Carnival, February or March
Ganesh Chaturthi, August or September
Navratri & Dussehra, September or October
Diwali, October or November
Postmonsoon cool lingers, although it never gets truly cool in the most southerly states. Pleasant weather and several festivals make it a popular time to travel (book ahead!).
Republic Day commemorates the founding of the Republic of India on 26 January 1950.
Sankranti, the Hindu festival marking the sun’s passage into Capricorn and the end of the harvest, is celebrated with mass kite-flying in Maharashtra, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh (among other states).
In Tamil Nadu the Pongal festival marks the end of the harvest season. Families prepare pots of pongal (a mixture of rice, sugar, dhal and milk), symbolic of prosperity and abundance, then feed them to decorated cows.
On Vasant Panchami, the 'fifth day of spring', Hindus dress in yellow and place books, instruments and other educational objects in front of idols of Saraswati, the goddess of learning, to receive her blessing. May fall in February.
The weather is comfortable in most areas, with summer heat starting to percolate in the south. It’s still peak travel season.
This day of Hindu fasting recalls the tandava (cosmic victory dance) of Lord Shiva. Temple processions are followed by the chanting of mantras and anointing of linga (phallic images of Shiva). Can also fall in March.
Carnival in Goa
The four-day party kicking off Lent is particularly big in Goa, especially in Panaji (Panjim). Sabado Gordo (Fat Saturday) starts it off with elaborate parades, and the revelry continues with street parties, concerts and general merrymaking. Can also fall in March.
In Maharashtra, Nasik's biggest party is three wine-fuelled days at Sula Vineyards, which has become one of India's best boutique music festivals.
The last month of the travel season, March is full-on hot in most of India.
Mumbaikars and other southerners embrace this mostly northern festival, an ecstatic Hindu celebration at the beginning of spring (February or March, according to the lunar calendar), by throwing coloured water and gulal (powder) at everyone and everything.
During Ramanavami, which lasts anywhere from one to nine days, Hindus celebrate Rama's birth with processions, music, fasting and feasting, enactments of scenes from the Ramayana, and ceremonial weddings of Rama and Sita idols.
The hot has well and truly arrived in South India, and with the rise in temperature also comes a rise in competitive travel deals and a drop in tourist traffic.
In April or late March, Mahavir Jayanti commemorates the birth of Jainism’s 24th and most important tirthankar (teacher and enlightened being). Temples are decorated and visited, Mahavir statues are given ritual baths, processions are held and offerings are given to the poor.
In most of the country it’s hot. Really hot. Which makes it high season in Ooty (Udhagamandalam), Kodaikanal (Kodai) and the south's other hill stations. Festivals slow down as humidity builds up in anticipation of the rain.
Thirty days of dawn-to-dusk fasting mark the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Ramadan begins around 26 May 2017, 16 May 2018 and 6 May 2019.
The monsoon begins in most areas, and where it doesn't you've got premonsoon extreme heat, so June’s not a popular travel month in South India.
Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan with three days of festivities. Prayers, shopping and gift-giving may all be part of the celebrations. Around 26 June 2017, 15 June 2018 and 5 June 2019.
It’s really raining almost everywhere, with many remote roads being washed out. Consider doing a rainy-season meditation retreat, an ancient Indian tradition.
It’s still high monsoon season: wet, wet, wet. Some folks swear by visiting tropical areas like Kerala or Goa at this time of year: the jungles are lush, bright green and glistening in the rain.
Naag Panchami, particularly vibrant in Pune and Kolhapur, Maharashtra, is dedicated to Ananta, the serpent upon whose coils Vishnu rested between universes. Women fast at home, while serpents are venerated as totems warding off evils. Dates: 27 July 2017, 15 August 2018 and 5 August 2019.
This public holiday, on 15 August, marks the anniversary of India’s independence from Britain in 1947. Celebrations include flag-hoisting ceremonies, parades and patriotic cultural programs.
Janmastami celebrations range from fasting to puja (prayers) and offering sweets, to drawing elaborate rangoli (rice-paste designs) outside homes. Held around 14 August 2017, 3 September 2018 and 23 August 2019.
Parsi New Year
Parsis celebrate Pateti, the Zoroastrian new year, especially in Mumbai (Bombay). Houses are cleaned and decorated with flowers and rangoli, the family dresses up and eats special fish dishes and sweets, and offerings are made at the Fire Temple.
Nehru Trophy Boat Race
On the second Saturday of August, this fiercely contested regatta sees 40m-long Chundan Vallams (snake boats) go head-to-head, powered by up to 100 rowers each, on Punnamada Lake near Alappuzha (Alleppey, Kerala). Quite a spectacle.
Muslims commemorate Ibrahim’s readiness to sacrifice his son to God by slaughtering a goat or sheep and sharing it with family, the community and the poor. Around 1 September 2017, 20 August 2018 and 10 August 2019.
The rain begins to ease up somewhat, but with temperatures still relatively high throughout southern India the moisture-filled air can create a fatiguing steam-bath-like environment.
Hindus celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi, the birth of the elephant-headed god, by displaying decorative statues of him on many streets then parading them around town before ceremonially depositing them in rivers, lakes, reservoirs or the sea. Particularly riotous in Mumbai. Dates: 25 August 2017, 13 September 2018 and 2 September 2019.
Kerala's biggest cultural celebration, a 10-day Hindu soirée glorifying the golden age of mythical King Mahabali, is celebrated at the beginning of the first month of the Malayalam Calendar (August or September).
The southeast coast (and southern Kerala) can still be rainy, but this is when India starts to get its travel mojo on.
The national holiday of Gandhi Jayanti (2 October) is a solemn celebration of Mohandas Gandhi’s birth, with prayer meetings at his cremation site in Delhi, and no alcohol on sale countrywide.
The Hindu ‘Festival of Nine Nights’ leading up to Dussehra celebrates the goddess Durga in all her incarnations. Festivities, in September or October, are particularly vibrant in Maharashtra.
Colourful Dussehra celebrates the victory of the Hindu god Rama over the demon-king Ravana and the triumph of good over evil. Dussehra is big in Mysuru (Mysore), which hosts one of India’s grandest parades. Falls around 30 September 2017, 19 October 2018 and 8 October 2019.
Shiite Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Imam Hussain, an event during this Islamic month of grieving and remembrance known as Ashura. The 10th day brings beautiful processions, especially in Hyderabad. Dates: 20 September 2017, 10 September 2018 and 30 August 2019.
Festival of Lights
In the lunar month of Kartika, Hindus celebrate Diwali for five days, giving gifts, lighting fireworks, drawing colourful rangoli and burning butter and oil lamps (or hanging lanterns) to lead Lord Rama home from exile. Dates: 19 October 2017, 7 November 2018 and 27 October 2019.
The northeast monsoon is sweeping Tamil Nadu and Kerala, but it's a good time to be anywhere low altitude, as the temperatures are generally pleasant.
Guru Nanak’s Birthday
Nanak Jayanti, birthday of Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism, is celebrated with prayer, kirtan (devotional singing) and processions for three days. Around 4 November 2017, 23 November 2018 and 12 November 2019.
The International Film Festival of India (www.iffi.nic.in), the country's biggest movie jamboree, attracts Bollywood’s finest to Panaji, Goa, for premieres, parties and screenings.
The Prophet's Birthday
The Islamic festival of Eid-Milad-un-Nabi celebrates the birth of the Prophet Mohammed with prayers and processions. Around 30 November 2017, 21 November 2018 and 10 November 2019. May also fall in December.
Celebrating Shiva's restoration of light to the world, this festival is especially massive at Tiruvannamalai, where Shiva appeared atop Mt Arunachala as a lingam of fire. Throngs of pilgrims converge on the town for the full-moon night (2 December 2017, 23 November 2018 and 10 December 2019).
December is peak tourist season for a reason: the weather is lovely, the humidity is lower than usual, the mood is festive and the beach is simply sublime.
Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on 25 December. The festivities are especially big in Goa and Kerala, with musical events, elaborate decorations and special Masses, while Mumbai’s Catholic neighbourhoods become festivals of lights.
Many festivals follow the astrological-based Indian lunar calendar or the Islamic calendar (which moves about 11 days earlier each year), and therefore change annually relative to the Gregorian calendar. Contact local tourist offices for exact festival dates.