10 Most Popular Festivals of South India

Starting with God’s own country in Kerala, to the vibrant culture of Tamil Nadu, from the well organized cyber parks of Karnataka to the diversity of Andhra Pradesh… South India is home to numerous popular festivals that are as vibrant and diverse as the land itself.

For Indians whether religious or atheist festival bear a deep cultural meaning. Behind most mythological stories of gods and goddesses there lies some deep philosophical metaphor.

Here are the top 10 most popular festivals of south India that are a must-see when in the country:

1. Onam

A festival that celebrates prosperity and fertility, Onam is celebrated during the harvest season in Kerala. It brings together people of different castes, communities and religion that together celebrate the harvest for the year. The legend behind Onam is that a mythical king named Mahabali comes to check on his subjects during this time of the year. The festival goes on for 10 days; however, the first and last days are the most important during the festival.

Women wear special white Sarees with golden seams traditional to the region and perform several rituals like Pookkalam, which is a colorful decoration painted by people in front of their homes. There are also various traditional dance performances delivered in celebration like Thiruvathira kali or Kaikotti kali during Onam. The festival is often referred to as the festival of Rain Flowers.

Onam Festival

Suggested Tour : 8 Days - Kerala Cultural Tour

2. Pongal

Tamil Nadu celebrates Pongal every year on the 14th of January, their most popular festival. The translation of the word ‘pongal’ means to boil over. It is considered auspicious in Tamil culture when milk boils over from a clay pot; it signifies prosperity in the household. Thus, during this festival people prepare various sweet dishes with rice boiled in milk that is then offered to the Sun God.

Pongal, Tamilnadu

Other sweet dishes made with sugarcane syrup, turmeric and cereals that are harvested during this time also form part of the celebrations. Like Onam this festival also marks a special harvest season for the people and is a symbol of prosperity. While in the cities most people celebrate if for a day, the actual festival goes on for 4 days as per the rituals. This is the same festival that the rest of the country celebrates as Makar Sankranti, which also has sweets cooked in milk as a special part of the celebrations.

Pongal Celebration

Suggested Tour : 7 Days - Tamilnadu Kerala Culture Tour

3. Thrissur Pooram

Yet another annual festival celebrated in Kerala, this is celebrated at the infamous Vadakkunnathan Temple of Thrissur. The festival begins as the moon rises with the Pooram star. It shows the Keralite culture galore with large displays of beautifully decorated elephants, several fireworks, percussion music and decorated parasols.

The festival was started by the king of Cochin in the early 1700s, Raja Rama Varma and has been celebrated every year during the months of April to May. There is an enchanting musical performance that is special to the festival in the name of Ilanjithara Melam that is performed during the celebrations. It is a unique performance with 250 artists playing the special instrument called chenda simultaneously.

Thrissur Pooram, Kerala

Also Read : Top Fairs and Festivals in Kerala

4. Hampi Festival

Also known as the Vijaya Festival, which festival of victory, this is one of the largest celebrations for Hampi the historic town in south India. It has been celebrated since the times of the rule of Vijaynagara. The festival takes place every year around early November and includes special performances like music, dance and puppet shows. There are fireworks as well as decorated pomp processions done during the festival as well.

Hampi Festival

Also Read : Top 5 Things To Do In Hampi

Suggested Tour : 3 Days - Hampi and Hospet Tour from Bangalore

5. Mysore Dasara

Opulence and grandeur is synonymous with the city of Mysore thanks to its amazing architectural heritage of the Mysore Palace. The festival of Mysore Dasara is celebrated annually in sometime between September to October. It is a 9 day festival that is celebrated around the country as Dusshera, but the Mysore Dasara is a feast for the eyes for those who love bling! The palace is decorated with over 100,000 light bulbs.

Mysore Dasara, Mysore Palace
Mysore Palace decorated with 100,000 light bulbs

There are also grand processions of the royal deity of Goddess Chamundeshwari around the town decorated in ornaments. The procession is so grand that it is popularly known as jumbo savari, where savari means journey. There is also an exhibition help opposite to the palace which forms yet another popular attraction during this festival.

Jumboo Savari at Mysore Dasara
Jumboo Savari at Mysore Dasara

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Suggested Tour : 3 Days - Karnataka Tour

6. Chithirai Thiruvizha, Madurai

Celebrated during the month of Chitira as per the Tamil calendar, which is usually during the month of April is a glorious month long festival, truly one of its kind. The first 15 days of the festival is devoted to the worship of Goddess Meenakshi a reincarnation of Goddess Parvati the Hindu deity, and the remaining 15 days is devoted to the worship of Alagar, the reincarnated form of Lord Vishnu.

Chithirai Thiruvizha, Madurai

Also Read : The Most Spiritual Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai

7. Vishu, Kerala

It is the traditional New Year celebrations for the people of Kerala, which is during the month of April. The main attractions of this festival are marked by Vishupadakkam, which means to burst crackers and decorate the household with lights and candles.

The festival also has a special ritual of gifting money to each other known as Vishukkaineetam. There is also a special ritual of Vishukkani which is an assortment of auspicious things that a person must first look at the first thing in the morning to mark a prosperous new year. The assortment consists of things like, yellow flowers, betel leaves, fruits, rice, metal mirror, coins etc.

Vishu Festival, Kerala
Must first look at the first thing in the morning at Vishu Festival

Also Read : Unique Ways of Celebrating Diwali in India

Suggested Tour : 10 Days - Best of Kerala Tour

8. Ugadi, Andhra Pradesh

The name itself suggests the beginning of a new age. This festival marks the beginning of the Hindu lunar year as per the lunar calendar. It is a celebration for the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, but other parts of the country also celebrate this festival with different names.

One of the specialties of this festival is the infamous Ugadi Pachadi, which is a special chutney cooked to celebrate the New Year. Apart from the special chutney, other delicious food items is the true essence of the festival and households prepare special dishes and eat together in the spirit of the festival.

Ugadi Festival

9. Karaga, Karnataka

One of the oldest festivals of the state of Karnataka, this is one of prime festivals of the Thigala community in Kerala. It is the celebration of the divine power of Draupadi the auspicious character in the pic Mahabharata who is known to have actually saves the lives of her husbands, the Pandavas during the bloody battle of Kurukshetra. It is said that during the 9 days of the festival, the power of the deity can be felt in the ambience, which generally takes place in the months of March or April.

Karaga Festival

Read More : India’s Famous Festivals and Events in April

Suggested Tour : 11 Days - Karnataka and Kerala Tour

10. Mahamaham Festival, Tamilnadu

A truly unique festival that is celebrated once in every 12 years in the Kumbakonam town of Tamil Nadu, it signifies enlightenment is the Mahamaham festival. It is considered auspicious to take a dip in the holy Mahamaham tank during the day of the festival that is celebrated once in 12 years when the planet Jupiter enters the sign of Leo as per Hindu astrology. Numerous devotees flock to the popular tourist destination to take a dip and partake in Theerthavari, where the deities around the town of Kumbakonam also take a holy dip in the tank along with the devotees, marking a sign of purification.

Mahamaham Festival
Devotees taking a dip in the holy Mahamaham tank

The festivals offer a unique glimpse into the lives and culture of the people of southern India and bear deep meaning of spirituality and tolerance in the country known for its diversity. A trip to the southern states is highly recommended during the festivals, while it may be crowded but the energies of those in celebration will breathe a new meaning of life into you!

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