Colour explosion in Holi Festival in India

Best places to celebrate Holi festival in India

February 02, 2015

Holi, the festival of colours, is one of the most vibrant festivals of India. Holi is celebrated on the day after the full moon in the month of March as per the Hindu calendar. In 2015, Holi will be celebrated on March 6 all across India. Holi signifies the end of the winter season and the beginning of spring, although different regions across India associate Holi with mythology and religion too.

Holi is a much bigger deal in the north of India than it is in the south. But not matter which part of India you are in, the main aspect of celebrating Holi remains the same – getting yourself and others coloured. Dyed powder and coloured water are splashed on people – strangers and known – and the whole point of the Holi is to have fun with colours. The night before Holi, it is tradition to light a bonfire, to signify the destruction of evil. The following morning, it's all about getting messed up with colour!

The most commonly used colours during Holi are green (signifying compassion), yellow (optimism), red (energy), blue (loyalty) and pink (love). Not that most people really care for the significance of each colour, because at the end of the day, you're going to look you came down a rainbow.

Although Holi celebrations can be found across India – some big, some small – the below are some of the more popular destinations where Holi is celebrated en masse and with a bit of uniqueness added to it.

Uttar Pradesh

Man preparing to celebrate the holi festival
Varanasi is just one among the many cities famous for Holi celebrations.

Varanasi is the spiritual Hindu heartland of India. Situated in the Central state of Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi is just one among the many cities famous for Holi celebrations. Holi celebrations in Varanasi involve revellers attending prayers at Hindu temples across town, proceeding which they take to the streets to throw coloured powder and splash coloured water at anyone that crosses their path. It can be fun to witness, but those wishing to partake in the revelry should exercise caution and follow some of the tips we have mentioned at the end of this article.

If you wish to witness something that is just plain bizarre, you must visit the town of Barsana near Mathura, in the Braj region of Uttar Pradesh. On the day of Holi, there is a unique event called Lath mar Holi, where women get Lath (or wooden sticks)... and beat up men! It's more playful 'hitting' (or so we hope), but the game works as such: the males sing provocative songs to taunt and invite the attention of females, and the women retaliate by hitting the males who protect themselves with shields. Sounds like fun? If you wish to witness this event, do make sure to arrive in Mathura a few days early as Lath mar Holi takes place a few days before the actual day of Holi. None the less, it's an event you are sure never to forget.

Rajasthan

Painted Elephant in Elephant Festival, Rajasthan
Elephants are beautifully decorated in intricate Indian designs, adorned with jewellery custom-made for elephants in Rajasthan.

Cities across this royal state in the west of India will be ushering in Holi celebrations, so it won't be hard to miss out on the action as the locals take up Holi with much fervour. What is unique to Rajasthan though is the Elephant Festival that takes place on the day of Holi in the capital city of Jaipur. Not one to be missing out on the colours, elephants are beautifully decorated in intricate Indian designs, adorned with jewellery custom-made for elephants, and are then paraded in a contest to judge the best decorated elephant. Open to tourists, the Jaipur Elephant Festival this year will be held on March 5, 2015 at the Jaipur Polo grounds.

If you can't make it to Uttar Pradesh to watch women joyfully beat men with stick, don't fret. Similar to Lath mar Holi is Mali Holi. Mali are a village community of Rajasthan and their event involves men splashing coloured water on to the women, who then hit back with sticks or long pieces of cloth. Here is a video of a typical Mali Holi event.

From Bikaner to Ajmer, Holi celebrations don't even spare the royals of Rajasthan from getting their clothes ruined by colour, making Rajasthan one of the best states to be in for Holi celebrations.

Goa

Shigmo Festival in Goa
Shigmo festival is one of the major festivals for the Hindu community in Goa. Photo by American Center Mumbai.

Holi in this coastal state is part of the Shigmo festival, one of the major festivals for the Hindu community in Goa. Aside from the splashing of colour all around, there are public parades – the biggest of which starts from the capital Panaji – consisting of traditional folk and street dancers and ornately decorated floats depicting scenes from regional mythology. Tourists on the other hand take Holi celebrations to Goa's beaches by mixing sun and sand with a bit of colour. Although it should be known that cleaning up colours from the beach sand isn't an easy task.

Gujarat

Ahmedabad, capital of the western state of Gujarat, celebrates Holi with an epic human game similar to the famous Dahi Handi festivities of Mumbai. On the day of Holi, a competition is held where in a pot of buttermilk is hung high up above the streets. The objective is to form teams consisting of young men who try to reach the pot and break it. Each team attempts to do this by forming human pyramids – level upon level of boys and young men climbing on top of each other until one boy reaches the pot. Girls viewing from higher ground try to stop the boys by throwing coloured water on them. The boy who successfully manages to break the pot is crowned the 'Holi King' and the team who managed to sustain the pyramid formation is declared the winner.

Delhi

Coloured explosion on the streets of Delhi
During Holi, one can find revellers throwing coloured powder and water balloons on the streets of Delhi.

During Holi, one can find revellers throwing coloured powder and water balloons on the streets of Delhi, but for tourists seeking an exclusive Holi event with all the fun but inside a safer environment, check out the Holi Cow Festival. This is an example of how India's capital city takes Holi celebrations and infuses it with urban excess. Holi Cow is a modern-day festival with live bands performing on stage – all the while the audience is busy running around playing with colours and consuming alcohol. The Holi Cow Festival is a ticketed event, but this ensures a better crowd and a whole lot of fun.

Other places in India

Hindus typical flower necklaces
In the eastern-most state of Manipur, Holi celebrations can last up to 6 days.

Holi is known by different names in different parts of the country. In the Eastern state of Bihar, Holi is locally known as Phaguwa and in West Bengal, it's known as Dol Jatra. In both regions, Holi is celebrated with a little bit more tradition than elsewhere. In the eastern-most state of Manipur, Holi celebrations can last up to 6 days. Merging with the festival of Yaosang, the rituals commence with the burning of a thatched hut of hay and twigs. Young children go from house to house to collect money, as gifts on the first two days. Musical performances are conducted on the full moon night and cultural activities follow the next day at various temples dedicated to Lord Krishna. In the southern state of Karnataka, a town called Sirsi is famous for its Bedara Vesha folk dance performed every alternate year during Holi. Large crowds from neighbouring areas and tourists from all over visit Sirsi to witness the Bedara Vesha performances.

A drink called Bhang

It's funny how in a country that has a strong stance against drug abuse, and yet, you have a drink like bhang that is often recommended as a "must try" during Holi. What is bhang? It's a milk drink infused with cannabis – yes, the drug. Often drank during Holi, bhang is essentially lassi (a popular Indian beverage known) into which leaves of cannabis, ground into a paste, are added. Bhang can be found wherever Holi is traditionally celebrated and although it won't land you in prison, we exercise caution consuming multiple glasses of it.

Tips to follow during Holi celebrations

Coloured powder for holi Festival in India
When buying coloured powder from the street markets, ensure to ask if the colours are organic or synthetic.
  1. The most common advice you hear when preparing for Holi celebrations is "Wear old clothes!" We can't suggest this enough. Washing the colours off the drenched clothes is a chore, and therefore most revellers simply wear something old and worn out that they can dispose off the day after Holi.
  2. When buying coloured powder from the street markets, ensure to ask if the colours are organic versus synthetic. Organically dyed powders are obviously safer on the skin compared to chemically coloured ones.
  3. Be careful when taking out your camera or using your mobile phone amidst the celebrations. Water-based dyes are obviously going to mess up your electronics as much as your clothes.
  4. Rub some oil on your face and body before you start, this makes washing off the colours easier. Otherwise it's going to take a lot of soap and scrubbing to wash the colours off your skin. But don't worry if your skin still has traces of pink or indigo, the colours take a few days to completely wear off.
  5. For women in particular: it is generally advised to stay away from men you don't know when celebrating Holi. There are many inebriated men (some high on bhang) who take to the streets and use the excuse of rubbing colours on strangers to touch women inappropriately. To be on the safer side, female tourists are adviced go out with their partner or in a group known to them – or join a group which has female revellers as well. The local women know how to deal with such men and will take care of tourists just as much.

Holi festival - more fun than rituals

Holi is probably the only festival in India where 'having fun' outweighs traditional rituals that is commonplace in many other Indian festivals. Needless to say, every celebrating region in India has its own special dishes and sweets that are prepared for Holi, but other than that, it's all about throwing coloured powder and getting drenched by coloured water. Holi is undoubtedly the most fun festival in India and one that foreign tourists especially look forward to when visiting India during March. Celebrate Holi and a sun-tanned skin won't be the only thing you will be leaving with. Just trying explaining why your skin is so pink to the airport officials when you return home.

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