What you need to know about Holi

Holi Festival of Colour in India

Photo of Holi, courtesy Dave Bouskill, PicturethePlanet.com

Holi in India: Everything you need to know about The Festival of Colour to stay safe and happy

IT’S NOT INDIA’S biggest festival, but it’s the most colourful — and probably the one most beloved by foreigners. Many people have “experience Holi in India” on their bucket lists, and for good reason. How often do adults get to throw coloured powder at each, and squirt each other with water guns filled with coloured water? And … for those who are more adventurous than me … there is the bhang lassi, too.

Holi does not happen on a fixed date each year; it takes place on the day after the full moon in March. This year it’s March 13 (2017). I’ve been in India three times for Holi, and my experience is that it’s a holiday best celebrated with family and friends, especially if you are a female and a foreigner. Here’s my top 5 tips for playing Holi safely.

At Yoga Ashram in Rishikesh during Holi

Yogi Vishvketu of Anand Prakash Yoga Ashram in Rishikesh, handing out sweets during Holi

Top tips for Holi

1. Find a family or group of people to play Holi with; don’t go out into the street by yourself in India’s metros.

Mariellen Ward, Holi, India

Me, Holi

I’ve celebrated Holi three times in India. Twice I was with my Indian family at a private club in Delhi; and once I was with my Indian yoga teacher at an ashram in Rishikesh. I found these were the perfect venues for safely experiencing Holi. I got to get drenched with colour, have fun, eat loads of sweets, and not worry about getting attacked by out-of-control boys and men. (Which can happen: I’ve heard lots of stories about foreign women walking out into the street during Holi and finding themselves targeted by males who were using the festival as an excuse for groping.)

Read the Essential Guide to Celebrating Holi from About India.

2. Cover your skin with oil and wear clothes you can throw away.

The first time I played Holi in Delhi, no one told me you should oil your skin first and I had a hot pink face for a week! That’s not the worst thing in the world, but it is much better for your skin if you cover it in some kind of oil (I used almond oil) so that you can wash the colour off easily. Clothes are a complete write-off. It’s fun to wear something white that you don’t want anymore, so then you can really see the colour!

Holi Festival of Colours in Pictures from BBC News

3. North India does it better

Holi is much more exuberantly celebrated in North India, and many towns and cities claim to have the “best” Holi atmosphere, but I would probably try Mathura/Vrindavan; or Jaisalmer, Udaipur or Jaipur in Rajasthan. Visit Maps of India: Best Places for Holi to check out their interactive map.

There’s also a celebration called Lathmar Holi in Barsana, U.P., before the other more well-known Holi takes place.

My friend, travel blogger Sid The Wanderer, has compiled an incredibly comprehensive guide to Lathmar Holi (and more). A must read.

Where to Celebrate Holi from Maps of India.com

Where to Celebrate Holi from MapsofIndia.com

4. Go very easy on the bhang lassi.

Okay, I’m not writing from experience because my Indian family did a really good job of dissuading me from trying it. Bhang lassi is a very powerful intoxicant, disguised as a sweet, delicious drink. If you know what it’s made from, you will know why I was surprised that it was being served at the very upscale private club in Delhi where I celebrated Holi. Naturally, I had to try it, but I only had a few sips. I heard too many stories about aunties ending up in hospitals. Bhang lassi is one of the reasons it’s not safe for women to wander in public on Holi in India — lots of people are seriously intoxicated.

My colleague photographer Deepti Asthana had a very bad experience celebrating Holi, and has a warning for other women. Please read Un-Holi and Un-safe in Vrindavan.

5. Learn about the significance of Holi.

Holi does not seem to have a singular significance, the way Diwali does for example. It’s a celebration of spring, of unity and brotherhood and — like many festivals in India — of the triumph of good over evil. There are of course mythological stories attached to Holi. The most popular one is that Krishna applied colour to Radha’s cheek. And as these sweethearts represent harmony in love, it’s a charming image and connotation.

Have fun!

Hope you have as much fun as these people — I took this video at a private club in Delhi during Holi celebrations three years ago.

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26 Responses to What you need to know about Holi

  1. Michael March 26, 2013 at 2:01 am #

    Wow, some great and colorful photos. Really caught the action.
    Michael recently posted..Gánate el corazón de la persona que quieres con esta escapada románticaMy Profile

  2. Shalu Sharma March 26, 2013 at 5:08 am #

    Great post. There is no other festival than Holi that is most awaited in India. This festival is not just about religious significance but also has cultural roots. Its one of those festivals that is loved by all be it man, woman or child. I agree with going easy on the bhang, there is bound to be someone who would hand you a glass of “thandai” which might have bhang in it, its tradition. I have tried bhang and can talk a lot about it. But all in all, a great festival and a lot of fun.
    Shalu Sharma recently posted..Holi – Festival of ColorsMy Profile

  3. Neilanjeev Roy March 26, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    And also remind everyone to use Herbal colors, which are available nowadays , instead of using chemical dye .. Thanks and Happy Holi 🙂

  4. Destination Infinity March 26, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    Your point no. 3 is very much valid. I am a South Indian and I have never celebrated holi. Holi is celebrated in my city, but mostly by North Indians. South Indians have a different set of festivals.

    Only a few festivals like the harvest festival (which is known by various names in each part of India), Deepavali (Diwali), Ganesh chathurthi (and a few more) are celebrated across the nation. Most of the other festivals are regional.

    I remember one incident. Once when I was in school, my prinicipal caught me on holi with a pinked white shirt. She asked me why I was not able to evade/defend myself. I mean, what much can I do when some kid appears from nowhere and throws color powder on me and runs away?? I was even given a punishment for it – To my amusement, I was made to skip the first period 😛

    Destination Infinity

    • Mariellen Ward March 26, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

      That’s a good story, I love it! Someone threw pink colour at you and then you got to miss a class at school. Sounds like a good day to me!
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Photo Essay: Stories of DelhiMy Profile

  5. Abhishek March 27, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    nice article………..happy holi( today is 27th March)

  6. Kiva April 9, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    Thanks for that tip on the oil. I ended up with pink face too! At least I know for next time now 😉
    Kiva recently posted..SLOW TRAVEL: Luxury travel without the expenseMy Profile

  7. Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans April 9, 2013 at 11:08 pm #

    Looks like a blast! Very liberating…
    Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans recently posted..It’s Not Rum – It’s BacardiMy Profile

  8. Navin Kumar April 19, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

    Very Nice Post, but you know what there is a different side of holi as well (quite uncommon for indians too) and that one is celebrated in uttar pradesh region of India and the festivities go on for around 20 odd days.

    Whenever you visit india, do visit holi celebrations in Daauji as well 🙂

  9. Aleah | SolitaryWanderer.com April 28, 2013 at 9:11 am #

    Read this just now. I was supposed to observe Holi with a local family, but the Couchsurfer who was supposed to meet us didn’t show up. Too bad. Except for the Eve teasing incident, though, I enjoyed it very much!
    Aleah | SolitaryWanderer.com recently posted..Where to Stay in Siquijor—Villa Marmarine ResortMy Profile

  10. Marysia @ My Travel Affairs May 14, 2013 at 10:52 am #

    Great insights! It is one of many things I want to do before I die 🙂
    Marysia @ My Travel Affairs recently posted..Friday Lens Affair #20My Profile

    • vivek February 27, 2015 at 1:16 pm #

      Let me sent you ticket

  11. Rutavi Mehta March 5, 2014 at 8:32 am #

    Holi is my fav festival in India. And trust me , the way we play Im sure you would be scare to be with us. Yes we are careful but even joyful. Nice post.

  12. thehangpage March 11, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

    We are a hangout website.

    thehangpage recently posted..5 Place to Celebrate Holi in IndiaMy Profile

  13. R K Images July 1, 2015 at 2:57 am #

    Holi is Festival of Colors … and in your Photography i can see that … Amazing Blog .. and Photos .
    R K Images recently posted..First Poster of ‘In The Men’s Room’My Profile

  14. Narendra Meena+919818568319 February 1, 2016 at 4:31 pm #

    nice blog..love it I am from jaipur , live in Delhi for my Job on this year Holi is on 24 th March, 2016 . so anyone in Jaipur can come to my home and we have a garden in our locality so you are most welcome to play Holi with locals food, Hemps, drinks, snacks, Dj sounds for full holi spirit. Some couchsurfers and nomads also confirm to come my home to so anyone who want to experience Holi in Jaipur most welcome to my place in Jaipur.
    Call or WhatsApp me +91998181568319

    • Mariellen Ward March 18, 2016 at 7:26 pm #

      Okay, thanks Narendra … though I don’t personally recommend strangers on my blog. I’m sure you’re n okay guy, but just want everyone to know that I don’t actually know you.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Letter to a young seekerMy Profile

  15. rahul March 14, 2016 at 4:07 am #

    Yes, Holi is biggest festival celebrated all over in India.there is another popular legend behind Holi is,that the naughty and mischievous Lord Krishna started the trend of playing colours. He applied colour on her beloved Radha to make her like him.

  16. Scott March 18, 2016 at 12:24 pm #

    I’d suggest wearing a new, white t-shirt for Holi. Have people make colorful hand prints on it . . . get it drenched in color . . . and then, don’t wash it for a while . . . let the colors soak in. Afterwards, wash only by hand . . . and you’ll have a wearable memory smile emoticon

  17. Karilyn - No Back Home March 18, 2016 at 12:50 pm #

    Our favorite holiday!!

    We celebrated Holi in the streets of Mumbai every year for 9 years that we lived in India and never had a problem. My top tip is celebrate where you want, but do it early! As the day wears on (close to noon) people are more intoxicated and get crazy.

    Also if you are in poorer areas, know that the water they use is often not clean water so keep it out of your mouth! The smell of the water in the slum areas of Mumbai on Holi is something you never forget!

    Definitely agree about the Bhang. If you are going to drink it, wait until you are home bc sometimes it’s super strong and will knock you out!

  18. Yavuz March 21, 2016 at 1:34 am #

    Hi there,

    I am planning to join the celebrations in Udaipur this year, but I am wearing prescription glasses and/or contact lenses, and I noticed that nobody mentioned anything about eye protection. If I wear my prescription glasses, will they get permanently painted? If I wear contact lenses, will the paint cause my eyes sny damage? Do street vendors sell cheap swimming goggles during the festival?

  19. Vanessa @ The Travelling Colognian March 12, 2017 at 7:58 am #

    What an amazing post, Mariellen. I am in Kathmandu at the moment where Holi is celebrated today on March 12th. I headed to the Durbar Square and joined the festivities and it was fantastic to be part of it. I just wish I knew that putting oil on your face and body beforehand makes it easier to remove the colour. I really wonder if I manage to remove everything tonight.

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