Also known as the ‘festival of lights’, this one day festival usually occurs between mid-October and mid-November and is celebrated in many countries. Overall it is a celebration of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance, but for Hindus, Sikhs and Jains the festival has different religious meanings. Many houses, shops and public places are decorated with small earthenware lamps called diyas, fireworks are set off, religious rituals are practised and gifts are exchanged.
SEMANA SANTA, GUATEMALA
To honour the holy week, towns throughout Guatemala host enormous celebrations featuring colourful parades, extravagant floats, burning incense and intricate costumes. Beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Good Friday, Antigua boasts the most extravagant festival with Catholic processions commemorating the life and death of Christ. Before the main procession streets are lined with intricately woven, colourful carpets made of flowers, coloured sawdust and intricately carved fruit and vegetables.
DIA DE LOS MUERTOS, MEXICO
A Mexican holiday, ‘Day of the Dead’ focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. The celebration takes place on 1st and 2nd November (All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day) and traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars honouring the deceased using sugar skulls and marigolds, eating the favourite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with gifts.
Holi is a religious spring festival, mainly celebrated by Hindus. Bonfires are lit on the eve of the festival, also known as Holika Dahan (burning of little Holi), in memory of the miraculous escape that young Prahlad accomplished when Demoness Holika carried him into the fire. Holika was burnt but Prahlad, a staunch devotee of God Vishnu, escaped without any injuries due to his unshakable devotion. The celebrations can last up to 16 days, with Hindus throwing coloured powder and water at each other in the street.
Songkran is the welcoming of spring and the vernal equinox in Thailand, although it’s also celebrated in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, albeit under different names and on slightly different dates. In Thailand it begins on 13th April and ends on 15th April and is the traditional New Year when holiday is taken. The most famous celebrations last for six days in the northern city of Chang Mai and Thais celebrate by throwing water at each other and passers-by in the street. It also marks the end of the dry season in Thailand and the hottest time of year.
OBON FESTIVAL, JAPAN
The Obon Festival lasts for three days across Japan, usually in August. It is a Buddhist festival to commemorate one’s ancestors and is celebrated through Bon Odori dances and a giant bonfire lit in the hills of Kyoto. The festival is also known as the “festival of lanterns”, as one of the customs during this time is to send paper lanterns floating along the river to symbolise the souls of those departed returning to their graves in peace.
Tsechus are integral to Bhutanese culture and take place everywhere, from tiny, isolated villages to some of the country’s largest dzongs (monasteries). People travel from all over the country to celebrate and, increasingly, these colourful events are attracting visitors from around the world.
Tsechus are a wonderful way to experience and gain an insight into this unique culture. Whether visiting a large festival or a smaller, more intimate tsechu you will be thrilled with a captivating mix of sound, colour and atmosphere. These large festivals are extremely popular so it is worth planning 9 to 12 months in advance.
PERAHERA FESTIVAL, KANDY, SRI LANKA
The Escala Perahera Festival in Kandy, which happens every August, is the most famous of Sri Lanka’s colourful celebrations. The country’s most sacred relic, one of Buddha’s teeth, is normally kept enshrined within the town’s Dalada Maligawa temple but during the festival it is paraded around the streets with much fanfare. The festival lasts ten days and is a spectacle of elephants, drummers, dancers, chieftains, acrobats, whip-crackers, torch bearers and thousands of pilgrims in procession.
The Perahera gradually becomes longer and more lavish over the ten day period and culminates in a dazzling celebration on the final night led by a cast of hundreds of elephants and thousands of performers. The festival is unparalleled in Sri Lanka and is one of the finest spectacles in the Indian Subcontinent.
PHAUNG DAW OO PAGODA FESTIVAL, MYANMAR
Set in and around the stilted villages of Inle Lake, the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival is one of the largest Buddhist festivals in Myanmar. The festival is held from the first day of the waxing moon to the third day after the full moon of Thadingyut: September and October in our western calendar.
The celebrations continue for more than 20 days as four out of five revered Buddha images are paraded around the lake in an elaborate, gilded barge pulled by traditional long boats manned by hundreds of rowers. Throughout the festival rowing competitions are held, which makes for a wonderfully visual spectacle.