Festivals in India are synonymous with colour, vibrancy, and extremely happy times. As we slowly steer into the second half of the year, festive times are beginning to set in. Dussehra, Ganesh Chaturthi, Durga Puja, Diwali, Onam and Christmas may be the more famous ones. But there are many lesser-known festivals celebrated across the country with equal zeal and fervour. Be it the dense-green landscape of Kerala or the barren yet lovely Ladakh, each state has a festival they call their very own.
Here’s a list of some state-specific festivals that are vibrant, colourful and unique. Aren’t these enough reasons to pack your bags to one or more of these beautiful places?
The Ochira temple is situated near the highway connecting Kollam and Alappuzha districts. The temple is famous for not having a definite layout or an idol to worship. Instead, it celebrates the worship of the ‘Parabrahma’ or universal consciousness. The temple is also famous for hosting a unique festival known as ‘Ochira Kali’. Ochira Kali is held in the beginning of the Malayalam month of Mithunam (June-July). It commemorates a historic battle between the erstwhile Kayamkulam and Alappuzha kingdoms. The event features two groups of boys and men who stage a mock battle to the sound of traditional drums. The ‘battle’ – with sticks, not swords - takes place in a water-logged field called ‘padanilam’.
Kottiyoor Vaishaka Mahotsavam is a unique, month-long festival that takes place in May-June every year. It is hosted by two temples situated on the opposite banks of the Bavali river in Kannur. This mahotsavam takes place in the lap of Mother Nature, surrounded by dense trees and the Bavali river. The festival is renowned for its strict observance of traditional rituals.
It is time to travel to the scenic, winding lanes of Sikkim for the Saga Dawa festival. This is a month-long, auspicious festival celebrated by followers of Mahayana Buddhism. It commemorates the day the Buddha was born, achieved enlightenment and attained nirvana. Mahayana monks and devotees step out in a procession from Tsuk La Khang monastery. They play musical instruments and carry idols of Lord Buddha around Gangtok and other towns in Sikkim. Masks play an important role in the festivals in the hills, so many of the monks are masked. Devotees light butter lamps and readings of the holy ‘Kajur’ texts continue for an entire month.
India’s pocket-sized paradise, Goa, is all about party times and chill vibes. The Sao Joao Feast of St John the Baptist is an extension of this mood. This monsoon festival is celebrated by Goan Catholics with great fervour on 24th June every year. A highlight of the festival is young men jumping into wells and ponds to retrieve gifts thrown in by devotees. Sao Joao is also known as the ‘Festival of Fertility’ as newly-wed couples make offerings for a child.
Sitalsasthi is a Hindu festival that celebrates the divine marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. In Sambalpur district in Odisha, the festival takes the form of a carnival, wherein artists and people from diverse walks of life come together to celebrate life itself.
The Ambubachi mela is celebrated with aplomb in Assam’s capital city – Guwahati – during the monsoons. It is considered to be the most important festival of the Kamakhya temple. It is believed that the presiding goddess of the temple, Devi Kamakhya goes through her annual cycle of menstruation during this time. Thus, the temple gates are closed for three days. Some devotees believe that this festival celebrates Mother Earth’s power to create and nurture life. Thousands of pilgrims visit from all over India.
Held in July-August, Yuru Kabgyat is Ladakh’s oldest and most spectacular festival. Celebrated at the famous Lamayuru Monastery, this two-day festival welcomes Buddhists from across the world. Lamas from Tibet, Japan, Korea and China attend this festival, to perform Chhams dedicated to Yama, the God of Death and Padma Sambhava, the second Buddha. These masked dances are performed to protect people from natural disasters. Another important ritual of this festival is the burning of effigies. This celebrates the destruction of ego in every individual.