Holi Festival—All You Need to Know
Also known as the Festival of Colors, Holi (pronounced Ho-lee) is a Hindu religious holiday that symbolizes the triumph of good over evil and is one of the most well-known and boisterous celebrations in India. The festival celebrates the feelings of pure joy and love with a chaotic countrywide colored powder fight.
This festival is celebrated by Indians all around the world, but being in India during Holi is a truly once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience the country at its most joyous and captivating.
In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about Holi including when it is, where to celebrate, how to celebrate, how to plan your Holi trip, and some tips on staying safe during the celebrations.Getting Ready for the Color Fight at Holi Festival
Why You Should Experience Holi in India
- Experience the contagious joy and happiness. During Holi celebrations and color fights everyone is smiling, dancing, yelling, and laughing. Once you join in, you’ll won't be able to stop yourself from smiling too.
- This holiday is one of the best times to meet locals and have meaningful experiences with them. Everyone is outside during the festival having fun and willing to let you join in.
- The free-for-all color fight is like something we dreamed of as kids and Holi is the realization of that dream and then some! During Holi, everyone pours into the streets to join the countrywide color fight and not even street dogs or old ladies are safe.
- India's markets become alive in the weeks before the celebration and visitors will see streets full of bags of bright colored powders and delicious holiday sweets.
- Holi celebrations are not just a color fight but also include parades, dancing, bonfires, and music.
- Holi is celebrated all over India, so you can include it in your India trip without having to deviate too much from your planned itinerary.
So, what is Holi?
Holi is an ancient Hindu festival that is meant to express the pure joy of the triumph of good over evil.
The name ‘Holi’ comes from the story of the holiday in which the evil demon Holika was defeated. Holi became known as the ‘Festival of Colors’ due to an old legend about Lord Krishna who liked to prank people by dowsing them in water and color creating a joyous color fight.
This is a particularly special festival in India because although it began as a Hindu celebration, today it is celebrated by almost all Indians regardless of religion
This celebration has also been historically important in the country because it has always been a time for people of all social classes and backgrounds to come together, even in the past when India still practiced the caste system.
When is Holi?
Holi is based on the Indian lunar calendar so the date of the festival changes every year, but it is typically celebrated in March during the first full moon.
So when exactly is Holi?
In 2020, Holi will take place from midday on March 9th to sunset on March 10th. The color fights will occur all day on the 10th.
Upcoming Holi Dates:
- Holi 2020: March 9th-10th
- Holi 2021: March 27th-28th
- Holi 2022: March 7th-8th
- Holi 2023: March 6th-7th
- Holi 2024: March 25th-26th
- Holi 2025: March 13th-14th
Legend of Holi
So, why do Indians celebrate Holi?
Well, the festival of Holi starts with the story of the demoness Holika and how she was destroyed.
According to the legend, there was once an evil and powerful king called Hiranyakashipu who was hated by the people for his cruelty.
The son of King Kiranyakashipu, Prahlada was a worshiper of the Hindu deity, Lord Vishnu, and refused to worship his father the king. This made the king extremely angry and led him to try and kill Prahlada multiple times.
After unsuccessfully attempting to kill his son, the king asked his evil sister Holika to kill Prahlada. Holika was immune to fire so in order to kill Prahlada she built a pyre and tricked him to sitting there with her.
Because the intentions of Holika were impure, when she lit the pyre she was the one who was burned and Prahlada survived. Therefore, Holi celebrates the lesson that good will always win over evil and that devotees of Lord Vishnu and Hinduism will triumph.
Although the legend of Holika is the most popular explanation for the holiday in northern India, people in South India believe another legend about Kaamadeva the lord of passion who risked his life to save Lord Shiva.
How to Celebrate Holi
In India, the celebration of Holi lasts for two days although preparations can start weeks in advance. The main events of the celebration are the burning of Holika on the night of the full moon and the color fight that occurs the next day.
So, how is Holi celebrated in India?
There are 5 major traditions:
1. Preparing the Holi Pyre
A few days up to a week before the festival, people will start collecting wood to build the pyre where they will burn an idol of the demon Holika in a religious ritual. Anyone can help build the pyres as long as you bring flammable materials with you.
You'll often see the pyres being built in community centers, parks, and other open spaces.
2. The Holi Bonfire
The fire of Holika Dahan happens after sunset on the night of the full moon. This is when a statue of the demon Holika is placed on the pyre and burned. On this day, people from all over the neighborhood gather around the pyre to perform prayers and then set it alight
It is also common to see people singing and dancing around the pyre to express their joy that the evil demon was defeated and that good always prevails.
3. Throwing Colors and Water
The morning after the full moon is when the water and color fight festivities begin.
People spend almost the entire day throwing colored powders or smearing it on each other's faces and clothes.
The color fight during Holi symbolizes equality which means that ANYONE is fair game. If you go outside during Holi, you can expect to be covered from head to toe in colors and water before you return.
Leading up to Holi, you can purchase the colored powders and water balloons on the street from local vendors. Even if you don't purchase the colored powders, the festival is still enjoyable and you will be part of the color fights.
4. Sweet Treats and Bhang Drinks
An Indian festival wouldn't be complete without special sweets that are served on the occasion. During Holi, visitors can find these sweets being sold on the streets or being exchanged between friends and neighbors.
Some popular Holi sweets include gujiya (sweet dumplings mixed with dried fruits), ladoo (a round sweet made from flour, butter, and sugar), burfi (which is a heavy milk and sugar-based sweet), and many more.
Another treat that is traditionally consumed during Holi is thandai, which is a cold refreshing drink made from whole milk, almonds, rose water, fennel seed, saffron, cardamom, and peppercorn.
During Holi, thandai is often laced with cannabis paste (bhang) because in Hinduism it is thought to bring people closer to the gods. It is important for travelers to be very cautious when consuming bhang thandai because it can cause unpleasant feelings if taken in excess.
5. Special Holi Events
Because Holi is such an important holiday in India, large cities will often hold special Holi events with music, rain dances, and other activities that travelers can participate in. Delhi and Mumbai are especially great for experiencing large events and concerts during Holi.
Where to Celebrate Holi
Holi is celebrated all over India but in different ways:
North India is typically said to be the best place to visit during Holi as it has the most beautiful and lively celebrations. Cities in Uttar Pradesh such as Mathura and Vrindavan are very famous places to experience Holi and many tourists flock there during the festival.
The western state of Rajasthan is another popular place to experience Holi because many hotels plan events and organize parties for their guests. The city of Jaipur also holds an elephant festival the day before Holi and the ancient streets of Udaipur are known for being absolutely beautiful and alive during the celebrations.
In South India, they celebrate Holi to honor Kamadeva, the god of love, instead of the defeat of Holika. South Indian Holi celebrations are often smaller than those in North India.
West Bengal celebrates the defeat of Holika with color fights but also with more singing and dancing than other states.
Large cities like Delhi and Mumbai are fun places to experience Holi, although the crowds can sometimes be overwhelming. Mumbai is famous for its Holi parties that happen throughout the city.
How to Plan a Trip to India During Holi
Now that you know more about Holi, its time to start planning your dream trip to India.
Check out the steps below to learn more about how to plan your trip or contact us for travel advice from one of our experts.
Step 1: Choose a city
Because Holi celebrations only last for one night and one day, you will need to pick one place to celebrate the event.
If you would like to combine your Holi experience with beach relaxation, then there is no better place than Goa. You'll find the most traditional Holi celebrations in Mathura and Vrindavan. We also love the celebrations in Rajasthan.
Step 2: Book your hotel and flight tickets
Once you know which city you want to visit during Holi, you should book your accommodation and travel as soon as possible.
To get the most out of your Holi trip, you will probably want to spend at least 7 days in India because you will need time to prepare for the festival, decompress after the festival, and see some of India's top attractions.
When booking your hotel, look for one that offers Holi activities. This way, if the celebrations get too rowdy outside you can still celebrate in the hotel until things calm down.
Step 3: What to Pack
When packing for Holi, it is important to know that the colored powders will likely ruin any clothes and jewelry you wear during the celebration. Make sure to pack old clothes that cover as much skin as possible. You may want to also bring disposable sunglasses and a bandana to cover your hair.
You will want to bring a sturdy bag with you to protect your things during the festival. Make sure it is a bag that can't be opened without your knowledge and would be difficult to steal.
If you plan on bringing electronic equipment such as a camera or phone, you will need to protect it because the colored powder will ruin most electronics. To protect your phone, bring a sealable bag.
To protect your camera, you will need to cover and seal EVERYTHING except for the lens. This can be done with a plastic bag and tape. It will be important to make sure the seal around the lens is airtight.
Step 4: Arrival and preparation
When you arrive in India there are a few things you will need to do to prepare.
First, you should ask for advice about celebrating Holi from your hotel staff or guide. They will be able to tell you which areas of the city are great and which to avoid. They can also give you important safety information.
Secondly, you'll need to buy your colored powders. This can be done in most market places leading up to the festival.
Before the holiday, make sure you buy plenty of water to take with you while celebrating. India is very hot in March and during Holi, the air is full of dust making it easy to get dehydrated.
In order to make a great impression on locals, you can prepare a holiday greeting beforehand. 'Happy Holi' in Hindi is Holi Mubarak (pronounced Ho-lee Mu-bar-ahk).
Don't worry too much about the pronunciation! Most Indians will still appreciate you learning a few phrases in their language and will act more warmly towards you for trying.
Tips for Enjoying Holi and Celebrating Safely
There are many horror stories online about what can happen during Holi and this leads many travelers to ask:
"Is Holi Safe?"
The answer: Holi is safe to celebrate as long as you are prepared, follow the advice of your travel guides and hotel staff, and also pay attention to a few important tips:
Tip 1: Book Hotels and Travel in Advance
- Holi is a world-famous festival that draws THOUSANDS of visitors to the country every year and it is important to book accommodation well in advance. This is especially true in Delhi, Mumbai, Goa, and most cities in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
- If you arrive in a city right before Holi without booking a room beforehand you may not be able to find one. If you do, it will most likely be expensive, dirty, or unsafe.
- It is a good idea to find a hotel that offers Holi celebrations and events for its guests. This way, if the streets get too rowdy and overwhelming you can return to your hotel and enjoy the festival.
Tip 2: Make it Easier to Wash out the Dye
- Wear old clothes because whatever you wear will be ruined. It is also important to remove all jewelry or anything else valuable so that it doesn’t get damaged.
- Wear loose clothes that cover as much of your body as possible because the dyes will stain your skin and can take up to a week to wash off.
- Cover your visible skin and hair in coconut oil to prevent the dyes from absorbing. If you have long hair, it can also be helpful to wear it back and covered.
- You can expect it to take around an hour for each person to wash off all the color and some will still stain your skin and hair afterward.
Tip 3: Protect Yourself During the Color Fight
- Protect your eyes with sunglasses or goggles and try to keep your mouth closed during the festival so that you don’t breath in too much powder. It is likely that colored powder will be thrown at your face and may get into your eyes, nose, mouth, or ears.
- It is important to always be vigilant and stay together. During Holi, everyone is covered in colors and it can be difficult to recognize your friends or family in the crowd.
- Don't bring any valuables with you out on the streets during the celebration because they could be ruined or taken. Holi is a time when petty crime such as theft has been known to happen because the crowds are large and it is difficult to recognize those around you.
- It is a good idea for travelers to go out in the morning and return to their hotels by the early afternoon. The celebration gets more unruly as the day goes on and as people become more intoxicated.
Tip 4: Stay Safe During Holi as a Woman
Although Holi can be an incredible experience for many travelers, it is important to note that Holi is also a dangerous time for women. The festival can be particularly dangerous for solo female travelers.
During the celebrations, groups of young and intoxicated Indian men can be dangerous and pose a threat to safety. These men are often drunk and take advantage of their features being hidden to get away with inappropriate touching or assault.
To stay safe:
- Experience Holi in a group. Either go to India in a group or enjoy the festival with other foreigners from your hotel.
- Go outside in the early morning before people get too intoxicated.
- Avoid crowded places. You may want to pick a smaller city to visit during Holi if you are planning to travel alone so that you won't get stuck in a large crowd.
- Find groups of Indian women and families to celebrate with on the streets.
- If someone acts inappropriately towards you, make a scene so that others near you can help.
Celebrate Holi with Asia Highlights
Want to experience Holi but don’t know where to start? Here at Asia Highlights, we have experienced experts that can help you create your perfect trip. We make trips that suit the needs of each traveler whether that means experiencing Holi and all of its beauty or experiencing other Indian festivals and cultural activities. To get more information, contact us today!