India is a land of many cultures and festivals. India’s diverse and rich cultures are an asset and source of many celebrations across the country. India is a host of various traditions and festivities coexisting with beliefs and celebrations. Each state of this vast land contributes in adding to the collection of distinctive festivals peculiar to India.
The connection India has with festivals, and their celebrations are the most unique globally. People from other countries come to visit India, especially during some particular occasions. Apart from the most popular cultural festivals, the different states of India have an abundance of other lesser-known festivals that must be experienced at least once. The lesser-known festivals are equally dynamic and colourful like the more renowned festivals.
Here in this article, we will discover the lesser-known festivals of India that you must experience once in your lifetime. These occasions have their unique charm and values that make them a crucial part of the respective cultures they belong to. Let us read on and find out what these festivals are, which culture or state they belong to, and how it has come to be celebrated in its unique style.
Starting with the extreme Northern part of India, Hemis Festival is unique to the land of Ladakh. Hemis Festival marks the birth anniversary of Padmasambhava, a spiritual leader who was the founder of Tibetan Buddhism.
Hemis Festival is a colourful, two-days celebration. The date of the celebration varies according to the Tibetan Lunar Calendar but is observed sometime in June. The festivity takes place on the 10th day of the Tibetan Lunar month. The locals celebrate this occasion with much grandeur. The Ladakh Gompa is the locus of the festivity where people arrive in their best attire. The valley of Ladakh turns into a colourful fiesta where devotees come to offer their prayers.
Every 12 years, an elaborate ‘thangka’ representing Guru Padmasambhava is exhibited. This adds more arrays of colours to the place. The entertainers wear beautiful brocade dresses and perform the special masked dance. The Hemis Festival is something to behold and must be experienced by people of other cultures at least once.
Suggested read – Festivals of Ladakh – Experience the Authentic Ladakhi Culture
Mim Kut Festival
Mim Kut Festival is authentic to the North-Eastern state of Mizoram. It is a harvesting festival celebrated between August and September. The festivities take place after the harvest of maize.
Mim Kut is a very joyful occasion. The festival highlights the rich folk culture of Mizoram. The locals perform their folk dances, sing their folk songs, and dress up in their most colourful clothes.
For those belonging to different cultures, you must witness this gaiety of Mim Kut. Along with enjoying the performances of the locals, one needs to enjoy the hearty tribal meal of the place. Sipping local rice beer, participating in the celebrations, and relishing the authentic delicacies is a must-try during the Mim Kut Festival.
Sume Gelirak Festival
Eastern India is famous for festivals like Durga Puja, Chatt Puja, and the likes. Sume Gelirak Festival, on the other hand, is a tribal and lesser-known festival of Odisha.
Sume Gelirak is a quintessential tribal festival of the Bondas of the Koraput tribe of Odisha. The tribe awaits this festival throughout the year. Sume Gelirak has a special meaning and holds a lot of value for the Bondas. The festival teaches the importance of friendship and love and is a liberating occasion for women to choose their life partners. The celebration contains dancing, singing, and offering sacrifices and liquor to the tribe’s deities to appease them. The Bondas are a secluded tribe. It is during this particular festival that they get to mingle with people of other communities around them.
Given the rustic appeal of the Sume Gelirak Festival, the tradition is the perfect opportunity for people to witness an authentic tribal celebration. Sume Gelirak is one such lesser-known festival of India that needs to be experienced by others. The festival takes place in January. For those of you interested in participating in the Sume Gerilak Festival, do not miss the opportunity and go and enjoy a beautiful tribal celebration.
Thaipusam Festival is a celebration observed in the state of Tamil Nadu. Ardent devotees of Lord Murugan participate in this festival. This festival is one of the unique festivals in India.
Thaipusam Festival can seem intimidating to people witnessing the celebration for the first time. The devotees participating in the festivities pierce their mouths and lips with sharp metal objects and spears. They also hook their skin to chains to pull the chariot to pay homage to the deity—the official priests commemorating the celebration walk on burning charcoal. The priests also carry the gods’ ornamented images over their heads, with other devotees sheltering them with colourful umbrellas.
Thaipusam has its charm and values. According to the Tamil month of Thai, the celebration takes place on a full moon day, usually in January. The devotees’ belief and faith make them immune to physical pain and happily carry on with the festivities. People must try and encounter this distinctive festival to know more about the diverse traditions India beholds.
Recommended Read – The Entrancing Festivals of Tamil Nadu You Must Experience
Champakkulam Boat Race
Champakkulam Boat Race is one of the oldest boat races in Kerala. Kerala and its backwaters are famous for boats. Boat races are an authentic part of the culture of Kerala.
Champakkulam Boat Race is a widely participated boat race of the state. Champakkulam is the oldest snake boat race. This particular race marks the beginning of the annual season of the boat races. The locus of the Champakkulam Boat Race is in Champakkulam in the district of Alappuzha. The Pampa River hosts the race. The large boats split across the river amidst a loud crowd cheering on the participants of each ship.
Witnessing the Champakkulam Boat Race is a lifetime experience. The synchronization of each participant rowing the boat, the neck-to-neck competition, and the melodic tune of folk songs sung by the participants to boost their energy beckons people to come to visit God’s own country. The boat race festival usually takes place in June or July, but the dates depend on the Malayalam calendar. For those keen on sports, visit Kerala this time of the year and get your first-hand experience of the Champakkulam Boat Race.
Uttarayan Festival is a kite festival famous in the Western part of India. It is a typical celebration in Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat. The festival has a poetic connotation that symbolizes the Sun’s northward journey.
Etymologically Uttarayan means ‘when the Sun starts its northward journey.’ According to Indian tradition, this period marks the end of winter. The Uttarayan Festival is a colourful affair with thousands of beautiful and artsy kites sporting in the sky. Various radiant kites amidst a backdrop of blue sky are characteristic of the Uttarayan Festival. During the nighttime, the black sky comes alive with stars and myriad paper lanterns. Locals and neighbours compete, and bouts of ‘kai po che’ exclamation are mandatory to point out the winners.
Uttarayan Festival usually takes place in January, but the actual date differs. The kite festival is slowly becoming so indigenous to the state that it has got international recognition. Again, one must not miss such a vivid affair with the Uttarayan Festival of flying kites and reminisce about the bygone days of childhood.
Ever heard of a festival where boys and girls choose their partners in a fair and with mutual consent, they elope to get married? Well, we present to you the Bhagoria Festival.
Bhagoria Festival is a distinctive marriage fair in the state of Madhya Pradesh. As unusual as the idea sounds, Bhagoria Festival is indeed an occasion for young people to select their partners and elope together for society to accept them as man and wife. The tradition is particular in the Khargone and Jhabua districts of Madhya Pradesh. The participants belong to the Bhil and Bhilala tribes. The festival continues for an entire week with a large haat set up on enormous fairgrounds. Bhagoria Festival is similar to the old tradition of Swayamvar. A boy who likes a girl approaches her and puts colour on her or offers her a paan. If the girl likes the boy, she puts a gulaal on the boy’s cheek or accepts the paan. After receiving each other, they elope, and later their families give their blessings to their marriage.
The Bhagoria Festival’s haat is set up seven days before the occasion of Holi. Bhagoria also marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring, taking place in March. This unusual festival and haat for marriage is a must experience for all to get the taste of old tradition which is a mix of Bollywood vibes.
The harmony of belief and its celebration is primitive to India’s heritage. To get a complete taste of India’s various cultures and festivals, it is beneficial for all to experience these lesser-known festivals. Sharing the unique, lesser-known tribal and community festivals can amplify one’s knowledge about the dynamic cultures of India.