Mumbaikars don’t need much of an excuse to party. Whether it be a nationwide religious holiday or local church fete, events in the city are marked throughout the year with immense gusto, often drawing hundreds (if not thousands) of people out to celebrate together.
Visiting Mumbai during frenetic festival time – with the added crowds and noise – might seem a little daunting, but this is a chance to see the city at its most enlivened. Whether you’re into movies or music, art or wine, join the fun at one of these spectacular Mumbai festivals.
Elephanta Festival (January; Elephanta Caves)
It’s hard to image a more impressive setting for a music festival than the ancient, Unesco-listed Hindu cave temples on Elephanta Island. The two-day Elephanta Festival is a joyous celebration of Indian classical music and traditional dance and art, with added activities such as a family treasure hunt, and sculpting and painting workshops for visitors who wish to learn more about local culture and customs. It normally starts with events around the Gateway of India on day one, before moving to Elephanta Island for the second day.
SulaFest (February; Nashik)
An easy detour from Mumbai by bus or train, this annual coming together of wine lovers has brought much attention to India’s increasingly sophisticated wine industry. Held in the vineyards of Nashik, the SulaFest celebrations feature performances by acclaimed bands and musicians, and tons of wines, cheese and food. The grape smashing ritual is a favourite part of the celebrations, and other activities include tattoo sessions, dancing and shopping at local pop-up stores.
Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (February; Kala Ghoda)
Come to Mumbai in February and the heritage district of Kala Ghoda in South Mumbai becomes a kaleidoscope of colourful street art for the annual Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. As well as visual arts, there are cinematic workshops, live music shows, festival foods and performing arts sessions, appealing to people of all ages. If you like poetry, painting, pottery, photography, pop music or just a party mood, it shouldn’t be missed.
Krishna Janmasthmi (August; city-wide)
Celebrated all over the city, the birthday of Lord Krishna feels almost like a sporting event, testing the agility and teamwork of the youngsters who take part in the celebrations. Scores of young men – symbolising the gopalas (cowherds) who Krishna lived amongst when he came to earth in human form – create giant human pyramids in an attempt to be the first group to lay claim to clay urns filled with goodies and cash which are suspended from cables above the streets, while women pour down buckets of water to stop them from climbing. It’s a homage to the legend of the infant Krishna stealing butter from the rafters of the village dairy.
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Ganesh Chaturthi (August or September; city-wide)
The annual Hindu festival is the city’s most important bash, and one of India’s most colourful spectacles. During this 11-day affair – celebrating Mumbai’s most adored deity, the elephant-headed god Ganesh – homes, offices and public pandals (ceremonial tents) are filled with dioramas of deities and contemporary events that have captured the public mood, from the latest Bollywood movie releases to recent political controversies. At the conclusion of the festival, grand processions of hundreds of devotees and musical bands parade multi-hued idols of Ganesh in all shapes and sizes through the city streets. The processions lead down to the ocean, creeks and tanks, where the deities are ritually immersed in the waters. If you attend the festival, consider joining the large beach and river clean-up efforts that proceed the celebrations.
Symphony Orchestra of India (September; National Centre for the Performing Arts)
The autumn concerts of the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI) at Mumbai’s National Centre for the Performing Arts feature great musicians from across the globe, showcasing the works of composers such as Beethoven, Mozart and Sibelius. The SOI is India’s first and only professional symphony orchestra, and the event is seen as a forum for exploring common ground between the different cultures and languages of the world.
MAMI Mumbai Film Festival (October-November; city-wide)
Run by the Mumbai Academy of Moving Images, this international film festival has been around for a long time now, gaining international fame. As you’d expect from a film festival in the home of Bollywood, this is an important meet for India’s mainstream, independent and unconventional cinema makers, as well as visiting movie stars and celebrity directors. With screenings at movie theatres across the city, you can enjoy some of the finest international, national and regional productions, from epic feature films to quirky shorts.
NH7 Weekender (December; Pune)
One of the biggest music festivals in the country, the NH7 Weekender is a two-day rock-out in Pune that brings together some of India’s top musical stalwarts, folk artists and budding Indie-rock bands. As well as the top-notch music, many come here for the shopping, with all sorts of things on sale from local designers, artisans and traders. Get here by bus or train from Mumbai.