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Every year, the Indian state of Gujarat hosts a plethora of vibrant festivals to celebrate its rich cultural heritage. Here are the top 10 events worth visiting.
Set on the immaculate white salt marshes of the Great Rann of Kutch, Rann Utsav is a true wonderland for folk music and dance lovers. The festival features folk dance (Tippani, Garba and Hallisaka), drama, musical performances, handicraft bazaars, local art, wildlife safari tours, authentic Kutchi cuisine as well as adventure activities such as camel rides, hot air balloon rides, rifle shooting, paramotoring and ATV rides. There are hundreds of AC and non-AC tents set up on the fringe of the bordering village of Dhordo if you’re planning to stay overnight.
When: November to February, every year
Where: Rann of Kutch in the Kutch district
Held over nine nights, Navratri is the world’s longest dance festival that honours feminine divinity. During the 10-day Hindu celebration, nine forms of the Hindu goddess Durga Devi are worshipped. People fast and perform popular folk dances – Garba and Dandiya – while dressed in elaborate ethnic Gujarati outfits. On the 10th day, another Hindu festival, Dussehra, is celebrated to rejoice the victory of good over evil.
Where: All over Gujarat
The International Kite Festival draws droves of tourists, talented kite flyers and designers from around the world to show off their skills and unique creations. You’ll find thousands of kites of all sorts of colours, shapes and sizes adorning the blue winter sky. In the evening, kites with illuminated paper lanterns (tukkals) are flown and held aloft. Conforming to the Hindu calendar, this festival also marks the end of winter and the beginning of warmer months.
When: January 14 (on the day of Makar Sankranti)
Held on the eve of Kartik Purnima – a festival dedicated to the worship of both Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu – the annual Shamlaji Fair is celebrated on the banks of the holy river Meshwo, near the Shamlaji Temple. The three-week-long fair sees thousands of devotees gathering together from across the country to bathe in holy waters and seek their god’s blessings. While some devotees make their way to the Shamlaji shrine by camel carts, bus or car, others prefer to come on foot, singing hymns of Lord Vishnu and carrying religious banners. The fair is also used as an opportunity to trade silver ornaments, cloth and metalware.
Bhavnath Mahadev Mela centres on the Hindu deity Shiva. On the auspicious day of Maha Shivratri, the fair begins with a procession of sages riding on elephants and blowing conch shells, heading towards the Bhavnath Mahadev Temple to seek the blessings of their god. It is believed that Lord Shiva himself visits the temple during this fair. Held over five days, it involves music, dance, prayers, arts and crafts stalls and free meals. As part of the age-old ritual, pilgrims perform parikrama, or circumambulation, around the Girnar Hill before visiting the temple.
When: February or March
Where: Bhavnath Temple, Junagadh
Set within the grounds of the majestic Sun Temple in Gujarat, the Modhera Dance Festival is an annual celebration of classical Indian dance and music. Also known as Uttarardh Mahotsavis, this three-day celebration welcomes renowned performers from across the country, with dance forms such as Bharat Natyam, Kuchipudi and Kathak on display, among others.
When: Third week of January
Where: Sun Temple, Modhera
Dedicated to Goddess Ambaji, the Bhadrapad Fair is held at the Ambaji Temple, where a representation of the deity is a triangular object called Vishwa Yantra. During the day, dedicated disciples of the goddess gather at the temple to seek her blessings, perform puja (worship) and read the Saptshati (700 prayer verses). By evening, the fair will host folk dances (Bhavai and Garba), musical performances, cultural programs, merry-go-rounds, recreational activities and stalls selling trinkets and delicious local food.
When: Full moon day of Bhadrapad (around August or September)
Where: Ambaji Shrine, Banaskantha
The Janmashtami Festival is celebrated throughout the country to mark Lord Krishna’s birth. Festivities in Gujarat, however, hold a special place as it is home to Krishna’s ancient kingdom, Dwarka. People celebrate this day by singing, dancing and chanting hymns, while an idol of Lord Krishna is placed in a cradle with a thread tied to turn it into a swing. As part of the festival, dahi handi (a pot filled with yogurt)breaking competitions are held across the state. Participants form a pyramid in an attempt to crack the pot and spill the yogurt, which is then offered to everyone as prasad.
Where: Throughout the state, with the main event taking place in Dwarka.
The annual Paragliding Festival in Saputara, Gujarat lasts 26 days and attracts adventure seekers from across India. Training sessions are held for beginners by expert pilots. If you’re looking for an added adrenaline rush, you can also take part in other sports such as zorbing, go-karting, parasailing and bike riding.
When: Between December and January
Hundreds of farmers and traders across India descend on the tiny village of Vautha to trade their decorated donkeys and camels during the Vautha Fair. The fair lasts for up to five days and includes stalls selling handicrafts, fairground rides and incredible local fare. Camper tents are set up near the venue, providing an unmissable opportunity to witness the trading and be a part of the festivities. This time is also religiously significant as the location happens to be the place where seven holy rivers unite.