Winter in India means a plethora of colourful festivals to look forward to. January and February are two of the best months for travellers to do so. Whether it’s the crack of the whip at the Kambala Buffalo Race or the reverberating dance steps of Theyyam performers in Kerala, there’s plenty here to keep you hooked.
When: late November to March
If you want to catch true traditional ritual worship in full glory then head to the north Malabar region in Kerala. Even though the Theyyam season starts in end November, it’s really in January that it picks up momentum. Clad in deep red, with elaborate masks and costumes, Theyyam performers mesmerise entire villages 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 Music Festival
When: mid-December to mid-January
The six-week annual classical music festival starts in December, but reaches a crescendo in January. From upcoming artistes to renowned stalwarts, this is the to be for all music aficionados. The festival dates back to 1928 when the Madras Music Academy was set up. Book tickets ahead in time for a preferred slot. Daily shows are also open to booking if you are in the city for a few days.
Kite Festival (Makar Sankranti)
When: January 7 – January 15
The sky lights up with colour during this time. This is the day when friends and families camp on the terrace the whole day, busy in kite battles spanning several streets. The festival is celebrated with extra vigour in Gujarat and is known as Uttarayan. This festival marks the beginning of a new harvest year.
Mamallapuram Dance Festival
When: December to January
The rock temple sculptures in the land of the Pallavas become the backdrop for the annual dance festival at Mahabalipuram. The unassuming coastal town is where the stage is set for many stalwarts from India’s classical arena in dance and music.
When: January 14
The four-day festival ushers in the New Year with prayers asking for fertile fields and continued divine patronage to the farmers. The highlight of the festival is the ‘pongal’ rice dish, which is prepared on the second day. The rest of the days are dedicated to prayers offered to different gods – Lord Indra, Surya, farm animals and even implements and birds.
The Kabir Festival
When: January 8 – January 11
In commemoration to the revered saint, Mumbai hosts the Kabir Festival with a series of free documentary films, discussions, poetry readings, story-telling and live folk music and dance performances.
Jaipur Literature Festival
When: January 21 – January25
Held in Diggi Palace in Jaipur, the event hosts a number of well-known authors from across the world whospeak to a bustling expanse of enthusiasts, and the event itself is spread over a week. Plan your day well since multiple talks happen at the same time.
Kila Raipur Sports Festival
When: January 29 –February 1
An electric vibe fills the village of Raipur in Punjab as hundreds congregate for the local Olympics of Punjab. Expect an unmatchable energy in the bullock, dogs and camel races. Horse-backed competitors are not hard to spot with their traditional robes and swords rising towards the crowds. The festival is best accessed from Ludhiana.
Kambala Buffalo Race
When: February (dates as per local calendar)
The dry mud tracks in the coastal villages of Karnataka are filled with water to make them thick with mud for the Kambala Buffalo Races, which start in December but go on till early March. February is a great time to visit Eedu village in Karnataka to see this 1000-year-old sport where buffaloes are raced to pay respect to the harvest Gods. More than 150 pairs of buffaloes are bred specially for the season, and are pegged against each other in a muddy battle for the prize money. The word ‘Kambala’ literally translates into ‘slushy field’ in Tulu, the cusp language spoken on the Karnataka-Kerala border.
When: February 27
One of the most popular reasons why Maha Shivratri is celebrated is that the Lord got married to Goddess Parvati on this day. Shiva temples are abuzz with festivities as large processions start in the day and go on till late in to the night. Maha Shivratri in Varanasi is said to be extremely spirited with the ghats celebrating with ‘bhaang’, an intoxicating drink said to have been loved by Lord Shiva.
When: February 1 – February 4
Head to Jaisalmer if you want to witness typical Rajasthani spirit. There’s folk music recitals, local competitions, camel races, and more to look forward to here.
Kala Ghoda Arts Festival
When: February 1 – February 9
Mumbai’s signature arts event for many years, Kala Ghoda is one of the most sought after events of the year. The Kala Ghoda area near Fort comes alive with craft bazaars, art by amateurs and well-known artists, workshops and heritage walks.
When: February 7 – February 8
Wine and travel connoisseurs head to Nasik, the land of lush vineyards and music, in early February. The Sula Vineyard celebrates the love of good food, accompanied by Indian wine. The two-day festival is where you should be if you’re looking for a contemporary retreat with friends. Besides there’s fashion shows, musical performances and wine tasting keep you busy.
Suraj Kund Crafts Mela
When: February 1 – February 14
Bid adieu to the winter months with the Suraj Kund Craft Mela held in the outskirts of Delhi (Faridabad). Each year, a particular state leads the way for the many crafts of the nation. This year, Sri Lanka has partnered with the event to showcase some of the craft gems of the country. The large mela grounds are filled with craft and food stalls, perfect for a wintery afternoon.
World Sufi Spirit Festival
When: February 17 – February 19 in Nagaur; February 21 – February 23 in Jodhpur
Sway to the Sufi sounds from East Asia, Africa and India as Nagaur and Jodhpur bring the mystical sounds to you this February. More than 100 performers take to the state in the backdrop of Rajasthan to take you through a spiritual journey. Book ahead as Rajasthan is one of the busiest destinations in India during this period.
India Art Fair
When: January 29 – February 1
The seventh edition of the India Art Fair showcases works of contemporary artists along with talks, book launches, curated walks and many galleries to browse through.