Ten of the world's craziest festivals

1. WATER FESTIVAL, SOUTH-EAST ASIA

Songkran in Thailand, Pi Mai Lao in Laos, Thingyan in Myanmar – the Buddhist New Year celebration is the ultimate wet-T-shirt event, when water madness grips the hearts and minds of these three Asian neighbours. Held on three days in mid-April, anything that moves during daylight hours begs for a drenching, with foreigners a favourite target. Take refuge in temples, where statues of the Buddha are reverently dribbled with water and sacred relics are paraded by monks.

2. PUSHKAR FAIR, RAJASTHAN, INDIA

As the moon waxes in the November night sky it draws a human tide to the remote Thar Desert town of Pushkar to celebrate the return of Brahma, Lord of Creation, to its sacred lake. A cattle and camel fair as well as a holy occasion, the five-day fair brings together most of the photogenic elements of the Indian subcontinent – sacred cows, temple monkeys, musicians, snake charmers, dreadlocked holy men and the Rajasthani villagers themselves, whose everyday costume still lives up to their state's title – "Land of Kings".

3. LAS FALLAS DE VALENCIA, SPAIN 

Held in honour of Joseph, patron saint of carpenters, on March 15, enormous statues made from wood, papier-mache and wax, which can depict anyone from politicians to rock stars to mythical beasts, are erected in Valencia's main squares, intersections and parks. Four days later the statues are stuffed with fireworks and set alight at midnight in an explosive blaze that guarantees a sleepless night for the local fire brigade.  

4. HOLY WEEK , SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, MEXICO

The full tortured passion and drama of Mexico's Roman Catholic heritage is unleashed when this historic colonial town in central Guanajuato province commemorates Christ's crucifixion. On Good Friday, following a mock trial, real-life Christ imitators drag crosses around the town, followed by a mourning Mary Magdalene and the disciples and prodded by Roman centurions. Grande finale is the Firing of the Judases on Easter Sunday when huge papier mache figures of politicians, bogeymen and Judas Iscariot are blown up in the town's public gardens.

5. KURAMA FIRE FESTIVAL, JAPAN

As dusk falls on the evening of October 22, the tiny village of Kurama in the hills north of Kyoto becomes a sea of fire. Men dressed in loincloths shoulder five-metre torches that shower sparks over participants, spectators and even the wooden houses along the route. Bonfires blaze in the background and to the throbbing beat of a taiko drum, portable shrines are carried up Mount Kurama in a vivid recreation of the 1000-year-old event when the emperor transferred the Yuki Myojin, the imperial court's protector, to the town's Shinto Shrine.

6. HOLI, INDIA AND NEPAL

Wear old clothes and prepare for mayhem. The Indian subcontinent unleashes its delinquent instincts for the first major Hindu festival of the year, held on the day after the March full moon. Venture anywhere and you'll find yourself coated in dye powder, dancing to the beat of Bollywood hits and partying. Holi takes its cues from the playful deity Lord Krishna, who once doused village girls with coloured water and stole their clothes while they were bathing, but at least that won't happen.

7. KANDY ESALA PERAHERA, SRI LANKA

The capital of Sri Lanka's hilly interior, Kandy is the backdrop for the most spectacular of the island's religious festivals. A complicated and ritualistic affair spread during 10 days in July or August, the Perahera climaxes with a spectacular procession held on the final nights of the festival when a tooth of the Buddha is paraded at the head of a file of elephants accompanied by drummers, fire dancers and bare-chested men in white sarongs who beat the air with whips. 

8. THAIPUSAM, KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA

Held in January or early February, this Hindu festival commemorates the day when Murugan, god of war, triumphed over evil. To underline their devotion, Hindu penitents skewer their cheeks with steel rods that can be anything up to a metre long, or carry a kavadi, an elaborate framework laced with flowers and offerings that is anchored to the back with hooks that pierce the flesh. Against the background of Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur, Thaipusam attracts nearly a million devotees and spectators. 

9. MEVLANA FESTIVAL, KONYA, TURKEY

In mid-December the Dervishes of the esoteric Sufi sect of Islam gather at Konya for a week-long festival to commemorate the death of the founder of their order, the Persian mystic saint Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi. Dressed in long white robes and pot-shaped hats, the Dervishes spin to the music of drums and flutes, their robes ballooning out like hoop skirts until they reach a trance state in which they are said to achieve oneness with God. 

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10. WORLD SACRED SPIRIT FESTIVAL, RAJASTHAN, INDIA

Held each February in India's desert state, this celebration of religious ecstasy brings together disparate talents who incorporate the divine in their music. After its three-day sojourn at the remote desert town of Nagaur the festival moves to spectacular Mehrangarh Fort In Jodhpur for another three days of repeat performances, against backdrops that include the fort's former harem, walled gardens, the lake and Mughal-style courtyards. 

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