From dangerous stunts to community spirit, nothing brings a crowd together for some merriment better than a festival. This is a time when everyone lets their hair down while carrying on in the footsteps of their tradition. For visitors, it’s a rare and intimate glimpse into the lives and cultures of the world’s varied peoples.
Plastering the Great Mosque
An Imam sets the date of this annual event every April, during which the entire town participates in the re-mudding of the facade of the UNESCO-listed Great Mosque of Djenne, which is the largest mud-brick (adobe) building in the world. For several days leading up to the event, mud is prepared in pits and young boys play in it to stir the contents. Once it’s ready, men would climb the scaffoldings to apply the mud to the walls, and a race is held to determine the fastest to deliver plaster to the mosque. This unique event celebrates a living heritage in which everyone participates, and a party – with drumming, dancing and feasting – follows suit.
WHEN: early May
The Hadaka Matsuri (naked festival) sees thousands of male participants dressed only in a fundoshi (loincloth) as they march together and wrestle with each other to grab a hold of a holy talisman which is thrown into the crowd by a priest. The person who gets a hold of them is said to be blessed with a year of happiness. Though many now join for fun, it is traditionally a spiritual winter or summer event held across Japan, with the most famous one held in Saidai-ji Temple in Okayama (where it originated) that sees over 9,000 participants.
WHEN: Third Saturday of February
WHERE: Saidaiji-naka, Okayama prefecture
Naghol, Land Diving Festival
Typically held on Saturdays during the dry season, ‘land diving’ – which is similar to bungee jumping – is a ritual performed in southern Pentecost Island in Vanuatu. Men and boys who perform land diving start by constructing wooden towers about 30m high which they then climb to the top of while villagers below sing, dance and make plenty of noise. From the top, the men would then jump to the ground with nothing more than vines wrapped around their ankles. A rite of passage for young men, the real celebration begins with much singing and dancing when the men are safely on the ground.
WHERE: Pentecost Island
Kupkari (or ulak, buzkashi) is a traditional Central Asian team competition played on horseback where skilled dzhigits (horsemen) compete to carry a goat or sheep carcass into a goal while galloping at full speed, fighting off rivals who will try to snatch the carcass away. The horses are often chosen to be sturdy and short, while the rider is decked in quilted cotton robes and pants with head protection. The game begins with competitors lining up until a village elder leaves the carcass in the centre of the circle and signals the start of the competition. There may be a chance to see other traditional activities, like qiz qavar (girl catching), belbogi kurash (wrestling) and darboz (rope walking)), during a kupkari.
WHEN: Spring of Autumn
WHERE: Various places
Krishna Janmashtami (Gokulashtami) Festival
A festival commemorating Lord Krishna, it runs for 2 days throughout India when temples are brightly decorated, and one of the best places to experience it is in Mumbai. The highlight of the festival is on the second day (Dahi Handi) when young men form a human pyramid to reach clay pots containing butter, curd and money that are strung up high from buildings, competing with each other to reach the pots and break them open. Fasting is observed on the first day, and people spend It at temples by offering prayers and singing.
WHEN: August 27-28 2013
WHERE: Throughout India
Inti Raymi Festival
A solstice celebration held every year on June 24, the Inti Raymi is held in historic Cusco, the ancient hub of the Incan empire. Over 150,000 colourfully-clad participants assemble in the morning at Coricancha, or Sun Temple, where an invocation of praise to the Father Sun is made. Then the royal entourage moves to the main plaza where the ceremonial reading of the sacred coca leaf is followed by a procession to the ramparts of Sacsayhuaman, a cultural treasure outside town, where a llama is ritually “sacrificed”. Traditional dancers representing the four corners of the empire add colour to the festival, while the formal spectacle lasts just 4-5 hours.
WHEN: June 24