People from all over the world come to India due to its reputation of being a country with unity in its great diversity. While embracing modern thoughts, the country upholds its rich culture and heritage as well. Throughout the year, different states and regions display the country’s vast diversity in their own unique way through different festivals. The varied artistic expressions of each of these celebrations liven up the region and shed light on the culture they celebrate. From the tribes of the North Eastern region to the culture of India’s southern states, the celebration includes every community and the festivals that accompany them prove this. In order to get the full experience of India, its traditions, and cultures, here are some of the top art and cultural festivals in India.
Of the many festivals celebrated in the seven states in Northeast India, Hornbill is probably the most popular one. It offers a memorable experience of the vibrant tribal culture of Nagaland. As a state that is home to several tribes, Hornbill brings them together in a display of their authentic culture. The festival serves as a celebration of the culture and traditions of the region ensuring that the wonder of each tribe is given its due importance. While preserving the cultural diversity of the region, the festival also helps introduce it to the outside world. The culture is interestingly intertwined with the laws of the land followed by each of the tribes. From lively dance and music performances to ceremonial celebrations, the display and sales of craft and native products like herbal medicine are also part of the event. Held during the first week of December each year, it is organized by the state government in an effort to encourage and promote unity among the different indigenous tribes that call Nagaland home.
An agricultural festival held in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, Mopin festival is one of the cultural festivals in Northeast India. It is generally considered to be indigenous to the Galo tribe, particularly those belonging to the districts of East and West Siang. It is usually held in the first week of April in celebration of the harvesting season. Apart from displaying the fine traditional clothing of the tribe members, all adorned in white, the festival also features the performance of their traditional dances. Held in celebration of their Goddess known as Mopin Ane, it also inculcates certain aspects of the Hindu festival, Holi, in its customs.
Serving as the primary socio-religious festival of the Adi community in Arunachal Pradesh, the Solung festival is a highlight of the yearly calendar of the state. An event that is celebrated with fervour across the community, the festival is usually held in the month of September. Considering agriculture is the primary occupation of the tribe, this yearly celebration is an agro-based festival. With practices like offerings to gods and goddesses, gifts of meat and Apong (rice beer) to neighbours and relatives, and prayers for a bountiful harvest, the proceedings reflect the indigenous culture of the tribe.
While Ziro Festival of Music is the most popular one in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, what it offers is a mere window into the life of the local Apatani tribe, with indie music taking centre stage. But if you’re looking for a truly immersive experience that delves into the customs and tradition of the tribes in the region, Myoko is the way to go. It is held during the second fortnight of the month of March. The town of Ziro in the state of Arunachal Pradesh is home to different tribes and the annual Myoko Festival is celebrated on a rotational basis by these tribes, particularly the three known as the Diibo Hija, the Hari Bulla, and Hong. Considered to be a celebration of fertility and prosperity, the festival involves a number of animal sacrifices as well. You will be welcomed into the homes of the tribal folk, where you get to try different flavours of the local rice beer, Apong, served in the traditional bamboo mug. Walking along the vast paddy fields, best described as a sea of yellow, only adds to the entire experience.
Another agricultural festival observed by the Apatanis of the state of Arunachal Pradesh, Dree happens to be pivotal to the tribal culture. Given that the general occupation of the community members is wet rice cultivation, the belief is that this festival is aimed at appeasing the gods of the land in order to prevent famine. It is held in the first week of July every year. It is an interesting mix of traditional rituals and modern display of culture – dance, literary events, and music. All of it comes together to contribute to its overall charm, making it one of the best art and cultural festivals in India.
A 10-day long festival usually held towards the end of February, the Angami Naga tribe of Nagaland takes great pride in the celebration of Phousanyi, as it is locally known. The festivities reflect a cleansing ritual, as seen in the name which translates to ‘sanctification festival.’ What makes it an important part of their culture is that the festival serves as a coming of age ceremony for the young adults in the community. Observing Sekrenyi is also a celebration of the lifestyle, traditions, and culture of this community.
Moatsu Mong Festival
Celebrated in the month of May, Moatsu Mong exhibits some of the most upbeat festivities of the many tribal festivals held in the state of Nagaland. Revolving around the occupation of the tribes, it marks the end of the sowing season, which is the primary occupation of the people and therefore, serves as a way for them to enjoy some recreation and relaxation. The atmosphere comes to life with folk music and dance, the beautiful, traditional tribal outfits, and flavours of the land with the local cuisine.
On the 14th of January each year, Jaipur hosts a vibrant Kite Festival. This serves as one of the primary attractions in the state of Rajasthan, making it one of the best cultural festivals in India. Promising you a sight to behold with numerous kites flitting about in the sky, many elaborate and intricate, this one’s not to be missed. It is celebrated on the auspicious day of Makara Sankranti and a number of pilgrims flock to the region as well. With multiple kite flying competitions to keep the spirit high, the city’s sky comes alive with colours and the fervour of competition. From vast open grounds to building tops, you will see people everywhere, some competing to win while others simply flying kites for the fun of it.
This dance and music festival held in the beautiful city of Aurangabad is the pride of Maharashtra and one of the top art and cultural festivals in India. A large part of its popularity and charm lies in the fact that it is held at the historic caves of Ajanta and Ellora. The World Heritage Site makes for an unparalleled location for the display of the region’s cultural heritage. The festival serves as a platform for niche, classical and cultural dance troupes and musicians from across the country. The exposure goes both ways, as the ones attending the festival will be left enriched by the heritage that is replete throughout the festival. It is organized by the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation every year, usually in the month of January.
Rajasthan International Folk Festival
Serving as a means to promote and preserve the indigenous culture of the region, particularly the traditional folk songs and dances as well as art forms, the Rajasthan International Folk Festival is held in the blue city of Jodhpur. Hosted at the impressive Mehrangarh Fort on the occasion of Sharad Purnima, usually in the month of October, the festival is a great platform to observe the festivities of a culture that boasts of a regal heritage. Rajasthan is known for its vibrant history in the world of art, with many erstwhile rulers being collectors and curators of folk art of all forms. A number of prominent artists perform here and it becomes a celebration of music, art, and culture.
Bengaluru International Arts Festival
Acclaimed as one of the biggest art and cultural festivals in India, the Bengaluru International Arts Festival aims to illustrate the statement, ‘One State, Many Worlds’. It features contributions from a number of local as well as internationally-acclaimed artists, who are all prominent figures in the world of music, art, theatre, and dance. The cultural extravaganza goes on for about 10 days and is usually held in the month of September. Considering how Bengaluru has become home for people from all over the country, the festival is an excellent way to preserve and promote the heritage of the region and celebrate the city’s cultural diversity.
Also known as the Hampi Utsav or the Vijaya Utsav, this is definitely one of the biggest art and cultural extravaganzas that celebrate the rich heritage of the erstwhile Vijayanagara Empire. Mostly held in the first week of November, the three-day festival is a major cultural event in the state. Set in the World Heritage Site of Hampi, the festival showcases the beauty of Karnataka’s history through music, art, and dance. Adding to it, there’s also an impressive display of traditional crafts and works of local artisans.
International Film Festival
Started in 1952, the International Film Festival is held every year in the coastal state of Goa in western India. Having earned a reputation as one of the most prominent film festivals in Asia, the event is held towards the end of the year. It is hosted by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the Government of Goa and the Directorate of Film Festivals. One of the recent editions featured over 7,000 delegates, reflecting the growth and popularity of this festival and explaining why it is regarded to be among the best art and cultural festivals in the country.
A celebration of the Nawabi heritage and a nostalgic recollection of the glory of the Mughal era, Taj Mahotsav is held for ten days in the month of February. Hosted at Shilpgram in Agra, the festival sees over 400 different craftsmen and artisans from across the country displaying their work, ranging from beautiful carvings to intricate silk work. One of the highlights of the festival is the grand road procession that marks its start and the many folk musicians and dancers who participate throughout.
An authentic carnival in India that is associated with the Roman Catholic tradition, the Goa Carnival is one of the cultural highlights of a state that is otherwise touted to be a party destination. It is held over the course of three days, continuing on into the night, before Ash Wednesday, the start of the period of Lent preceding Good Friday and Easter Sunday for Roman Catholics. This traditional carnival features music, dance performances and even floats. The carnival is an enthralling display of colonial heritage of the west coast.
From the agriculture-centric traditions of the northeastern tribes to vibrant festivities that exhibit regal heritage in places like Jodhpur and Hampi, there are festivals galore to celebrate the diversity of art and culture across the country. Plus, music, dance and films to add to the mix! While each has the charm and significance of its own, these art and cultural festivals in India are integral to the essence of the country and deserve to be experienced with a celebratory fervour.