Delhi’s festival calendar begins with the Republic Day parade on 26th January. This is one of the most colourful events of the city and is a big crowd puller. It is also an interesting opportunity for the city’s expat population to see folk dances and tableaux from various states of India. The two-hour long parade moves between Rajpath and the Red Fort, and is rounded off with a spectacular air show put up by the Indian Air Force. Three days later the ‘Beating of the Retreat’ takes place at Vijay Chowk and marks the end of the Republic Day celebrations. The event commences with a parade by select contingents of the armed forces. They play martial music and march in intricate patterns. The parade climaxes with all the bands playing in unison. As the bands drop silent, a lone trumpeter plays the moving tune ‘Siki a mole’ followed by the Massed Bands playing the hymn ‘Abide with me’, said to be the favorite of Mahatma Gandhi. At 6 pm the National Flag is lowered to the National Anthem brings the Republic Day celebrations to a formal end.
February – March
Sometime February-March (depending on the Hindu lunar calendar) is the time to see cultural performances during the various the Garden Festivals. Holi, the festival of colors, marks the onset of spring and is usually celebrated sometime in March. One of the most noticeable traits of this festival is that people playfully throw colourful powder on each other in what’s known as playing Holi.
May – August
Not much goes on in the hot summer months of May-June, but by July or August the festivals start up yet again. Raksha Bandan (usually in August) celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters and at this time, sisters tie “rakhis” (string bracelets) to their brothers’ wrists. Brothers, in turn, give their sisters token gifts and promise to stand up for them and protect them. Independence Day is also in August, and this national holiday is celebrated with much fanfare and flag waving.
The bulk of North India’s festivals are held in the late autumn, and this is known as the “festival season”.
October – December
Early October is the time to head to Mehrauli to witness Phulwalon-Ki-Sair or the Flower Sellers Procession, a ritual that dates back to the 16th century. The procession starts by offering flowers first at the temple of Jog Maya and goes through the Mehrauli Bazaar to the tomb of Saint Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, a Sufi saint, to present curtains made of flowers there.
Dussehra, the ten-day festival commemorating the victory of Lord Rama over the demon king, Ravana, is also celebrated in October. A month-long ‘Ram Lila’ a dance-drama performance depicting scenes from the epic Ramayana is staged at various venues in the city. The Ram Lila ground on Asaf Ali Road is one of the biggest venue for this.
Dussehra is followed by Diwali, the most important festival in North India and often called the Festival of Lights. Various Diwali melas (markets) come up around the city where hawkers sell food, handicrafts, a variety of terracotta lamps and candles. People decorate their houses with lamps and you can see various firework displays.
After Diwalli, the annual “wedding season” fires up, and this is the time when most North Indian weddings take place. During this time, the streets often become crowded with loud wedding processions, and Delhiites don their finest silks and jewels for the celebrations.
Communities from different states of India reside in Delhi and as a result many regional festivals like Durga Puja (popular with Bengalis) are also celebrated in the capital. Winter in Delhi is also the time to see events like the Vintage Car Rally, Balloon Mela and the Surajkund Crafts Mela.