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Festivals in India

One thing you really have to know about every Indian state is that it has its own separate language and culture. As for religion, the populations in most cities typically have a majority of Hindus, with the biggest minorities being Muslims and Christians. This is pretty much the case in most cities across South India. One of the exceptions is Kochi, which is a true melting-pot of cultures and includes a large Jewish influence to go with the Hindu, Muslim and Christian cultures.

The point of all this is that there’s always a festival or holiday just around the corner, and the good people of South India need no second invitation to shut down the schools and offices to celebrate and enjoy a nice holiday. Obviously, there are all the festivals unique to each religion - Holi, Dussehra, Vinayaka Chaturthi and Diwali for Hindus, Eid for Muslims, and Christmas for Christians - all of which bring cities to a repetitive halt of public holidays. But each state also has its own important cultural festivals that may not be such a big deal in the other states.

You’d want to celebrate Pongal in Tamil Nadu and eat feasts with all kinds of delicious desserts and half a dozen different kinds of rice dishes in different colors. Onam (Harvest Festival) is Kerala’s biggest festival, and you’d be amiss not to enjoy the temple functions, parades with elephants and performers in ethnic costumes. Not to mention the snake boat races and the incredible feast of Onam sadya with up to 26 dishes served on a banana leaf.

Similarly, Makar Sankranti is the biggest festival in Andhra Pradesh and Telengana. The Dussehra Festival, celebrated across much of India, is a big deal in Karnataka and especially so in Mysore.

Although Mumbai is technically a Maharashtrian city, the Marathi culture has long since been mixed into a melting-pot of all the different cultures from every state and corner in India. All of Mumbai now celebrates Navratri, Krishna Jayanti and Holi just as enthusiastically as Diwali and Ganesh Chaturthi.

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Top 6 Festivals of South India

  • Diwali - The festival of lights is unquestionably the biggest extravaganza of the year, with fireworks, gifts, new clothes and sweets and a lot of fun.
  • Holi - Festival of colors celebrated all over India. It’s not so big in South India, but still big enough that it brings work and schools to a halt. You’re free to throw colors and colored water and water balloons on anyone you see - friend or stranger. No one complains.
  • Dussehra - A 10-day festival celebrated with great fanfare and festivities across large parts of India. It’s the biggest festival in Karnataka, and also in several parts of Andhra Pradesh and Telengana.
  • Vinayaka Chaturthi - Hindu festival celebrating Lord Ganesh, who has an elephant’s head and trunk and a fondness for sweets. It’s an incredible event all over India, with giant clay statues of the Lord set up in each community for 3-10 days, at the end of which the Lord is taken to a river, lake or ocean and sent off into the water.
  • Christmas and Eid - Needs no explanation, but the fun fact here is that cities and streets are lit bright with the joy of Christmas and Eid holidays, and people of all religions are invited to join in and enjoy Christmas specials and Eid fast-breaking feasts.
  • Sankranti in Mumbai– A festival that falls in January – something to do with the sun and solar calendars. Practically speaking, what happens is that people give and receive “til gud” and will tell you “til gud ghya aani goad-goad bola.” Til here is sesame seeds, and gud is jaggery. What you get are these little sweet delicious balls of til gud, and what they’re saying is to take the til gud and say only good things..



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Festival overview India

  • Diwali - The festival of lights celebrates the victory of good or evil. According to Hindu mythology, it celebrates the occasion of the return of Lord Rama after his victory over the evil demons led by Ravana. Practically speaking, it’s a festive occasion all over India where people buy gifts and sweets for each other, the streets and stores are packed with shoppers, people wear new clothes, clean up homes and offices and vehicles, and the firecrackers on the streets make it sound like a war zone for at least a couple of days.
  • Pongal - The word “pongal” literally refers to milk boiling over, and the Gods are indeed offered a “pongal” of milk and rice. Your happiness also boils over during the four days in January when the festival is celebrated with feasts and sweets. If you happen to be anywhere in Tamil Nadu during Pongal, one other thing you won’t forget is the third day of Pongal - Mattu Pongal. Cows are washed and colored and dressed and taken door to door. It’s an amazing sight that you won’t forget any time soon.