Holi in India is known as the Festival of Colors and it is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. This Hindu festival takes place across India as revelers throw colored powder to celebrate the triumph over good and evil.
Nowhere is Holi celebrated with more spirit than Mathura, the birthplace of the Hindu God, Lord Krishna. We celebrated Holi here and this is what it was like.
Holi India – Festival of Colors
It was march in India and were traveling in Punjab at the time wondering we should celebrate Holi. That is when our friends Julian and Becca told us that one of the best places to celebrate Holi is in Mathura, India. So we hopped on a train and took the 12-hour journey to celebrate the Festival of Colors in the birthplace of Lord Krishna 600 km away. And I’m glad we did!
What is Holi Festival?
The celebration of Holi is a Hindu festival observed across India every year. It celebrates the arrival of spring and it signifies the triumph of good over evil. While it is a Hindu festival, most Indians observe Holi. The Festival of Colors is such a vibrant and festive occasion how can you not want to take part?
During the day of Holi in India, it doesn’t matter what your caste, creed, or religion is, on this day, the India 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.
When is Holi Celebrated?
In 2021 the Celebration of Holi takes place on March 28 and March 29.
The dates of Holi celebrations change every year because Holi is celebrated on the eve of the full moon and the full moon day of the Hindu calendar month of Phalguna (March). This day marks the beginning of Spring. But the celebrations have extended to 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.
For several days leading up to the Holi festival, people gather wood to make large bonfires that are lit on the eve of Holi known as Holika Dahan. Holi Dahan happens every year on the evening of Purnima in the Hindu calendar month of Phalguna. (aka The full moon in March and night before Holi) Holika Dahan celebrates the death of the Hindu Demon, Holika, and the victory of good over evil.
In Hinduism, the demon Holika was the sister of the Demon King, Hiranyakashipu (Hiranyakashyap) who was given immunity to 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 Hindu God, Lord Vishnu and made several attempts to murder him. But Prahlada survived.
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.
During the evening of the Holika Dahan festival people gather to light the 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.
Holi in Mathura
On the day of Holi, we wandered aimlessly through the streets of Mathura because we weren’t sure where we should start. There were crowds gathering along the sidewalks, but we weren’t quite sure where the epicenter of the festivities took place.
Luckily, we stumbled across a small courtyard where a man caught our attention. He beckoned us to join the festivities inside. Never being ones to refuse an invitation, we accepted. Everyone welcomed us with open arms and smears of color.
We all came together under the colors of Lord Krishna and blended into the crowd. The Hindu God, Lord Krishna is portrayed with blue skin but the festival represents the rainbow of colors for each caste.
Holi is known as the Festival of Colors and the vibrant colors of Holi represent love. The “Holi Head of the Temple” told us that Holi is a time for India people to let go of prejudices, creeds, castes, and discrimination. We certainly felt the love at the Holi Celebrations in Matura
I believe they wanted us to have the best time possible. They even had Dave join in drumming at the Head of the Temple. The men loved holding Dave’s hands high in the air as they danced and laughed in a circle. During this festival, the men and women didn’t hold hands; instead, they only touched the same sex. Everyone had the utmost respect as children and adults alike threw handfuls of colored powder and water overhead.
Everyone in the temple wanted to dance with us. Women took turns dancing with me, swinging me around one after another and men took turns dancing with Dave. It was exhausting yet exhilarating all at once! As the only westerners in the temple, we were somewhat of a novelty, but the people of India are genuinely welcoming and friendly. If you celebrate the Holi in India, you will have one of the most memorable travel experiences of your life!
Where is Holi Celebrated?
We celebrated Holi in Mathura but Holi is celebrated 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.
- Mathura is the number one place to celebrate Holi as it is the birthplace of the Hindu God Lord Krishna
- Jaipur – The elephant festival is celebrated on the eve of Holi here
- Udaipur is India’s most beautiful city and the streets come alive during the festival.
- Goa – South India doesn’t celebrate as much as the North, but because Goa is a popular tourist destination, Holi is celebrated.
- Hampi – this was one of our favorite places in India and they have started celebrating to appease tourists
- Mumbai is another great place to celebrate with the Holi Pot competition to become the Holi King.
- Delhi – The Holi Cow festival makes Delhi during this time.
- In West Bengal – The focus more on celebrating the eternal romance of Radha and Krishna
- Agra, in Uttar Pradesh also celebrates so if you find yourself exploring India’s most famous attraction, The Taj Mahal you can join in.
- West Bengal – 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 Lord Krishna and Radha.
From Agra, it is an easy trip to Mathura. Mathura is located just 50 km north of Agra just two hour by train from Delhi, 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.
12 Tips for Celebrating Holi in India
- Mathura is where we celebrated Holi, but no matter where you are in India, it will be celebrated.
- Go to local parks and residential neighborhoods, or ask at your guest house where Holi is being celebrated nearby.
- 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 exposed.
- Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes, but buy cheap ones that you don’t mind throwing away afterward.
- Take off all watches and jewelry. (as you can see, I didn’t and my watch was trashed)
- Ladies, wear your hair back or wear a scarf. My hair was pink for weeks.
- 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.
- Don’t carry any valuables.
- Make sure to have a meeting place should you get lost. The crowds are huge and you may become separated.
- 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.
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.
Festival of Colors
It was not a fun process cleaning up after Holi. The sun was hot and the mix of colored foam, water, and thick powders hadd 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 with the bucket and scoop bath 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.
We tossed our clothes in the trash and found bits of powder in every crevasse of our body for days to come. But it was worth every moment. To take part in Holi while enjoying with great friends is something that we will never forget! Holi Festival is a once in a lifetime experience.
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