When most people think about Holi, images of multi-coloured crowds come to mind however there is so much more to this holy celebration.
Origin Travel carried out a Road to Rainbow’s India Trip this year which included the celebration of Holi, and they have kindly submitted the below guest points with information for us about what you need to know about Holi, and how to prepare for Holi Festival as a tourist and traveller to India:
1) What is Holi?
Holi is a Hindu agricultural festival celebrating the end of Winter, and the welcoming of Spring. There are many religious legends that are known to have inspired this celebration. In the land of Mathura and Vrindavan where Origin Travels celebrated Holi during our Road to Rainbows trip, Holi is celebrated in memory of the divine love of Radha and Krishna. According to the legend:
“it is believed that when Lord Krishna was young, he often complained to Mother Yashoda about his dark complexion and wondered why Radha was so fair. One day, his mother playfully suggested that he can smear color on Radha’s face and change her complexion to any color he wanted.
Fascinated by the idea, Krishna smeared Radha’s face with colors and thus, introduced the colorful festival of Holi. Owing to this history, the festival of Holi, even today retains its flavor of naughtiness: smearing your loved one with bright colors and playing pranks on each other. Youngsters also engage in singing and dancing which is reminiscent of Shri Krishna’s Raas-leela with Radha and the gopis, during his time.” – www.india.com
2) When is it celebrated?
Depending on the location, Holi can be celebrated for days leading to the official day of celebration, where people in the streets greet each other by applying coloured powder to each other. This can range from a gentle smear on the forehead, to a bag of colour being dumped on your head – depending on the day and how the celebrator is feeling!
Leading up to to the day of Holi people begin to prepare the Holika pyre – gathering flammable materials that can be burned by bonfire in community spaces on Holika Dahan. This ritual is celebrated by dancing around the bonfires, and marks the first day of Holi – symbolizing the triumph of good. If you take some time to drive around villages during this time, you’ll likely see bonfires lighting up every major street corner.
The celebration of colour throwing – called Rangwali Holi, Dhulandi, Dhulandi, Phagwah or Badi Holi – is the second day of Holi and is celebrated by partying in the streets! Streets at this time are filled with children playing with water balloons, and musicians crafting spellbinding drumbeats.
3) Know your dates
First thing is to know your dates. Dates of the festival change each year and are typically posted online and accessible through a simple google search (but likely won’t be available until a few months in advance). This will help you plan your trip to be present during the festival.
4) Get mentally prepared
Holi is an incredibly playful and happy time, but it is important to know that local celebrations (typically for men) involve a fair amount of drinking. This means that the large crowds you’ve seen in Holi imagery are quite rough and it can be difficult to maintain any sort of personal space.
If you are planning to attend a Holi celebration, Origin Travels recommend a private event, or visiting a town like Mathura where colour-throwing is practiced more gently in the streets in the day before the official day of celebration. This itinerary will also give you the opportunity to explore the village’s winding streets, and charming Hindu temples.
Otherwise, prepare yourself for lots of pushing, and people getting very physical with you (smearing powder directly on you). The ugly side of this festival is that drinking lowers inhibitions, and female participants (especially foreigners) have reported to have been groped in the crowds.
The Origin Travels group opted to visit Mathura a day before the formal celebration of Holi, where we experienced casual colour throwing in the streets, leading up to a big street powder fight in the afternoon. The group celebration was amazing to witness, but we could only handle being mixed into the crowd for a few minutes, then opted to watch from the sidelines. For this reason, we highly recommend visiting with a trained guide or small group to ensure that you always have a safety contact person – although extremely beautiful, it can get overwhelming quickly!
If you are interested in getting down and dirty in the real celebration, keep this all in mind!
5) Get physically prepared
Wear clothes you don’t mind throwing out after! For women, we recommend long cotton pants and a neutral coloured top for modesty purposes (keep in mind, you might get wet from the water balloons). We also found that a fanny pack was an excellent, safe and accessible way to carry around our phones and money without worrying about getting our purses/backpacks rainbowed. Also, this is a great way to protect your personal items from monkeys in small villages that can be known to snatch things off of you!
6) Enjoy it.
One of the most important pieces of advice for attending Holi is to know what you are getting yourself into!
For girls, this can be an overwhelming experience as men tend to drink a lot during the festival and can get aggressive. Ensure you are dressed modestly, go with a group, be aware of your surroundings, and pay attention to your gut – if you’re uncomfortable in a situation, get out! Once you are mentally and physically prepared, and know what to expect, you can immerse yourself in all the celebration has to offer, and stay safe while doing it.
Thank you to Origin Travels for this Guest Post on India By Backpack.
Now you know all about Holidays Festival in India, how to prepare and how to enjoy it, how about planning your North India trip around the next Holi Festival?
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