Best festivals of India: Foreigner’s perspective living in India

Best Festivals of India

One more time: re-living the moments. The original article was posted in November 2020. As the Diwali festival is tomorrow, I want to re-live the moments with you. I am so happy we managed to return to India on time and we will celebrate Deepavali all together. Have a wonderful Diwali, a life full of light, blessings, and joy!


Best festivals of India. Living in India gives me an opportunity to experience and witness the local culture, traditions, food and daily life. It is amazing how the world, on one hand, is so similar and on the other hand so interestingly & surprisingly different.

What differentiates India? Colors, diversity, incredible nature, spices, traffic, sarees, bollywood, yoga… and festivals. So many festivals! I do not know if the actual number of festivals celebrated in India is even known. One is sure: they are so unique and amazing to experience! Join me for a virtual travel to India. Enjoy with me 3 best festivals of #incredibleindia. Wear some nice clothes, sit down and get ready to travel virtually & smile! You won’t regret it!

FESTIVALS OF INDIA

India is the land of diversity. Each state (there are 29 of them) has its unique culture, art and traditions. If you are yet to visit India for the first time, check my two previous articles, India from A to Z, Part 1 and Part 2. Visiting India, one can notice that the common thing for all the states is the celebration of culture and traditions. Festivals are the best form of it.

The greatness of a culture can be found in its festivals. 

Siddharth Katragadda

Every festival has its own rituals and characteristics. Indian festivals are celebrated season-wise and state-wise. Many dates are movable, very often following lunar calendar. Events take place to honor a deity, religious story or to celebrate the agriculture cycle. People gather to share happiness and strengthen the bond between family and friends.

Diwali's Rangoli
Diwali’s Rangoli

Some of the festivals in India are very unique, for example:

Snake Boat Race Festival – Kerala

Unusual festival in India based on its format, extreme competitiveness and super popularity of the snake boats race. The race is like a real battle.

Thimithi – Tamil Nadu

Thimithi or fire-walking festival is to honor goddess Draupadi, worshippers walk barefoot on burning coal.

Nag Panchami – All over India

Nag Panchami is a popular festival in India but very unusual for foreign visitors. Devotees offer milk and turmeric to snakes on this day.

3 BEST FESTIVALS OF INDIA

My first visit to India took place back in 2009, already 11 years ago. With 14 visits to India and nearly 2 years of living here I had many opportunities to join Indian festivals and celebrations. Including the best one – of course – my own marriage. 😀 If you missed those stories, you can read them here. Keeping marriage aside this time.

What are my 3 favorite festivals in India? Answer is easy: Holi, Karva Chauth and Diwali! I know that there are many articles that talk about Indian festivals. What I want to share with you is my perspective, foreigner’s one who lives in India. Today let’s talk about Diwali. Join me next two weeks to hear about Karva Chauth & Holi.

DIWALI

WHAT IS IT

Diwali (or Deepavali), the festival of lights, is the most awaited and the most celebrated festival in India. It is all about joy, splendor and brightness. Word ‘deepavali’ comes from the Sanskrit, it means a row of lights. People have been celebrating it since time immemorial. Diwali is revered 20 days after Lord Ram killed Ravana (Dusshera) and rescued Sita from captivity in Lanka. The festival marks the return of Lord Ram to Ayodha after 14 years of exile.

Diwali is celebrated five days (between mid-October and mid-November), on a nation-wide scale. The key rituals of the festival take place on the third day. They include: lighting of diyas, candles and lights all around the house, worshipping the Laxmi Ganesha praying for health and wealth and bursting fireworks. Additionally, people exchange gifts, usually sweets, showing each other love and care. Deepavali celebration includes delicious food, not to forget different varieties of sweets.

Best Festivals of India Ethnic Dress

MY DIWALI

Diwali is the first Indian festival that I experienced during my travels and living in India. Already 7 years ago, by now marking 4 Diwali festivals celebrated in the country.

Somehow in my head, knowing that Diwali is one of the biggest festivals, I do subconscious comparison to Christmas. Yes, maybe wrong but all the lights decorations match so well together. The key difference when I think of both: Diwali is peaceful, it is slower (you can just lie down and watch TV during the day or clean the house – up to you) and focused on evening activities. Christmas is crazy in preparation: cleaning, cooking, again cleaning and cooking. It seems that till Christmas dinner no one at home can relax or slow down.

Ok, keeping Christmas aside, let’s look at Diwali! Practical insights and tips for the festival!

diwali in practice – during the day

Diwali Traditional Dresses
  • Usually 2-3 days before Diwali buildings and houses get decorated with lights; in contrast to Xmas in Europe, interestingly, lights are removed after 2-3 days
  • During the day families and friends often meet each other to gift Diwali sweets
  • All shop & businesses remain opened, no one closes at 3-4 pm to celebrate Diwali (I’m used to it during Xmas), simply: life goes on!
  • I mentioned that Diwali is slower, yet many families do full cleaning of their houses or even repaint houses few days in advance
  • Some families pray (poojas) during the day
  • People love to wear new and special, traditional, clothes during Diwali
  • During the day some people do ‘rangoli’ (colorful designs done using flowers and colorful powders) outside of their homes
  • In the late afternoon people keep diyas (small candle lights) at home, some people hand paint them on Diwali or in advance

DIWALI IN PRACTICE – IN THE EVENING

Best Festivals of India Pooja Prayer
  • In the evening family gathers to do evening prayers (pooja), it should finish by a specific time (based on the lunar calendar)
  • After pooja the family follows with special dinner and bursting fireworks (in India all people call them crackers)
  • Typical dinner includes: puri and potato curry (aloo bhaji) and kheer as dessert
  • During Diwali dinner (also next days) the overall selection of food is not big, however food is heavy (plenty of ghee, oil and sugar)
  • Each state decides on fireworks hours, it might be, for example: 10 pm or midnight
  • Fireworks are burst by individual families, there no central government / city driven firework shows
  • Close family members gift each other for Diwali only sweets (usually motichur laddoo, find the recipe here)
  • During Diwali evenings many families go for the car drive to see the city’s Diwali lights

DIWALI IN PRACTICE – next days

  • The day after Diwali streets of India are extra dirty: full of garbage after fireworks bursting
  • One day after Diwali Govardhan festival takes place, it is famous for annkut food (7 dishes)
  • Two days later it is Bhai Dooj festival, all it means: more and more food! Yummy baatis are made (find the recipe here)

DIWALI DURING PANDEMIC

This year, due to Coronavirus, many regions, including Karnataka (where we live) banned normal fireworks usage; in Karnataka only green fireworks between 8 – 10 pm could have been used. Overall, as many corporations have their employees working from home or businesses are impacted by the pandemic, the number of lights in the city were less. This time it was more about lights decorating individual houses, society buildings and… hospitals.

Diwali fireworks

FESTIVAL’S TIP

The key tip for Diwali, also knowing it is 5 days festival, is to get ready for the feast & food! Few days in advance: eat less, avoid heavy or oily food. There is a chance of getting your weight changed, yes – on plus. Also, as there will be many different varieties of food and specialties each day, don’t overeat on Diwali. Next days will bring more food on your way!

EXPERIENCE DIWALI – DATES TO SAVE

  • 2021: 4th Nov (Thu)
  • 2022: 24th Oct (Mon)
  • 2023: 14th Nov (Tue)

Want to learn more about Diwali? Click here.

And remember, join me next week to read about Karva Chauth. Potentially less known festival, yet my favorite! At home or on the road, we can virtually discover India together.


Have you had a chance to celebrate any of Indian festivals? If yes, which one is your favorite? If not yet, which one would you like to experience most? Share below! Remember, sharing is caring!

Moments that matter, no matter the festival.

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