Holi is the most popular Indian festival and has wide international appeal. It is an amalgamation of hundreds of happy people, great weather, and vibrant colors; what’s not to like? Young people around the world are personally exposed to Holi as Indian Student associations organize celebrations at their Universities. While those celebrations are largely standardized — one day of color powder, water guns, and Indian food — Holi celebrations across India are extremely diverse in their intensity and length. Urban centers feature music festivals, the South focuses on religious rituals, and the Braj region (birth place of Lord KrishnaÂ includes Mathura, Vrindavan, Nandagaon, and Barsana) is famous for celebrating Holi for over two weeks. Given the diverse culture and multitude languages in India, Holi has different names and cultural history throughout the nation. Here are some examples from around the country.
Until 2012, Jaipur celebrated Holi with a grand Elephant Festival at Chaugan Stadium every year on Holi. The festival begins with a traditional procession of decorated elephants that walk towards the stadium through the streets of the Pink City. The spectacular elephant parade in the city is followed by beauty contests, tug-of-war between elephants and stunning folk dances. The origins of the elephant component remain unclear, but it was canceled in 2013 year due to pressure from animal rights groups. A cultural program was held in its place, without the elephants. It’s been confirmed that elephants will again be absent from the celebrations in 2014 and a similar cultural program will occur instead.
The women of Barsana village near Mathura in Uttar Pradesh beat up men from neighboring Nandgaon village with sticks, in what’s known as Lathmar Holi celebrations. Lathmar Holi takes place around a week before the main day of Holi. The following day, the celebrations move to Nandgaon village. Another local twist is Laddoo Holi durng which Sweets are thrown around and spiritual songs related to Radha and Krishna are sung.
Holi tends to be a rowdy affair in Delhi. If you’re staying anywhere near Paharganj, be prepared to be covered in color by shopkeepers and children alike if you step outside. The Holi Cow, a festival of color, music and madness, is held a short distance outside the city. The environment is safe, and non-toxic colors are provided, along withÂ bhang lassis, street food, and sprinklers to get everyone in the mood. Both DJs and bands perform.
A three-day Basanta Utsav folk festival takes place in the Purulia district of West Bengal. It runs in the lead up to Holi and on the actual day. Tourists participate by singing and playing Holi with the locals, and enjoy a wide variety of unique folk art. This includes the remarkable Chau dance, Darbari Jhumur, Natua dance, and songs of West Bengal’s wandering Baul musicians. Vilagers organize the festival as a way of helping sustain themselves.
Experience Holi the Sikh way atÂ Anandpur Sahib in Punjab. Hola Mohalla is an annual fair that dates all the way back to 1701. It was first organized by Sikh Guru Gobind Singh to celebrate Holi. However, instead of throwing colors, expect to see a demonstration of physical agility. There’s wrestling, martial arts, mock sword fights, acrobatic military exercises, and turban tying.
In Maharashtra and Gujarat, a grand procession of men soaked with coloured water walk through the streets with a mock alert call that asks to take care of pots of butter and milk as Krishna comes in. There is also a tradition of hanging a pot of buttermilk high up in the street. Men forming a human staircase try to break this pot, and whoever succeeds is crowned the Holi king of the locality for that year. All these traditions come as a mock show to relive the acts if Krishna, who popularised Holi in its present forms.
For a country that is notorious for being divided, Holi is a day that brings the country together. During Holi, anyone and everyone are fair game, friend or stranger, rich or poor, man or woman, children and elders.Â Although the style and rituals of celebrating vary from State to State, the spirit of the festival is constant throughout the world: to spread and enjoy happiness.