Varanasi or also lovingly known as Kashi this holy town is one of the most popular pilgrimage destination for people seeking some spiritual peace. The cultural authenticity and pure spirituality of this place cannot be matched or compared to anywhere else in the world making this Sapta puri the ‘spiritual capital of India’. Every fair and festival is celebrated with great zeal, color and positivity and this attracts a number of foreign as well as domestic tourists who come to witness these celebrations. If you want to have a closer look into the life of the locals of Varanasi and wish to witness some of the most iconic celebration times then going to Varanasi during the time of festivals is the best way to experience the thriving cultural hub of India. from the colorful streets, narrow alleyways and the mouthwatering food to the soulful Ganga ghats, holy dips and a colorful fascination, festivals in Varanasi has successfully set a benchmark for people looking have a deeper experiences in Varanasi just like a local. All year long, just like every other place in India Varanasi also has a number of different festivals and fairs to celebrate, from worshipping the various defining moments in the Hindu epics to thanking the holy river Ganga and the sun, there is no dearth of celebratory moments.
If you are planning a trip to Varanasi then make it a point to go there during some fair or festival if you want to have a closer look at the culture of Varanasi:
01. Ganga Mahotsav
It is a popular belief among the local population of Varanasi that the holy river Ganga is the provider of nourishment and life for the entire civilization that has made the regions around this holy river their home. Every year Ganges festival or Ganga Mahotsav is organized in order to celebrate the life-giving river which lasts for a period of 5 days. This occasion is celebrated by pilgrims where they display the cultural and traditional vibrancy that this place represents in the form of unique, fun and colorful dance and music. Numerous popular names have been associated with this celebration like performances by Ustad Bismillah Khan, Bal Murli Krishna, Vilayat Khan and so many more. People visit Varanasi during this time to experience the thrill and good vibes that is created by the amalgamation of soulful music and undeniable spirituality.
02. Buddha Mahotsav
Located close to the holy city of Varanasi is another significant holy destination of Sarnath, the place where Lord Buddha gave his very first sermon to his selective few disciples after attaining enlightenment. To mark the occasion a huge fair is held and the remaining items that were utilized by the holy Buddha himself are put out for display and worship for the pilgrims and Buddhists who visit this place from far and wide on this pious occasion. For this occasion, the entire region of Sarnath is decorated with various colors and earthen lamps which make the whole place look extremely beautiful.
03. Maha Shivratri
As the name suggests this holy festival holds incredible importance for millions of devout Hindus and Shaivites since this festival commemorates the wedding of Lord Shiva to Goddess Parvati. People from far and wide visit Varanasi during this time to have a soulful experience. This event takes place every year on the 14th day of the month of Phalgun which marks the end of the winter season. During these festivals devotees make it a point to please lord Shiva and fulfill all his desires. The procession for this festival commences late in the evening, continues for the entire night and concludes early in the morning the next day.
Varanasi turns into a huge colorful kaleidoscope of various combinations of colorful shades during the fun and thrilling time of Holi. People celebrate by throwing colors in the air happily and gleefully and the entire streets get doused in various shades of different colors. Every year along with the rest of India, in the month of Phalgun when the season changes from winter to spring, the atmosphere at Varanasi changes to excitement and that of pure thrill. You should definitely make it a point to visit Varanasi during this time in case you want to have a closer look at the local lifestyle.
05. Dev Deepawali
Celebrated during the 15th day of the Hindu month of Kartik on the full moon day this festival is celebrated with great zeal and enthusiasm since it is intended to honor the holy river Ganga. prior to the festival days the local folks start scrubbing and cleaning the ghats and their homes with an aim of making it festival ready. This is done since it is a popular belief that the goddesses and gods descends down to the earthly realm from the heavenly realm in order to celebrate with the masses. On the day of the festival a number of diyas are placed carefully all around the ghats and steps and all this is accompanied by various cultural and traditional performances; like singing and dance, recitals and Kushti etc, which is done for the crowds.
06. Makar Sankranti
Celebrated as Pongal in the southern regions, as kite festival in Gujarat and in some parts as Lohri, Makar Sankranti in Varanasi is truly a sight to behold. The message of this festival is that one should nurture knowledge, awareness and transparency. This is one of the major festivals of north India and especially in Varanasi where the entire town is doused in deep devotion and spiritualism. This festival takes place on the 14th of January every year and people mark this occasion by making some sweet delicacies and other food associated with this festival.
This holy and fun festival takes place on the 4th day of Diwali which is also considered to be the first day of the New Year according to the Vikram Samvat calendar. This is the reason as to why the rituals that take place during this time are closely linked to the different rituals of Diwali. While the three days before Diwali are primarily of prayer to increase the devotee’s wealth, on the other hand, the Annakut day is when the devotees offer their gratitude for Krishna. The puja rituals that are followed during Govardhan puja are performed also during this time.
08. Akshaya Tritiya
Visiting Varanasi during the holy eve of Akshaya Tritiya is considered to be one of the most unparalleled experiences anybody can experience. Also known as Akha Teej this day is extremely special and successfully symbolizes the eternal connection that this holy city of Ganga shares with the holy river of Ganga. This is the day which is believed to be when goddess Ganga had descended from the heavenly to the earthly realm. Another important and popular belief associated to this day is that Kuber, the custodian of wealth had earned his name and position on this very day.
09. Panch Koshi Parikrama
This holy festival of Varanasi is considered to be one of the most important and vital festivals for the women of India. As per a mythological Hindu account, this Panch Koshi Parikrama will only be completed once the devotee passes through five holy places of Kardmeshwar, Shivpur, Rameshwar, Bhimchandi and Kapildhara. This important and ancient parikrama starts from Manikarnika ghat and ends up there only. Women participating in this procession wake up early in the morning and commence their parikrama after taking a refreshing bath in this holy river Ganga. They are not allowed to eat during the parikrama and can only do so after completing the parikrama.
10. Chhath Puja
This Hindu festival is celebrated each year with incredible zeal and enthusiasm by the Indian population each year. This is the only festival which has a diverse history of worshipping of the setting sun. This festival is extremely unique and one of a kind since it is the only celebration that is dedicated to the sun or the god of energy. People thank the sun lord by fasting for a whole day and offering their prayer rituals to the sun lord by standing in water. They offer Prasad in the form of fruits, sugarcane and dry fruits and also offer Araghya (water combined with spices of dry fruits) to the rising sun. As per Hinduism worshipping the sun is believed to cure a number of diseases like leprosy etc.
11. Nag Nathaiya
Fist celebrated in the 16th century by the iconic saint Tulsi das at the ghat dedicated to his name, Tulsi Ghat. This festival is celebrated with great fun and enthusiasm on the ghat of Tulsi and marks the victory of Lord Krishna over the famous and the much-dreaded kali nag. Another significant part of this festival is the Krishna Leela performance that takes place on the ghats and is witnessed by a huge crowd. After the performance concludes the actors who had performed in the Krishna Leela are given awards and accolades for their impeccable performances.
12. Bharat Milap
The event of Bharat Milap is celebrated with great enthusiasm in between the months of October and November. This is considered to be one of the most important Part of the Ramlila festival and marks the moment when after spending 14 years banished Lord Ram had returned to Ayodhya and had gotten together with his most beloved brother Bharat. The essence of this festival lies in its nature of victory over the evil forces. Dussehra and Bharat Milap are two of the most fun-filled festivals to take place in Varanasi. One of the most important events of Bharat Milap is the presence of Kashi Naresh along with his royal belongings and adorned in a ceremonial dress.
This festival takes place in Chetganj and is an event drawn from the great Hindu epic of Ramayan. This festival commemorates the time when Lakshman had slashed Supernkha’s nose. The date decided for this festival falls during mid-October and represents the victory of truth over evil. People involved in the fair practice and start their preparations way before the commencement of the festival. The parades and scenes are displayed with great vigour and exhibited all along the narrow alleyways and streets of Varanasi.
14. Hanuman Jayanti
As the name suggests this holy festival is celebrated to mark the birth of Lord Hanuman who in Vanara Avatar is considered to be the Rudra avatar of Lord Shiva. This holy festival is celebrated every year during the Shukla Paksha or Chaitra Purnima month of Chaitra. On this special occasion, all the Devotees and pilgrims of Lord Hanuman make their way to their respective Hanuman temples, apply Tilak on their foreheads and perform their puja rituals dedicated to the lord. This significant Hindu festival symbolizes power and pure energy which is represented by Lord Hanuman and is able to assume any form on his own. This auspicious day is marked on the full moon day of Chaitra which generally falls on 14th of Ashvin.
This holy festival is the very first day of one of the most awaited festival of Diwali which is a 5-day long festival. This festival takes place on Triodasi day of the Krishna Paksha. The festival is also known as Dhanvantari Triodasi that generally falls between the months of October and November. Dhanteras literally translates into wealth and this day devotees and pilgrims offer their prayers to goddess Lakshmi to have a prosperous and wealthy life. It is also a popular belief that if any devotee worships to the goddess with incredible penance then for the whole year you will be experiencing a good monetary value.