Most of the festivals in India mark the beginning of a new season and the new harvest. This is rooted in the fact that India is predominantly an agricultural economy and so the festivals are more associated with the agrarian society. The festivals such as Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Holi, Baisakhi, Onam, etc. herald the advent of a new season and new crops. Besides these traditional festivals being celebrated through the ages, some very new festivals are also becoming popular and attract people. In this respect, we can include festivals like Boat Race Festival, Mango Festival, Garden Festival, Kite Festival, etc. But these festivals should not be treated in isolated manner as these too are organised in appropriate regions and seasons.
As mentioned before, many of the religious festivals too are based on different calendars and so are seasonal in nature. So, there is a thin line of difference between the festivals of religious nature and seasonal ones. The worship of divinities is an important feature of all these. Thus, sometimes the seasonal celebrations are also counted as the religious festivals. However, some recent festivals based on different kinds of entertainment and popular products differ in nature from the traditional seasonal/religious festivals.
Makar Sankranti (winter solstice) falls in the month of January. On this day, a bath in Ganga is considered sacred whereas in South India the devotees bath in the Krishna, the Kaveri and the Godavari and make offerings. Makar Sakranti is the only Hindu festival celebrated according to the Solar calendar for it marks the transition of the sun from one Zodiac sign to another. This is called sankraman and the day is called Sankranti. Thus, there are 12 Sankrantis in an year. But the most important are those occurring in the months of Asadh and Paush. In the month of Paush (14 January), the sun appears against the constellation that represents the Zodiac sign of Makar. This is the beginning of uttarayan, the auspicious half of the year, when sun appears to move northwards. This cosmic phenomenon is celebrated with preparation of items using sesame seeds, sugarcane jaggery and sugar all over India with minor variations. In South India this festival is celebrated as the ‘Pongal’, which takes its name from the sweet dish prepared by boiling rice in a pot of milk. In Panjab, where December and January are the coldest months of the year, huge bonfires are lit on the eve of Sankrant and it is celebrated as ‘Lohari’. Sweets, sugarcane and rice are offered to the fire. Fairs and regional dances are organised in different parts of India and ritualistic bath in sacred rivers is considered auspicious on this day.
Baisakhi is celebrated on the first day of the Baisakh month (April and May). This month also marks the seasonal change. In northern India the cultivators adjust the obligations incurred to provide for the rabi crop. In other words, on this day the sacred offerings of the rabi crops are made and these are eaten. In a way, what this festival is to rabi crops, the Diwali is to the Kharif crops. The Hindus take the ceremonial dip in the sacred rivers and worship cattle. Fairs or melas are organised and there begins the manufacture of new agricultural implements for the cultivation of new crops.
Onam, the harvest festival, is the most popular festival of Kerala. Onam is part of the cultural identity of every Malayalee. The ten-day Onam festival is celebrated in August- September, which coincides with the beginning of the harvest season. It celebrates a happy blend of myth and reality. It brings back memories of the folkloristic tradition since the ages centred around the king Mahabali, whose reign was famous for prosperity, equality and righteousness. According to the tradition, every year, the people of Kerala, irrespective of caste, creed or colour, join together to welcome back their legendary king. Preparation of a floral carpet called Athappookkalam in front of the houses, from the first day of Atham to the tenth day of Thiruvonam is part of the festivities. This symbolic gesture is to welcome king Mahabali. Carnivals, Boat Races, Dance, Music and Feasts are organised during this festive period. The meals with the traditional sweet dish called payasam, etc. is served in every house on plantain leaves. It would be significant to mention here that this festival in recent times has become a great source of tourist attraction.
Boat Race Festival
As mentioned earlier some newly created seasonal festivals have also become popular in recent times. The Boat Race Festival associated with Onam is among the most popular of these. It is a part of the celebration of the new paddy harvest in Kerala. On this day various boat race competitions are organised in the backwaters of Kerala at places such as Alleppey. The boats are very long in different shapes. These are decorated and sailed by scores of boatmen.
Mango festival is another such kind of festival. In fact, it is a brain child of the Tourism Department and is a recent entry. It helps in the promotion of mango cultivation as well as becomes a great centre of attraction for domestic and foreign visitors. This is celebrated at popular centres in almost all the major mango producing states such as Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, Panipat in Haryana, Delhi, etc. Generally, it is organised in early July. In this, mango eating competitions are held, fairs (melas) with cultural evenings are organised, and mangoes and its plants are also sold to attract commercial visitors.
Garden festival is also gaining popularity these days. This newly created festival is organised at Delhi by the Delhi Tourism and Transport Development Corporation. It is organised at various centres and the entries have increased year by year. This festival is organised every year in the month of February. The festival aims mainly to highlight the importance of horticulture and enhancing the knowledge of the visitors in this field as well as to make the participants aware of the new discoveries in the field. In this, competitions of the flowers and plants of various species such as potted house plants, vegetables, fruits, foliage plants, etc. are held. These competitions are open to individuals and organisations like nurseries, horticulture departments, etc. The prizes are awarded for the best in the show. These activities are also accompanied by on-the-spot painting competition for school children, cultural programmes, sale of rare plants, organising seminars to discuss the problems related with gardening, etc. This festival is gradually assuming the status of a big carnival. Similar to the garden festival at Delhi an international flower festival is organised in the month of April at Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim.
Tea festival, like the Mango festival, is celebrated in the major tea producing states like Assam, Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Tamilnadu, etc. In Himachal Pradesh, the Kangra Valley tea festival is organised in June whereas another important tea carnival is celebrated at Darjeeling in West Bengal. In Tamilnadu the tea festival and tourism festival is organised together in January. This festival aims to benefit the tea planters as well as those related with this industry. Nevertheless, tourists in large numbers also visit to watch the events. International planters as well as Indian planters are offered packaged tour to acquaint themselves with the condition in different regions and encourage the planters to grow the varieties of other regions. An important fact to mention in this connection is that, this festival is not merely confined to the planters and the tea industry but it also promotes tourism to these hilly areas as the visitors may also be attracted to other destinations in that region.
Kite festival, though traced to the medieval period, has become a very popular entertainment not only among the children but also among the elders. This festival is organised at cities such as Delhi, Ahmedabad, Jodhpur, etc. However, this is the most popular show at Ahmedabad on the Makar Sankranti day (January 14). Besides Ahmedabad, other cities of Gujarat also celebrate this festival with kite flying, feasting and cultural programmes including folk dances like garba. With its growing popularity International kite festival is celebrated every year in different cities like Ahmedabad, Jodhpur, etc. It is interesting to note that in this festival not only people belonging to different parts of India but also from countries like Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Germany, Canada and USA participate. Ahmedabad, also known as the city of kites, has an International Kite Museum with kites of various sizes, colours and shapes from different countries. The exhibition of kites and contemporary Indian handicrafts are also organised. Kite flying has also developed as a popular sport in other countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, etc. where Kite Flying competitions are encouraged by the government. Gujarat Tourism Department is paying special attention to explore this popular event and make it colourful and attractive for tourists.