Jangling music and happy cheers fill the air as clouds of vivid yellow, pink, purple and green powder float up from a crowd of revellers. This is the Holi Festival – where participants throw bright colours at each other until everyone looks like a rainbow!
What is the Holi Festival?
The Holi Festival of Colours is a traditional Hindu celebration that marks the beginning of spring and the triumph of good over evil.
The story behind Holi is associated with the Hindu legend of Holika and Prahlad. Holika, (from whom the name Holi is derived) was a demoness and the sister of Hiranyakashyap, the king of demons who wanted to rule the earth and be worshiped by all. Prahlad was the king’s son, who the king hated because he was faithfully devoted to the Hindu God Lord Vishnu.
The king attempted and failed on numerous occasions to kill Prahlad and eventually asked his sister Holika, who had been given special powers that made her immune to fire, to take the boy Prahlad and sit with him on her lap in the middle of a burning pyre. Holika agreed not knowing that her special powers were ineffective if used for evil purposes. She subsequently burned to death whilst Prahlad, remaining true to Vishnu, emerged unharmed. Soon after, Lord Vishnu killed Hiranyakashyap and good prevailed over evil.
The practice of throwing coloured powders over each other in jubilant street parties originates from Lord Krishna, a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu. It is said that Krishna was fond of playing pranks on the girls in the village by drenching them in bright colours and water.
When does Holi take place?
Holi takes place the day after the full moon in March. Being dependent on the cycles of the moon means that the festival dates vary from year to year. The festivities begin the night before with a huge bonfire, which symbolises Holika perishing in the fire. In Odisha and West Bengal the festival takes place a day earlier.
Tips for attending the festival
● Coating your skin in coconut oil beforehand will prevent the powders from soaking into your pores, making it easier to wash off afterward.
● Unless unicorn hair is your preferred look, consider covering your hair with a scarf or a cap to avoid colour stained hair.
● Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.
● Your clothes will be stained, so only wear what you will have no further use for.
● As with all large public gatherings, be wary of pickpockets and avoid carrying valuables with you.
Where is the best place to celebrate Holi?
● Holi is celebrated all over India and Nepal. The best place to celebrate really depends on the type of experience you’re after. The holy city of Pushkar’s festival attracts a younger crowd who are drawn to the party atmosphere. In Shantiniketan in West Bengal, there are more cultural performances and dances. Anandpur Sahib in Punjab celebrates Holi in the Sikh tradition, with demonstrations of martial arts, mock sword fights, wrestling and military acrobatics.
If you are lucky enough to be traveling in India during Holi, taking part in this vibrant festival will be a colourful and unforgettable experience. If you are not in India, fear not, you can still join in the fun at the numerous Holi events and parties taking place across the UK.