Rajasthan is a vast region, home to a multitude of different people and cultures. They say that in Rajasthan, the culture, dress and dialect change every 50km! The cities are buzzing with activity, while the rural areas are peaceful. In such a diverse state, there’s one thing that unites the people of Rajasthan: festivals, and the opportunity to celebrate.
There is a myriad of celebrations throughout the year – some more prominent than others. To help you navigate the most popular, this is our expert guide to the best festivals in Rajasthan, and when and where to enjoy them:
Diwali, or Deepavali in Sanskrit, is the festival of light. Its origins are rooted in the ancient story of Hindu deities Rama and Sita and honour the victory of good over evil. For Hindus, Diwali signifies the day that Rama and his wife, Sita, returned to their kingdom after years in exile. The festival lasts five days, with the main event on the third. Each of these five days has different importance and rituals attached. The first day celebrates wealth; people buy gold and jewellery and clean their homes ready to welcome Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of prosperity. On the second day, rangolis (a traditional Hindu art form where patterns are created on the floor using dry materials like rice, coloured sand, and flower petals) decorate doorways and courtyards. The third day is the main event and a major celebration. Hundreds of diyas (small clay lamps) and candles are lit and placed around homes and offices. The skies burst with colourful fireworks. It’s a lively time. During the last couple of days, people exchange sweets and gifts and usher in the new year. Diwali is traditionally a Hindu festival, but everyone joins in. It’s a happy and joyful occasion.
When is Diwali?
The exact date of Diwali changes each year under the Hindu lunar calendar, but it’s always in October or November. Coincidentally, this is one of the best times of year to visit weather-wise, with sunny days and balmy evenings. Visiting Rajasthan over Diwali is sure to be a pleasant experience. This year, Diwali falls on 14th November 2020.
Where should I celebrate Diwali?
It’s a special time of year to visit Rajasthan and no matter where you are in the state the atmosphere will be buzzing. But if you were to ask us where’s the best place to celebrate Diwali, we’d lean toward Jaipur. Much of Diwali’s charm lies in the warm glow of lights and decorations adorning the streets, and Jaipur goes the whole hog: not only are buildings illuminated, but entire markets, and each year there’s a competition for the best and most brilliantly lit up bazaar. The government foots the electricity bill! It’s a dazzling display.
Diwali is very much a family-orientated festival and, if you like, we can arrange for you to celebrate with a Rajasthani family. It’s indoors amongst the families where meaningful celebrations take place, and being a part of the rituals offers a very special insight into the local culture.
One of the best festivals in Rajasthan and certainly its most colourful is Holi. The holiday is rooted in various tales and legends but ultimately celebrates the triumph of good over evil and welcomes the spring. On the day, people pour out into the streets, armed with powders, paints and water guns, ready to drench one another in colour. Music, dance and traditional sweets are all part of the fun too.
But the colour-throwing is just one part of the Holi festival which splits into two events: Holika Dahan, and Rangwali Holi. Holika Dahan happens the night before Rangwali Holi. People light bonfires to symbolize good defeating evil, as the Hindu God Vishnu helped burn the devil Holika to death. It’s the next morning when people gather together to take part in the colourful bit, Rangwali Holi.
Where should I celebrate Holi?
It can be tempting to throw yourself into the experience by joining in with large crowds on the streets. But it’s important to exercise caution. Some people, intoxicated with alcohol and marijuana, take things too far, and this can be dangerous. For an altogether safer and more authentic Holi experience, we recommend celebrating with a local Indian family and other like-minded guests. Saffron Palate is one of several great places we can arrange this. But be aware there’ll be no escaping getting drenched in colour! It’s a good idea to wear clothes you’re not fussy about.
In Udaipur, the Maharaja hosts a special Holika Dahan gathering at the City Palace for whom they welcome select guests (we can get you in). It’s is a unique insight into the royal customs in Rajasthan and is bound to be an unforgettable experience.
It’s worth noting that all monuments close for the day on Holi. If you’re in Rajasthan over the festival but prefer not to participate, you can always take a day to relax at the hotel.
When is Holi?
We celebrate Holi in March on the day after the full moon. Like Diwali, the date changes each year under the Hindu lunar calendar. This year, Holi fell on 10th March 2020. Next year, it’s the 29th.
Pushkar Camel Fair
The Pushkar Camel Fair is also known as the Pushkar Fair, or locally as the Pushkar Mela. It is an annual camel and livestock fair held in the otherwise sleepy town of Pushkar on the fringes of the Thar Desert. The origins of the festival are rooted in the buying and selling of camels. Nowadays, it evolved into a famous tourist attraction. Competitors such as the ‘longest moustache’ and ‘most beautiful camel’ have seen this once trade-focused event grow into a family fun affair drawing tourists and locals alike. There’s even a cricket match for locals vs tourists!
The festival is becoming increasingly commercial, but it offers a unique insight into the culture of Rajasthan. Those who’re keen to see a more authentic side should arrive a day or two early; that’s when the real trading takes place before the carnival-like atmosphere prevails. Over 400,000 people visit this epic two-week spectacle. It’s one of the most visited fairs in Rajasthan.
Where should I celebrate the Pushkar Fair?
Pushkar! Accommodation books up well in advance, so it’s important to plan early.
When is the Pushkar Camel Fair?
Like Diwali and Holi, the dates of the Pushkar Camel Fair change each year under the Hindu lunar calendar. But it always falls in October or November. In 2020, the Pushkar Camel Fair is from the 22nd – 30th November.
Pushkar slots conveniently into most tours of Rajasthan and is within easy reach of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur. For inspiration, please have a look at our proposed Pushkar Fair sample itinerary. But remember, all our tours are tailor-made, and no two are ever quite alike. All our sample itineraries merely serve as a starting point from which we can tweak or completely transform together.
Rajasthan is one of the most colourful and culturally rich states in India, and it’s never more apparent than the annual kite festival. A sky full of beautiful kites swirls around cultural dances and local musicians, celebrating a true embodiment of Rajasthan.
They say that the festival came about from a local desire to celebrate the end of winter. As the season turned, residents would take to their rooftops and spend hours basking in the sun. Friendly kite flying competitions got involved, and so the festival was born. Today, the whole region comes together to put on an incredible display. There’s nothing quite like seeing the clear blue sky peppered with hundreds of multicoloured kites as they dance through the air.
Where should I celebrate the kite festival?
The kite festival is the most exuberant in Jaipur.
When is the kite festival?
The kite festival falls on the 14th of January every year, which is the holy day of Makar Sankranti.
The Gangaur festival honours the goddess Gauri, and it’s all about celebrating love and marriage. Gauri is a manifestation of Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva. She represents purity and austerity. At the time of the Gangaur festival, married women worship her for the good health and longevity of their husbands; for unmarried women, they worship Gauri to bless them with a good husband.
Where should I celebrate the Gangaur festival?
Gangaur is one of Rajasthan’s most important festivals and it’s celebrated all over the state. The most notable events happen in Jaipur where there’s a grand parade. In Udaipur, there’s a boat procession and fireworks.
When is the Gangaur Festival?
Gangaur starts the day after Holi (March) and the rituals extend for 18 days. In 2020, the main event is on the 27th.
Other festivals in Rajasthan worth noting but probably not planning your itinerary around include:
- Dussehra: Dussehra commemorates the defeat of the demon king Ravan by Lord Rama in the holy Hindu epic The Ramayana. People celebrate with a procession of flaming effigies, fireworks, bonfires and theatrical reenactments. Like many festivals in Rajasthan, the date of Dussehra varies each year depending on the lunar calendar. Its typically in September or October. This year, it falls on 25th October 2020.
- Ganesh Chaturthi: The Ganesh Chaturthi festival celebrates the birth of the cherished Hindu elephant-headed deity, Lord Ganesha. It is celebrated with most abundance in Mumbai but is enjoyed in Rajasthan too, particularly in Jaipur. Idols of Ganesh are paraded through the streets and later submerged in water. It falls in September.
- Teej: Similar to the Gangaur festival, Teej is an important celebration for married women. It falls during the monsoon time (July/August). Women fast and pray together all night. The next morning, they bathe, dress up in their most exquisite sari and jewellery, and worship Goddess Parvati.
If you’d like to experience one of the best festivals in Rajasthan on your upcoming trip, do get in touch. As specialists in private, tailor-made tours of this specific region, we’d be an ideal match to assist with your arrangements.0