The festival Holi is a Hindu celebration of the triumph of good over evil and the end of winter giving way to spring, held throughout India and Nepal on the day after the full moon in March. Inspired by Lord Krishna, who would playfully throw colored water over girls from the village, the festival sees Indians covering each other with brightly colored powder and colored water in vibrant street parties thrown throughout the country.
As one of the most famous festivals in India (and the world), Holi is a popular event to build into a trip to India.
The festival runs for three days with the final day acting as the climax of the party. The first day (Rang Pashi) is usually a traditional day when the eldest family member wipes colored paste on his family as a blessing; the second day (Puno) is when bonfires are lit to burn evil spirits and the demon Holika; and the third day (Parva) is the main day of Holi.
As well as the throwing of colored water during street parties, Holi also sees traditional ‘bhang’ being consumed – a cannabis-based paste that can be smoked or mixed into a drink.
In different areas, the celebrations will vary – so do some research to make sure you’re travelling to be a part of a Holi experience that suits your tastes.
You’ll most likely want to spend your time during Holi in the north of India, as the southern celebration tend to be less vivacious and more of a serious affair. The capital New Delhi is where the most outrageous party is held, and a few hours away in Mathura (Lord Krishna’s birthplace) and Vrindavan (where he grew up) you’ll find the festival’s traditional roots. In Jaipur, the holiday is celebrated with an elephant festival on the day before Holi.
Don’t go to Holi expecting to not get involved! This is a festival of participation – so don’t wear your best clothes (the color often stains fabric and skin) and remember that as a visitor, you will be a prime target for the colored-water balloons being thrown around the streets. If you don’t want to get covered in color, you’ll have to stay inside – or don’t travel to India during this period!
Stock up on your ammo in the days before the festival, when small bags of colored powder are sold in the streets. Try and find natural powders that are better for the environment (and people) than the more toxic varieties.
The festival is also best enjoyed with a group of friends, especially if you’re female, in which case you shouldn’t attempt to celebrate solo (the crowds can get boisterous at times, especially towards the end of the day). For safety and security purposes make sure you have a free SIM for calling abroad and that your family at home have sorted out cheap calls to India with Lebara in order to keep in touch.