The Holi festival celebrates the victory of good over evil, especially the burning and destruction of a demoness named Holika. This was made feasible with the help of the Hindu god of preservation, Lord Vishnu.
Holi got its big-name as the “Festival of Colors” from the childhood antics of Lord Krishna, a rebirth of Lord Vishnu, who liked to play tricks on the village girls by drenching them in water and colours.
In parts of India, Holi is also remembered as a spring festival, to provide thanksgiving for an abundant harvest season.
When is Holi Celebrated?
The day after the full moon in March each year. In 2020, Holi will fall on March 10, with Holika Dahan on March 9. The festival takes place a day before in West Bengal and Odisha, where it rejoices as Dol Jatra or Dol Purnima on the same day as Holika Dahan. In addition, in several parts of India (such as Mathura and Vrindavan), festivities begin a week or so earlier.
Where is Holi Celebrated?
Holi celebrations happen in nearly all areas of India but are more energetic in some areas than others. To get a sense of what happens and where check out these 9 ways and places to celebrate Holi in India.
Traditional Holi celebrations are the largest at Mathura and Vrindavan, about four hours from Delhi, where Lord Krishna is said to have grown up. Though, safety issues are a concern for women there, due to the rowdy conduct of many local men. So, it’s best to travel as part of a guided group tour.
Rajasthan is a trendy Holi destination for foreign tourists, especially places such as Pushkar, Jaipur, and Udaipur. Many tourist hostels arrange Holi parties for guests there. Rajasthan Tourism also holds a unique Holi festival in Jaipur.
How is Holi Celebrated?
Folks spend the day rubbing coloured powder all over each other’s faces, throwing coloured water at each other, having parties, and swaying under water sprinklers. Bhang, a paste made from cannabis plants, is also usually consumed as part of the celebrations.
Special Holi events with music, rain dances, and colours are arranged in large cities across India—especially in Delhi and Mumbai. It’s feasible to celebrate Holi with a regional Indian family in Delhi and in Jaipur.
What Ceremonies are Performed?
The importance of Holi ceremonies is on the burning of demoness Holika. On the eve of Holi, large bonfires are lit to mark the occasion. This is known as Holika Dahan. As well as organizing a special puja (worship ritual), folks sing and dance around the fire, and go around it three times. In some parts of India, people even walk through the hot coals of the fire! Such firewalking is sacred. One place where it happens is Saras village near Surat in Gujarat.
The destruction of Holika is stated in the Hindu text, the Narada Purana. Holika’s brother, the demon King Hiranyakashyap, actually wanted her to burn his son, Prahlad since he followed Lord Vishnu and didn’t worship him. Holika sat with Prahlad in her lap, in the blazing fire, as it was thought that no fire could harm her. Nevertheless, Prahlad survived because his devotion to Lord Vishnu safeguarded him. Holika was instead burned to death.
A priest in Falen village, near Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, tells his village is where the mythological tale of Holika really took place. Evidently, local priests have been walking through the intense fire unscathed there for hundreds of years. Ever Since they don’t get hurt, they’re believed to be an avatar of Prahlad and blessed by him. The priest confessed that he undertakes a prolonged period of meditation and training before the remarkable feat though.
Unlike most other festivals in India, there aren’t any spiritual rituals to be done on the main day of Holi. It’s simply a day for having fun!
Holi in Odisha and West Bengal
Like Holi, the Dol Jatra celebrations in West Bengal and Odisha are devoted to Lord Krishna. Though, the mythology is not the same. The festival celebrates the love that Krishna is believed to have voiced to Radha on that day. Statues of Radha and Krishna are taken around in procession on specifically decorated palanquins. Devotees take turns swinging them. The statues are also covered with coloured powder. Of course, colours are thrown at people on the streets too! Festivities begin six days in advance, on Phagu Dashami.
What to Be Expecting During the Celebrations
Holi is a very cheerful festival that’s great fun to join in if you don’t mind getting wet and dirty. You’ll end up saturated in water, with colour all over your skin and clothes. Some of it doesn’t wash out simply, so be sure to wear out old clothes. It’s also suggested that you rub hair oil or coconut oil into your skin in advance, to avoid the colour from absorbing.
Holi Safety Information
As Holi provides an opening to disregard social norms and usually “let loose”, males frequently take it too far and act disrespectfully.
Single women should prevent going out alone in public places during Holi, as drunk young Indian guys often pose a safety threat. These males, who have drunk excessive amounts of bhang and other intoxicants, will improperly touch women and make a nuisance of themselves. They are typically in groups and can be very violent. Cases of rape also do occur, which makes it important to take proper care during Holi.
If you plan on going out into the streets on Holi, do so early in the morning. Be back in your hotel by noon before the men get too drunk. Many resorts hold special Holi parties for their guests in a secure environment.
Expect to have coloured powder and water rubbed and thrown onto your face, mouth and ears. Keep your mouth shut and safeguard your eyes as much as possible.