Whenyou thinkof cultural festivals, Rio's Carnival or New Orleans' Mardi Gras immediately come to mind, while their Asian counterparts sometimes aren't as popular. From water parties to mud fights, penance to monkey feasts, here are ten of some of the strangest, most bizarre festivals that you can experience on your trip to the continent.
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The ancient Hindu festival, known also as the 'Festival of Spring' or 'Festival of Colors' celebrates the arrival of Spring in India, Nepal and increasingly elsewhere on account of the Indian diaspora, even in some parts of the United States.
The festival which lasts a night and a day celebrates the arrival of spring, end to winter and hopes for a good harvest. The event is split into two major parts, occurring annually around March. On the first day, the evening of Purnima (Full Moon Day) bonfires are lit. In contrast, the following day is a vibrant free-for-all of color from clothes to sprays. Both locals and tourists alike celebrate the day of smiles, fun, and festivities, a must see for any fun seeking traveler.
Sumo wrestling but not as you know it! This bizarre festival involves two sumo wrestlers facing off but with a twist, both contestants have a baby in each arm and are not fighting one another but instead attempting to make their opponents baby cry via growls, the making of faces and the yelling of "nake" meaning cry. If both babies cry the louder one attains victory, and if a baby laughs the judge intervenes wearing an ogre mask, putting a quick stop to it.
The tradition is over 400 years old and is believed to be good for the babies health and also drives out evil spirits. As the Japanese proverb goes, "Naku ko wa sodastu," or, "Crying babies grow fast." The festival takes place each April primarily at Sensoji Temple, Tokyo, but similar events happen all over Japan at different times throughout the year.
This festival located 200 kilometers south of Seoul is a literal mud-fest. Over the space of two weeks, both locals and tourists participate in a range of mud-based activities, including mud wrestling, races, and baths. However mud is not all as the event also hosts a number of live entertainment events with some of South Korea's most famous K-Pop stars attending.
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The event was first held in 1998, and by 2007 over two million people visited to re-live their childhood playing around in the mud, to benefit from the mud's benefits on the skin, or perhaps a mixture of both.
Bali is known for the preservation of its rich cultural traditions. One odd example is Omed-Omedan which translates to "The Kissing Festival." The festival is celebrated on the New Year and notably takes place the day after Nyepi, or, "Day of Silence" where locals refuse electricity, fire, travelling andalmost every form of entertainment to reflect on their lives.
The mood of the following morning is similarly pensive and reserved. However, when the event begins the streets are chaotic as crowds of men and women between 17 to 30 are divided into two massive groups. A male and female are chosen to kiss and do it alongside the chanting of the crowd and pouring of water on them. Many attend the event hoping to find love. It is known unofficially as a meeting place for singles, and thereis no shortage of couples whose relationships started there with a kiss in front of the town.
On April 13th, the traditional Thai New Year, major streets are closed off transforming the city into a massive water park or arena as the entire population, young and old take to the streets with water guns, buckets of water, and any other device they can imagine with the sole intention of soaking one another.
The entire day however in notjust a water-fest. Early in the morning locals clean their homes and visit temples, offering food to the monks, praying, pouring water on statues and to the young and old alike to symbolically wash away the past year and start anew. Songkran roughly translates to "astrological passage," indicating the transformation and right after this, the town likewise changes drastically as the water fights begin.
Perhaps the worlds most hardcore display of vegetarianism, local participants known as "Ma Song" display their respect for both God and animals alike by nine days of abstinence from meat and skewing of objects like swords, knives etc through various parts of their bodies. Participants are said to be possessed by spiritual powers which explains how they endure the pain as they move closer to spiritual enlightenment. They are described as being in a trance as they achieve religious submission.
The event is celebrated throughout the entire country, but is at its height in Phuket and at the temples where these rituals take place. During the nine day event, restaurants indicate they are selling "Jeh" food (food for participants) by flying a yellow flag at the establishment. Avoid the area if you can't go without meat for a few days.
To mark the lunar new year, over 200,000 sky lanterns called tindngs are released into the night sky. Locals write their hopes and aspirations on the lantern as they release them, sending them on their way to God. Historically these lanterns were used by remote local tribes to indicate threats from raiders. Similarly, prior to the lanterns' release, a firework display is held, the "beehive of fireworks" which symbolically wards off disease and evil.
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Both events are known together as "fireworks in the south, sky lanterns in the north" and the event typically occurs over two to three weekends in February. The location of the event alternates between Shifden and Pingxi town so one should research the details prior. Tourists are encouraged to participate and lanterns are readily for sale for those interested.
Lopburi Thais have a long history of monkey worship.The tale of the divine prince, Rama, is said to have been helped in saving his wife from a demon bythe monkey king, Hanuman. The sentiment remains strong today and is a regular draw for tourists.
Each year monkeys are celebrated at Phra Prang Sam Yot Temple on the last Sunday of November. Locals initially dress and dance in monkey costumes before over 500 Macaque monkeys are released to feast on over two tonnes of food, from meat to fruit and even ice cream.
An annual street party on the third Sunday of January, Ati-Atihan takes place over nine days and celebrates immigration and acceptance in the country. Malay immigrants show their gratitude to local Ati people by decorating their bodies with soot and costumes of African origin and celebrate with feasts, dancing, and drumming.
The event is legally titled The Mother of All Philippine Festivals and is recognized by both local Christians and non-Christians alike. Note that to anyone interested in joining in that you need only remember the simple chorus chant, "Hala Bira," to merge in with the group and enjoy the festivities.
Celebrated by Tamil and Malayali communities, Thaipusam celebrates the Hindu God of War, Murugan. Many involved wear kavadis, a semicircular canopy that they carry and often attach objects through their bodies with metal bars as a form of penance. As they see it, bodily harm promotes spiritual growth.
The origin of the name comes from both the name of the month, Thai, and the star, Pusam, which is at its highest point during the festival. For those interested in the event,it is always common in other countries with a high Tamil communityincluding India, Sri Lanka and Singapore.
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