A young girl hides away in a corner of her balcony with a water-filled balloon. She has her target set on the motorcyclist in the street, visible just behind the ‘dholvalas’ (professionals beating drums to popular music). The motorcyclist, painted in colour from top to bottom, welcomes the splash of balloon on his body with an uproar. Meanwhile, the girl gets called inside. The next-door neighbours shout ‘Holi hai’ (it’s time for the festival of Holi) and colour her face with gulaal (red powder). The hosts treat the neighbours to gujiyas (a sweet with fried flour and dry fruits) and pakoras (gram flour coated deep-fried vegetables). As the day progresses, the noises grow louder, the faces becomes unrecognisable and the streets and houses are covered with a myriad of colours intermingling with joy and telling the tale of a day well spent.
The festival of Holi, celebrated in India, is one of the most popular festivals in the country because of its great prominence in the Hindu mythology. Marking the victory of good over evil, Holi celebrates the fall of demon Holika whose effigies are burnt throughout the country on the eve of the festival. Extremely boisterous and a little raucous; Holi is the time to let go, to celebrate the spirit of laissez-faire.
Here are four places in India which are known for their Holi celebration:
Holi in Mathura & Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh
Located around 150 kilometres away from the national capital, New Delhi; the holi celebrations in Vrindavan and Mathura are grander than anywhere else. People from around India and the world make way here to witness the spectacle of dance and music amidst the play of colours. ‘Phoolon Vali Holi’ (Holi played with flowers) celebrated a day before the main festival transposes you to a place of perpetual spring in your mind. Doing away with patriarchy that denied colours to them for ages, widows of Vrindavan come out in the open to celebrate the festival and their life. Dwarkadheesh Temple in Mathura is one of the best places to be a part of the festivities.
Lath Maar Holi in Barsana, Uttar Pradesh
If you see women beating men in Barsana on the day of Holi, don’t call the police. This town follows a unique ritual after one of Lord Krishna’s many fables. The legend has it that Lord Krishna used to travel from his village Nandgaon to tease Radha (his beloved), and her friends in Barsana and they would chase him away with lathis (sticks). In this playful ritual, men sing provocative songs to get the attention of women and are allowed to defend themselves with shields when women come at them with full force of their lathis. A regular supply of ‘thandai’ (a milk drink) as well as bhang (a drink made of cannabis) ensures that the energies stay at the peak during the long hours of celebration.
Holi at Shantiniketan, West Bengal
Celebrated as a spring festival, Holi is fragrant and beautiful in the state of West Bengal. Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore started the ritual of holi celebration in the Vishva Bharati University at Shantiniketan. The students of the university wear yellow clothes, with accessories made of flowers and present Indian folk dances and cultural events to guests. Holi here, as envisioned by Rabindranath Tagore, is a celebration of Indian traditions and customs, where colours occupy a dominant position. This is followed by throwing of colours and eating popular Bengali sweets.
Holi at Anandpur Sahib, Punjab
Popular as Hola Mahalla in Punjab, the festivities of holi take a different colour at the Anandpur Sahib, a Sikh temple. The festival sees a celebration of the Indian martial arts, including Gatka. The daredevils perform mock battles with swords. The various stunts performed also include bareback-horse riding and standing erect on two speeding horses. The other facet of the three-day long fair manifests itself into Kirtan (singing of religious sermons), performance of poetry and of course a play with the colours. The place comes out alive with thousands of devotees, singing along and chanting popular sermons together.
Note: Foreign tourists are made to feel extremely welcome during the festivities at each of these places. However, be mindful to leave your valuable belongings in your hotel rooms before coming out to celebrate. Do not take ‘bhang’ or ‘mithais’ (sweets) from total strangers and always play holi with a group. Do not isolate yourself.