Around 3500 festivals are celebrated in Gujrat. Gujrat has always been known for its fairs and festivals. Some of these fairs and festivals are :
The Bhavnath Mahadev Temple, situated at the foot of Mount Girnar in the city of Junagadh is the site of the Bhavnath Mahadev fair held for five days in February, during the festival of Mahashivratri. The Mahapuja of Lord Shiva takes place at midnight in this temple on the 14th day of the dark half of the month of Magh. When the puja (prayer ceremony) starts, Naga Bavas (naked sages) living nearby, move towards the fair seated on elephants, holding flags and blowing conch shells. It is firmly believed that Lord Shiva himself visits the shrine on this occasion. Visitors are served free meals by the organizers. Special stalls sell idols, rosaries or holy beads brought by vendors from Ayodhya and Mathura, utensils of brass and copper, sweets and fruits. The Bhavnath Mahadev Temple is surrounded by many equally ancient and holy places.
Dangs Darbar is the name of the annual fair held every year in Ahwa, the most important town in the Dangs a few days before Holi. The Dangs is one of the most delightful districts of Gujarat and is located high in the Saputara hills, the original home of the adivasis, the tribal population of Gujarat. The name 'Darbar' dates back to the time of the British, when a darbar of Rajas and Naiks of neighbouring area used to assemble there. Today it is called Jamabandi Darbar and the District Collector officiates at it. Thousands of tribal people flock to Ahwa from all over the district, dressed in bright colours sounding the Shehnai and beating their drums. Folk dances, dramas and songs enliven the air during the festival.
This fair, one of the largest, purely Adivasi (tribal) fairs attended by around 60,000 to 70,000 tribal people. It takes place every year in the village of Gunbhakhari in Sabarkantha district, very near the borders of Rajasthan. It is held a fortnight after Holi, the festival of colours. The site of the fair is attractive as the temple overlooks the rivers Sabarmati, Akul and Vyakul. The name of the fair is derived from Chitravirya and Vichitraviraya, the sons of King Shantanu, who are believed to have lived here and been cured of diseases which afflicted them. The fair attracts large numbers of Bhils (tribals) who come from all the surrounding districts using every imaginable form of transport. The Garasis and Bhil tribals dress in their customary colourful costumes. The costume of the men generally consists of a blue shirt, dhoti and a red or saffron turban. Women don ghaghras (embroidered skirts) which have a circumference of as much as 20 yards, and are covered from head to foot with ornate and heavy silver jewellery. They use liquid kumkum (vermilion) to colour their cheeks and lips a brilliant red, while their eyes are outlined with kajal (kohl). Every group that comes to the fair carries its own drum making the atmosphere come alive with the incessant beat of numerous drums. The women sing folk songs, and everyone dances. The dancing and drumming continue for hours until everyone is exhausted. Over a hundred stalls hold food and drink, and sweets of various kinds. Silver ornaments can be bought and household articles as well. Here, as in other fairs, there is a giant wheel, and a merry-go-round which never cease to spin.
Around 40 kms from Bhuj, it is known for the samadhi of the famous saint Menkan Dada who served the community with great love and dedication and won their devotion. He was supposed to be the incarnation of Lakshmanji. A large fair is held on Magh Vad when a large number of Dada's followers from different parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan come to the Samadhi and participate in religious rituals.
The small hamlet of Tarnetar, about 75 kilometers from Rajkot, is the site for one of Gujarat's most well known annual fairs, held here during the first week of Bhadrapad (September-October). This fair is primarily a 'marriage mart' or 'Swayamvar' for the tribal youth of today who still visit Tarnetar, to find them a suitable bride. The tribal youth elegantly dressed in colourful dhotis, waistcoats and eye-catching turbans come to be chosen by village belles dressed in colourful finery. Like all-important tribal fairs, it is attended by tribes from the adjoining who indulge in dancing, competitive sports and other such forms of entertainment. There are over 300 stalls selling food, refreshments, exhibiting embroidery and cattle shows. The bachelors are usually identified by their large colourful embroidered umbrellas and their distinctive hairstyles. These umbrellas, which have become emblems of the fair, are embroidered by the tribal youth for over a year. The fair is held around the Trinetreshwar Temple dedicated to the three-eyed Lord Shiva, built at the beginning of the century. There is a kund (reservoir) here and it is popularly believed that a dip in its waters is as holy as a dip in the sacred River Ganges. The reservoir is also known as papanshu (the destroyer of sins).
This magnificent fair is held every year at Vautha, where two rivers, the Sabarmati and the Vatrak meet. Like most fair sites in India, this also has both mythological and current religious associations. The Vautha Mela site is 3 square miles in area. Legends hold that Kartik Swami or Kartikeya, the son of Lord Shiva, visited the site. This is why the fair is held during Kartika Purnima, the full moon night of the month of Kartik, corresponding to November. The site, also known as Saptasangam, is at the confluence of seven rivers. The most important Shiva temple here is the temple of Siddhanath.
What is most significant about this fair is that it is the only major animal trading fair in Gujarat and is on par with the famous camel fair at Pushkar, Rajasthan. However the only animals traded here are donkeys. About 4,000 donkeys are brought every year for sale, usually by Vanjara (gypsy) traders. The pilgrims who visit Vautha during the fair are from several communities and include farmers, labourers and people belonging to several castes.
The Shamlaji Melo, also called the Kartik Purnima fair is held in the month of November every year and lasts for about two weeks. It is attended by almost two hundred thousand people from adjoining districts and even from Rajasthan. Devotees belonging to various castes and communities including the Garasias and Bhils throng this festival. These pilgrims come in groups, singing devotional songs and carry religious banners to have a darshan (worship)of the deity at the Shamlaji Temple. The Shamlaji Temple is a renowned Vaishnav Shrine and the deity housed here is known by various names included Gadadhar (bearer of the mace) and Shaksi Gopal. The fair is also popular with the tribal people of the area, particularly the Bhils, who revere Shamlaji, the deity they refer to as 'Kalio Bavji', the dark divinity. The temple is of great archaeological significance as it was built in the 11th century. Apart from a darshan of the deity in the temple, the pilgrims consider a bath in the river Meshwo essential.
It takes place in mid January and marks the time when the Sun's direct rays reach the Tropic of Capricorn, after the winter solstice. It is celebrated with lots of folk music and dance as well as kite flying. People of Ahmedabad in numbers beyond all comprehension gather on terraces to fly kites of various colours to celebrate Makar Sanskranti or Uttrayana, the welcome to the sun after the cold winter months. The atmosphere at the festival is electrifying-glass strenghtened threads of the Indian fighter kites are matched against each other in the air, and the kite fighter who cuts the other thread is the victor. At night, the activity does not end-kites with Chinese type lanterns are flown and held aloft, looking like bright twinkling stars. Typical food like Undiya, sugar cane juice and local sweets are served to celebrate the day. To promote the festival, Tourism Corporation of Gujarat organises a kite festival, with kite fighting matches, other competitions and exhibitions by kite flying clubs from the world over. Local sightseeing tours for members of kite flying clubs and tourists are organised before and after the festival. A trip to the Kite museum at Paldi, which is one of the few of it's kind in the world with over 100 kites collected by Bhanu Shah is part of the festival package.
Resting on a knoll in the village of Modhera, the ruins of the 11th century Sun Temple are an impressive sight. The outer walls of the temple are covered with sculptures in which the figures of Lord Surya, the sun god are prominent. The Sun Temple is the site of an annual festival of Indian classical dances organized by the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat. The idea is to present classical dance forms in an atmosphere they were originally presented in.
The 'Kutch Festival' or the 'Rann festival' is celebrated at the time of the Shiv Ratri in February/ March. The centre of the festival is Bhuj in Kutch. It has crafts, fairs and folk dances and music and cultural shows, all organized by the Gujarat Tourism. Tours are also conducted, out to the ruins of Dhola Vera, a city that was once a part of the Indus Valley civilization.
Essentially a spring festival, there are several accounts of how Holi came to be celebrated . By one account demoness Hoda was killed by children, reducing her on a heap which was then lighted, thereby circumventing her boon of immortality. Another version treats it as day when child Krishna had sucked the demoness Putna to death. In yet another version which is popular in Gujarat, Pralhad, the son of the demon King Hiranyakashyap had emerged unhurt from the heap of fire he was made to sit on, in the lap of Holika, who got burnt instead. Thus on a full moon day of Phalgun Sud 15 Holi is celebrated to commemorate the event of one's belief. It is done by lighting a bonfire of wood and cowdung which is erected in a conical shape over a small pit which is dug at the bottom. Such fires are lit on almost all important cross-sections of roads or in the chowk of the villages. Elders predict the coming monsoon on the basis of the direction in which the flag planted atop falls. Devotees offer coconut to the fire and the youth retrieve them amidst an applause of bystanders.
It is also the principal religious festival of Adivasis in Gujarat. They abandon work and indulge in ceaseless folk dancing. The girls observe this festival by growing wheat in the bamboo baskets filled with earth and manure. In some tribes people indulge in the fowlest of abuse and mock fights.
The next day after Holi is Dhuleti or Dhuli Padvo. Literally it means throwing of mud, the practice which has given way to throwing of vermilion. At times the merrymaking lapses into unhindered revelry as youngsters indulge into throwing paste colours, not only on their friends but also on strangers taking advantage of the permissiveness granted on the occasion. As noted earlier Adivasis truly celebrate this festival. In the villages of Panchmahals Adivasi men play a martial game known as Gol-Gadheda in which the women after snatching a shoulder scarf from a man, ties it on a tree top with a lump of molasses. It is the job of the man to retrieve it from there not an easy task as the tree is vigorously guarded by women. The game goes on till one of the men succeed in securing the bundle. Such is the boundless merrymaking of the day.
Mahuram is the date when Muslims commemorate the death of Prophet's grandson, Hussain. The highlight of this Muslim festival is the Tazia procession, which includes acrobats, drummers and singers. Miniature replicas of the martyr's tomb are carried during the Tazia procession. The Tazia is made of bamboo and tinsel, and are double storied dome structures. There is competition among participants to offer the best Tazia, acrobatics, music and gymnastics. Tazia is a Persian term for weeping, and devout followers beat their chests to express grief. The Shiya Muslims fast for 10 days during the festival.
Janmashtami, the day Shri Krishna was born is celebrated with great devotion at the Jagat Mandir a temple built 1400 years ago in Dwarka. Devotees throng in thousands to celebrate this joyous occasion. Rows of lights are lit everywhere, kirtans and bhajans (devotional songs) are sung, sermons are delivered and Krishna is worshipped in his infant form. The temple of Ahmedabad the pilgrim towns of Dakore & Dwarka, the fairs of Bayayali & Dwarka, all throng with devotees of the great Lord Krishna. For celebrating Janmashtami the rituals begin on the previous day with fasting, prayers and celebrations.
It is said in the Bhagvath Purana that Kansa had sent Akrur to Gokul for bringing Sri Krishna to Mathura as Krishna had left with his brother Balram by a chariot leaving behind the Gopis and Gopals weeping, the day is celebrated in remembrance of this most touching separation and farewell.
The mammoth procession of Rath Yatra at Ahmedabad is the biggest in Gujarat. It starts from the Jagdish Mandir situated in the Jamalpur area of the city early in the morning. There are three separate chariots for the idols of Krishna, Balram and their sister Subhadra. The chariots resemble those at Jagannath Puri and are adorned with garlands. Music bands and Bhajan Mandlis lead the procession. Decorated elephants also move with the procession and gymnasts and acrobats perform astonishing feats. Numerous sadhus of all Vaishnavite sects and devotees join in this procession headed by the Mahant of Jagannath Temple.
This festival has a three fold significance. It is the day on which Brahmins change their sacred thread, Sisters tie Rakhi to their brothers, and Sea Faring communities worship the sea. On Shravan Sud 15 when the moon is in the constellation of Shravan, the Brahmins, while changing their sacred thread, rededicate themselves to study the Vedas and pursue spiritual upliftment. Whereas generally the day celebrated by all sections of the Hindu society as a day dedicated to love of sisters for their brothers. The practise of tying the rakhi or the protective knot symbolizing the good wishes, has been an ancient one. Kuntamata of Mahabharat had tied rakhi to her grandson Abhimanyu. Another important historic incident narrates how the queen Jhorabai of Mewad summoned the help of Emperor Humayun against the invading forces of Gujarat Sultan by sending him a rakhi.
The day is also celebrated as Nariyeli Poonam in the coastal areas of the State. The sea farers worship the sea by offering coconuts and set sail after the monsoon break.
The full moon of Bhadrapad is one of the four most important festival days of the year, when farmers and agriculturists come to Ambaji, a place that derives its name from Goddess Ambaji whose shrine is located here. On this occasion, a large fair is organized on full moon days. In the evening, performances of Bhavai, the folk drama of the state is held and Garba programmes are organized. The devout attend readings of the Saptashati, the seven hundred verses in praise of the goddess and visit the temple for a darshan (worship) of her. The Ambaji shrine is the principal shrine of the goddess in Gujarat and its origins are still unknown. The Temple of Ambaji is recognized as one of the original Shakti Pithas (religious texts) where, according to the ancient Scriptures, the heart of the goddess Ambaji fell to earth when her body was dismembered. A triangular Vishwa Yantra, inscribed with figures and the syllable 'Shree' in the centre, represents the deity. There is no idol, which in fact testifies the temple's antiquity. Idol worship became popular much later.
Navratri, meaning nine nights is a colourful and ancient festival honouring the Mother Goddess- the Divine Shakti who supports the entire universe, protects worshippers, destroys evil and grants boons to her children. The mother goddess has seven well-known forms, including Kali one of her fiercest manifestations. Navratri is held annually in September-October and is celebrated with joy and religious fervour. An interesting feature of Navratri is the Garba and the Dandia-Ras dances. The costumes worn for the dances are traditional and extremely colourful. These dances start very late at night and end in the early hours of the morning. Ahmedabad is one of the greatest places to enjoy Navratri. All kinds of Rasa-Garbas, Dandia ras etc. are practiced in this period, feasting and fasting are important cultural aspects of this day, and various rituals are performed at temples of the 9 Goddesses of Hinduism. The atmosphere is electric and revelry is in the air.
Dussehra, a ten-day festival in September-October is symbolic of the triumph of good over evil.
The last day of the Hindu year of the Vikram era is celebrated as Diwali or festival of lights all over the State. According to the Purana, Lord Vishnu had rescued Goddess Lakshmi from the hold of King Bali on this day. It is also believed that on this day Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya. Sathia(Swastik) and Rangoli (making of attractive designs by coloured powder) marks every courtyard with rows and rows of earthen lamps lighting up the surrounding area and giving a special touch of festivity. Merchants worship Goddess Lakshmi and the books of accounts. At night firecrackers of various types are burnt by youngsters. The next day or Kartik Sud 1, the first of the Hindu calendar is celebrated as New Years Day with great solemnity.
Ganesh is remembered on chauth or chaturthi, the 4th day of every month of the Hindu calendered, but most of all on Ganesh Chaturthi which is celebrated as his birthday. Ladoos are distributed on the day-by tradition ladoos were placed in different corners of the house and eaten before the meal. Milk is offered to idols of lord Ganesh at home and at temples, and Ganesh puja is performed at all temples and hi-house prayer rooms. Fasting, feasting and distribution of sweets offered to Lord Ganesh are important aspects of Ganesh chaturthi rituals in India. Hindus pray to images of Lord Ganesha, large and small, many of them made specially for the occasion by cottage industries and street side artisans, and those that do not wish to keep the idols alive by daily prayers, offerings and lighting oil lamps, immerse them in the nearest water body (all rivers, lakes and the sea which are sacred to Hindus). Centuries ago during a war between the Gods and the Demons, Lord Shiva was away for a long time. His wife, Goddess Parvati, afraid of being alone for an extended period used her divine powers and created a son, Ganesh, and gave him the responsibility of protecting the house. When Lord Shiva and his army, returned victorious to his home, Parvati was in her bath, and Ganesh had been strictly instructed not to allow anyone in. Angered by Ganesh's refusal to allow him in to the house, Lord Shiva and his army chopped off the boy's head. When Parvati came out of her bath, she was shocked and grieved to see her son dead. Lord Shiva, to pacify, her proclaimed that the head of Ganesh would be replaced by that of the first creature that came up the hill. As luck would have it the first visitor to the hill was an elephant and his head was promptly cut off and placed on that of Lord Ganesh, and life was restored to the son of Lord Shiva and goddess Parvati. To pacify his wife further and compensate for the act of killins own son, Lord Shiva bestowed upon Ganesh the powers of a God and blessed him that henceforth no activity will begin without invoking your name and blessings. Since then, it is said, no new venture - the inauguration of accompany, the opening of a shop, the foundation of a building, entering a new home - is deemed complete by Hindus without a Ganesh puja.