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Holi 2016: Essential Guide to the Holi Festival in India

The Holi festival commemorates the victory of good over evil, brought about by the burning and destruction of the demoness named Holika. This was enabled through unwavering devotion to the Hindu god of preservation, Lord Vishnu.

Holi Festival in India

Holi got its name as the "Festival of Colors" from Lord Krishna, a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, who liked to play pranks on the village girls by drenching them in water and colors.

The festival marks the end of winter and the abundance of the upcoming spring harvest season.

When is Holi Celebrated?

The day after the full moon in March each year. In 2016, Holi will be celebrated on March 24. The festival takes place a day earlier in West Bengal and Odisha.

Where is Holi Celebrated?

You'll find Holi festivities taking place in most areas of India. However, they're more exuberant in some places than others. Check out these 10 Places to Celebrate the Holi Festival in India (and one region that should be avoided).

Traditional Holi celebrations are the biggest at Mathura, four hours from Delhi.

How is Holi Celebrated?

People spend the day smearing colored powder all over each other's faces, throwing colored water at each other, having parties, and dancing under water sprinklers. Bhang (a paste made from cannabis plants) is also traditionally consumed during the celebrations.

What Rituals are Performed?

Holi Festival in India

The emphasis of Holi rituals is on the burning of demoness Holika. On the eve of Holi, large bonfires are lit to mark occasion. This is known as Holika Dahan. As well as performing a special puja, people sing and dance around the fire, and walk around it three times.

The burning of Holika is mentioned in the Hindu text, the Narada Purana.

Apparently, Holika's brother demon King Hiranyakashyap instructed her to burn his son, Prahlad, because he followed Lord Vishnu and didn't worship him. Holika sat with Prahlad in her lap, in the burning fire, because it was thought that no fire could harm her. However, due to his devotion to Lord Vishnu who protected him, Prahlad survived and Holika was charred to death.

What to Expect During the Celebrations

Holi is a very carefree festival that’s great fun to participate in if you don’t mind getting wet and dirty. You'll end up saturated in water, with color all over your skin and clothes. Some of it doesn't wash out easily, so be sure to wear old clothes. It's also a good idea to rub hair oil or coconut oil into your skin beforehand, to prevent the color from absorbing.

Holi Safety Information

As Holi provides an opportunity to disregard social norms and generally "let loose", males commonly take it too far and act disrespectfully.

Single women should avoid going out alone in public places during Holi, as inebriated young Indian guys often pose a safety threat. These males, who have consumed excessive amounts of bhang and other intoxicants, will inappropriately touch women and make a nuisance of themselves. They are usually in groups and can be very aggressive. Incidents of rape also do occur, which makes it important to take proper care during Holi.

If you plan on going out into the streets on Holi, do so early in the morning. Be back in your hotel by midday before the men get too inebriated. Many hotels hold special Holi parties for their guests in a safe environment.

Expect to have colored powder and water rubbed and thrown onto your face, mouth and ears. Keep your mouth shut and protect your eyes as much as possible.

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