What is the Festival of Colors?
Holi, originally known as “Holika,” is an ancient Indian festival, the significance of which has changed over the years. In the olden days Holi was believed to be a special rite performed by married women to ensure the happiness and well-being of their families.
Also known as the Festival of Colors, Holi is celebrated in the spring, on the last full moon day of the month Phalguna in the lunar calendar (usually falling between February and March).
More recently, Holi is significant to Indian culture in that it celebrates the beginning of spring, and with spring comes an abundance of color, hence “The Festival of Colors.” The festival also pays respect to traditional Hindu legends, though from a religious perspective this holiday is known to be one of the most secular in India.
On the eve before Holi, bonfires are lit and the celebrations begin. On the main day of celebration the color festival takes place. Days in advance vendors sell brightly colored powders and dyes on the street. People shower themselves and each other in the rich colors on the streets and outside Hindu temples. A truly breath-taking sight, Holi seems to produce an Aurora Borealis of people.
Where can I celebrate Holi?
So, as a tourist, where does one go to get the most spectacular Holi experience?
According to BBC news, “the biggest celebrations take place in the temples of Vrindavan, a town in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh” where, it is said, the Hindu god Krishna originated. In the majority of regions in India, Holi lasts about 1-2 days; in Vrindavan, and much of the Uttar Pradesh region, Holi starts earlier and lasts longer.
For a rowdy, college-type of celebration of Holi and the Festival of Colors, those who have traveled recommend visiting the town of Mathura, at the top of the country. For a more chill, folksy rendition, trek to the capital of New Delhi where Holi coincides with Holi Cow!, a music festival which, in 2012, featured such artists as Bombay Bassment and Menwhopause. And for a “bigger” kind of celebration head to the Old City of Jaipur where the Elephant Festival also takes place. You can join the street parade of intricately decorated elephants with some colors of your own.
When I myself have the privilege of visiting India during the celebration of Holi, I plan to start in Vrindavan a few days out of the main day of Holi at the famous Bakai-Bihari Temple, a spot of immense interest to tourists, where everyone really gets into the spirit of the holiday. From there I will find myself a spot in the shade at the Chaugan Station in the Old City of Jaipur (they say the area gets crowded fast, and it pays to get there early when shade is still available) to marvel at the enormous, beautiful trunked beasts mimicking the colors on everyone’s skin.