Q: What’s the most colorful festival in the world?
Every March an Indian technicolor celebration takes place. Holi is a color-lover’s dream, but it can also be quite a wild and messy affair! Here is our take on the festival, including the reason people celebrate, what you can expect at a Holi celebration, what the colors mean, as well as a few tips if you’re planning to partake in the color-fest, either in India or the US!
Holi festival, image credit: theculturetrip.com
Who: People of India & citizens of the world
What: Holi festival
Where: All over India,
and in other places with a large Hindu population.The Largest celebrations take place in Mathura & Vrindavan, where Lord Krishna is believed to have grown up.
Pushkar or Jaipur are popular spots for tourists.
In recent years, there are lots of Holi celebrations here in the US, both at traditional Hindu temples, and taking place in the form of weekend festivals, parades, and “fun runs.”
Spanish Fork, Utah, has a huge Holi celebration with over 70,000 people in attendance. New Jersey, Boston, and New York also have many celebrations due to their large Indian populations.
Travel and Leisure shares more details.
When: Day after the full moon in March.
The timing of Holi is based on the lunar calendar, so the date fluctuates from year to year, but it is at the end of winter, beginning of Spring.
Why: Celebrating the colors of Spring
Holi takes its name from demoness Holika, who Lord Vishnu, god of preservation, helped to destroy in a fire, according to Hindu mythology. It is this triumph of good over evil that is celebrated, in addition to the start of Spring and the end of winter.
Legend says that colored dyes are used to remind us of a story in Hindu mythology: Krishna was jealous of his sister Radha’s fair skin that was lighter than his blue face. His mother Yashoda jokingly told him he could paint Radha’s face any color he’d like. He took her up on that offer, and the flying colored powders, gulal, are reminiscent of this legend.Krishna and Radha playing Holi. Image credit: hindi-web.com
Gulal Powders in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Image Credit: Carter Seibels
There are no set “rules” to playing Holi, as its a pretty wild and spontaneous affair, but generally: the day starts out with participants throwing colored powder (gulal) on others, spraying colored water, throwing water & general merriment.
These highly pigmented powders used to be made from natural materials such as turmeric, saffron, and rose petals, but in more recent years, most gulal is synthetic and imported from China. Sadly, every year, people celebrating Holi are hospitalized due to poison from the dyes.
As with most festivals in India, there are lots of rituals that take place, mostly social in nature, rather than religious. It is a day full of carefree fun & colorful chaos! There are lots of bonfires that represent the burning of Holika the night before Holi. People sing & dance to Bollywood Holi songs, dance around the fires, and beat the dholak. Some people even walk across the hot coals, which is perceived as a sacred act.
Symbolism of gulal colors:
The various colors of gulal hold symbolic meaning:
Red - love, fertility, matrimony
Blue - Krishna
Green - new beginnings
Yellow- an auspicious color said to bring good luck
No Indian celebration would be complete without the food! There are a few standout dishes that you have to try if you're attending Holi:
- Gujiya - flaky pastries made of semolina (millet flower) filled with mawa (dried milk powder), a mixture of dried coconut, almonds, cardamom, and other dried fruits.
- Kulfi - much like a dense icecream, Kulfi is made from dried condensed milk, Saffron, pistachios, and various other fruits. Usually served on a stick, though sometimes you can find it in the traditional earthen pot. It's a signature Indian treat for sure!
- Bhaang - you've probably heard all of the talk about this signature Holi drink. Made from milk, ghee, spices, and crushed up buds and leaves of Himalayan cannabis, it is definitely an intoxicating libation. There are also versions made with almonds and saffron, for those who prefer to stay away from the cannabis.
A few insider tips:
If you’d like to participate in a Holi celebration here are a few tips:
- Be sure to moisturize well before getting doused in gulal. Some of the dyes don’t wash out easily, so a layer of thick lotion or coconut oil will help prevent absorption.
- Plan to wear clothes that you don’t mind tossing after the festival. The gulal doesn’t come out of fabric. If you’re in India during Holi, and aren’t planning on participating, don’t go out in the streets until things have calmed down; you’ll get involved whether you like it or not!
- Be extra careful with the powders around your eyes!
- For a few extra tips on celebrating Holi in India, click here.