India is the land of festivals and we celebrate many festivals. Some of the religious festivals, some of the cultural festivals, while some festivals celebrated in some parts of India. There are some must experience festivals of India and festival of colors Holi is one those festival.
Holi is celebrated in Phagun month in the Hindu calendar on full moon day. According to the Gregorian calendar, it falls sometime in the month of March or sometime at the end of February. Holi is popularly known as the festival of colors and celebrated to mark the spring season. The festival of Holi is not only about playing colors with family and friends, but it also represents the victory of good over evil. It also encourages equality between different castes and religions in India.
The story and history about Holi celebration
The most popular legend is that King Hiranyakashipu had received a boon, which made him almost indestructible. This made him arrogant and egoistic, he declared in his kingdom that everyone should pray him and no one will pray to any God. But his son Prahalad (Who was a child at that time) didn’t follow his orders and he continued praying Lord Vishnu. King got very angry with his son and he ordered for his killing but the child escaped all murderous attempts miraculously.
Then his sister Holika suggested that she will sit on fire with Prahalad in her lap which will kill the child as she got the boon that fire will not harm her. She didn’t know that the boon worked only if she is alone in the fire. When she entered the fire with Prahalad, he kept chanting the name of Vishnu and remained unharmed, while Holika got burned in the fire.
Since she had an evil desire to kill the child, she was burned in fire and child survived because he has a pure heart. That’s why Holi is considered as a festival to mark the victory of good over evil.
Another fun story about the origin of Holi is related with Lord Krishna and Radha. According to legends Krishna was dark skinned and Radha was very fair, due to this his friends used to tease him. He told his mother Yasoda about this and she playfully told him that he can put any color on her as he liked. So, some people believe that playing of Holi with colors came from the story of Krishna.
Why Holi is celebrated
Holi is celebrated for various reasons.
1. To mark the season of spring and end of winters.
2. To mark the victory of good over evil.
3. To bring the concept of equality between different classes of people.
4. It is a festival of happiness, which is celebrated with friends and family.
How Holi is celebrated
The festival of Holi is divided into two parts.
The first one is a night before we play Holi with the colors. In the evening a bonfire is made to celebrate the burning of evil and victory of good.
On the second day, the festival is celebrated by playing colors from morning till noon with the friends and family. A big vegetarian feast is organized for lunch and food is enjoyed with everyone playing Holi.
Where to go for Holi
It all depends on how you want to celebrate or experience the festival. Holi is celebrated more in North India as compared to South India. An enthusiastic traveler should head to folloiwg places to experience the Holi in it’s most exciting form.
Barsana & Nandgaon in Uttar Pradesh
This version of Holi is popularly known as Lathmar Holi, which means Stick beating Holi (Lath means bamboo sticks + Mar means beat). Lathmar Holi is celebrated 7 days before the Holi festival. It is celebrated only in Barsana and Nandgaon villages near Mathura.
The menfolk from Nandgaon visit Barsana village and women of the village beat the men with sticks. It is played near the Radha temple and also on the streets of Barsana. It is fun to watch them, these days beating with sticks is done mostly in a playful manner. If you are planning to attend this festival then go with a group.
Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh
Here the Holi is celebrated in Banke Bihari temple 3 days before the Holi i.e. on the day of Ekadashi in Hindu calendar. It’s played with flower petals and this event marks the official beginning of celebrations in the temple.
In Banke Bihari temple Holi is played with colors a day before the main festival. It is played mainly inside the temple but people through colors on each other outside the temple also. Mostly man participates in this because it is not a women-friendly event.
Mathura in Uttar Pradesh
A procession passes through the streets of Mathura a day before Holi. Holika Dahan is done in the evening at Holi gate. On the day of Holi, festivities move to Dwarakadheesh temple and people play with colors in the temple premise. This temple compound is much bigger than Banke Bihari temple hence more space to play Holi. The priest of the temple also participates in the festivities.
Pushkar in Rajasthan
The main street of Pushkar turns into big Holi playing field. A big bonfire is made a night before playing Holi with colors. Holika Dahan is done on the main street of Pushkar. Next day people play with dry and wet colors in the street. People through the water mixed with colors from the rooftop on the people gathered in street. Unlike Vrindavan Holi, here men and women play Holi together. Travelers staying in different hotels and hostels come together to celebrate on street with local people.
Rishikesh in Uttrakhand
The Holi in Rishikesh is more of a tourist affair like Pushkar. It is advisable to go in a group or make a group of men and women in your hotel or hostel. Here also it is played with dry and wet colors.
Udaipur in Rajasthan
The festival of Holi is celebrated for 2 days in Udaipur. It is a royal affair which starts with Holika Dehan on the eve of Holi. The Holika Dehan is done in City palace compound and royal family takes part in this celebration. Fireworks are also parts of Holika Dehan event.
Next day the colors are played in streets of Udaipur. It is celebrated most near city palace and Jagdish temple area of Udaipur.
Hampi in Karnataka
Though Holi is more of a religious affair in the south of India and it’s not played like north India. But in Hampi, it is celebrated with much fan fair, locals come out on the streets with drums. The celebrations in Hampi are not less than any other place in the North. Over the years due to tourist interest, Holi became a big event of the town.
In Goa, it is celebrated as Shigmo festival, which marks the return of worrier from war. Nowadays in Goa, it’s more like a party mixed with the playing of colors. Many small and big party events are organized throughout the Goa to celebrate the Holi.
Anandpur Sahib in Punjab
The Holi of Anandpur Sahib is unique and it’s popularly known as “Hola Mohalla”. This is a three-day event and also known as Rural Olympics of India. Warriors of Sikh community (Popularly known as Nihang) come and show their skills during this festival.
There is so much to see and experience in Anandpur Sahib during these three days. The playing of colors is one small part of the whole festivities in Anandpur Sahib. The main kitchen of gurudwara along with many community kitchens run in Anandpur Sahib to feed everyone attending the event.
Shantiniketan in West in Bengal
The Holi in Shantiniketan is celebrated as Basant Utsav. During the Basant Utsav, the campus of Shantiniketan is decorated with yellow colors. Many cultural programmes are organized during this two days festival. Holi is celebrated here with flower petals and also played with colors but in a very mild manner.
Safety tips for Holi celebrations
The festival of colors is definitely a fun event for everyone and it’s a different experience for a foreign traveler or someone who never played Holi in North India. To enjoy the festival at it’s fullest, we need to take some necessary precautions.
* If you are a traveler in North India to celebrate the festival then go with a group because Holi is best celebrated with known people.
* In metro cities of Delhi and Mumbai, you will come across many Holi parties and meetup. Sign up for one and become part of a group.
* Whatever you plan to wear on the day of Holi, keep in mind that you are not going to wear those clothes again. Most people prefer wearing white as colors show best on white.
* Skincare is the most critical part of Holi. Though these days people use talcum powder-based dry colors still sometimes chemical colors are also added in these. Also, wet colors are still very popular in India. To avoid the bad effect of colors, apply a good layer of oil based cream on face, neck, hands, arms and other body parts. It will help and colors won’t penetrate in the outer layer of skin.
* For hair care apply a generous amount of coconut oil or any other oil of your choice on your hair. Then cover your head with headscarf bandana or cap, I recommend bandana because people love to put color in hair and they can remove cap easily to apply color in the hair.
* There are many varieties of colors available in the market. Try to buy Herbal Holi colors made with the flower extract or by using other parts of plants. Avoid chemical colors, which are mostly used in wet colors and they are very difficult to wash off. Sometimes these colors take few days to get off the skin.
* To protect your hand and feet nails, apply a double coat of dark color nail paint. This nail paint you can remove after playing the Holi and keep the nails white. (Sorry it won’t work for Men)
* Wear flip-flops or plastic sandals or chappals because chances are your footwear will also get colored. Use the sandals which you don’t mind getting color.
* Wear Goggles to cover your eyes as many times people through dry colors on the face. If you are not attentive then it can go in your eyes but with googles, it will protect your eyes.
* I personally recommend that don’t use your expensive camera to click photographs. Use your mobile to capture photographs and also keep it in the waterproof casing to avoid damage.
* Children start playing Holi a couple of days before the actual festival, so there are chances of someone throwing water or balloon from the balcony. Be attentive when you are walking in residential areas.
* Try not to travel in the general class of train or buses 2 days before the Holi. I have come across a few incidents when people threw colors on passengers or forcefully applied colors on women.
Additional tips for women to celebrate and play safe Holi
The incidents of misbehavior with women are reported many times. I being an Indian came across such incidents and for foreign women travelers it can be a more. I am sure the following tips will help all women travelers looking to celebrate the festival of color in India.
* Most people wear white or light color clothes, which gets transparent once wet. Wear an additional layer over the undergarments to avoid this problem.
* I am not being sexist or orthodox but sharing the hard reality of Holi. My recommendation is don’t go out on the streets alone or with 1 or 2 women. It’s advisable to go out with male member in the group. The incident of groping or teasing happen on the streets.
* If you can get an invitation from a friend for Holi, then it is the best place to enjoy the festival. It is most advisable to play Holi with known people.
* If you plan to experience the Holi in Vrindavan, Barsana or Mathura, then it is better to go with a professionally managed group. Read the reviews about the organizer and their earlier trip before going with them. These Holi events are a superb experience but lots of sexual harassment incidents are reported in these places with solo travelers.
Bhang during Holi
Bhang is very popular during Holi. It is an edible preparation of cannabis. It is served by mixing in Lassi or in vegetable pakoras. If you had never tried Bhang before then go slow with it or totally avoid it on the day of Holi.
Bhang has a different effect on different individuals. It doesn’t give you high immediately like alcohol. If you had a glass of Bhang and not feeling high then it doesn’t mean you will not after some time. It takes time to get into blood circulation.
There is no hangover after having Bhang. But when you are under the Bhang Influence it can create hallucination, paranoia, anxiety, strange behavior, repetitive actions, panic attack and in some people it won’t have any such effect.
I remember two such incidents in my friend’s circle. A friend of mine had such an effect that she kept bathing for 3 hours. Another one was hallucinated and she felt that roof is falling on her. Now when we remember we laugh but it was nerve-wracking at that time.
Food on Holi
There are some traditional vegetarian foods associated with the festival of Holi.
Gujiya is a must eat sweet during Holi. These deep fried sweet dumplings are filled with thickened milk and nuts, later dipped in sugar syrup.
Dahi Bhalle, vegetable Pakode, and kachoris are most popular snacks.
**Thandai, which is made with almonds, saffron, milk, sugar, and masalas. Sometimes Bhang is also added into Thandai, so check before drinking.
**Kanji is a tangy drink made with black carrots, salt, small mustard seeds, and masala. It is very refreshing.
It’s mainly traditional Indian vegetable dishes like different types of Pooris, vegetables, lentil dal, white chickpeas, and curd.
I hope these tips will help everyone to celebrate a safe and colorful Holi. If you want to add more to this, please feel free to give your inputs. If you have questions, please feel free to ask. I am more than happy to answer the questions.