10 Places to Celebrate the Holi Festival in India
Where and How to Celebrate the Holi Festival in India
The best places to celebrate Holi in India really depend on what kind of experience you want to have. You'll find activities taking place almost all over India, but they range from traditional temple rituals to modern parties with DJs, bhang, and plenty of colors. See which of these places, with totally different Holi festival celebrations, appeal to you the most.
Want to know the meaning of Holi and find out when it's held each year? The answers are in this Holi Festival Guide, including important safety information and tips.
1. Barsana: Holi with Sticks (Lath Mar Holi)
Indian men don't always rule the roost! 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. In 2016, it will happen on March 17.
The following day, the celebrations move to Nandgaon village. On March 19, the start of Holi celebrations at Banke Bihari temple in Vrindavan will be the main attraction. It's worth getting to Barsana a couple of days in advance of Lathmar Holi so that you can also experience Laddoo Holi festivities there. Sweets are thrown around and spiritual songs related to Radha and Krishna are sung. This will take place on March 16, 2016.
2. Mathura and Vrindavan: Traditional Holi
Holi celebrations get underway on Vasant Panchami (end of winter), 40 days before the main Holi day, in the temple towns of Mathura and Vrindavan, four hours from Delhi. Mathura is where Lord Krishna was born, while Vrindavan was where he spent his childhood.
The Sri Krishna Janmastham in Mathura holds a renowned show in the week before Holi. The week long celebrations at Banke Bihari temple in Vrindavan are also legendary, and culminate with the throwing of colors on Dhulendi (March 23, 2016).
In the afternoon head to Mathura to see the colorful Holi procession that starts from Vishram Ghat and finishes near Holi Gate. On Holi (March 24, 2016), the best place to catch the throwing of colors is Dwarkadheesh Temple in Mathura. Start the day early (at around 7 a.m) at Vishram Ghat to see priests making bhang.
3. Shantiniketan, West Bengal: Cultural Holi
The celebration of Holi as Basanta Utsav (Spring Festival) in Shantiniketan was started by famous Bengali poet and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
Inspired by spring and the colors of Holi, he introduced the occasion as an annual event in his Vishva Bharati University there. Students dress up in spring colors and put on a huge cultural program for visitors, including dances to Tagore's songs. This is followed by the usual throwing of colors. Vasanta Utsav has become a cherished part of Bengali history and culture, and it attracts numerous foreign tourists. Note that festivities happen a day earlier than the given date for Holi in other parts of India.
4. Purulia, West Bengal: Folk Holi
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. You'll get to sing and play Holi with the locals, as well as 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. What makes the festival special is that it's organized by villagers as a way of helping sustain themselves. The location is around 5-6 hours by train from Kolkata, or transport in private vehicles can be arranged. Accommodation is provided in tents and there are portable toilets as well. Contact Banglanatak for bookings and arrangements.
5. Anandpur Sahib, Punjab: Warrior Holi
Experience Holi the Sikh way at 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.
6. Udaipur: Royal Holi
On the eve of Holi (March 23, 2016) people light bonfires to mark the occasion and ward of evil spirits in a ritual called holika dahan. For an unforgettable regal experience, join in the celebration of Udaipur's Mewar royal family. There will be a magnificent palace procession from the royal residence to Manek Chowk at the City Palace, including bedecked horses and royal band. Later the traditional sacred fire will be lit and an effigy of Holika burnt.
7. Mumbai: Community Holi with Slum Children
Dharavi, Mumbai's largest slum, is not the depressing place that you may expect it to be -- and especially so on Holi. Reality Tours and Travel will take you on a fascinating (and uplifting) tour of the slum, and then onwards to a Holi party that they will be throwing for the community at Dharavi. Join in and celebrate Holi with the locals in a safe and friendly environment, complete with colors and music. 80% of proceeds are devoted to helping the people of Dharavi.
8. Jaipur: Holi and Elephants
An elephant festival kicks off Holi celebrations in Jaipur every year on Holi eve. Elephant parades, elephant beauty contests, folk dances, and tug-of-war between elephants, locals and foreigners are all regular events. It makes Holi extra fun!
Note: this event hasn't been held since 2012 due to pressure from animal rights groups. If you do want to attend a local Holi festival celebration in Jaipur with elephants,
9. Delhi: Musical Holi
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. If you can, try and get tickets to the Holi Cow festival. A festival of color, music and madness, it's is held a short distance outside the city. The environment is safe, and non-toxic colors are provided, along with bhang lassis, street food, and sprinklers to get everyone in the mood.
Both DJs and bands perform. Plenty of expats, as well as locals, attend.
10. Hampi: Holi in South India
If you're looking for an exuberant Holi, south India is generally best avoided. As Holi is primarily a north Indian festival, it's quite subdued at most places in the south. The focus is mainly on religious aspects and temple rites. However, Hampi in Karnataka is a notable exception! The whole town turns out to play Holi in the morning (perhaps for the benefit of the many western travelers there), amid drumming, dancing, and the evocative ruins of the grand Vijayanagar empire. Afterwards, the crowd slowly moves to the river to wash all the color off.