India is a land where religion and its beliefs rule the gallows. Since ancient times, they have been at their prime and have created a long-lasting impact on the people, which the ultra-modern theories of the West failed to do. Over time, the spiritual connection with the almighty has given rise to some most unusual festivals and events that are to be strictly followed to restore balance in religion.
while some others left us with a big question, are these traditional rituals, which are practiced in the name of religion of any good? This question of substance in our rituals leaves us wondering about a list of certain most unusual festivals in India and some crazily bizarre events, that must be given a good thought.
Most Unusual Festivals in India
Rural Olympic (Kila Raipur Punjab)
What should I call it? A sports bonanza, a competition, or just a fun-filled rural event. Whatever people love to call it, it surely attracts domestic and international tourists from around the globe. Here ‘It’ refers to the Kila Raipur Sports festival, one of the most unusual festivals in India which has become a well-known name on the streets of Punjab.
Contrary to the association of its name with Raipur, the festival is held every year in Ludhiana in February. Like the usual Olympics, Kila Raipur includes events in Athletics, Hockey, Kabaddi, and Weight lifting.
An interesting part of the festival is events like the Bullock cart race, the Mule cart race, the dog race, and the Tractor race, which leave spectators cheering with all their hearts. You must be thinking that these events would be just a rural affair, but against your imagination, the Kila Raipur festival receives sponsorship from multinational companies.
Although there are many rural festivals celebrated in India, the Kila Raipur in Punjab stays unmatched. Read More
Dahi Handi (Mumbai, Maharashtra)
Dahi Handi is one of the most favorite festivals among Mumbaikers, and probably of Bollywood too, as it is shown in many of its films. Commencing on the festival of Janmashtami, the Dahi Handi festival involves playing a replica of Lord Krishna stealing butter from an earthen pot, tied to a height, when he was a child. This is done by different groups, trying to make a stable human pyramid, to break the earthen pot for curd, just like the Lord used to do with the help of his friends.
‘Govinda Ala Re’ used to be an enchanting word during the processions of the Dahi Handi festival in Mumbai. A very popular festival in the whole of Maharashtra, and especially in Mumbai, the festival is a part of Gokulashtami (Krishna Janmashtami), which is celebrated with full zeal and enthusiasm. So, the next time you travel to Mumbai in August, do not forget to be a spectator of this Dahi Handi festival.
[ Read More about Fairs and Festivals in Maharashtra ]
Rath Yatra (Puri, Orrisa)
Puri in Orrisa is the land of the highly reputed Lord Jagannath, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Every year, to promote equality and integration, Puri celebrates its world-renowned festival, Rath Yatra which is believed to be attended by more than a million pilgrims from across the country.
This unusual yet popular festival in Puri is celebrated during June or July. The prime face of this festival is the chariots in which the three deities of the Hindu religion, Lord Jagannath, Lord Bhalabhadra, and Subhadra are given a ride, or in other words, they make a journey to Gundicha temple, the deity of which is believed to be the aunt of the three.
All three deities are given three different chariots or ‘Rathas’, and this is the time when pilgrims can have a look at them. Even a glimpse of these deities is considered fortunate and it’s the Rath Yatra only which brings out the idols of the deities in the open, in the eyes of the general public. These sacred idols are replaced with new ones after every twelve years, while the chariots are constructed every year.
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Dusshera festival in India is mainly celebrated by Hindus and It is celebrated across the country with different names. However, this festival has a whole new definition in Delhi. It all starts with the Ramlila event, which is an enactment of the famous epic Ramayana at different grounds of Delhi.
The Ramlila or the story of Lord Rama continues for several days, primarily for a week and it includes episodes of Goddess Sita’s abduction by demon king Ravana, which ultimately culminated in his killing by Lord Rama. Thus, the prime reason for the festival is the annihilation of evil by the hands of God. Ramlila ends with the setting up of huge effigies of Ravana and his brothers on fire.
[Read More About Dusshera Festival]
Lots of fireworks mark the end of the Dussehra festival. What an amazing way to complete a celebration. Sometimes the Mela continues for a couple of days even after the main event, allowing people to enjoy rides and celebrations some more.
Lath Mar Holi (Barsana, Vrindavan)
Holi as you all know, is a festival of colors. People from all walks of life paint each other’s faces with colors and gradually it turns into a merry-making affair. All this sounds so wonderful and lively. But what if some women chase you with a stick and beat you here and there? Sounds terrifying, isn’t it? Well, the men of Barsana in Mathura do not fear these Lathis and celebrate it as a local festival known as Lath Mar Holi.
Played just before the actual Holi day, Lath Mar Holi is a unique way of celebrating this colorful occasion. The reason behind bearing these sticks by the men of Barsana is that in Hindu Mythology, Lord Krishna visited the village of his beloved Radha on this very day and in this, he playfully teased Radha and her friends.
Due to this, the angry ladies of Barsana chased the Lord away. As a mark of this event, every year the Lath Mar Holi becomes a prime attraction in this part of the world. As part of the ritual, men sing provocative songs to invite the women, which in turn results in their bashing. Well, the men usually stay under the influence of ‘Bhang’ mixed Thandai during that time, which kind of saves them from the pain caused by the Lathis.
Ganesh Chaturthi (Mumbai, Maharashtra)
Ganesh Chaturthi in Mumbai, is a world-renowned Hindu festival celebrated in honor of Lord Ganesha. It is not just an event dedicated to the worshiping of the lord, but its celebrations feel a lot like a sacred carnival. The festivities of Ganesh Chaturthi continue for ten days, and then the idol of Lord Ganesha is immersed in the sea.
It is believed that by doing so, Lord Ganesha takes away all the negativeness and problems of his followers. The origin of this remarkable festival in Mumbai dates back to the time of Shivaji, the great. To promote cultural harmony and nationalistic feelings among his subjects, the Maratha ruler started the tradition of celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi in the state of Maharashtra.
Started primarily as an event of the Maratha community, but due to the efforts of revolutionary Bal Gangadhar Tilak, it turned out to be a social event that knows no boundaries of religion. Owing to this, people from different communities join in this massive celebration with equal excitement as a Marathi would do. This makes Ganesh Chaturthi festival one of the most awaited festivals in Mumbai.
Snake Boat Race (Kerala)
One need not get worried on hearing about the Snake Boat Race, for it is a race between boats that are in the shape of a snake, and does not involve any real snake. These snake boats are traditional canoe-style boats that are extensively used in the Kuttanad region of South Kerala. Almost 120 feet long, these traditional boats are the pride of the villages, due to which each of them designs their boat. These unique boat races in Kerala take place anytime during August or September.
Its history dates back, near to 400 years ago. During that time, the kings of Alleppey and from the nearby areas used to get involved in boat fights over the canal. To make a better and swift design of the boats, the unique design of the snake boat was discovered by the architects. Over time, there have been various improvements made in the design of these traditional boats. In the present time, these snake boat races are a common sight at the various festivals of Kerala.
Kumbh Mela (Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh)
A mega collaboration of people, similar to which is never seen anywhere on this planet, Kumbh Mela in Allahabad is one spiritual carnival that every Hindu pilgrim desires to be a part of, at least once in their lifetime. If records are to be believed, the Kumbh Mela, held in the year 2013 in Allahabad, witnessed an influx of around 100 million people from around the world. That’s like a whole country participating in an event. The main point of the Kumbh fair revolves around the spiritual dip in the confluence of the sacred Ganga and Yamuna rivers. Hindus believe that by doing so, all their ancestral sins are washed away.
Well, this is the belief of Hindu followers, what about the extreme devotees, the Sadhus, and saffron-clad saints? They strongly believe that this dip is a direct stairway to heaven. In the words of a completely naked Naga Sadhu at Kumbh Mela, If one does not make it back, then his soul has been set free or attained Moksha (Nirvana).
Its origin is long back in medieval times, and it holds great importance for the Hindus. Kumbh Mela’s spirituality is so enticing, that it attracts tourists from all over the world, and not just that, a foreigner even took the vows to be a Naga Sadhu here, long back in the 70s. At present, he is a completely devoted Naga Sadhu, commonly known as the blue-eyed Sadhu.
[ Read More about Fairs and Festivals in Uttar Pradesh ]
Cattle Fair (Sonepur, Bihar)
If you want to see the biggest chaos of castles in one place, Sonepur Mela in Bihar is the one for you. The renowned fair is a yearly event that takes place at the confluence of rivers Gandak and Ganga in Bihar. In the historic times, Chandragupta Maurya used to buy horses and elephants from across the river Ganges.
During that time, the site of the fair used to be at Hajipur. Later on, it was shifted to Sonepur during the reign of the Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb. Since that time, Sonepur Mela on the lands of Bihar has lured traders from all over the country on a shopping spree for castles. This includes buying dogs, buffaloes, donkeys, ponies, monkeys, chimps, sheep, rabbits, horses cats, guinea pigs, and even bears.
Besides such a huge variety of animals, Sonepur Mela is greatly highlighted for the sale of elephants. Numerous elephants decorated with traditional carpets and jewels are lined up for sale at the banks. The world-renowned Sonepur Mela is also visited for religious purposes. The site has Hariharnath temple, located in the vicinity, which is highly visited by Hindu pilgrims.
Just as you are done visiting the temple, you can explore the other attractions of the fair. This includes shops and stalls of various kinds of handicrafts, jewelry, and traditional antiques.
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International Kite Festival, Gujarat
Regarded as one of the biggest festivals of Gujarat, the International Kite festival in the state is celebrated with extraordinary zeal and enthusiasm. The renowned festival of colorful kites marks the setting up of the spring season, i.e., at the end of February or the beginning of March in India.
Farmers usually take this time as the harvest season, while Gujaratis splurge currencies to buy beautiful colorful kites in this phase of the year. It is due to its timing, the renowned kite festival is also called as festival of Uttarayan.
Gujarat is usually a city of traders where businesses flow like the bloodline of the city. Contrary to this feature of Gujarat, the city voluntarily shuts down its shops as soon as the festival knocks on the door. Families on rooftops having a gala time, flying colorful kites is the usual sight that one can expect at this renowned festival.
Starting quite early at dawn, the chaos of colorful kites in the city does not drop even after dusk. It has also been seen that kite-flying lovers display their skills even in the dark, with white-colored kites. Such is the enthusiasm of the festival, which does not stop even in low light. Read More
Nag Panchami (All Over India)
Nag, or in real terms, Cobra, a species of snake, holds a great place in Hindu mythology. It resides on Lord Shiva’s neck as his jewel and also helped in the legendary churning of ocean events. Owing to such significance, the ‘Nag’ is often worshipped in Hindu culture.
But how about a festival dedicated to snakes? Creepy?, might be to the foreigners, but for Indians, it is a new level of worship towards the divine creature. To be precise, Nag Panchami is celebrated in honor of the Snake God, Sheshnag, one of the most unusual festivals in India.
Although everyone fears, even the sight of a snake, miraculously, on this auspicious day, this fear turns into a blissful devotion. During this time, people worship different temples, which are in honor of the Snake God. Besides, a large influx of devotees can also be seen at Lord Shiva temples, as the Lord is believed to be dear to them.
Cow Trampling (Kerala)
India is a country, where cows have been given the most sacred spot when it comes to religion. So sacred, that Hindus dedicate a full-grown festival to the holy cow. But, who would have thought that its status would get such an uplift, that now being trampled by the holy cow is also a bearer of good fortune?
You may call it a height of devotion or superstition, but many parts of India, including the well-educated Kerala believe in this ritual. People lie flat in front of the pack of cows, waiting to feel the hoofs on their bodies.
Before being trampled, the cows are decorated with henna and flowers. The followers of this ritual believe that by doing so, they are compelling their Gods to fulfill their prayers. Quite an unusual sight for anyone, this ritual is practiced in the city of Ujjain also in India.
[ Read More about Fairs and Festivals in Kerala ]
Made Snana (Karnataka)
Imagine you have been asked to come over for a meal at some place. The food was delectable and the service was good. But when you were about to leave, you were asked to roll over your leftovers. How stupid is this? Well, this obnoxious ritual is practiced in the state of Karnataka.
One must not misjudge it with some weird stunt to gain the limelight this ritual has been in practice since 5 centuries back. Temples in South India are known to hold communal meals. In these meals, people from all sects are invited. As soon as they are done, the devotees are asked to roll over the plantation leaves, on which they just had their meal.
Followers of this ritual believe that by doing so, their physical ailments will be cured if they have any. However, looking at the irrationality of this ritual, the Supreme Court of India stayed the practice, which was earlier cleared by the Karnataka High Court.
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Thaipusam festival (Tamil Nadu)
This is the mother of all crazies! Tesang Gin Je, which is celebrated in some Southeast Asian countries, has its roots in India as well. The only difference it has is, that in India it is known as the Thaipusam festival. Celebrated in the state of Tamil Nadu, the Thaipusam festival can be defined as a brutal humiliation of human flesh. Devotees who take part in this daunting ritual are made to suffer painful piercings of hooks and skewers on their bodies.
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Marked as an event to commemorate a mythological occasion when goddess Parvati handed over a spear to Murugan to fight against a demon. The festival starts with the cleansing of the soul. This is being done by prayers and mantras. Then comes days of fasting, and finally the piercing round, which is not for the faint-hearted to watch. In Tamil Nadu, it is mostly practiced in Palani between January and February.