The Holi Festival: A Celebration of Color
Holi festival, better known as the Holica is one of the greatest festivals held in India and Nepal. Festive energy is expressed by layer upon layer of colorful powder spray, coupled with loud songs, dances and parades from morning to late night.
Children and teenage boys chase and spray colored powder or liquid upon anybody they come across. No one is off limits, especially elegantly dressed people, who are targeted without mercy.
The colored powder spray custom is called Gulal, and together with colored water blasting and bonfires, this is how Hindus celebrate the approach of the fresh spring season. Additional traditional acts are prayer, alcohol consumption and bhang lassi drinking, which is marijuana blended with hot milk.
A Rowdy Affair
Teenage drummer groups march from place to place, sing, dance and drag people into the festivities. Influenced by the alcohol and “hidden from the eyes of the gods” thanks to the colored clouds, women are warned to pay attention and stay away from groups of men. Many intoxicated gangs move together, shout loud ‘Happy Holi’ and attempt to hug everyone, especially young women.
Above all, what makes Holi so unique is the boundary removal of the social castes and free crowd mixing. Men and women, young and old, poor and rich and members of different castes are all happily celebrating together.
It is customary to wear white clothing during Holi so that the variety of colors will be distinctly displayed. One way or the other, at the end of the day everyone is covered with colors from head to toe. Therefore, it is recommended to hit the streets with minimal carry on and make sure your more precious belongings are well protected with tightly sealed plastic bags. The Holi experience is worth the effort and it is strongly recommended to have fun and flow with the commotion.
The Legends Associated with the Festivities
Holi festival is a Hindu religious celebration indicating the beginning of the spring season and in accordance with the mythology, the victory of good over evil. The colors symbolize vitality and the festivity represents the triumph of life, love and passion. The main legend that explains Holi tells us about Vishnu, one of the three major gods in Hinduism, who killed Hiranyakashipu’s young brother.
Beside his desire for revenge, the evil Hiranyakashipu wanted to govern the skies, earth and the world of darkness. Equipped with almighty power, Hirayakashipu felt undefeatable and commanded all mortals to worship only him. His son, Prahalad, opposed his view and remained loyal only to Vishnu.
At a moment of uncontrolled anger, the cruel tyrant decided to kill his son with the help of his sister Holika known for her fireproof superpower. A pyre was lit and Holika sat on it, crushing her nephew, Prahalad, underneath her.
Surprisingly, with the generous help of Vishnu, Prahalad escaped the fire unharmed, while Holika the evil was burnt to ashes. The evil Hiranyakashipu was killed eventually by the good lord Vishnu, and that is the message of the triumph of good over evil. Holika’s legend is restored annually by costumed actors, and many bonfires are lit to symbolize the elimination of evil spirits.
The Color of Krishna and Radha
Holi is celebrated at the end of the winter, on the last day of the month Phalgan. Phalgan in the Hindu calendar coincides with the period in between mid-February and mid-March. Festivities commence on the evening before Holi, with bonfire rituals called Holika Dahan. Large crowds gather around the bonfires and embark on services, glorifying the burning of Holika, the source of evil, and hoping for the elimination of all evil as was done by Vishnu.
In Braj County in Uttar Pradesh State, the Almighty God according to Hinduism is Krishna. The source of Holi celebrations revolves around his image and his beloved, Radha. Krishna means in Sanskrit, dark blue and the legend tells us that as a baby he developed dark skin, caused by poisonous milk from his nursemaid, Putana.
From a young age, Krishna rejected his dark skin, his main fear was that the light-skinned Radha and her girlfriends would reject his courting. One day Krishna shared his frustration with his mother. How unjust nature was, creating Radha so beautiful and light skinned while he was dark and not attractive. To calm him down, Krishna’s mother advised him to color Radha’s face in a variety of colors. Equipped with a mischievous mood, Krishna visited Radha unexpectedly and smeared her face with intense colors, so that she would look like him. Over the years this legend evolved into a popular tradition, sweeping the whole country to a carnival of color spraying and water jets called Pichkaris, which symbolize the total eternal love of Krishna to Radha.
Where to Celebrate Holi
The Holi celebration is practiced all over India, Nepal and even in some western countries such as the United Kingdom and the USA. However, it is recommended to experience the celebrations in the northern part of Uttar Pradesh in the villages of Mathura and Vrindavan, Nandgaon, Barsana, located about 50 km north of Agra and 145 km southeast of Delhi.
Krishna was born in Mathura and grew up in Vrindavan. That is why the celebrations, parades and happiness in these villages are the greatest and go on for the entire week. In the towns of Barsana and Nandgaon, the festival starts prior to Holi and is unique to these places. It is called Lathmar Holi which means, the act where women beat with sticks.
Where and When
Holi 2019 will be held on March 21st, meaning that the bonfire celebrations commence the evening before. The Holi events in Uttar Pradesh State will start a week in advance, at around March 15. Exact schedule and locations will be advertised on the internet; however, there’s a bit of confusion in online advertising. Therefore, it is highly recommended to double check the exact dates with local tourism boards.
Festival Do’s and Don’ts
Holi is a very powerful experience and it is important to keep in mind a few safety rules:
1. Holi celebrations commence in the morning and go on until late afternoon. In some places, the stores and restaurants are closed. It is therefore advisable to stock up on essential supplies—food in particular.
2. During the festival, it is customary to wear white clothing so that the color spray will clearly be visible. Normally it can be purchased in local stores a day before. Chances are that the clothes will get wet and somewhat transparent, therefore it is best to wear an additional layer beneath.
3. Places, where Holi is celebrated, are packed with local and foreign tourists. It is advisable to reserve accommodation well in advance.
4. When going out to the streets, it is advisable to carry minimal items, well wrapped in a waterproof bag and an emphasis on expensive cameras and smartphones. For personal safety during the powder blasting keep your mouth closed, head covered and eyes protected with glasses.
5. Enjoy yourselves but note the local celebrants. This instruction applies to all genders, but female tourists are a primary target for harassment during Holi. Many locals drink alcoholic beverages and some consume cannabis, which can lead to wild behavior. That doesn’t mean everyone behaves that way; on the contrary, most men behave appropriately, but this is a day prone to trouble, including sexual harassment. When going out to the streets, women should be accompanied by trusted men. Stay attentive and follow your gut feeling.