There are three national holidays: Republic Day (26 January), Independence Day (15 August) and Gandhi Jayanti (2 October), which take place on the same day every year. There are also three major nationwide festivals with alternate dates to be observed:
- Diwali (Deepavali), Oct-Nov – The festival of lights celebrates the return of the Hindu god Rama to the capital of his kingdom, Ayodhya, after a 14-year exile and the victory of justice over injustice when Narakasura was killed by Satyabhama with the help of Krishna. Probably the most extravagant celebration in the country, it reminds of Christmas with its food at Thanksgiving and shopping and gifts at Christmas.Houses are decorated, glitter is everywhere, and when you walk through the streets on Diwali night, firecrackers are set off everywhere, sometimes even under your feet.
- Durga Puja / Navarathri/Dussehara, Sep-Oct – A nine-day festival culminating in the holy day Dasara, when locals worship the deity Durga. Workers receive sweets, cash rewards, gifts and new clothes. It is also the new year for businessmen when they are supposed to start new books of business. Durga Puja is the most important festival in some places like West Bengal. In the north, Dussehara celebrations take place and the killing of Ravana by Lord Rama is solemnly re-enacted as Ram Lila. In Gujarat and South India, it is celebrated as Navarathri, where the festival is celebrated by dancing to devotional songs and religious observances like fasting over a period of nine nights.
- Holi, in March – The festival of colours is a big festival celebrated mainly in the north, east and west of India. During the first day, people go to the temple to light a bonfire, while the second day is a water fight combined with the spraying of coloured powder. It’s not a spectator sport: being a visible foreigner draws attention to yourself, so you either have to barricade yourself inside or put on your best disposable clothes and join the fight. Alcohol and bhang (cannabis) are often involved and crowds can get restless as the evening progresses.
- Ganesh Chaturthi, is celebrated all over India. Ganesh Chaturthi is the festival of Lord Ganesh. Ganesh Chaturthi is most enjoyed in Maharashtra. This is the perfect time to visit cities such as Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur.
- Christmas and New Year are public holidays nationwide and also Bank Holidays.
- Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-uz-Zuha, Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi, Yawm-e-Aashoora and Ramazaan are celebrated and observed as holidays throughout the country.
Besides this every state has its own important national festival such as Onam in Kerala, Makar Sankranti and Ugadi in Andhra Pradesh, Utarayan in Gujarat, Pongalin Tamil Nadu, Baisakhi for Punjab, Bihu for Assam, Rathayatra (car festival for Lord Jagannath) in Odisha, Nuakhai for Western Odisha. India is a diverse nation and festivals are a major part of life for the locals, providing holidays for about a week.
Religious holidays occur on different days each year, as Hindu and Islamic festivals are based on their respective calendars and not on the Gregorian calendar. Most of them are celebrated only locally. So check with the state or city you are visiting to see if there will be any closures. Different regions may give the same festival slightly different names. To accommodate different religious practices, offices have a list of optional holidays (called restricted holidays by the government) from which staff are allowed to choose two, in addition to the list of fixed holidays. This can mean thin staffing and late duty even when the office is officially open.