5 Festivals In Odisha You Must Experience At Least Once

From the euphoric Rath Yatra to the enchanting Konark Festival, these festivals of Odisha offer an insight into the social and cultural aspects of the state
Odissi dancers at the Konark Dance Festival
Odissi dancers at the Konark Dance Festival

Culturally-rich Odisha has many things to offer—glorious temples and world heritage sites, breathtaking beaches and lakes and its traditional music and dance. Among its many festivals, five are the most prominent, drawing not just domestic tourists, but international travellers as well.

Ratha Yatra

Usually held in June-July, the Ratha Yatra or the Chariot Festival is the most well-known religious festival of Odisha. Lord Jagannath and his siblings Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra take a chariot ride to their aunt's home and return to their abode after a seven-day holiday. The festival is observed throughout the state, but the most famous is the one in Puri. The huge deities ride three gigantic chariots that are pulled by the attending pilgrims.

Lord Jagannath and his siblings,  Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra,  take a chariot ride to their aunt's home in three gigantic chariots
Lord Jagannath and his siblings, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra, take a chariot ride to their aunt's home in three gigantic chariotsWikimedia Commons

Interestingly, the 10-day festival in Puri is conducted by the descendants of a tribal king and not Brahmin priests (who attend to the deities for the rest of the year). Preparations for the festival begin months ahead with the construction of the chariots. There are innumerable rituals associated with the festival, including one where the ruler of Puri sweeps the chariot with a golden broom -- a ritual based on the concept that everyone is equal in the eyes of god.

The first day of the festival sees almost a million people turning up in Puri. So book your accommodation well in advance. If you are not willing to lose yourself among the teeming crowd that throngs the street, buy a ticket for a seat in the temporary galleries that spring up along the way. But remember, it can be a long wait, so carry some snacks and drinking water. Carry protective rain gear as sudden showers are common.

Bali Yatra

Usually held in November, on the day of Kartik Poornima, Bali Yatra celebrates the time when Kalinga (the ancient name of Odisha) used to have trade links with Bali and Sumatra in Indonesia. The key ritual involves floating decorated paper boats in the river. The biggest celebration takes place on the banks of the Mahanadi River near Cuttack. The local administration organises a week-long craft and cuisine fair in honour of the festival. When in Cuttack, do not forget to buy a finely crafted silver filigree product. The area is known for this craft.

A dance performance during Bali Yatra
A dance performance during Bali Yatra

Konark (Dance) Festival

One of the best time to visit the Sun Temple of Konark, inscribed a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1984, is during the two festivals, held separately, in winter. The one organised by the state tourism department, popularly known as the Konark Festival, is held in early December. Apart from classical dance programmes with the famous temple as a background, artists' camps, craft fair and sand art exhibitions are also organised. The International Sand Art Festival is also held at the same time at the Chandrabhaga Beach, about 3 km from Konark.

The Konark Music and Dance Festival, usually held in February, is now being organised by the Konark Natya Mandap, located about 2 km away from the Sun Temple. The programmes are held on its own premises, in an open-air theatre designed after the Natyashala (dance hall) of the iconic temple. Konark, Puri and Bhubaneswar is popularly known as the Golden Triangle of Odisha.


A popular festival of western Odisha, Nuakhai is celebrated widely in Sambalpur and adjoining districts. Usually observed in Aug-Sep, it revolves around eating the new rice of the year. The rice is cooked with milk and sugar to make kshiri, which is then offered to Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth. Later, the sweet preparation is shared with everybody. It is also the occasion to spruce up homesteads, wear new clothes and indulge in merry-making with friends and relatives. Budget to mid-budget accommodation can be found in Sambalpur town, which is also well known for its uniquely patterned Sambalpuri sari and textile.

Nuakhai revolves around eating the new rice of the year
Nuakhai revolves around eating the new rice of the year

Maghe (Mage) Parab

The tribal festival calendar of Odisha varies from tribe to tribe. Maghe (Mage) Parab, observed by the Ho, Oraon, Kisan and Kol tribes, is a harvest festival, usually held in February. People offer thanks to the village deity, usually Mother Goddess, praying for her blessings for good fortune and protection from calamities. One of the key rituals involves sacrificing a black fowl before the deity and offering liquor made from mahua flower. Besides, people wear new clothes and indulge in feasting and group dances.

Best Time To Visit

For those planning an Odisha trip, it is best to visit between December and February. Most of the festivals organised by the state tourism department is held during this time. It can be hot and humid during the Puri Rathayatra. Carry mosquito repellants while travelling through Odisha, especially while visiting the tribal areas.

Getting There

There are regular flights, trains and buses available from major cities to Odisha. Odisha has an international airport, Biju Patnaik International airport, and three domestic airports in Rourkela, Jharsuguda and Angul.

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