Holi festival of colors, the vibrant festival of colors, water and above all, fun and revelry is essentially a celebration of arrival of spring as winter recedes in its blanket. Even though it looks like a perky fiesta, Holi in India is deeply rooted in traditions and reveals a good amount about the culture of Indian places where it is observed with more enthusiasm than other parts of the country.
In most parts of the country, the festivities for the Indian color festival begin a day earlier by lighting a pyre to commemorate the burning of Holika as the victory of good over evil. This traditional celebration is known as Holika Dahan or Holi Fire- Wikipedia gives a good overview about the history and significance of Holika Dahan.
Here are the 15 best places to celebrate Holi festival of colors in India, with a crisp description on why that place demands attention if you’re eager to travel to India during Holi festival of colors:
- Shantiniketan, West Bengal. Celebrated as Basanta Utsav (Festival of Spring) here, the great Bengali poet Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore started this annual ritual, which is now an eagerly awaited event that attracts thousands of foreigners to the Vishwa Bharati University in Shantiniketan. Do visit it for an insider’s view on the illustrious Bengali culture and consists of dances on Tagore’s songs, playing with colors and flowers, folk music and of course, delightful Bengali food.
- Purulia, West Bengal. Another gift from Bengal! The Purulia Basanta Utsav is celebrate for 3 days, with the last day falling on Holi, and is your introduction to traditional tribal and folk art, music and dance of the place. Most admired and must-attend performances here include Chau dance, Darbari Jhumar, Natua dance, breathtaking acrobatic stunts and the soothing philosophical songs of Bengal’s indigenous traveling rock stars, Baul musicians. It’s a carnival over there, with a generous scope for a coffee table book if you ever intend to write one.
- Manipur. Celebrated as the 5-days long Yaoshang Festival welcoming the arrival of spring, it is considered the most important festival in the north-eastern state of Manipur. Plan your visit for the spellbinding folk dances and music performances by spirited locals.
- Mathura, Uttar Pradesh. A picture postcard on how to celebrate Holi festival of colors in India, Mathura can easily lay claim as first among equals when it comes to associating Hindu Gods with Holi as the custom originated from the times of Krishna who used to play a colorful Holi with Radha. The vast numbers of temples here are decorated in all their finery during the week long Holi festival of colors and create a surreal environment of devotion and celebrations. The to-go place here is the colossal Dwarkadheesh Temple.
- Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh. If photography runs in your veins, this is just the place for you during the Holi revelries, and Banke Bihari Temple is at the crux of celebrations. The ancient and legendary temple hosts a week-long fête where visitors from India and abroad rub shoulders together to observe temple customs of playing Holi with flowers rather than with colors and water. The Phoolon wali Holi (Holi with Flowers) is one-of-its-kind of festivity; hence it attracts a large number of foreigners to this place. Remember to make your way to the temple early in the morning or the crowds will just crush your enthusiasm!
- Barsana, Uttar Pradesh. Bizarre but fun, Barsana celebrates Holi festival of colors by women beating men in what is accurately called Lathmar Holi (Beat with Sticks on Holi)! According to legends, Barsana is the birth place of Krishna’s consort, Radha, and Krishan, from the nearby village of Nandgaon, used to tease girls here and they reacted in a playful manner by beating them with sticks. The tradition continues. Make Ladliji temple your destination to witness this whacky brand of Holi.
- Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. Visit Varanasi for the unique Holi customs of Eastern Uttar Pradesh. The city of Gods celebrates Indian color festival to welcome spring in their own distinctive style by festooning the ghats and temples and playing with ‘natural’ elements like mud! Yes, the down-to-earth people here love mother earth so much that they embrace it on this holy day. An interesting place if you’re game for some mud wrestling.
- Delhi. Like the people here, Holi festival of colors is also a multi-ethnic affair here. The melting pot of people from all across the country means every ethnic group tries to imbibe its culture and practices in their respective ghettos. More cosmopolitan parts of the city tend to celebrate the festival by playing with water and colors, just like rest of India. The difference here is addition of modern party elements like DJs, dance and sometimes, party drugs too. Of late, a music festival named Holi Moo festival is attracting overseas travelers with its promise of colors and an interesting mix of music of various genres like folk, electronic, and indie music. It’s a wild party whose location is not revealed until you buy tickets.
- Anandpur Sahib, Punjab. Perfect opportunity if you’re looking at a exceptional experience at the Indian color festival, Anandpur Sahib in Punjab celebrates Hola Mohalla around the time of Holi. It’s an elaborate demonstration of the warrior side of Sikhs and includes presentations of fierce traditional martial arts called Gathka, Kushti, desi Indian wrestling, mock sword and stick fighting as well as acrobatic military exercises.
- Jaipur, Rajasthan. While the entire city celebrates Holi festival of colors with gusto; the main highlight for overseas tourists is the special event by Rajasthan Tourism on the lawns of Hotel Khasa Kothi, a premium property of the government run tourism department. The event features RajasthanI folk music and their infectious dance performances along with mounds of color in different shades of red, pink, and yellow. The good thing is you don’t need to be a guest at the hotel to be a part of the festivities.
- Udaipur, Rajasthan. Truly blue blooded and spectacular celebrations by the Royal Palace of Mewar family standout on the eve of Holi in Udaipur. The regal parade with finely bedecked horses and elephants accompanied with the beats of the royal band begins from the Royal residence to the City Palace, Manek Chowk. The dapper Maharaja of Mewar then lights the holy pyre in the presence of guests and other dignitaries. Passes for the Indian color festival are available if you find yourself interested.
- Hampi, Karnataka. South India is not known to observe Holi; however Hampi, with a large influx of foreign tourists, celebrates Holi festival of colors in the same lively manner that has made North Indian Holi famous. The riot if colors around the ruins of the massive Vijaynagar Empire make for a dazzling sight.
- Goa. Holi in Goa is more a part of the month long spring festival, Shigmo or Shishirotsava. Since Goa is a favorite of North Indian tourists, the Indian color festival of late has acquired many shades of their cultures, including colors, water and booze. The salubrious environment though makes for a big difference in enjoying Holi festival of colors as drenching in water is more common and preferred here.
- Tribal Holi. The ethnic tribes of India celebrate Holi in their own distinct manner. The Bhils of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have retained their ancient pre-Hindu customs, yet they see so familiar if you know even a cursory bit about the festival. They light a bonfire to worship Holimata- the goddess of Holi, and villagers bring kesudo, mango spring flowers, and grains to signify a new beginning. The younger men have their own reason to celebrate more zealously- they are allowed to choose girls for marriage this day!
- Orissa. Known as Dol Purnima here, Holi is celebrated by taking out a palanquin procession of Lord Jagannath, the local form of Krishna in Orissa. This procession is then taken around the city with people taking turn to swing the palanquin and alongside, spraying colors all around. By the evening, the ‘gwalas’ or the milkmen take over the festivities, place the idol of Lord for night in a specially erected tent called ‘Jhoolan Mandap’ and play a local game, Dandi Khela. The following morning, colors are smeared on the idol and people start playing with colours to mark Holi. The occasion is further refreshed as people relish the special Dol Purnima delicacies such as Pethas, and Laddoos made of puffed rice and sesame seed. As the day comes to a close, the idol is given a dip in the local pond and taken back to the temple.
Before I finish this article about the 15 best Indian places to celebrate Holi festival of colors, I’ll be doing a disfavor if I miss to mention the food and drinks that form an integral part of every Indian festival. Holi is no different; in fact it’s rather special as the festival of Holi in India kind of legitimates cannabis on this special day!
Available in the local name of bhang, it can be taken in various forms such as in a delectable milky drink called thandai which is prepared with milk, sugar and dry fruits like almonds, pistachio, cardamom and saffron. Other common bhang foods include pakodas or fritters, kulfi (desi ice cream), and chutney (savory paste taken with regular Indian food). Bhang is a mild stimulant whose euphoric effects last for a short period of time and helps in shedding inhibitions in a flash.
Another traditional food associated with Holi festival of colors is gujia, a sweet dumpling of semolina filled with a luscious mixture of sweetened khoya (milk solids) and dry fruits, almost in equal proportion. I’ve witnessed people offering a gujia with bhang added to it surreptitiously; keep an eye on where you buy or who you accept it from.
While Holi is a dramatic event for any foreign visitor to India, I’ll suggest you to avoid going to the main streets as it can get really raucous, especially for white females.
It’s always better to look for private parties where the number of people is in control and only acquaintances are invited- much safer than being among a bunch of stoned strangers.
Holxo Holidays will be pleased to book you on a trip to India around Holi festival of colors. Our favorite tours will take you to either the Golden Triangle or Rajasthan during Holi.