Holi Festival in India is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Also known as the Festival of Colors, this Hindu festival has been happening since ancient times and takes place all across India. Revelers throw colored powder to celebrate the triumph of good over evil and the arrival of spring. This popular Indian festival is observed on the full moon day of the Hindu lunar month which usually falls during March. In 2023, it is happening on March 8. This is a joyous time when people come together to forget their differences, forgive past grievances, and celebrate the joy of life.
When is Holi India Celebrated in 2023?
In 2023 the Holi happens on March 7 and March 8. The main celebrations of the throwing of colors take place on Wed, Mar 8, 2023, while the ritual bonfires of Holika Dahan happen on March 7. The dates of Holi celebrations change every year because Holi is celebrated on full moon day of the Hindu calendar month of Phalguna (March). This day marks the beginning of Spring.
How Long is Holi Celebrated?
Holi lasts for two days beginning with Holika Dahan also known as Chhoti Holi or Little Holi which is the festival of bonfires. Day 2 is the day of throwing colors beginning early in the early morning.
However, we noticed that the Holi festival celebration was extended several days beforehand. During our time at the Holi festival in India, the colored powder and water were being spread in full force four days in advance with music blaring and people dancing in the streets.
What is Holi Festival?
Holi Festival is known as the festival of colors as the festival celebrates love and joy by throwing colored water and powder. Powders are smeared across faces and by the end of day, everyone is covered with bright powdery pastes.
During the day of Holi in India, it doesn’t matter what your caste, creed, or religion is as everyone looks the same. On this day, the Indian people come together as one as they throw colored powder and water through the air. When everyone is covered with the colors of the rainbow, their skin, hair, and clothing look the same creating a feeling of inclusiveness. It doesn’t matter where you are from or what caste you were born into, everyone is equal.
The Bonfire of Holika Dahan
Holika Dahan happens on the eve of Holi. For several days leading up to the Holi festival, people gather wood to perform religious rituals, making large bonfires that are lit on the first evening of Holi. Holika Dahan celebrates the death of the Hindu Demon, Holika, and the victory of good over evil.
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Holika vs Lord Vishnu
In Hinduism, the demon Holika was the sister of the Demon King, Hiranyakashipu (Hiranyakashyap) who was given immunity to the fire by the Gods. Hiranyakashipu asked Holika to kill his son Prahlada by burning him alive. He hated Prahlada because of his devotion to the It symbolized the love that Krishan had for the goddess Radha. Lord Vishnu, and made several attempts to murder him.
Since the Gods had given Holika immunity to fire, she tried to kill Prahalada by sitting in a fire with him trying to burn him to death. Instead, the Gods punished Holika for using her powers for evil. She burned to death instead while Prahalada lived to rule as a wise king. Prahlada survived because of his dedication to Hindu Deity, Lord Vishnu.
During the evening of the Holika Dahan festival, people gather to light fires to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. The fires burn late into the night and people are out dancing and celebrating to the wee hours of the morning. The entire country of India is alive with energy.
Foreign tourists are not only allowed, but encouraged to take part in Holi. Everyone is fair game as revelers shoot water guns, throw water balloons, and burst handfuls of powders into the air. By the time you are finished celebrating, you’ll be covered from head to two with colored powders. It took us days to scrape all the powder out of different places on our bodies. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
How is Holi Celebrated
Holi is known as the Festival of Colors and the vibrant colors of Holi represent love. People dance in the streets and Hindu temples welcome foreign tourists to join the fun. At least that is what happened to us. We were beckoned into a temple where we joined the festivities. The head of the temple told us that Holi is a time for Indian people to let go of prejudices, creeds, castes, and discrimination.
Legend has it that Krishna had blue skin because of drinking poisonous milk. When he fell in love with Radha, she too died her skin blue and the Indian festival adopted the dying of skin to celebrate. Lord Krishna is portrayed with blue skin but the festival represents the rainbow of colors for each caste. As colorful powder was thrown in the air, we all came together under the colors of Krishna and blended in with the crowd.
In the Holi festival celebration inside the temple, the men and women didn’t hold hands; instead, they only touched the same sex. Married women stayed together and myself and Becca danced with them, while Dave and Julian danced with the men and they even invited Dave up to drum with the band.
Where to Celebrate Holi in India?
India is a huge country and it can be overwhelming trying to figure out where and how to celebrate. We celebrated Holi in Mathura but people celebrate Holi across India. Northern India celebrates Holi with more vigor, but it is catching on in other parts of the country and around the world too. If you make your way to one of the regions listed below, you’ll be in the heart of Holi celebrations.
Mathura is the number one place to celebrate Holi as it is the birthplace of Lord Krishna. The week-long celebrations in these towns are famous for their colorful processions, temple rituals, and the Lathmar Holi, where women playfully beat men with sticks.
Vrindavan is the twin city of Mathura and Holi is celebrated here as it was the childhood haunts of Lord Krishna. People also celebrate Holi with flowers and is a popular pilgrimage route.
Delhi – The Holi Cow festival takes place in Delhi during this time. Holi is celebrated throughout the streets
Agra is also located in Uttar Pradesh and celebrates Holi. If you find yourself exploring India’s most famous attraction, The Taj Mahal you can join in. Agra is a lively city at the quietest of times, so you can be sure to have a huge celebration.
From Agra, it is an easy trip to Mathura. Mathura is located just 50 km north of Agra and just two hours by train from Delhi, making it an ideal location. But Holi is celebrated in all parts of India so chances are you’ll be able to join the celebrations no matter where you are in the country. Here are some other locations outside of Uttar Pradesh.
Jaipur – The elephant festival is celebrated on the eve of Holi here and Rajasthan Tourism holds special celebrations in Jaipur. Join the festival of colors in the Pink City as people dance and revel through the streets.
Udaipur is India’s most beautiful city and the streets come alive during the festival. Celebrate Hli on the ghats and with views of Lake Pichola with the Taj Lake Palace in full view.
Pushkar is another place in Rajasthan to celebrate Holi Festival. There is a music festival, pool parties and the usual celebrations with colors and flowers.
Goa – South India doesn’t celebrate as much as the North, but because Goa is a popular tourist destination, Holi is celebrated.
The West Bengal Dol Jatra is celebrated on the same day as Holi. It is similar to Holi and festival goers also throw colored water to celebrate Krishna and Radha. In West Bengal, the focus is more on celebrating the eternal romance of Radha and Krishna.
Mumbai is another great place to celebrate with the Holi Pot competition to become the Holi King.
Hampi was one of our favorite places in India and they have started celebrating to appease tourists. This UNESCO World Heritage site is magical and Holi is celebrated within its many temples.
Our Traditional Holi Celebrations in Mathura
Nowhere is Holi celebrated with more spirit in India than Mathura in Uttar Pradesh. Located less than three hours from Delhi Mathura was the birthplace of the Hindu God, Lord Krishna. Krishna played a huge role in Holi as legend has it that he was known for playing pranks and some say that he threw colors and water on the village girls. This story transformed over time to become the festival of joy and colors that we know today.
It was March in India and were traveling in Punjab and wondering where we should celebrate Holi. That is when our friends Julian and Becca told us that one of the best places to celebrate Holi Festival is in Mathura, India in the state of Uttar Pradesh just two hours south of Delhi by train.
Mathura is popular because is the birthplace of the Hindu God Lord Krishna. So we hopped on a train and took the 12-hour journey to the state of Uttar Pradesh to celebrate the Festival of Colors in the birthplace of Lord Krishna 600 km away. And I’m glad we did!
We arrived a day earlier to find a guest house and luckily found a rough-and-tumble place. Most hotels were booked out, so we suggest booking Holi in India well in advance.
Tips for Celebrating Holi Festival
There are special Holi events that are held throughout the country and Mathura is filled with processions, temple celebrations, and events. However, it was more difficult than expected to find where the main Holi celebrations were happening. We wandered around downtown as people threw colors on us and smeared paste on our faces.
If you are trying to find where the main celebrations are, walk to local parks and to the residential neighborhoods.
The best tip for celebrating Holi Festival is to ask at your guest house where the celebrations are taking place.
How to Dress for Holi Festival
Don’t wear anything that you want to keep. Every piece of clothing will be ruined and you will have to throw it out. Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts so as to have minimal skin exposure.
Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes, but buy cheap ones that you don’t mind throwing away afterward.
Ladies, wear your hair back or wear a scarf. My hair was pink for weeks.
Don’t carry any valuables and take off all watches and jewelry.
Use only waterproof camera gear: Holi is messy. It’s not just water, but thick powder. It can ruin cameras. Put everything in waterproof dry bags and only bring them out when necessary. Even GoPros can get ruined.
Staying Safe at Holi Festival
As a foreigner, you are sometimes targeted by overzealous festival-goers. They can be a little too aggressive, and some men can cross the line and grab and touch women a little too aggressively. I am sad to report that women are often groped during Holi, myself and my friend Becca included.
Men can be aggressive when throwing foam or powder in your face, so be on your guard. Wear glasses to protect your eyes.
Make sure to have a meeting place should you get lost. The crowds are huge and you may become separated.
A word of advice, if you are going to celebrate Holi at one of the popular celebration destinations, book your hotel in advance. When we got off the train, we couldn’t believe the crowds! It is overwhelming and we had a difficult time finding a hotel.
- Hotels are quite reasonable in Mathura you can search TripAdvisor for hotels and reviews.
- We also suggest Booking.com, it is good to compare rates and reviews to make an informed decision.
What are Some Holi Rituals?
Holi may be a huge celebration across the country, but it is an ancient Hindu festival that follows religious rituals. There are a few other Holi events that people follow.
People observe Holi by performing special puja and prayers, seeking the blessings of the gods and goddesses.
People prepare specialty foods for Holi. Some foods that are traditionally consumed during Holi include:
- Thandi – A refreshing milk-based drink
- Gujiya is a dessert that is crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside
- Mathri which is a sweet flaky biscuit
- Lassie – A yogurt-based drink mixed with fruit
It is also a time for forgiveness and renewed relationships, with people often making amends with those they may have had disagreements.
The Clean Up after Holi Festival
It was not a fun process cleaning up after Holi. The sun was hot and the mix of colored foam, water, and thick powders had baked on our skin.
The mixture of colored powder and water stained our skin and hair, and we had to scrub until our skin is raw to eventually look close to normal.
It took over an hour to clean ourselves up and the four of us never quite made it back to our former selves. My hair was pink for weeks, and our feet? Well, our feet never did recover from Holi. Wearing flip-flops in colored water-soaked streets did a number on our toes.
We tossed our clothes in the trash and found bits of powder in every crevasse of our bodies for days to come. But it was worth every moment. To take part in Holi while enjoying this once-in-a-lifetime event with great friends is something that we will never forget! Holi Festival is one for the bucket list.