Asia is a diverse continent with a rich cultural heritage and a long history of celebrating various festivals throughout the year. From colorful spring festivals in India and Nepal to traditional sports competitions in Mongolia and religious ceremonies in Bhutan and Bali, the festivals of Asia offer a glimpse into the unique customs, traditions, and beliefs of the region. Whether it’s a time for family gatherings, cultural performances, or spiritual reflection, festivals in Asia are a celebration of life and an opportunity to connect with the community and the world around us.
At Red Lantern Journeys, we’re passionate about helping travelers discover the rich cultural heritage of Asia through its unforgettable festivals. Here are some of our favorites:
Thimphu Tshechu, Bhutan:
An annual festival held in the capital city of Bhutan, Thimphu. The festival takes place in late September or early October and is a celebration of Bhutanese culture, religion, and history. The highlight of the festival is the mask dances, or cham, performed by monks and laypeople dressed in colorful costumes and ornate masks. The dances are meant to tell stories from Buddhist scripture and are believed to bring blessings and good luck to those who witness them. In addition to the mask dances, the festival also features other traditional Bhutanese activities such as archery, traditional games, and the display of thangka paintings.
Paro Tshechu, Bhutan:
It is another popular Bhutanese festival, held in the town of Paro in the spring. Like Thimphu Tshechu, the festival features mask dances, as well as other traditional Bhutanese activities such as archery and singing and dancing performances. One of the main attractions of the festival is the unveiling of a large thangka painting depicting Guru Rinpoche, a revered figure in Bhutanese Buddhism.
Jambay Lhakhang Drup Festival, Bhutan:
An annual festival held in the Bumthang district of Bhutan. The festival takes place in October or November and is one of the oldest and most important festivals in Bhutan. The festival is known for its sacred dances and rituals, which are said to have been established by Guru Rinpoche himself. The highlight of the festival is the “Mewang” or “Fire Dance,” or fire blessing ceremony, During this dance, dancers jump over a large fire pit while carrying burning branches, as a symbol of purification and the triumph of good over evil.
Takayama Festival, Japan:
A biannual festival is held in the city of Takayama, Japan. The festival takes place in the spring and fall and is known for its elaborate floats, called yatai, which are decorated with intricate carvings and ornate fabrics. The floats are paraded through the streets of the city, accompanied by musicians and dancers in traditional dress. The festival also features other traditional Japanese activities such as tea ceremonies and sake tastings. There are also food stalls and traditional handicraft vendors lining the streets, adding to the festive atmosphere.
Bon Odori, Japan:
A traditional Japanese dance festival is held in the summer to honor the spirits of ancestors. It is believed that their spirits return at this time to visit their relatives.
Chochin (paper) lanterns are hung to guide the spirits and Obon dances (bon odori) are performed. Families have reunions and visit the graves of their relatives and make food offerings at altars and temples.
The festival takes place throughout Japan and features large outdoor dance performances. The dances are performed in a circle around a central stage and are accompanied by traditional Japanese music. Participants wear yukata, or casual summer kimono, and dance in a variety of styles, from slow and graceful to fast and energetic.
A popular Hindu festival is usually celebrated over two days and is known as the Festival of Colors, Love, and Spring. It celebrates the eternal love of Radha and Krishna. Holi marks the end of winter. The first day involves lighting bonfires to purify the air of evil. The second day is the main event which is the throwing of colorful powders and water on each other, which is called playing Holi. People wear white clothing to make the colors stand out more, and they smear colored powder on each other’s faces, drench each other with water, and sing and dance to the beat of drums and music.
Holi is a time for families to spend time together and people from all backgrounds are encouraged to get involved. South Asian communities worldwide celebrate Holi.
Bateshwar Cattle Fair/Festival, India:
An annual event held in the town of Bateshwar in Uttar Pradesh, India. The festival takes place in November and is a celebration of the Hindu god, Lord Shiva. The festival is also known for its large cattle fair, where farmers from all over India gather to buy and sell livestock, including cows, camels, and horses. In addition to the cattle fair, the festival also features traditional Indian music, dance, and food.
Nadaam Festival, Mongolia:
A traditional Mongolian festival is held in the summer. The festival is a celebration of Mongolian culture and features three main events: wrestling, horse racing, and archery. These sports are deeply rooted in Mongolia’s history and culture and are an integral part of the festival. The wrestling competition is particularly popular, with hundreds of wrestlers from all over the country competing in the tournament.
In addition to the sports competitions, the festival also includes cultural performances, traditional music, and dance shows. Visitors can also enjoy traditional Mongolian food and drinks and participate in various other activities like horse riding and camel riding.
A Hindu festival celebrated by women in Nepal and some parts of India. It is a three-day festival that usually takes place in August or early September, depending on the lunar calendar.
The first day of Teej is called Dar Khane Din, and it is dedicated to feasting and celebrating with family and friends. Women dress up in red saris and adorn themselves with intricate henna designs. They visit each other’s homes and enjoy delicious food and sweets.
The second day is the main day of the festival, and it is known as Hartalika Teej. Women observe a fast on this day and worship Lord Shiva and his consort, Parvati. They visit temples and offer prayers and offerings to seek blessings for their husbands’ long life and prosperity.
The third day of Teej is known as Rishi Panchami, and it is dedicated to the worship of the seven sages or rishis. Women clean themselves and their surroundings and make offerings to the sages.
Teej is a colorful and vibrant festival that celebrates the bond between husband and wife and the power of love and devotion. It is a time for women to come together and celebrate their womanhood and the blessings of married life.
Golden Eagle Festival, Mongolia
This is an annual event held in Bayan-Ölgii province, located in the western region of Mongolia. The festival takes place during the first weekend of October and celebrates the ancient art of eagle hunting, which has been practiced by the Kazakh people in the region for generations.
During the festival, expert eagle hunters showcase their skills and compete in various events, including eagle speed and agility tests, hunting competitions, and traditional Kazakh games such as tiyn teru and kyz kuar. The hunters also display their traditional costumes and eagle-hunting equipment, such as the berkutchi glove and the qolqa.
In addition to the competitions, the festival offers visitors the opportunity to experience the unique culture and lifestyle of the Kazakh people. Attendees can enjoy traditional foods such as khuushuur (a fried meat pastry) and airag (fermented mare’s milk), witness vibrant music and dance performances, and visit nomadic households to learn about the daily lives of eagle hunters and their families.
The Golden Eagle Festival is a truly unique event that offers a rare glimpse into the fascinating world of eagle hunting and the rich traditions of the Kazakh people. It is an unforgettable experience for anyone interested in wildlife, culture, or adventure travel.
Loy Krathong Festival, Thailand
Also known as the “Festival of Lights,” is a magical and enchanting event celebrated annually throughout Thailand. This festival is a feast for the senses, featuring brightly-lit lanterns, the sweet aroma of jasmine flowers, and the gentle sound of floating candles.
During the festival, participants release krathongs, which are small boats made from banana leaves and decorated with flowers, candles, and incense. The krathongs are set afloat on rivers and canals throughout Thailand, symbolizing the release of negative thoughts and emotions.
In addition to the krathong ceremonies, the festival is also marked by vibrant street parades, live music performances, and delicious food stalls offering traditional Thai cuisine. The entire country is illuminated with colorful lanterns and decorations, creating a festive atmosphere that is both breathtaking and heartwarming.
The Krathong Festival is steeped in tradition and is celebrated throughout Thailand as a way to give thanks to the goddess of water, Mae Khongkha. It is a time for reflection, renewal, and letting go of negative energies, making it a truly unique and transformative experience for all who participate.
Jaipur Literature Festival
A vibrant and dynamic celebration of the written word that takes place annually in the Pink City of Jaipur, India. This festival is a must-visit for book lovers, writers, and literary enthusiasts from around the world.
Featuring a star-studded lineup of renowned authors, poets, and intellectuals, the Jaipur Literature Festival offers a platform for engaging discussions, readings, and debates on a wide range of literary topics. Visitors can attend insightful panel discussions, thought-provoking debates, and inspiring keynote speeches from some of the most celebrated names in literature.
Beyond the literary events, the festival also features a diverse range of cultural activities, including live music and dance performances, art exhibitions, and food stalls serving traditional Rajasthani cuisine.
One of the unique aspects of the Jaipur Literature Festival is its emphasis on inclusivity and accessibility. The festival is free and open to all, welcoming visitors from all walks of life and providing a space for diverse voices and perspectives to be heard.
The Jaipur Literature Festival is a celebration of the power of words and the transformative impact of literature. It is a must-visit for anyone interested in exploring the world of books and ideas, and for those seeking to engage in meaningful conversations with some of the most brilliant minds in literature today.