Home India Travel GuideHoli vs Diwali—Festival Comparison

Holi vs Diwali—Festival Comparison

Holi and Diwali are both Hindu holidays that are celebrated by Indians all over the world. While both of these festivals are celebrations of Hindu gods and goddesses, the reasons behind them and the ways they are celebrated couldn't be more different.

Holi is the festival of colors and is celebrated in the spring every year with a giant chaotic color fight. Diwali is a calmer and more family-focused holiday that celebrates the victory of light over darkness by lighting candles and clay lanterns called diyas.

You should visit India during Holi if you are interested in a fun and lively atmosphere complete with dancing, laughter, and colorful photos. You should visit during Diwali if you are looking for insight into India’s religious and family culture along with beautiful photos of illuminated cities and markets.

Photo of Holi festival
Holi, the Festival of Colors
Diwali photos, lighting lanterns
Diwali, the Festival of Lights

What are Holi and Diwali?

Holi and Diwali are two famous Indian festivals. Holi is more well-known internationally and has inspired events such as Color Runs across the world. Diwali is more famous in India and is the country's most important holiday, often compared to Christmas in the west.

Holi is the celebration of the defeat of the demoness Holika and the coming of spring. The holiday takes place over two days. On the night before Holi under the full moon, effigies of the demoness are burned in large bonfires to celebrate her defeat.

The next day, the entire country heads to the streets for a giant colored powder and water fight. The color fight is meant to represent the pure joy of victory and the coming together of people of all classes.

There are many legends behind Diwali, but many people believe it is the celebration of Lakshmi the goddess of wealth. This holiday takes place over five days and includes exchanging gifts, large family feasts, lighting clay lanterns, and shopping in festival markets.

During Diwali, all of India is lit up with oil lanterns, candles, or string lights. Cities and houses are all decorated and fireworks and firecrackers go off throughout the night.

Holi and Diwali Dates

Holi and Diwali take place at opposite ends of the year. While Diwali takes place in autumn, Holi occurs in the spring. The timings of both festivals are determined by the Hindu lunar calendar meaning that the exact dates change from year to year.

Holi occurs the day after the last full moon of the Hindu month of Phalunga. This means that the holiday normally falls in March. In 2020, Holi will take place on March 10th. The bonfire of Holika Dahan will take place the night before.

Diwali takes place on the new moon day of the Hindu month of Kartik meaning that the festival usually falls in late October or November. This year Diwali will take place from November 12th to 16th with the main day of celebrations on November 14th.

Holi and Diwali Celebrations

The celebrations of Holi and Diwali have different focuses and also feel very different when you experience them as a traveler. During Holi, the main celebration is the color fight which is meant to be fun and get everyone smiling and laughing.

On the other hand, the celebrations of Diwali are more serious and family-focused. During Diwali, Indians will wear their nicest clothes and perform rituals to Lakshmi as well as exchange gifts and sweets.

Holi color fight photo
Holi powders are called gulaal and can be bought in most markets leading up to the celebration.

Holi celebrations last for a period of two days. The first day of celebrations happens on the night of the full moon and is called Holika Dahan. On this day, firewood and flammable materials are gathered and placed in public spaces and parks. When night falls, effigies of the evil demon Holika are placed on the fire and burned to symbolize her defeat.

The second day of Holi is when the fun begins. People prepare colored powders, water, and water balloons and head to the streets to drench anyone they see. Temples that are dedicated to Lord Krishna often hold Holi events that include large color fights.

Family Diwali celebrations, firecrackers, sparklers
Family celebrating Diwali with sparklers.

Diwali celebrations last for five days. The first day is known as Dhanteras and is when people clean their homes in preparation for the coming of goddess Lakshmi. It is also common to go to the markets and buy auspicious items like gold and silver.

The second day of Diwali is Chhoti Diwali, or little Diwali, when everyone decorates their homes with candles and string lights. It's also common to make or buy Indian sweets on this day to give to friends and visitors.

The main day of Diwali is the third day. On this day, families get together and exchange gifts then eat a large meal. In the evening, a ritual is performed for Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and the famous diyas or clay lanterns are ceremoniously lit and burn throughout the night.

The fourth day is called Padwa and is dedicated to the love between spouses. Husbands and wives often exchange gifts on this day. The final day of celebrations is known as Bhai Duj and is dedicated to the bond between siblings. On this day, brothers and sisters get together to perform a special protection ritual and exchange gifts.

Holi and Diwali Legends

While stemming from the same mythology, the legends of Holi and Diwali focus on different stories of Hindu gods and goddesses.

The story of Holi focuses on the demoness Holika who was sent by the evil King Hiranyakashipu to kill his son Prahlada. Prahlada was a follower of Lord Vishnu and when Holika tried to kill Prahlada by burning him on a pyre, it was she who died instead.

Holi is also widely known as the celebration of Lord Krishna. Krishna is a famous Hindu god who was believed to be mischievous and silly. Legends say that he used to throw colors on the village girls for fun. Today, putting color on others is a symbol of joy and happiness because of the stories of Krishna.

Every region of India believes in a different legend of Diwali. For most Indians, Diwali includes worshipping the goddess Lakshmi who is thought to have been born on this day.

Many people from North India also celebrate it as the day that Lord Rama returned from his 14 years of exile as told in the Ramayana Hindu epic. To celebrate his return, people light clay lanterns to symbolically lead Rama home.

In South India, Diwali is celebrated as the day that Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura.

Holi and Diwali Decorations

Photos of diwali diyas
Lit Diwali diyas.

Out of the two festivals, Diwali has a larger focus on decorations than Holi. While there are often colorful flowers hung in doorways during the celebration of the Festival of Colors, most of the decorating occurs naturally during the color fight by staining stones and streets brilliant shades of pink and red.

Diwali, on the other hand, is all about decorations and especially those that emit light. The Diwali clay lanterns or diyas are the main symbols of the holiday and can be seen in homes and streets flickering throughout the main night of celebrations.

Other common Diwali decorations include rangoli designs placed at the entrance of homes, string lights, candles, paper lanterns, and marigold garlands.

Holi and Diwali Food

Food and especially sweets are a big part of almost all Indian festivals and with Holi and Diwali, it's no different. Diwali has a large focus on holiday sweets and family meals whereas Holi focuses on street food, snacks, and sweets.

Holi food, sweets, and treats
Common Holi sweets and snacks.

Because everyone takes to the streets during the Festival of Colors, most Holi foods are quick and easy to eat on the go. Some examples of Holi snacks include papri chaat, a street food made from chickpeas and potatoes, and samosas, a famous fried Indian snack made with spiced potato filling.

Some popular sweets exchanged during Holi include gujiya, sweet dumplings, and barfi, made with condensed milk and sugar. This holiday is also famously a time when people consume cannabis-infused drinks called bhang thandai.

Diwali sweets and desserts
Diwali sweets. 

Diwali food mostly consists of sweets that are exchanged between friends and family members when they meet. Some popular Diwali sweets include laddoos, round treats made with butter and sugar, and gulab jamun, balls soaked in sugary syrup.

During family meals on Diwali, many traditional dishes are served but they vary from state to state. If you'd like to experience the Indian holiday meal, it's a good idea to spend Diwali in a guesthouse with a host family. This way you can help with the preparations and also join in the feast.

Best Places to Celebrate Holi and Diwali

The best places to celebrate Holi and Diwali differ. If you trying to choose which holiday to experience in India, you may also want to pick a city that you are also interested in exploring.

The top places to experience Holi include Udaipur, Pushkar, Jaipur, and Hampi. Many travel sites also mention the towns of Mathura and Vrindavan as great places to go. While these cities have some of the most traditional Holi celebrations, they've also been known to be dangerous for travelers so we don't recommend them unless visiting through a guided tour.

We love Udaipur for its Holi bonfire celebrations that include large processions and the involvement of the local royal family. Pushkar is a great place to go for color fight events that are extremely safe and the pink walls of Jaipur look stunning covered in Holi colors during the celebrations.

The top places to celebrate Diwali include Varanasi, Jaipur, Udaipur, and Kolkata. Varanasi is by far one of the most incredible places to experience Diwali for those who are interested in the religious rituals of the festival. Over the 5 days of celebrations, the streets of the city are lined with lit diyas and there are religious rituals taking place along the Ganges.

Jaipur is famous for its beautifully lit Diwali markets and decorated homes. Udaipur's beautiful temples and palaces are lit up with string lights and make for beautiful views with Lake Pichola as the backdrop.

Kolkata is a great place to go for a different Diwali. In this city, they celebrate Kali the goddess of destruction instead of Lakshmi the goddess of wealth.

7 Main Holi and Diwali Differences for Travelers

Now that we've talked about the major aspects of both Holi and Diwali, let's take a look at some of the biggest differences between the two celebrations when it comes to a traveler's experience.

If you are looking for fun and a celebratory atmosphere, then you may want to visit during Holi. If you are interested in more cultural and religious knowledge then Diwali is the best choice.

1. Holi is more of a party and festival while Diwali is a more family holiday.

The main focus of Holi and Diwali is very different. While Diwali is very family and religion-centered, Holi is all about having fun. If you are a traveler who is looking to have an incredible time in a new country and bond with local people, then Holi might be the festival for you.

During Holi, everyone is welcome to join in the celebrations and it is quite common for small groups of foreigners to be adopted by large Indian families during the festivities.

2. Diwali is more religion-focused.

While Holi is all about having fun, travelers who visit during this festival won't get the chance to see the religious side of Indian holidays. During Diwali in Varanasi, travelers can watch the ganga aarti ritual every night or see locals as they light diyas in the streets.

During Diwali in North India, travelers can watch performances of the Hindu epic Ramayana that take place in the open in almost every town and city. The performances are called Ramlilas and retell the story behind Diwali. In Kolkata, travelers can tour the many stages that contain giant statues of the fearsome goddess Kali.

3. Diwali is a popular travel time for domestic tourists.

Holi is a popular time for foreign travelers to visit India which may cause a slight rise in the prices of hotels, especially in areas that are famous for their celebrations like Mathura and Vrindavan, Jaipur, and Pushkar.

During Diwali, you can expect prices for all hotels, flights, and trains to be higher across the country due to the high amount of domestic travel that occurs. Most Indians get 7 days off for Diwali and take this opportunity to travel to top attractions in their country or simply visit their family in another state.

4. Diwali is a more friendly and less overwhelming festival.

Besides lighting firecrackers and visiting markets, most Diwali celebrations take place quietly inside with loved ones. Holi, on the other hand, is a whole different beast.

During the Holi color fights, the streets are crowded. Although the festival atmosphere is fun, for people who aren't used to India the intensity of the crowd and chaotic celebrations can be overwhelming. If you visit India during Holi be prepared for noise, chaos, and being touched by strangers who want to douse you in color.

5. Holi requires a lot of preparation.

The colored powders and water used during Holi are very concentrated and are likely to stain your skin and hair. In order to protect your skin and not end up looking like a rainbow alien for weeks after the festival, it is necessary to prepare.

First, you'll want to cover as much skin as possible with clothing. It's a good idea to completely cover your hair with a hat or scarf. Any visible skin or hair should be coated in coconut oil to make it easier to wash off the colors later.

Anything you wear during Holi will be ruined, so make sure to bring old clothes.

6. Diwali causes air pollution in some cities.

Pollution is a major problem all over India and Diwali occurs at the beginning of winter when the country experiences its highest levels of air pollution. While fireworks and firecrackers are a traditional part of the celebrations, they do a lot of harm to air quality.

In recent years, there have been protests during the holiday against the use of fireworks and firecrackers due to their negative impact on health and pollution.

It is common for air pollution levels to be high in Delhi, Kolkata, and other large cities in North India during Diwali. Travelers should avoid celebrating in Delhi and be prepared to experience at least some air pollution during the holiday.

7. The weather during Diwali is more comfortable.

The high season for visiting India is from November to February which is when the country experiences its most pleasant weather. Diwali typically falls in late October or early November making it also a great time to get outside and see iconic sights such as the Taj Mahal, Red Fort, Agra Fort, and Amber Palace.

Holi takes place in March which is right at the beginning of the hot season. At this time, temperatures in North India are usually around 30°C (86°F) and can get up to 42°C (108°F) in some areas.

When celebrating Holi in India, we recommend only going out in the early morning and bring plenty of water and electrolytes with you.

3 Main Holi and Diwali Similarities for Travelers

Now that we've talked about the major differences between the two festivals when it comes to choosing which one to experience as a traveler, let's talk about some of the similarities.

While most people will enjoy one festival over the other, there's no doubt that they are both great ways to make incredible memories while learning about a new culture.

1. Both offer authentic views of Indian culture.

In India, every region and state has its own unique festivals. Out of all the Indian festivals, Holi and Diwali are the two that are celebrated across the entire country and are great ways to get an authentic view of Indian culture and religion.

During Holi, you can attend the bonfire of Holika Dahan and join in the celebration of victory then head to the streets the next day to join in the color fight with locals and try tasty Indian street food.

During Diwali, you can head to the holiday markets to take in the lights, buy lucky items such as gold and silver, or try on traditional clothes. At night, head to the Ganges to watch the rituals or to temples to see the lit clay lamps.

2. Holi and Diwali are best enjoyed at a guesthouse or a homestay.

It is entirely possible to experience the beauty of Holi and Diwali without staying at a homestay or guesthouse. But for those travelers who are interested in Indian culture or want to participate in the rituals of Holi and Diwali, there is no better way than to stay with an Indian family.

Staying with an Indian family during Holi allows guests to have a more lowkey and family-centered celebration as opposed to the sometimes chaotic and overwhelming celebrations that take place in the streets.

For Diwali, staying with an Indian family is the only way to experience many of the holiday rituals including the lighting of the diyas, making of rangoli decorations, or the ritual for Lakshmi.

3. Everything should be booked well in advance for both festivals.

The final similarity between Holi and Diwali for travelers is that no matter which one is chosen, everything from plane tickets to hotels and local guides will need to be booked well in advance.

During Holi, there is often an influx of foreign travelers who venture to the country to experience this photogenic celebration. This means that many hotels, especially in cities where Holi celebrations are popular, are fully booked months in advance.

Diwali takes place during the start of the peak travel season, meaning that foreign travelers are just starting to head to India. At the same time, almost all Indians get a week off work to sightsee or visit family. This causes fully booked hotels and higher prices for guides and travel.

If you need help arranging your trip to India for Holi or Diwali, feel free to contact us! At Asia Highlights we specialize in planning tailor-made trips and making all the bookings for you so you can just relax and enjoy your vacation.