Holi festival is almost upon us, and we’re here to clue you in on everything you need to know about this beautiful and colorful Hindu springtime celebration. Also known as the "Festival of Color," Holi is usually celebrated in India and Nepal, with millions of Hindus coming together on the last full moon day of the lunar month, which this year falls on March 20-21.
The history of Holi
Holi first originated in the Indian subcontinent, but it has since spread to other parts of Asia and is becoming more popular around the rest of the world. It’s roots lie, however, in the story of Hiranyakashipu, the ancient Indian king "who was like a demon" and wanted to get revenge on Lord Vishnu for killing his brother. When Hiranyakashipu’s son, Prahalad, who worshipped Lord Vishnu, would not obey his father, and the king decided he must be killed.
Hiranyakashipu had a sister, Holika, who was said to be immune to fire, and he asked her to sit with Prahalad on her lap so he would burn to death. Much to the king’s surprise, however, Holika burned to death, while Prahalad, who all the while had been repeating Lord Vishnu’s name, survived without nary a scratch. Thus, to this day, Holika’s demise represents the burning of all that is bad. (For the complete story, check out Maps of India!)
Holi rituals and traditions
A few days before the festival, people usually start collecting wood for a big fire at the major crossroad in the city. On the eve of Holi, Holika Dahan takes place, which is the lighting of a bonfire to represent the burning of Holika and the victory of good over evil.
The next day is when the main celebration takes place, which is a party with lots of colors called Dhuleti. This jubilant festival sees thousands of people cover each other in a rainbow of colored powders to celebrate the beginning of spring.
The colors used are very symbolic in Hinduism. Red indicates both sensuality and purity, while saffron—the most sacred color in Hinduism—represents fire and purity, relating back to how impurities are burned by, or eliminated with, fire. Additionally, green represents life and happiness.
Everyone then takes to the streets to dance and sing and in the evenings, and friends and families will gather together for food and further celebration.
Reasons behind Holi
The main reason people celebrate Holi festival is to bring in the new season: spring. Hindus, however, have additional reasons for celebration. They believe it is the only day where the Gods look away—the only day they can get rid of any evil and/or sins before starting anew. The colored powders signify the sins, and when the powders are washed off at the end of the day, this signifies a clean and pure start to the new season.
Where to spend Holi
Holi is celebrated pretty much all over India, albeit with slight variations, so wherever you go, it will be a bright and vibrant ceremony. Here are some suggestions if you would like to travel to a popular and well-known destination for your Holi experience.
Vrindavan and Mathura
Mathura and Vrindavan are immensely popular throughout the country and attract thousands of people from all over the world. Vrindavan is a holy town in northern India and is where Lord Krishna spent his childhood, while Mathura is the birthplace of Krishna.
The tradition of throwing colors is also said to come from the love story of Lord Krishna and his wife Radha. A Holi show, therefore, takes place in Mathura every year—a week before the festival commences. This takes place from the Dwarkadhish temple to the Holi Gate, where the festival is marked.
If you want to be at the heart of one of the biggest festivities, you must visit Goa. The festival is called Shigmotsav, and it is spread over a fortnight. The main Goa beaches will turn colorful, and parades and performances will be held throughout the city for five days, which is a great experience for both locals and tourists.
What to wear
As you are attending a festival where you are going to get covered in water and color, it is important to wear something old and something you don’t mind getting ruined. It is recommended you wear white, so the color shows up more, and you begin the day as a blank canvas. Our top tip? Cover your body in oil. You will have a better chance of washing the paint off at the end of the day.
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