Here is a guide to add colour to your life
The Hindu festival of Holi in India is undoubtedly the country’s most vibrant; and outside India, probably the best known.
Although now celebrated in many places around the world, Holi is best experienced in its country of origin, but just being in India at the right time won’t guarantee you will find what you are looking for.
Here is our guide to the significance of Holi, the best places to go for the most spectacular events and also how to have the safest and most enjoyable time possible.
Festive of Love and Colour
Holi, the ‘Festival of Colours’ and also the ‘Festival of Love’, and one of the most lively, enjoyable and eagerly-anticipated Festivals in India. It is a time to meet friends, to play and laugh, to forgive and forget, and to repair broken relationships.
The celebration commemorates the victory of good over evil and marks the end of Winter and the arrival of Spring. Unlike many Hindu festivals, the religious element is minimal; Holi is mostly about enjoying the moment, also making it one of the most accessible festivals to outsiders.
According to a Hindu legend, Hiranyakashipu, a Demon King, grew conceited and decreed that everyone in his Kingdom should worship only him.
However, his son Prahlada defied him and continued to worship Lord Vishnu. Eventually, the boy’s aunt Holika, having received a boon that made her immune from fire, tricked Prahlada into joining her on a pyre. However, Prahlada’s devotion saved him and Holika was devoured by the flames. Lord Vishnu then appeared and slew the Demon King.
Thus, Holi celebrates the victory of Prahlada over his evil father and aunt as well as commemorating his devotion to Vishnu.
The Date and the Celebration
The date of Holi is determined by the Lunar calendar and coincides with the Full Moon. The corresponding date on the Western calendar varies each year, but usually falls between the end of February and mid-March.
In 2019, Holi will be celebrated on March 20 and 21; in 2020 on March 9 and 10; in 2021 on March 28 and 29.
Holi is usually a two-day festivity. On the eve, known as ‘Holika Dahan,’ festivities begin at dusk, when bonfires are lit to burn effigies of Holika. This is accompanied by rituals and prayer. Celebrations begin early the following morning; streets are transformed into a riot of colours as mass water and colour fights break out. People use buckets, water balloons and water guns to drench one another with coloured water. Participants also colour each other’s faces in bright coloured powders till they are almost unrecognisable.
Another inextricable part of Holi is the consumption of bhang, a cannabis paste that is incorporated into food, especially sweets, and drinks. Often, alcohol is also consumed, and by early afternoon proceedings can become quite rowdy. After this, people begin to drift home to sober up and wash off the colours in preparation for a more peaceful evening.
The Festival in North India
Holi is primarily a Northern Indian Festival, and hence usually passed by quietly in the South.
However, even in the North, Holi celebrations vary from place to place.
Delhi: India’s Capital lives up to its reputation as a Metro City and celebrates Holi with much enthusiasm. Besides the festivities in the residential neighbourhoods, and the numerous impromptu street parties, you can join multiple celebrations that are organised in various places in the City.
This is where tradition meets modernism, and Holi becomes a vivacious event with loud music, dancing, and bright colours.
One of the biggest and best known is the ‘Holi Moo Festival,’ which featured four stages and 40 musical performers.
Mumbai: India’s Commercial Capital can be one of the craziest places to celebrate Holi as it comes alive in its own way. A local tradition that is repeated in almost every Mumbai neighbourhood is the breaking of the buttermilk pot.
A pot of buttermilk is hung in the air and men form human pyramids to try to reach it. The person who breaks the pot is crowned ‘Holi King of the Year.’
A plethora of organised events are held throughout the City, which include Live entertainment with DJs. Unlike in Delhi, outside of hotels, few parties are organised specifically for foreign tourists.
Varanasi: India’s Spiritual Capital features a more authentic version of the Festival along the banks of the revered Ganges. The night before Holi, bonfires are lit, and locals throw dried dung cakes into the flames and offer grain to the Fire God.
Some people also smear their bodies with ubtan, a special paste which is also thrown into the fire. This is believed to protect people from disease for the rest of the year. On Holi morning, people play with colours until midday before congregating along the Ghats in the evening to chat, sing and dance.
Mathura and Vrindavan: For possibly the most unrestrained Holi Party as well as the most traditional, you can choose between Mathura and Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh.
In fact, both cities throw themselves into the celebrations for a week. The former is the birthplace of Lord Krishna, while the latter is where he spent his childhood. Here, Holi is associated with the love story of Radha and Krishna and celebrated with much aplomb. For any outsider, the celebrations in the Bakai-Bihari Temple and Gulal-Kund will be of much interest.
Rishikesh: India’s Holy City of Rishikesh is among the most rewarding places to enjoy Holi. This City is on a more manageable scale than places like Delhi or Mumbai, and it can feel as though the whole town is celebrating together. While the day’s events can in no way be described as restrained, spending Holi in Rishikesh can offer a more intimate (and perhaps safer) experience.
Everyone is considered fair game and clutching an expensive-looking camera or other electronic equipment won’t save you; so leave anything that you do not need at home. The best approach is to simply join the fun; go prepared and give as good as you get!
Consumption of Bhang
Consumption of bhang is not only completely legal throughout most of India, but it is also an integral part of the celebration of Holi. While travellers are not necessarily advised to avoid it completely, those who are not used to it should probably steer clear. Sometimes it takes a while for the effects to begin, after which they can come on strongly. It is best to be sensible about what you eat and drink.
Holi Survival Tips
White is the dress code for Holi. But go for something old or cheap that you don’t mind wasting. They will be ruined beyond repair.
Wear flip-flops. Oil your hair with coconut oil or similar; this will prevent the powder from dying your hair permanently and the colours will be easier to remove. A bandana can be a saviour too.
Apply skin moisturiser before going outside. Wear large glasses to protect your eyes.
Leave valuable cameras, phones and other valuables at home. If you need to take them, make sure that they are well protected (this means more than just a plastic bag).
To capture the action, take a Go Pro with waterproof casing.
Wash the colours off your skin immediately once the partying is over. Some of the powders now sold are cheap synthetics that may cause skin irritation.
Pictures from https://www.bookmundi.com/
Rasmus Juul-Olsen is the Founder and Director of Bookmundi, a Denmark based, global travel booking portal with facilities for booking where you effortlessly can book day tours, fixed group departures, holidays and vacation packages in +120 countries around the world. The above article is an edited version. For full text, please visit