Festivals of India: Unconventional, unusual and unique

Glimpses of the vibrant and diverse Indian culture


June 27, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Festivals of India: Unconventional, unusual and unique

Pulikali is a festive dance depicting hunting of leopards

With over 1.39 billion people, 28 states and 8 Union territories and dozens of languages, India is full of unique and rare traditions celebrated in different parts of the country displaying varied hues of culture, religion, race, language, and so on.

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For long, India has been known all around the world for its vibrant festivals and traditions owing to the diversity in culture, religion and languages. This uniqueness in the ethnicity of the country contributes to a realm of unusual festivals and traditions. Here is a list of some unconventional festivals and traditions of India.

Pulikali, Thrissur

Pulikali march in Thrissur

Pulikali (puli means leopard and kali means play) is a festive dance depicting the theme of hunting leopards. This dance is performed on the fourth day of annual Onam celebrations in different parts of Kerala, attracting people from across the state and the world to view this special event. Performers dressed in costumes with their faces painted like leopards in yellow and black dance to the rhythm of traditional percussion instruments such as thakil, udukku and chenda. Leopard faces are also drawn on bellies. The group comprises predominantly male leopards with few female and child leopards.

The Swaraj Ground in Thrissur district, Kerala plays host to this carnival that has people appearing in various unique hues and masks, with the locals and visitors alike joining in on the revelry.

Dhinga Gavar, Jodhpur

Dhinga Gavar annual street procession in Jodhpur

The Dhinga Gavar festival is also known as Baintmaar Teej native to Jodhpur, Rajasthan subverts social gender roles every year. During this festival, women disguise themselves as various alluring characters in order to deceive men. An elaborate procession is taken throughout the night consisting of women dressed as various characters, mostly gods and goddesses. They patrol the streets of Jodhpur all night and protect the statue of Dhinga Gavar placed in 11 different locations in Old Jodhpur town after sunset. The festival which lasts for 16 days is also referred to as the festival of deception. The popular belief is that unmarried men who get beaten during the ritual would get married within a year.

The statues of Dhinga Gavar are laden with gold jewellery and are offered a mixture of dry fruits and cannabis that is locally known as moi.

Thaipusam, Tamil Nadu

Thaipusam festival in Tamil Nadu

This festival is celebrated not just in India but also by devotees of Lord Murugan in different parts of the world like Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. The festival falls on the full moon day in the month of Thai when Pusam (Pushya) Nakshatram prevails according to the Tamil calendar. On this day, devotees worship Kartikeya, who is also known as Murugan in the state.

The celebrations involve people piercing their lips with spears, pierce mouth with sharp metal objects, and hook their skin to chains as they try to pull the chariot in order to pay regards to the deity. They also pay obeisance to the deity by doing the Kavadiattam, which includes carrying offerings to the deity barefooted in a Kavadi, a semi-circular wooden carrier.

Bhagoria Festival, Madhya Pradesh

Bhagoria Mela in Madhya Pradesh

Bhagoria Haat celebrated in Madhya Pradesh every year is a festival of the Bhil tribe. While the festivities include a vibrant and fun village fair marking the end of harvest season, it also serves as a as a matrimonial platform.

The ritual involves a boy putting colour on the face of the girl of his choice. If the girl accepts the boy, finding him suitable for marriage, she also smears colour on his face or accepts paan (betel-leaf). If the feeling is mutual then both elope only to be later accepted by their families. It is a custom in the Bhagoria festival that if the girl does not like the boy she rubs off the colour and moves on. The festival is celebrated seven days before Holi every year.

Sume-Gelirak Festival, Odisha

Sume-Gelirak dance in Odisha

Sume Gelirak is a festival about teaching the importance of love and friendship in one’s life. Celebrated by the the Bondas of Koraput tribe of Odisha, this festival is a mark of freedom for these people a very secluded life on a hilltop.

The festivities involve pairs of young boys standing face-to-face and hitting each other with branches of a tree with its foliage off on the beats of the drum. The same happens with men and older men. The fight is stopped by bowing in front of each other. After every fight, the tribal priest or Sisa gives them cakes and educates the tribe with stories about friendship and love.

Another unique aspect of the festival is that it allows eligible brides to find their partners, just as in Bhagoria festival.

The 10-day celebration also involves the ritual of sacrificing birds and animals to appeal to the tribal deities with liquor being one of the most significant parts of the festival.



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