Whatever time of year you visit, it is likely that some festival or other is taking place during your stay. There is often something going on in the temples every full moon. Some of the more noteworthy festivals are:
February: Shivaratri is the festival in honour of Shiva. On ‘phalgun’, the night of the full moon, festivals are held in every Shiva temple.
February/March: Holi is a popular festival, particularly amongst the lower castes. This festival is held to mark the coming of Spring. It is a time when all accepted norms are thrown out of the window and everything is permissible, comparable to western festivals such as Mardi Gras. During Holi, people drench each other with water and powder paint, so make sure you are wearing old clothes at the time, as tourists are a popular target and the paint doesn’t come out easily!
October/November: Diwali or Tihar is celebrated. This is the Festival of Light and is marked by the illumination of thousands of lights, fireworks, baking cakes and other sweets and making patterns in sand outside one’s house. This is to accompany the return of the god Rama from his banishment in the jungle. The festival of the goddess Lakshimi is held at the same time.
October/November: Pushkar Camel Fair. At full moon during the Hindu month Kartika Purnima and Pushkar transforms from a sleepy place into a madhouse. Tens of thousands of camels and horses and as many as a quarter of a million people descend on the area. This is the largest camel market in India, probably the world. The occasion is marked by camel races, music and dancing. It is a spectacular occasion, and people stay in large, colourful campsites where food is made readily available.