This colour-saturated festival is ranked #20 in our countdown of ‘100 Ultimate Travel Experiences of a Lifetime’.
India’s crazy, colour-saturated Holi festival takes place every around March (but the dates may vary) and celebrates creation and renewal.
It’s a celebration that has garnered a lot of interest due to the bright colours and amazing imagery that is produced each year, but beyond the colour and the celebration, is a rich meaning and cultural emphasis that travellers should know about.
What is Holi Festival all about?
Holi Festival is a celebration of the victory of good over evil. This is brought about by the burning and destruction of the demoness named Holika. It is performed in a bid of devotion to Hindu god of preservation, Lord Vishnu. The festival marks the end of winter and the beginning of the upcoming spring harvesting season.
How did it get it’s name?
Holi “Festival of Colors” received its name from Lord Krishna, a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, who legend tells liked to play pranks on the village girls by drenching them in water and colours.
What happens at Holi Festival?
On Holi eve, bonfires are set and the festivities stretch into the small hours; the next day erupts into an orgy of colour as brightly hued powder and dye is launched indiscriminately at friends, family and strangers alike.
Locals and tourists alike are known to spend the day smearing coloured powder all over each other’s faces, throwing coloured water at each other, having parties, and dancing under water sprinklers. Interestingly, a paste made from cannabis plants called ‘Bhang’ is also traditionally consumed during these celebrations.
A more docile way to celebrate Holi Festival is with a local Indian family in Delhi and in Jaipur.
These events are wonderful if you don’t mind getting wet and a little dirty!
Where is it celebrated?
Holi Festival takes place nationally, all over India. So the advice is to choose the city you want to be in and definitely don’t wear your Sunday best. Traditional Holi celebrations are the biggest at Mathura and Vrindavan, four hours from Delhi.
The week long celebrations at Banke Bihari temple in Vrindavan are also legendary, and culminate with the throwing of colours in the morning on the day before Holi (the next one being March 20, 2019).
A safety warning
It is recommended that solo female travellers experience Holi day in groups, as there have been past reports of men molesting women during these celebrations. Of course, this is not an accurate reflection of the entire Holi Festival celebrations – but is an important reminder to stay safe in any situation.
“A classic Indian experience – colourful, chaotic and joyous.”
– Richard i’Anson