Probably the most colourful festival in the whole world, Holi is the most sought after festival for any party-loving traveller to India.
You may have seen pictures of Holi in your Facebook newsfeed over the years… people dancing in the street and covering each other with powdered and liquid paint. But being there to actually experience it is on another level. It’s one of the top things I did in India in my 3 and a half month trip. That’s how great it is.
Having experienced it myself and lived to tell the tale, here is my guide to having a happy and safe Holi Festival in India.
What is Holi Festival?
The Holi Festival is a Hindu celebration estimated at over 2,000 years old. The day commemorates the victory of good over evil by the burning of a demoness called Holika (hence the name ‘Holi’), and marks the arrival of Spring, with its abundance of harvest.
The burning of the demoness (Holika Dahan) is carried out under a full moon on the eve of Holi, and then the party kicks off in the early morning, carrying on until mid afternoon, or in some cities, right on through the night!
Where is it celebrated?
It’s primarily a North Indian festival, so the largest North Indian cities such as Delhi and Jaipur can be a crazy (but a little overwhelming) place to be. South Indians generally don’t celebrate Holi, with the notable exception of Hampi in the state of Karnataka (where I spent the day in 2015).
The craziness of Holi is spreading all across the world, with many Western cities including London and Las Vegas now celebrating the festival (although not always at the right time of year).
When is it?
Holi is always on the day after full moon in March, so the actual date varies each year. The dates for the next few years are:
2017 Holi Festival – March 13
2018 Holi Festival – March 2
2019 Holi Festival – March 22
2020 Holi Festival – March 10
How is it celebrated?
As it’s purely a celebration and a day for enjoyment, there are no religious rituals to be performed and everyone is encouraged to just let loose and have a great time!
Adults and children alike take to the streets to play the drums, dance and throw brightly coloured paint at each other (otherwise known as ‘playing Holi’). You can buy paints all over for just a few pennies, and use them either dry or mixed with water (kids love to make paint cannons out of water bottles so watch out for them!).
In some cities where there’s a river or lake, people get totally covered and then head en masse for the water to rinse it all off at the end of the party. In Hampi, ther’s a river cutting through the town so everyone uses that to freshen up at the end of the day!
Are there any dangers?
As with any huge gathering of people, keep your wits about you. It’s not uncommon for people to drink heavily or take too much bhang (a paste made from cannabis plants), and become disorderly during the celebrations.
If you’re a woman travelling alone be aware that there have been reports of sexual harassment, especially in the larger cities. I would definitely recommend Hampi as a safe, smaller town to celebrate Holi. The locals there were extremely friendly and the kids just too adorable, always wanting to climb onto your shoulders to tower over the crowds.
Any other tips?
For the love of everything that is Holi, COVER YOUR HAIR, especially if you’re blonde. My blonde hair was dyed so many different colours, but the pink stayed with me FOREVER and I spent the rest of the year trying to correct it.
I would go as far as using baby oil or any other oil you can get your hands on to slick over your hair before covering it in a bandana or hat, in case it seeps through. Also, protect your nails by covering them in nail polish before the day. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Wear old clothes or clothes you don’t mind getting ruined. Nothing will remove the Holi stains so you’ll definitely need to bin them afterwards. Choose bright colours or be bold and wear white, so you can be coloured by others! Remember to always dress appropriately, and avoid showing too much skin to avoid unwanted attention from frisky locals.
Also, this is simple advice but make sure to avoid getting the paint in your eyes or mouth. There are some nasty chemicals in some of the cheaper paints and not only could it make your eyes very sore, but you might end up with green or purple teeth… Not a good look!
Here are the essentials you’ll need for a successful Holi:
Old clothes or white T-Shirt and shorts
Some clear nail polish
Some good quality hair oil
Some big sunglasses to keep the paint out of your eyes
Vaseline for rubbing on your hands and a little up your nose to catch the dry paint particles
A Go Pro Hero 4 (with waterproof casing) for capturing it all
A good quality body scrub for the clean up efforts
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So now you’re fully prepared for your new bucket list experience thanks to my Holi Festival guide, why not get out there and make it happen?
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