There is no other region in the world with a culture as vast and rich as Asia. It’s no wonder the region has over thousands of Asian festivals. Foreigners travel to the region to witness the breathtakingly rich culture firsthand.
There’s no experience like the one you’ll get from going to Asian festivals. It’s guaranteed to be immortalized in your memory. While Asia has a plethora of festivals, here are 10 of the biggest and most celebrated.
[Trigger Warning: this article may contain some sexual imagery]
1. Wet and liberating Songkran Festival (Bangkok, Thailand)
Songkran is probably Thailand’s biggest annual celebration. It’s one of the best known Asian festivals. It’s celebrated every 13th of April to mark the beginning of the traditional Thai New Year. The holiday usually extends two days longer (14-15 of April).
The 13th of April is Maha Songkran or actual Songkran day. The 14th is Wan Nao and the 15th is Wan Thaloeng Sok or actual Thai New Year Day. More than half a million tourists flock to Thailand for this wet festival.
This festival is rich with cultural observances and traditions. Mornings begin with merit-making and reverence to ancestors, followed by temple visits. During Songkran, the most famous ritual is the water pouring.
It symbolizes purification and the washing away of sins. Everyone performs water pouring on Buddha statues, temple grounds and each other. During the festivals, locals, and tourists litter the streets and get soaked to the bone. It’s a festival of so much merriment and renewal. It’s no wonder the festival is so prominent.
2. Eccentric and unorthodox Kanamara Matsuri/ Japan Penis Festival (Kawasaki, Japan)
The “Festival of the Steel Phallus” takes place each spring at the Kanayama Shrine. It’s held every first Sunday in April and its exact date varies annually.
The Kanamara Matsuri centers a local penis-venerating shrine. There is a local legend that a jealous sharp tooth demon lived within a young woman. It bit her unlucky suitor and left him with a missing ‘limb’ on their wedding night.
So, she sought help from a blacksmith who fashioned an iron phallus to break the demon’s teeth. This lead to the enshrinement of the iron phallus. Later on, the Kanayama Shrine became popular among prostitutes. They would pray to it for protection from venereal diseases.
In addition, locals pray to it for easy delivery, finding marriage, and marital harmony. The shrine is so popular among locals. So, they started holding the Shinto Kanayama Matsuri in 1969.
3. 2Vs: Vibrant and vivid Holi Festival of Colors (Mumbai, India)
Holi is a Hindu spring festival. It originates from the Indian subcontinent and is celebrated predominately in India. Holi, also known as the “festival of colors” or “festival of love” has since grown in popularity. It’s celebrated all over the world.
The Holi festival starts the night before Diwali and lasts a whole day. Its exact date varies annually according to the Hindu calendar. It usually falls between the end of February and the middle of March. In 2019, Holi will begin on the 20th and end on the 21st of March.
The festival signifies the triumph of good over evil, the arrival of spring and end of winter. It’s also a day for people to reconnect, be merry together, forgive and mend broken relationships. Besides that, the festival also serves as a thanksgiving for good harvest.
People gather in masses and celebrate in the streets. They throw vibrant colored powders and water at each other as well as dance all day long. It makes for a beautiful, picturesque scene guaranteed to leave anyone in awe of the colors.
4. Traditionally unique Galungan & Kuningan (Bali, Indonesia)
This is the biggest festival on the Hindu island of Bali, Indonesia. Galungan and Kuningan occurs on a different date every year. It begins on the Wednesday (Buda) of Dunggulan, the 11th week of the 210-day Pawukon calendar. So, a solar year could easily have two celebrations.
This festival is an important Hindu festival. It’s celebrated to welcome and invite gods and ancestral spirits to dwell in the homes of their descendants. It’s also celebrated to commemorate the triumph of ‘dharma’ over ‘adharma’. Or truth and morality over ego and turpitude.
It’s a must-see festival as there are plentiful local ceremonies to witness. Streets get decorated beautifully with weaved decorations, vibrant flowers, and many offerings. The offerings are for the dead and range anywhere from flowers to food.
5. Wishful and hopeful at the Pingxi Lantern Festival(Pingxi, Taiwan)
Thousands of wishful tourists and locals flock to this festival every year. Visitors write their wishes and greatest desires on paper lanterns, light them and watch them fly. By the end of the night, wishes light up the sky.
These Kongming lanterns were once used as distress signals by the Taiwanese during the war. Now they have a lighter significance. The festival is the happiest and most heartwarming in Taiwan. Now the lanterns serve as a symbol of hope and togetherness.
This festival takes place annually on the last day of the Lunar New Year. For over 100 years the Taiwanese have celebrated it.
6. Rhythmically hypnotizing drums at the Dragon Boat Festivals (Hangzhou, China / Hong Kong)
Also known as the Duanwu or Zhongxiao Festival, it’s a annual celebration towards the end of the summer solstice. The Dragon Boat Festival originated in China but spread all over Asia. This festival commemorates fealty and piety.
It’s celebrated annually on the 5th day of the 5th month of the Chinese calendar. This earns it the alternative name of Double Five Festival. During which, people hold Dragon boat racesand make and eat zongzi (rice dumplings).
People also celebrate by feasting on foods relating the number 5 or Wu (午) in Chinese. For example, in Hong Kong people eat 5 bean congee. The most festive part of the festival is the boat races. People flock to watch in awe the synchronicity and hypnotizing rhythmic drum beats of the Dragon boat races.
7. Majestic and spiritual Thrissur Pooram Elephant Festival (Thrissur, India)
Whether not you love elephants, you need to see this one. Thrissur Pooram Elephant Festival is probably the greatest temple festival. This Asian festival is held annually on the Pooram day of the Hindu calendar. So, every year its date changes. It’s expected to be on May 13th this year.
Every year, elephants get decked head to toe in embellishments such as the ‘nettipattam’ (decorative golden headdress). Then, they parade through the streets of Kerala. The display of caparisons ends at Vadakkunnathan Temple. Here Hindus pray to pay respect to the God Shiva.
Besides the parade, the festival features a flag hoisting ceremony (Kodiyettam), multiple fireworks displays, and the main pooram. However, the main highlight is the 50 or so embellished elephants. It’s a sight like no other.
8. Breathtakingly pink Hanami Festival/ Japan cherry blossom festival (Tokyo, Japan)
Hanami originated in Japan. But, places like the United States, Georgia, Canada, and others celebrate it too. The best place to see it is of course in Japan. View the breathtaking pink cherry blossom trees that bloom almost surreally.
The festival doesn’t last for too long. Two weeks at max. In Tokyo, the cherry blossoms usually start blooming at the end of March. Then, reach peak bloom in the first week of April. A week later, all the blossoms have fallen.
Celebrations usually involve eating and drinking together under sakura trees. Besides that, people listen to and play music. And, prepare special dishes to accompany the sake drinking. So, go and bask in the air of romance and surrealism set by the all-around pink. It’s definitely not a festival to miss as it’s such a rare occasion.
9. Electric and youthful Djakarta Warehouse Project (Jakarta, Indonesia)
What is a must-go festival list without a music festival? This is probably one of the biggest Asian festivals for music. Since its inception in 2008, DWP has seen constant growth of popularity. It is now the biggest EDM festival in Southeast Asia.
DWP usually takes place for a few days at the beginning of December. The country’s capital city, Jakarta hosts it annually. In 2018 however, Bali hosted DWP for the first time.
The event sees flocks of local and foreign youngsters bop it out to the latest dance tunes. Be sure to bring your dancing shoes as you’re gonna need them
Stomp it out all night to the likes of big-name artists. These include Flume, The Weeknd, Alesso, DJ Snake, Major Lazer and so many more. So, make your way down to budget-friendly Indonesia for this sure-to-not-miss event as tickets sell out quickly.
10. The illuminated and celebrated Diwali Festival (India/ Pakistan/ Bangladesh)
Diwali, Deepavali or Dipavali is the most famous Hindu celebration. The ‘festival of lights‘ symbolizes the spiritual triumph of light over darkness. Or, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.
It is a major celebration for Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs in the Indian subcontinent. Celebrations are every autumn in the northern hemisphere and spring in the southern hemisphere. It typically lasts five days long.
During which, every home, temple, shop, office, and building is illuminated with diyas (oil lamps or candles). Places also are ornated with beautifully intricate Rangoli or kolam decorations. Besides that, vibrantly arranged pujas (offerings) accompany these decorations.
A vast array of delicious food and vibrant fireworks are part of this festival too. Many cities and towns organize parades to celebrate Diwali. Go and let the rich culture and unique rituals awe you.
Asia is a region so rich in culture. It’s a plethora of cultures, celebrations, rituals, and traditions. There’s no better place to be for festivals than in Asia. Other places can’t rival the variety and vibrancy that Asian festivals boast.
Plan a trip to your nearest Asian country. Witness one of the many awestruck inducing Asian festivals. It’s guaranteed to be an experience of a lifetime.