Gujarat is one of the diverse and most beautiful state in India. Thousand of small and big fairs and festivals are celebrated in different parts of Gujarat every year. The festivals are based on the lunar or solar calendar. These festivals are observed with great enthusiasm and fun in which the people of all caste and religion participate. Today, these festivals are perhaps the only occasion that represents the true tradition and culture of Gujarat. Some of the fairs and festivals which are celebrated in Gujarat throughout the year are International Kite Festival, Diwali, Holi, Janmashtami, Kutch Mahotsava, Navratri, Shamlaji Fair, Modhera Dance Festival, Tarnetar Fair, Bhadra Purnima and Vautha Fair.
The International Kite Festival is celebrated on 14th January, that coincide with the festival of Uttarayan or Makar Sankranti. The festival is celebrated to mark the end of winter. On this day, the kites flew all over Gujarat, including Ahmedabad and Baroda. The people eat the special food on this day in the open field or in the park or in the garden of one’s home. This festival marks the movement of the sun into the northern hemisphere. The gods who are believed to have gone in a long sleep for six long months awake and the portals of heaven are thrown open. The visitors visit the temples and alms are distributed freely. The kite-flying starts at dawn and continues without a pause throughout the day. Friends, neighbours and total strangers battle one another for supremacy and cries of triumph fill the air when they cut each other kites. The thread which is used to fly the kites are specially prepared by experts before the final day. Special mixtures of glue and ground glass cover the thread which is dried and then rolled onto reels known as firkees. In the night, various illuminated box kites, known as tukkals, fly in the sky. Today, the International Kite Festival is famous all over the world. This festival enables the people of Ahmedabad to see the unusual kites brought by the visitors, some of which are truly works of art.
The Modhera Dance Festival is held during the third week of January every year, after the festival of Uttarayan. This festival is celebrated at the Sun Temple in Modhera. The style in which the temple was built bears a strong resemblance to that of the Jain temples at Mount Abu. The decision to celebrate the annual festival of Indian classical dances was taken by the Department of Culture, Gujarat, and the West Zone Cultural Centre at the Sun Temple. The idea was to present classical dances in an atmosphere similar to that in which these were originally presented.
The Kutch Mahotsava is usually organized during February and March each year. This mahotsava is organized by the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited in order to promote tourism in Kutch. In this festival, the visitors are taken on a six day tour of Kutch. This tour is known as a mahotsava, or great festival, because of the great variety of sights and scenes that are offered to visitors. Kutch has everything to offer to its visitors like the colourful people, historic towns and remarkable handicrafts.
The Bhavnath Mahadev Fair is held for five days during Mahashivratri in the month of February. This fair is held at the Bhavnath Mahadev Temple, located at the foot of Girnar hill in Junagadh. The events which are associated with the fair are very colourful. The Mahapuja of Lord Shiva is held in this temple at midnight, on the 14th day of the dark half of the month of Magh. When the puja starts, naga bavas (naked sages) living nearby move towards the fair on elephants, holding flags and blow conch shells, that sound tungis and turis. It is also believed that Lord Shiva himself visits the shrine on this occasion. During this fair, the visitors are served free meals by the organizers. In the fair there are special stalls that sell idols, sarees brought by vendors from Ayodhya and Mathura, utensils of brass and copper, sweets and fruits.
The spring festival of Holi is celebrated on the full moon day in the month of Phalguna. While Diwali marks the end of the monsoon and therefore the agricultural season of the Kharif crop, Holi marks the agricultural season of the Rabi crop. The next day after Holi is celebrated as Dhuleti (Dhuli Padvo) when people throw colour powder at each other and make merry.
On the festival of Balev or Raksha Bandhan, the Brahmins change their sacred threads. On the same day sisters tie Rakhi on their brother’s wrist wishing them a happy life. The day is also celebrated as Nariyeli Poonam in the coastal areas of the State, where people worship the sea offering coconuts.
Saptak Music Festival of Indian classical music is usually conducted on the first week of January in Ahmedabad every year. This festival was inaugurated by Pandit Ravi Shankar in 1980. The musical event is organised by a public charitable trust which runs the Saptak School of Music. This festival which spans the first 11 days of January, showcases the best talent of more than hundred musicians.
Janmashtami, the birthday of Shri Krishna, is celebrated with great splendour in Dwaraka. The main deity of Dwaraka is Shri Krishna. During the festival, the pilgrims visit the temple in Dwaraka from all parts of India and abroad. In this festival, the rows of lights are lit everywhere, kirtans and bhajans are sung, sermons are delivered and Krishna is worshipped in his infant form. After visiting the main temple, devotees visit the Shankhoddhar Beyt.
The Bhadra Purnima Fair is held for three days in the month of September, every year. This fair is held on the full moon of Bhadrapad at the temple of the goddess Ambaji in Ambaji. Ambaji is the principal shrine of the goddess Ambaji in Gujarat. The deity is represented by a triangular Vishwa yantra, inscribed with figures and the syllable ‘Shree’ in the centre and there is no idol. This fact testifies the temple’s antiquity that the tourists visit the temple during the fair as an essential part of their lives. On this day, the various agriculturists and general public visit the temple. In the evening the Bhavai and garba dances are performed. The devotee attend readings of the Sapatashati, the seven hundred verses in praise of the goddess, and visit the temple for an auspicious view of the deity.
The Shamlaji Fair, also known as the Kartik Purnima Fair is held during the month of November, every year. This fair is held in Shamlaji, about 80 kms from Ahmedabad. The Shamlaji Temple is a renowned Vaishnav shrine, and the deity housed therein is known by various names as Gadadhar, bearer of the mace and Shaksi Gopal. The Shamlaji Fair is celebrated for about two weeks. About 200,000 people of all communities and castes including the Garasia and Bhil tribes visit the fair. The visitors come here from the adjoining districts and from Rajasthan. Besides visiting the deity in the temple, they also take a bath in the river Meshwo. The visitors usually come in groups, and sing devotional songs, carrying religious banners.
The Tarnetar Fair, also known as the Trinetreshwar Mahadev Fair is held at Tarnetar, near the industrial town of Thangadh, Saurashtra. This fair is one of the most important fair of Gujarat. The local as well as the tribal people gather from all over Gujarat to participate in the various activities that take place at the fair. It is believed that the fair is held on this ancient site since antiquity. The fair is also one of the most important matchmaking melas as the tribal youths visit Tarnetar to find a suitable match. Its association with the Mahabharat is underlined by the fact that the area was known as Panchal Pradesh, the land to which Draupadi belonged. The fair is linked with the story of Draupadi’s Swayamvar and it is said that it was at this place that the great archer Arjuna performed the difficult task that won him his bride. Over 300 stalls are set up in the fair, that sell numerous objects and offer various types of food and refreshments. There are exhibitions of embroidery, a cattle show, competitive sports, family planning stall, merry-go-rounds and photographer’s stall. The folk music and dances like the Garba ras and hodo are the main features of the fair.
Navratri, that means ‘nine nights’ is an ancient, colourful and religious festival of Gujarat. This festival is celebrated to honour the one Divine Shakti or Force which supports the entire universe and is personified as the Mother Goddess. The Mother Goddess protects her worshippers, destroys evil and grants boons to her children. Navratri is celebrated with joy and enthusiasm throughout the Gujarat, but in Ahmedabad and Baroda, Garba and Dandia dances are performed. This festival is celebrated with true devotion in the various temples which are dedicated to the Mother Goddess. In this festival, the women perform the Garba dance or the circular dance around an earthenware pot called a garbo which is filled with water. A betel nut and a silver coin are placed within the pot, on the top of which a coconut is placed. As the dancers whirl around the pot, a singer and a drummer also accompanies them. The participants clap in a steady rhythm. The dance usually starts slowly and gets fast with the music. In large public areas, group of musicians sing the traditional garba songs. The Dandia ras or ‘stick’ dance is also performed during Navratri. Both the men and women perform the dance in circle, holding small polished sticks or dandies. As per the rhythm of the dance, men and women strike the dandies together, adding to the joyous atmosphere. These dances are so popular that sometimes competitions are held and prizes are given to the best dancer. The dancers worn the traditional costumes, alive with colour. The dances usually commence late in the night and continue until early morning. A Bhavai dance is also performed in the Ambaji temple at Baroda, during Navratri.
Vautha Fair is a magnificent fair that is held every year at Vautha, where two rivers, Sabarmati and Vatrak meet. This fair is considered to be one of the largest fairs in Gujarat. According to the legends the Kartik Swami or Kartikeya, the son of Lord Shiva, visited the site. This fair is held during Kartika Purnima, the full moon night of the month of Kartik, corresponding to the month of November for 2 to 3 days. The pilgrims who visit Vautha during the fair come from several communities and include farmers, laborers and people belonging to several castes. This fair is visited by Hindus and Muslims in very large numbers. This fair is also one of the major animal trading fair in Gujarat. In this fair, about 4000 donkeys are brought every year for sale, usually by Banjara traders.
Madhavrai Fair at Madhavpur near Porbandar is held to celebrate the marriage of Lord Krishna and Rukmini, on the 9th day of the bright half of the month of Chaitra (March/April).
The Urs at Shah Alam Roza in Ahmedabad and at Miran Datar in the Mehsana district are most important fairs for Muslims.
Diwali, the festival of lights is a four-day festival celebrated in the month of Asvina, which marks the end of the harvesting season. The first day of the festival starts with the Lakshmi Puja. The second day is considered as the day of casting off evils. The third day is the main Diwali day. On this day every home is illuminated with earthen lamps and the courtyards are decorated with Rangoli designs. The fourth and the last day is the New year day for the Gujarati’s when people visit temples in colourful costumes and greet each other. The day following the new year day is called the Bhai bij day when brothers are invited by their sisters to partake of sweets with them. The full moon day of the Kartika month, with its preceding eleventh (ekadashi) day is called the Dev-Diwali. On these days the marriage of the Tulsi plant with the Shaligram, symbolising Lord Vishnu, is celebrated in every Hindu home in Gujarat. It also marks the end of the fast, observed for the four months of rainy season, during which Hindus, mostly ladies, miss a meal on every Ekadashi day.