Dates: Indian lunar month of Bhadra (August/September). 28 Aug 2013; 17 Aug 2014; 5 Sep 2015.
Level of participation: 3 - offer puja (prayer) with the pilgrims
Held on the eighth day of the Krishnapaksha (‘dark fortnight’), when the moon is waning, this mass pilgrimage kicks off an intense season of festivities, even by Hindu standards. It’s a birthday party for Lord Krishna, the blue-skinned incarnation of Vishnu.
The anniversary is celebrated throughout India, but nowhere more enthusiastically than in Mathura, Krishna’s birthplace. The pilgrims who come to the northern city, 140km south of Delhi, fast all day and cram into temples at night. They chant Sanskrit hymns, ring bells, blow conch shells (a symbol of Vishnu) and read from the Bhagavad Gita, which is narrated by Krishna. Flames flicker during the Aarthi ritual, in which lighted wicks, soaked in camphor or ghee (golden butterfat), are offered to statues of the deity. Cradles and statues of Balgopal, the boy Krishna, decorate the temples. The ceremonies, intended to relive the famous birth, conclude around midnight, by which time the flute-playing god would have been born.
In southern India, residents paint a trail of tiny footprints, using flour and water, leading from their front door to the inner meditation chamber. This creates a sense that Krishna has paid a visit.
Local attractions: see the slab of rock in Kesava Deo Temple where, Hindus believe, Krishna was born 3500 years ago.
See other top festivals in September here.