The weirdest ancient festivals in the world

Journalist Jeremy Hunter spent 35 years traveling the world to learn about the oldest festivals.

Great Head-Washing Festival (Mahamastakabhisheka), Shravanabelagola, India


This festival first took place in 981, when the giant 17m-high stone statue Bahubali was completed. During the 10 days of the festival, the statue was bathed by more than 2 million Jains.

Jains followers believe God Bahubali (whose name means “arm strength”) lived about 2,000 years ago. At that time, he challenged his brother Bharat to a fight to determine who would reign Supreme over the Kingdom of Abhanatha. . The enormous power of Bahubali's arm has killed his brother. Because of his penance for doing so, he threw away his clothes, shaved his head and remained motionless for a year.

Living Ghosts (Egungun), Dakon village, Benin


Living Ghosts (Egungun) are all members of a highly secret organisation. They represent the souls of the dead who have returned to Earth to pass on specific advice to the living. It is believed that their word is final, as it is a direct word of the gods. The festival usually takes place in January and February each year in the village of Dakon.

Biswa Ijtema, River Turag at Tongi, Bangladesh


This is the festival attracting the most Muslims in the world. During just one day Biswa Ijtema attracts 5 million devotees, twice the number that journey annually to the Hajj in Mecca. The festival is held every January.

Great Monlam Festival, Labuleng Monastery, East Tibet


Established in 1709, the Labuleng Monastery is considered to be the leading Tibetan monastery town outside Lhasa. During this four-day festival, the entire monkhood attends the Great Debate in the presence of the Living Buddha, praying for the Enlightened One’s blessings. The altitude here is 3260m and, on this occasion, the temperature dropped to -27°C.

The Great Monlam Festival is celebrated during the first lunar month of the Tibetan calendar (usually around February), heralding the start of the Tibetan New Year.

Good Friday, Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala


Tens of thousands of purple robes from all over Central America attended Easter events here. Early in the morning, soldiers in Roman dress will march through the streets of the ancient capital of Guatemala, calling out the sentence for Jesus’s death.

Virgen del Carmen Festival, Paucartambo, Peru


Nestling in a valley below Mount Ausangate (6700m), the remote town of Paucartambo celebrates the Earth Mother, Patron Saint of the Mestizo population, during the Qechua month of “earthly purification”.

 The festival is held annually between 15–17 July.

Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, Staffordshire, England


The Horn Dance – an ancient fertility celebration – is believed to be part of a pagan hunting ritual with origins that can be traced back to Saxon times. It was probably first performed at the Berthelemy Fair near Burton-on-Trent in 1226. The six pairs of reindeer horns carried by the dancers have been carbon dated to 1065, around the time of the Norman Conquest. There are references in the Bible to the wearing of deer-horns as a sign of strength.

The ritual takes place on the Monday following the first Sunday after 4 September.

Phaung Daw U Festival, Lake Inle, Myanmar


Intha began worshiping five statues of Buddha in the Phaung Daw U temple from the 12th century. It is one of the most sacred temples in Myanmar. During the festival, a huge aquatic procession carries these statues to every village on the lake, providing an annual opportunity for the Intha people (meaning “sons of the lake”) to pay homage to them.

Black Snake Dance, Apenda Clan, Papua New Guinea


Apenda Clan is a tribe living in the remote area of Papua New Guinea. They usually organize annual festivals to express the solidarity and strength of the tribe. During the festival, the Apenda Clan will perform unique Black Snake Dance.

Bull Jumping Ceremony (Ukuli Bula), Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia



The Italian historian Carlo Conti Rossini describes this part of Ethiopia as a “Museum Of Peoples” because there are at least eight major tribal groups living here. Ukuli Bula is a rite of passage to manhood (and marriage) for boys of the Hamar tribe.

There are no set dates for this festival because boys of the Hamar tribe come of age all the time.

By: Christina Baker

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