Harvest Festivals of India

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Context: The Harvest season is on and festivities have gripped the nation from the north to down south.

Prelims: Current events of national and international importance.
Mains: GS I –

  • Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature, and Architecture from ancient to modern times.

Various festivals being celebrated across the Nations:

Makar Sankranti:

An Auspicious Day For Hindus

Where: Pan India in different ways but mainly in the north.

  • Celebrated all over the country, Makar Sankranti is the oldest and the most colorful harvest festival in India. As per Hindu mythology, this festival marks the end of an unfavorable phase and the beginning of a holy phase.
  • Particularly in villages of Gujarat, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Himachal, West Bengal, and Punjab, people celebrate the harvest of new crops with bonfire, carnivals, songs, dances, kite flying, and rallies.
  • Key attractions of Makar Sankranti festival:
    • Kumbh Mela and various sumptuous sweet dishes made of sesame and jaggery.
      • Kumbh Mela:
        • It is the largest public gathering and collective act of faith, anywhere in the world.
        • The Kumbh Mela (the festival of the sacred pitcher) is anchored in Hindu mythology.
        • Crowds gather at the sacred confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna, and the mystical Sarasvati. Primarily, this congregation includes Ascetics, Saints, Sadhus, Sadhvis, Kalpvasis, and Pilgrims from all walks of life.
        • The Mela was included in the list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO in 2017.



Celebrating With The Rhythms Of Dhol And Bhangra

Where: Punjab and Haryana

  • People of Punjab and Haryana celebrate Baisakhi or Vaisakhi by thanking God for the good harvest. And the farmers of the country express their happiness and delight through this Indian harvest festival.
  • People wear their best colorful dresses, sing the happiest songs, and dance to the melodious beats of Dhol. Baisakhi fairs are also organized where acrobatics, wresting, algoza, and vanjli performances can be seen.
  • Key attractions of Baisakhi festival:
    • Bhangra by menfolk and Giddha by women.
      • Giddha:
        • Giddha is a popular folk dance of women in Punjab region of India and Pakistan. The dance is often considered derived from the ancient dance known as the ring dance and is just as energetic as bhangra; at the same time it manages to creatively display feminine grace, elegance and flexibility.
        • It is a very colorful dance form which is now copied in all regions of the country. Women perform this dance mainly at festive or social occasions.
        • The dance is followed by rhythmic clapping and a typical traditional folk song is sung by the aged ladies in the background.
      • Bhangra:
        • Bhaṅgṛā is a type of traditional dance of the Indian subcontinent, originating in the Majha area of Punjab.
        • The dance was associated primarily with the spring harvest festival Vaisakhi, and it is from one of the major products of the harvest—bhang (hemp)—that bhangra drew its name.
        • In a typical performance, several dancers executed vigorous kicks, leaps, and bends of the body to the accompaniment of short songs called boliyan and, most significantly, to the beat of a dhol (double-headed drum).


Ladakh Harvest Festival:

 Buddhist Tradition At Its Best

Where: Ladakh, Zanskar, Kargil

  • Ladakh Harvest Festival has gained immense popularity and fame all over the world. Ladakh looks bright, beautiful, and absolutely stunning with the commencement of this harvest festival.
  • Monasteries and stupas are decorated and pilgrimages to Thangka of Kyabje Gombo are mandatory things as a part of this celebration.
  • Archery along with old social & cultural ceremonies and art & handicrafts are the other features of the event.
  • Key attractions of Ladakh Harvest Festival:
    • Dramas or ‘Chhams’ are performed to display the life and teachings of Buddha and different dance forms of Tibetan culture.
      • Cham Dance:
        • It is a famous masked dance from Ladakh which is the major attraction of the festival.
        • It is also performed on Tsechu Festival which is the yearly spiritual festival carried out in many monasteries in Ladakh.
        • It is said to bring good luck to the people viewing this dance.
        • This dance which is accompanied by music played by monks using traditional Tibetan instruments is usually performed by a few selected sects of Buddhism.



A Punjabi Folk Festival

Where: Punjab

  • Lohri is a renowned harvest festival in Punjab that showcases traditional dance and songs.
  • To kill the chills of winter, the entire family and neighbours gather around the bonfire and sing together and offer grains, corn, and nuts to respect and appreciate the grand harvest of sugarcane crops.
  • Key attractions of Lohri festival:
    • The Punjabi folklore Sunder Mundriye sung by everyone


Saraswati Puja on Basant Panchami:

Where: Popular in Bengal, Odisha and North Indian states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh. 

  • Basant Panchami marks the onset of spring season.
  • Celebrated in different states of North India, it is considered an auspicious day.
  • This festival is associated with yellow color, which is a color of spirituality. One can see the magnificent mustard crop fields in the countryside, especially rural areas of Haryana and Punjab.
  • Key attractions of the Basant Panchami festival:
    • Indian cuisine like Meethe Chawal, Maake ki Roti, and Sarso Ka Saag.



Where: Himachal Pradesh

  • In Shimla District of Himachal Pradesh, Makara Sankranti is known as Magha Saaji. Saaji is the Pahari word for Sankranti, the start of the new month. Hence this day marks the start of the month of Magha.

Where: Uttrakhand

  • The Bikhoti Festival of Uttrakhand involves people taking a dip in holy rivers.
  • A popular custom involves beating symbolic stones representing demons with sticks.

Where: Uttar Pradesh and Bihar

  • The festival is known as Kicheri in Uttar Pradesh and involves ritual bathing.

Where: Bihar

  • In the Mithal region of Bihar and Nepal, the new year is celebrated as Jurshital.
  • It is traditional to use lotus leaves to serve sattu to the family members.
Poila Boishakh:

Where: West Bengal

  • Poila Boishakh also known as Pahela Baishakh or Bangla Nababarsha is the first day of Bengali Calendar.
  • It is celebrated on 14 April as a national holiday in Bangladesh, and on 14 or 15 April in the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura and part of Assam by people of Bengali heritage.
  • Shubho Nabobarsho (Happy New Year) is how Bengalis usher in the New Year. Prayers are said to Goddess Lakshmi (for wealth) and Lord Ganesha (for wellbeing).

Where: West Bengal

  • This is one of the most celebrated traditions of Bengal, where new rice is harvested with sheer joy and stocked in homes.
  • Farmers from Bengal cheerfully participate in this harvest ritual in the Bengali month of Agrahayan and offer the first grains to Goddess Lakshmi while thanking her for all blessings.
  • Key attractions of Nabanna festival:
    • Payesh (Kheer) made from the newly harvested rice and Nabanna fair.
Mahabishuva Sankranti:

Where: Orissa

  • On the same day, Odisha celebrates Mahabisuha Sankranti, better known as Pana Sankranti.
  • It is also time to prepare the popular local drink Bela Pana. It is made using golden apple or bael (Aegle marmelos) in Hindi.

Where: Orissa

  • Nuakhai is an age-old harvest celebration in Odisha.
  • Locally ‘Nua’ means new and ‘Khai’ means food.
  • This is not only a popular harvest festival in India but also celebrated to appreciate the passing away of the past and evil days while welcoming the new and beautiful with open arms.
  • The festival is also known as Nuakhai Parab or Nuakhai Bhetghat.
  • Key attractions of Nuakhai festival:
    • The delicious Arsaa Pitha (sweet pancakes)


Rongali or Bhogali Bihu:

Where: Assam

  • Assam celebrates Bihu thrice in a year but Rongali Bihu is the biggest and most popular.
  • Every year in January, the entire state of Assam showcases enthusiasm and delight in celebrating Bhogali Bihu.
  • The farmers of Assam celebrate and cherish the efforts of cultivation and reap the benefits. The celebration starts one night before with Uruka—the community feast.
  • On the day of Bihu, the mejis or pavilion made of clay and hay are burnt. Local women wear stunning mukhlas and participate in group songs and dance.
  • Also known as Magh Bihu, this is an exotic and most vibrant name on the list of harvest festivals of India.
  • Key attractions of Bihu festival:
    • Bihu dance, bullfight, bird fight, and Sunga Pitha, Til Pitha and Laru


Magha Bihu:

Where: Assam

  • In Assam and many parts of the North East, the festival of Magha Bihu is celebrated. It sees the first harvest of the season being offered to the gods along with prayers for peace and prosperity.

Where: Meghalaya and Assam

  • Wangala is the merriment of 100 drums played by Garo tribes of northeast India. This is one of the popular harvest festivals of India marking the onset of winter.
  • During this festival, Sun God is worshiped with immense devotion and zeal. Women wear their traditional colorful clothes and dance while men rhythmically drum their fingers on the traditional drum pads.
  • Key attractions of the Wangala festival:
    • Musical extravaganza with drums, flutes, and gongs


Ka Pomblang Nongkrem:

Where: Meghalaya

  • The inhabitants of Khasi hills worship Goddess Ka Blei Synshar and celebrate the plentiful harvest with vigor and excitement.
  • Ka Pomblang Nongkrem brings ultimate joy and happiness to the community.
  • The celebration comprises of animal sacrifice and Nongkrem dance with sword in one hand and yak hair whisk on the other.
  • Key attractions of the Ka Pomblang Nongkrem festival:
    • Pemblang ceremony and Ceremony of Tangmuri:
      • Khasi people celebrate the Ka Pom-Bland Nongkrem festival as a thanksgiving for harvest in the months of October or November.
      • The dancers along with the village community pray for peace and prosperity of its people. As part of the Pomblang ceremony, one of the important rituals of Ka Pom-Blang Nongkrem, goats are sacrificed and offered to the administrative head of Khasi state, the ancestors of the ruling clan and to the Shillong peak deity also known as U-Lei Shillong. 


Dree Festival:

An Eminent Festival Of Apatani Tribe

Where: Arunachal Pradesh

  • The Dree Festival is among the most famous festivals in Arunachal Pradesh as it marks an important time of the year for the Apatani tribe – the harvest season.
  • Characterized by sacrificial offerings and prayers, Dree is celebrated on the 5th of July every year in the Ziro district of Arunachal Pradesh.
  • The festival is celebrated with utmost joy by people of all walks of life who dress up in traditional clothes.
  • Locals perform traditional dance and music numbers while others enjoy a feast of tangy rice and millet beer. Other than this, the three-day festival is also marked by various games and sports that the locals and onlookers are entertained with.
  • The entire ritual is carried out to pray before the four Gods – Tamu, Harniang, Metii, and Danyi – so that the Apatanis can be blessed with a bountiful harvest season.
  • Apatani Tribe:
    • The Apatani, or Tanw, are a tribal group of people living in the Ziro valley in the Lower Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh in India.


Gudi Padwa:

Where: Maharashtra

  • Gudi Padwa is a grand festival in Maharashtra marking the beginning of an auspicious New Year. People make rangoli designs at the entrance of their homes and decorate it with flowers and a handmade doll.
  • Folks meet friends and relatives, exchange wishes, and women cook sweets like Puran Poli, Shrikhand, and Sunth Paak.
  • Key attractions of the Gudi Padwa festival:
    • Local people make Gudi (bamboo doll) using mango and neem leaves and hang them at the entrance.



Where: Kerala

  • Onam is a legendary harvest festival of Kerala celebrated with great enthusiasm in different parts of Kerala.
  • The festival is celebrated for 10 days with the arrival of Mahabali.
  • To relish the successful harvest, Malayalee people decorate their house entrance with floral rangoli, wear new traditional clothes, women cook delicious food, and celebrate with traditional music and dance.
  • Key attractions of the Onam festival:
    • Traditional Malayalee recipes like Rasam, Payasam, Avial, brown rice, and parippu curry are offered to guests in traditional green leaf, snake boat race and tiger dance are also exciting to watch.



Where: Tamil Nadu

  • Pongal is another name for Makar Sankranti, which is celebrated during the same time in various cities of Tamil Nadu.
  • This is a thanksgiving celebration where people express their deep gratitude to mother nature for the produce of the year.
  • This is one of the most colorful harvest festivals of India celebrated for 4 days. The first day is the Bhogi Festival devoted to Lord Indra for abundance of rain.
  • On the second day, newly harvested rice and milk is cooked outdoor and offered to Sun God. The third day is for cattle worship and on the fourth day, Pongal or traditional colored rice is offered with turmeric, betel leaf, and betel nuts.
  • Key attractions of the Pongal festival:
    • Decorated houses with Kolam, bull taming contests, a bonfire with agricultural wastes and worship for the family’s prosperity.
    • Kolam:
      • Kolam is a ritualistic design drawn at the threshold of households and temples. It is drawn every day at dawn and dusk by women in South India who inherit this tradition from their elders.
      • Kolam is believed to be a labyrinth to ensnare harmful spirits and prevent them from causing harm.
    • Jallikattu:
      • Jallikattu is a bull’s game day event happening in Tamil Nadu as a part of Pongal celebrations.
      • Bulls are bred specifically by some private rich persons of the village& temples for the event. Bullfighting was common among the ancient tribes who lived in the ‘Mullai’ geographical division of the ancient Tamil country.
      • Later, it became a platform for display of bravery and prize money was introduced for entertainment. The event often results in major injuries and deaths with over 200 deaths over the past two decades. 



Where: Tamil Nadu

  • Puthandu marks the first day of the Tamil New Year.
  • Puthandu Vazthukkal (New Year greetings) is how friends and relatives greeted one another.
  • The new year is celebrated on the first day of Tamil month Chithirai, which normally falls on April 13 or 14 annually.

Where: Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka

  • Ugadi is a regional New Year celebration for people of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. This harvest festival is considered auspicious to start new work and ventures.
  • On the day, local people take oil bath, wear traditional clothes, decorate homes with earthen lamps and rangoli, and perform Ugadi puja at home.
  • Key attractions of Ugadi festival:
    • The Ugadi delicacies like Ugadi Pachadi, Pulihora and Bobbatlu are prepared with raw mango, jaggery, neem, and tamarind.



Where: Kerala and Karnataka

  • Grand worship of Lord Vishnu or Lord Krishna, elaborate family lunch, evening prayers, and fireworks sum up the complete picture of Vishu festival.
  • This is an interesting harvest festival celebrated on the first day of Malayalee New Year. Women of the house prepare Vishukkani—varieties of traditional cuisine to offer to Gods—, with rice, golden lemon, golden cucumber, jackfruit, yellow konna flowers, and betel leaves.
  • Key attractions of Vishu festival:
    • Kani Kanal—the first holy sight of Vishnu and the Sadya—the grand mid-day meal spread.


Outside India:
  • Shakrain is an annual celebration of winter in Bangladesh, observed with the flying of kites.
  • Maghe Sankranti is a Nepalese festival observed on the first of Magh in the Bikram Samwat Hindu Solar Nepali calendar (about 14 January).


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