into a cultural extravaganza with an entertaining cycle of events including a carnivalesque opening parade, Buddhist dances, polo, music and archery. For those who are more interested in the culture of the region, this is the best time to visit.
Navaratri, 25 Sept–3 Oct: This is one festival that is commonly celebrated pretty much throughout India. Celebrated to honour the Mother Goddess in all her manifestations, including Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati, one can see the buzz spread out in various cities like Ahmedabad, Varanasi, Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai. What makes this festival particularly special is the enactment of Ramlila in many parts of the countries. This theatrical performance of the Ramayana takes one back to the simpler times when this was the only source of learning and entertainment. Be sure to see this in Varanasi and Ramnagar, where it is enacted in the most traditional way.
Mysore Dasara, 25 Sept–4 Oct: Even though the city of Mysore starts the Dasara celebrations in late September, its only in the first week of October that the festival culminates on the streets of the city, in the form of large processions showcasing the state’s cultural gems. The royal patronage ensures access to both visitors and locals to witness these parades and be a part of another legend; Goddess Chamundeshwari’s win over the demon, Mahishasur. Arrive here a day early and get a good spot in the front row of the seating area to see the traditional art forms unfold in front you. One can also take part in a kite flying competition, which has become extremely popular over the years.
Rajasthan International Folk Festival, 4–8 Oct: One of the most ethereal experiences for folk music lovers, RIFF is a unique venue where folk artistes from all over the world converge on a stage to create nothing short of magic. With the gorgeous Mehrangarh fort in Jodhpur as a backdrop, it’s no wonder that the festival has been gaining ground over the last few years. Multiple stages around the fort ensure that the performances stay personal and intimate for all guests.
Marwar Festival, 7–8 October: Ever wanted to witness a camel getting tattooed? This may be your chance. The Marwar festival celebrates Rajasthani heroes through music and dance; one day is held in Jodhpur, the other in Osian. Since this festival is not quite as popular as many others celebrated in Rajasthan, this may be a good place to truly experience the rich culture the state has to offer in a more personalised way.
goMAD Festival, 25–27 Oct: Stepping away from tradition, here is how the new generation is celebrating their indie culture. The second edition of goMAD goes lives in Ooty at Fern Hills at the end of the month. The concept is simple – pitch your tent and indulge in the magic of music produced by lesser-known indie artistes of the country.