For an exhaustive list of events beyond those listed here, check http://events.frommers.com, where you'll find a searchable, up-to-the-minute roster of what's happening in cities all over the world.
Indians love to celebrate, and there is no end to the list of festivals that are held in honor of the gods, gurus, and historical figures that make this such a spiritually saturated and colorful destination. Festivals usually coincide with the lunar calendar, with dates published only a year in advance, so check with the local tourism office about exact dates (some may move into another month). India has relatively few national holidays when attractions, government offices, and banks are closed: Republic Day, January 26; Independence Day, August 15; Gandhi's Birthday, October 2; and Christmas.
Basant Festival, countrywide. The onset of spring (basant) is marked by various celebrations. Citrus-colored clothes are worn, and there is a profusion of dancing and singing coupled with great dinner spreads and feasts to mark the season of agricultural plenty.
Carnival, Goa. It may not be on quite the same level as celebrations in Rio, but the riot of colorful costumes and processions, as well as the exuberant dancing and music, make this an especially fun time to visit the tiny state and its beautiful beaches.
Desert Festival, Rajasthan. With camel races, camel polo, a Mr. Desert competition, and even prizes for the best-looking camel, this festival is a highlight in the Jaisalmer social calendar.
Muharram. Best experienced in the city of Lucknow, the 10-day Shiite festival commemorates the martyrdom of the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed; during a parade of religious fervor, penitents scourge themselves with whips -- often with nails or blades attached.
Ellora Festival of Classical Dance and Music, Maharashtran interior. This festival draws some of the country's top artists to the ancient caves at this World Heritage Site.
Holi, northern India. Celebrated predominantly in the north, this joyous Hindu festival is held during the full moon -- expect to be bombarded with colored water and powder.
International Yoga Festival, Rishikesh. Spiritually inclined visitors head here to take classes with Yogacharyas from all over the world teaching a variety of yogic disciplines.
Khajuraho Dance Festival, Madhya Pradesh. Get a glimpse of all of India's great classical dance forms.
Rath Yatra, Puri. In Orissa's seaside temple town of Puri, this is one of the largest annual gatherings of humanity; thousands of devotees come together to help pull the Lord of the Universe and his two siblings through the streets on massive cars.
Hemis Tsechu, Ladakh. Although it's become overly-commercial in recent years, this remains the region's most spectacular monastic celebration, scheduled for June 21 and 22, 2010, when the birthday of the founder of Tibetan Buddhism is celebrated with lamaistic masked dances (chaams), chanting, and music at Hemis Monastery. If you'd prefer to catch a Buddhist festival without the flea market atmosphere and touristy vibe, consider disappearing off the beaten track and joining the locals at the smaller, but far more authentic festivals at monasteries such as Lamayuru, where the Yuru Kabgyat attracts mostly villagers who arrive on foot, having traveled for miles to join in the spiritual celebrations (June 10-11, 2010; and June 28-29, 2011).
Ladakh Confluence, Choglamsar, Ladakh. Ladakh's new entertainment festival launched in 2009, and promises to be returning annually between June and August (check www.theconfluence.in for this year's dates). It's all about music, culture, and environment, and seems set to join the ranks of India's burgeoning party circuit; excellent world music acts, workshops, and slightly offbeat competitions (including a momo-eating event) will form part of this laid-back version of Glastonbury in the Himalayas.
Nehru Cup Snake Boat Races, Alleppey. Kerala's backwaters come alive with these renowned snake boat races. Second Saturday of August.
Independence Day, countrywide. Indians unite to celebrate independence. August 15.
Ganesh Chhaturthi, countrywide. This 10-day celebration of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, is popular across India, but Mumbai is arguably the best place to experience this vibrant event, celebrated with huge processions, fireworks, and the construction of special shrines. At the end of the festival, clay images of the god are immersed in the sea.
Kullu Dussehra. Head for the Kullu Valley in Himachal Pradesh, where you can join the crowds when idols of Hindu deities from around the region are brought together in a colorful Festival of the Gods. Similarly ecstatic revelry occurs in Mysore (Karnataka).
Diwali (Festival of Lights; also Deepavali), countrywide. This huge celebration among Hindu Indians is best experienced on the lawns of Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur, at a wonderful party hosted by the Maharajah (which hotel guests are invited to attend). Note, however, that just as Christmas has been exploited commercially in the West, Diwali has become a time of excessive noise, increased alcohol consumption, and all-night fireworks.
Pushkar Mela, Rajasthan. The annual cattle fair in the tiny temple-and-hippie town of Pushkar, is the biggest of its kind in Asia. Traders, pilgrims, and tourists from all over the world transform this budget tourist mecca into a huge tented city, with camel races, cattle auctions, huge bonfires, traditional dances, and the like.
Christmas, New Year, countrywide. Prepare for increased hotel prices as wealthy Indians celebrate both Christmas and New Year, often by taking the entire family on an extravagant vacation. New Year, in particular, may be marked by compulsory hidden extras such as special entertainment and celebratory meals. Christmas is celebrated with as much fervor, if not more, as it is in the West. City hotels take great advantage of the situation, while in certain areas, such as Goa, midnight Mass and other traditions are observed.
Sunburn, Goa. Party till you drop, then pick yourself up and carry on dancing. India's party capital is full to bursting over the festival period, but fans of the contemporary electronic music scene won't want to miss this 3 day DJ-mediated extravaganza, reportedly Asia's biggest music festival (www.sunburn-festival.com), Find yourself a small, quiet guesthouse to rest up at between bouts on the dance floor and you'll come away with a New Year's celebration well worth remembering. That's if you can remember anything at all . . .
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.