I was fortunate enough to visit Southern India during their festival season in January of this year. I took the trip with Overseas Adventure Travel, but added two additional weeks in India by myself. I had no idea this would allow me even more festival time to enjoy when I planned the trip, but it turned out to be wonderful.
The group was in the state of Tamil Nadu during their their annual Pongal festival, which is a harvest festival. The festival is timed each year around the lunar calendar. On the f first day of the festival, the people burn belongings that they no longer need and cant give to charity. So the air is filled with quite a bit of smoke the first day. The people get up as early as four in the mooring to begin this ritual, and smoke cans be seen throughout the entire day.
The second day of the festival, the people present a bowl of the Pongal (rice and milk blended together what other ingredients as well if desired) to the sun god in an earthen pot and place it outside their homes as an offering. They also create large and colorful designs outside their homes with lime powder known as Kollams. The colorful designs remain throughout the duration of the four days and typically until a rain washes them away afterwards. They are one of the foremost symbols of the Pongal festival, and for travelers, they are photographic delight of color.
The third day of the festival celebrates the cows, decorating them in festive adornments such as bells, corn and garlands. The fourth day is used to celebrate prosperity, with the entire town setting out leftover Pongal and other festive foods for the harvest celebration. On the fourth day, we were told it was “traveler’s day.” In fact, the Tamil Nadu Ministry of Tourism had a Pongal festival for tourists to attend in one local village. We got to see and experience all the sights of Pongal including music, dancing, ox car rides, being served Pongal, meeting the local villagers, and even being interviewed by the local media and having our photos taken. The photo was later reproduced in the local newspaper.
After the tour ended in Cochin, the town famous for the Chinese fishing nets, I stayed on for a week. Cochin too, in the state of Karela, was adorned for yet another festival, the Biennale Art Festival. What a treat two multi-long festival was! It actually started in December in 2016, and ran until the end of March 2017, showcasing art in twelve different venues. Over 80 artists were repressed form across India as well as internationally. It took me two full days to see the venues including the major pavilion, which appeared to be an old British heritage property. I hired a tuk tuk driver for one of those days, and drove me to all the venues.Some of them were for the government sponsored student art, and some were for commercial artists, participating in honor of the Biennale. The art was primarily located in Fort Cochin, but some of the venues were in the nearby Jew Town section of Manducherry.
As if two festivals and our group being photographed for a local paper weren’t enough,, I ended the trip in Bangalore where I ran into the bank holiday Republic Day. In the huge Lalbaugh Botanical Garden in Bangalore, they had a flower festival in honor of Republic day. I am not a huge botanical garden fan, but this was quite a show which reminded me more of the Rose Parade what so many different sculptures adorned what different flowers, form the Taj Mahal to peacocks (the national bird). And after the Pongal and Biennalle festivals, it felt like icing on the cake.
Many tourists like to pay extra for festival departures to countries for a complete experience. In India, all you have to do is show up. There is literally one Hindu festival per month. So check the Hindu calendar online for a list of their festivals and plan your trip accordingly. You may not get to experience three as I did, but if all you experience is the four day long Pongal festival, you will indeed have hit the jackpot.