14 Festivals of Karnataka You Must Experience to Understand Its Culture

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Festivals of Karnataka
Image/Balasubramanya Bhat/Flickr

Who doesn’t love festivals? They bring everyone together and remain to be a true celebration of the culture and legacy of a place. The delicious food prepared doesn’t bother either. Festivals remain synonymous with excitement and happiness and when it comes to the incredible festivals of Karnataka, it is either go big or go home. Let us dive deep and acquire more knowledge about the culture of Karnataka, beautifully reflected by various holy as well as seasonal festivals:

1. Mysore Dasara

Festivals of Karnataka-Mysore Dasara
Image/Vijaya Kumar R/Flickr

Let us begin this colorful journey with Karnataka’s very own state celebration: Mysore Dasara, which memorializes the triumph of good over evil. This is a ten-day event that concludes on Vijayadashami, the day when the devil Mahishasura was defeated by Chamundeshwari (Hindu Goddess), per legend. Karnataka simply glows up with decorations resulting in it becoming a must-see during Dasara. The main event is the grand, in truly every sense of the word, the procession from Mysore Palace to Bannimantap. People dressed in vibrant clothing performing, the marching elephants who can only be described as majestic, and the fanfare of people gathered to behold this marvel in person is what attracts tourists from throughout the world to stay in Karnataka during Mysore Dasara.

2. Hampi Festival

Festivals of Karnataka-Hampi Festival
Image/Flickr

The Hampi Festival (also known as Vijaya Utsav) rejoices the town’s rich history and typically occurs in October or sometimes even November. It honors the birth anniversary of renowned poet Purandaradasa. With the delightful vestige of Hampi filling in, as the marvelous scenery, the festivities happen yearly at the Virupaksha Temple. ‘Janpada Kala Vahini’ might just be one of the finest functions of this festival which involves various folk performances. Another appeal of this festival is the elephant march or the Jumbo Safari. Furthermore, it is graced by the presence of several renowned instrumentalists as it is, after all, considered a salute to the arts. The Hampi festival draws tourists from all around the world and is even thought to be the cultural center of Karnataka.

 3. Gowri Festival

Festivals of Karnataka-Gowri Festival
Image/Wikimedia

This exciting festival falls just a day before Ganesh Chaturthi and commemorates Lord Shiva’s wife and the mother of Lord Ganesha, the Goddess Gowri who is revered throughout the county for her capability to provide vigor and bravery to her devotees. The incarnation of Adi Shakti Mahamaya is thought to be the mightiest of all goddesses. In her remembrance, women dress in traditional clothing paired off with gorgeous jewelry. They perform a puja with suchi or cleanliness and devoutness for the goddess where she is offered a ‘bagina’ which consists of kum-kum, turmeric, bangles, rice, dal, etc. Another special attribute of this festival is that wedded women receive a gift called ‘Gauri Habadda’ from their family.

 4. Ganesh Chaturthi

Festivals-of-Karnataka-Ganesha-Habba
Image – Nicolas Mirguet/Flickr

Now we move on to a festival I am sure we’re all familiar with, Ganesh Chaturthi. This festival typically occurs between August to September. During the ten-day festivities (from Shukla Chaturthi to Anant Chaturdashi), you can see temples throughout Karnataka beautifully ornamented with flowers along with clay models/sculptures of Lord Ganesh to commemorate his resurrection to life. The principal dessert of this festival is Modak which is said to be loved by Ganesh (and everyone else!). Karanji is yet another famous sweet prepared for this celebration. Every shrine and every home worships Lord Ganesh during these auspicious ten days after which he is submerged into the water.

5. Pattadakal Festival

Festivals of Karnataka-Pattadakal Dance Festival
Image/Wikimedia

The rural town of Pattadakal was the Chalukyas’ secondary capital and is renowned for its shrines which are a definite must-see because of their magnificent carvings and constructions, of which the majority are devoted to Lord Shiva. The shrines also beautifully reflect the characteristics of the architecture of the Chalukyas. This commemoration rejoices in their beauty and wonder. Various fine art and dance events take place which attracts performers as well as tourists from the entire country. It usually occurs in January and continues for three days. The Craft Mela, which showcases the handicrafts of the region, is the spot-to-be for any art lover.

6. Ugadi

Festivals of Karnataka - Ugadi

Ugadi or Gudi Padwa is another extremely infamous festival of Karnataka that observes the new year as per the Hindu calendar. It commemorates the ‘beginning of the new age’ of the Telugu and Kannada people. It typically falls in either March or April. People shop in large amounts during this time and it is also regarded as a favorable occasion to commence a new business. The residents of Karnataka clean and decorate their homes. Furthermore, they wake up early on the day and wear traditional apparel along with jewelry. They go to temples to pray and consume a special meal referred to as ‘Bevu Bella’ which consists of Neem flowers, un-ripened mango, salt, green chilies, and jaggery.

7. Karaga Festival

Festivals of Karnataka-Karaga
Image/Wikimedia

This incredible festival is predominantly remembered by the Vashnikula Kshatriyas Thigala society (society of gardeners) in the memory of Goddess Shakti and takes place at the famed Dharmarayaswami Temple. The demonstration involving an earthen pot, ornamented with flowers, borne over Goddess Shakti’s head is the main appeal of this festival. According to legend, near the conclusion of the Mahabharata, a sight of hell was unconcealed to the Pandavas and at that point, Tripurasura, a demon, was not dead. Draupadi bore the form of Shakti to overthrow the demon with the support of an army of troopers (The Veerakumaras) who asked Draupadi to stay back with them. The folks of the Thigala society consider themselves to be their descendants and it is deemed that each year at the time of the Karaga Festival, Draupadi comes back to visit them.

8. Kambala Festival

Festivals of Karnataka-Kambala Festival
Image/Wikimedia

The Kambala Festival might be arguably the most exciting of festivals celebrated in Karnataka. This buffalo race is a yearly event that starts in November and ends in March and is praised for its individuality. The spectators truly get a thrill out of watching this race which occurs at Mangalore. In this amazing race, two buffaloes are attached via a plough and they run splashing through the mud while being secured by a farmer. This festival is a symbolization of the commencement of the yielding season.

9. Vairamudi Utsavam

Festivals-of-Karnataka-Vairamudi-Utsavam
Image Courtesy – Gangadhar Channa

This festival honours Lord Cheluvu Narayana and is held every year in Melukote, Mandya district. The Vairamudi (diamond crown) donned by the goddess is a highlight of the event. The crown has a specific meaning and should not be exposed to direct sunlight. It is carefully preserved, and in the evening, the temple’s top priest lays the crown on the deity’s head, followed by a magnificent procession. This procession continues into the early hours of the morning. It brings the quiet town of Melukote to life with its grandeur and majesty. The celebration lasts 13 days, and preparations begin a month in advance. For Vaishnavites or worshippers of Lord Vishnu, this is a significant event. The big event takes place in the months of March and April, and it is entirely funded by the district government. Every year, nearly 400,000 devotees attend this event.

10. Tula Sankramana

Festivals-of-Karnataka-Tula-Sankramana
Image – Yathin DA

Tula Sankramana is the first day of the Kodava community’s Toleyar month. The Kannadiga people revere the Cauvery River, which has a notable meaning for them. The festival is held to celebrate the rice harvesting season. On this day, it is said that the goddess Cauvery emerges from the water to bless her worshippers. Thousands of people gather near the Talacauvery river on this day to see the rising water levels. They then bathe in the sacred river, which is thought to be auspicious. Around 100,000 people from all across Karnataka assemble in the Kodagu district on the 17th of October to take part in the celebrations.

11. Mahamastakabhisheka (Shravanabelagola)

Festivals-of-Karnataka-Mahamastakabhisheka
Image – Pratyk321/Wikimedia

Every 12 years, in the town of Shravanabelagola in Karnataka, India, a very important Jain festival is conducted. The 17.3736-meter-tall statue of Siddha Bahubali is sanctified during the event. As the ceremony gets underway, devotees shower blessed holy water on those who have come to participate. The statue is then washed in liquids like milk, sugarcane juice, saffron paste, and sandalwood, turmeric, and vermilion powder. To reach the massive statue, the Jain nuns hike up the Vindhyagiri highlands.

Petals, gold and silver coins, and valuable stones are among the offerings presented to the figure. The event in 2006 concluded with a flower shower from a helicopter onto the monument, which spectators jumped up to capture as a blessing. The last time this festival was held was in 2018.

12. Kannada Rajyotsava

Kannada flag

On November 1st, 1956, the state of Karnataka was established. The Karnataka state flag is hoisted by the Chief Minister of the state, and the governor addresses the people of the state on this day (a declared state holiday). The official yellow and red state flag is frequently seen flying over various government and private establishments. A cultural gala is usually held in a huge stadium, and numerous prizes are presented to persons who have excelled in their disciplines. The Chief Minister also bestows the Rajyotsava award, which is the highest state honour. Traditional dances are performed, the state flag is hoisted everywhere, and sweets are handed out. Karnataka residents of all faiths take pride in the holiday and celebrate it joyfully.

13. Sri Vithappa Fair

Folk dance of Karnataka
Dollu Kunita Dance – Wikimedia

Sri Vithappa Fair is one of Karnataka’s most well-known fairs and festivals. Every year on the 14th or 15th day of the month of Aswija, the celebration is held. The fair, which has been held in the town of Vithappa for over 200 years, is a yearly event. It is a three-day festival in honour of Lord Vithappa, which includes a spectacular parade with a palanquin carrying the god’s idol and drummers. The fair attracts people from neighbouring towns, and an animal is sacrificed in front of the god. The fair is of enormous religious and cultural significance, and it attracts people from all across the country. Puja is held throughout the festival, followed by a parade.

14. Makara Sankranti

Harvest-Festivals-of-India-Sankranti-Special

In Karnataka and other parts of India, this is also one of the most well-known festivities. Makara Sankranti is a three-day event that heralds the start of the harvest season dedicated to the Sun God. The first day of the month is known as Boghi, and it is the last day of the Margashirsha month, during which all of the household’s old goods and clothing are burned. To greet the new month, the residences are decked with rangoli and a new vessel for preparing traditional sweets is introduced to the family. People make offerings to the gods, wear new clothes, and eat foods like Sweet Pongal, Sankranti Yellu, Payasa, Vade, and so on on the day of Sankranti. On the festival’s final day, rituals are performed to thank and pray for the cattle known as Kanu Pongal.

Ask a hundred people why we celebrate festivals and you might receive a hundred different answers. I choose to believe that it is because it gives us a reason to bond with our family, to come together and honour something that plays a vital role in our lives, our culture along with breaking the monotony of our everyday lives and relaxing in the haven of enjoyment created around us.

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