River Cruises of India: The Festival Edition

Updated: Jun 22

India, as we all know, is huge – not only is it the world’s second-most populous country, but it’s also the largest multiethnic and religiously pluralistic democracy. Indians practise nine major religions, each of which has their own set of festivals; add to this over 600 tribes and their own festivals, and you end up with a calendar year that’s filled to the brim with fanfare, festivities and fun.


As part of the onshore excursions from our river cruises on the Ganges and Brahmaputra, guests have the opportunity to deepen their cultural immersion by either partaking in or learning more about these festivals from village locals and townsfolk in the regions of Assam and West Bengal.


If you’re looking for a river cruise in India that coincides with a festival, then we have just the list for you:


January


The start of the year bears witness to the celebration of many harvest festivals throughout the length and breadth of the country – from Pongal in the south to Lohri in the north, Makar Sankranti in the west and Magh Bihu in the east.


Feasting before the Meji


In Assam, Bihu is a series of three prominent festivals that are celebrated in tandem with agricultural cycles. Magh Bihu (also called Bhogali Bihu) takes place at the end of the harvest season, observed throughout cities, towns and villages through community feasting on a variety of rice dishes (flattened, glutinous, sun-dried and more). On our Brahmaputra cruises during Magh Bihu, guests visit riverside villages where it’s not uncommon to come across families working together to construct temporary hay houses in lawns or paddy fields, only for them to get burned down the following morning as part of the Meji, a ceremonial bonfire.


Magh Bihu: 15 Jan 2021


Cruises that coincide with this festival are:

Brahmaputra Maximum - 9 to 19 Jan 2021

Magh Bihu: 15 Jan 2022


Cruises that coincide with this festival are:

Brahmaputra Maximum - 8 to 18 Jan 2022

Rhinos & More - 8 to 15 Jan 2022

River Island Cruise - 15 to 22 Jan 2022



March


Arguably one of the most popular festivals in India is Holi, the festival of colours. What makes this festival exceptionally special is the fact that though it is technically rooted in Hinduism, it’s still celebrated by people across all religions, castes, creeds and languages in India and even other parts of the world.


In essence, Holi signifies the triumph of good over evil, but it’s also associated with the arrival of spring, the end of winter, the blossoming of love, and – in general – simply a festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair relationships. It’s a day when everyone is out in the streets, parks and community grounds, smearing each other with colours – in powdered form, paste or water. During Holi, anyone and everyone is fair game, so if you’re walking down the street, don’t be shocked if a stranger comes over to smear colour on you! It’s a day of joy and frolic that can get very messy, but that’s all part of the fun!


ABN Rajmahal crew celebrating Holi


Holi: 28-29 March 2021


Cruises that coincide with this festival are:

Brahmaputra Taster - 23 to 27 March 2021

Rhinos & More - 20 to 27 March 2021

Historic Hooghly Downstream - 25 Mar to 1 Apr 2021


Holi: 17-18 March 2022


Cruises that coincide with this festival are:


Brahmaputra Taster - 15 to 19 Mar 2022

Historic Hooghly Upstream - 17 to 24 Mar 2022


April


Springtime in April is when the people of Assam celebrate the much-awaited Rongali Bihu (also called Bohag Bihu). It comes at a time when the granaries are full so there’s much cause for merriment, dancing and feasting.


The first day of Bihu is dedicated to cattle, the main source of livelihood for many people in an agrarian society. On this day, domesticated cows and bullocks are ceremonially bathed, fed and made to wear flower garlands. The following day is dedicated to elders in the family or society; this is when rural and urban folk alike prepare Assamese desserts made of various types of rice, sesame seeds, jaggery, ground coconut and more, and go out to seek the blessings of their elders. The final day is for worshipping deities, and namghars (community prayer halls) are filled with people sitting cross-legged and offering naam (prayers) to their respective deities.



Dancers performing Bihu


The best part? Throughout all the days, troupes of dancers and musicians visit homes and dance in the fields or open courtyards (including the sundeck of ABN Charaidew II if they’re in the area!). They come singing songs of love and romance to the beat of traditional instruments like the pepa (flute made of buffalo horn), gogona (a vibrating reed instrument) and xutuli (a half-moon instrument made from clay or bamboo) – an enormously enjoyable performance for all.


Rongali Bihu: 14 to 16 April 2021


Cruises that coincide with this festival are:

Brahmaputra Maximum - 10 to 20 April

Brahmaputra Taster - 13 to 17 April

Rongali Bihu: 14 to 16 April 2022


Cruises that coincide with this festival are:


Rhinos & More - 12 to 19 April 2022

Rhinos & More - 15 to 22 April 2022


October - November


Durga Puja


An artist with his creation of goddess Durga


By mid-October or early November, it’s time for Navratri or Durga Puja, the most vibrant festival in all of West Bengal, observed with equal fervour in Assam. Durga Puja is a Hindu festival that commemorates the victory of good over evil through the worship of goddess Durga’s annihilation of the shape-shifting asura (demon) Mahishasur; it’s also rejoicing of the divine feminine, celebrating the goddess as the mother of all creation. It is a ten-day-long festival, marked by much fanfare with entire streets transformed with temporary decorations (known as pandals) celebrating the goddess, as well as feasting, family visits and public processions. It’s quite an experience walking through these pandals during Durga Puja – a vibrant explosion of colour, music and revelry – where local artists proudly show off months of work on sculptures of the goddess.


Durga Puja: 22 to 26 October 2020


Cruises that coincide with this festival are:


Bengal Memories - 20 to 23 Oct 2020

Bengal Memories - 23 to 26 Oct 2020

Historic Hooghly Upstream - 22 to 29 Oct 2020


Durga Puja: 11 to 15 October 2021 No cruises.



Diwali


November is an exciting month to be Indian because – if you’re lucky – your city or town could be celebrating both Durga Puja and Diwali within a few weeks of each other! Diwali is the Festival of Lights, during which small earthenware lamps filled with oil are lit and placed in rows along the parapets of temples and houses, and set adrift on rivers and streams. These lamps are meant to invite the goddess Lakshmi – the goddess of wealth – into the home; however, in other parts of India, the festival also celebrates the return of Lord Rama to his home kingdom of Ayodhya.


A priest lighting lamps


Diwali is a time for exchanging gifts, playing with fireworks and crackers, cleaning and decorating houses, and – of course – feasting! It’s one of the prettiest times to visit India, as all houses around the country make an effort to light up their homes in warm yellows. On our ABN cruises in West Bengal and Assam, guests will certainly have an opportunity to visit a pandal or take part in little festival rituals.


Diwali: 14 November 2020


Cruises that coincide with this festival are:


River Island Cruise - 7 to 14 Nov 2020

Historic Hooghly Upstream - 13 to 20 Nov 2020

Diwali: 4 November 2021


Cruises that coincide with this festival are:

Historic Hooghly Upstream - 28 Oct to 4 Nov 2021

Historic Hooghly Downstream - 4 Nov to 11 Nov 2021



Raas Mahotsav


The famous dancing monks of Majuli


Raas Mahotsav is a three-day long festival in celebration of the Lord Krishna, one of the most important gods of Hindu mythology. It takes place on Majuli, one of the world’s largest river islands and a microcosm of Assamese culture. The island is a stronghold of the peaceful religion of neo-Vaishnavism; its elegant island satras (monastery) – some for celibate monks, some for families – showcase a unique way of life where the faithful live simply, offering worship through gayan-bayan (songs and musical instruments) and readings.


During the Raas Mahotsav on an ABN cruises, you can observe and participate in the festivities at various satras, where monks typically in the form of folk and puppet dances and musicals depict Lord Krishna’s life.

Raas Mahotsav: 29 to 30 November 2020

No cruises.

Raas Mahotsav: 18 to 19 November 2021


Cruises that coincide with this festival are:


River Island Cruise - 13 to 20 Nov 2021


Note: festival dates are subject to change without notice. If you’re keen to book a cruise because it coincides with one of the above festivals, it’s best to first check with us so we can plan a suitable experience for you.


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