Photo by Rajesh Pamnani/ CC BY

Your Insider Guide to Holi Festival of Colors

by Mark Go

As a traveler who have witnessed numerous festivals, I swear at the memorable experience I had at the Holi Festival in India back in March 2014. If you want to experience a festival that depicts a unique culture and a colorful religious tradition, then you should start planning on attending the upcoming “Holi” next March. Known as the ‘festival of colors’, it is held during spring time in many parts of India and is also celebrated throughout the world by Hindus. This ancient religious festival attracts travelers from all the world to different parts of India to witness a unique spectacle of celebrating a festival of love highlighted by throwing colorful powders at each other. The Holi festival celebrates the triumph of good over bad deeds, coming in the heels of the destruction and burning of the demoness named Holika, through the Hindu faithful’s continued devotion and faith to Lord Vishnu, the Hindu god of preservation. The practice of using powdered colors originated from the time of Lord Vishnu’s reincarnation; Lord Krishna, who used to play pranks with the village people by throwing colors and drenching them with water. The Holi also signify the end of winter and the celebration of the coming harvest season of spring time.

When is the Holi Festival Celebrated?

The Holi Festival takes place a day following the full moon every month of March. This coming 2016, the Holi will be held on March 23 with the festival being held a day earlier at Odisha and at West Bengal in India.

How the Hindus Celebrate Holi?

Photo by Rajesh Pamnani/ CC BY
Photo by Rajesh Pamnani/ CC BY

At the onset of morning the streets leading to the center of the town where the Holi is celebrated is instantly filled with people ready to smear each other’s faces and bodies with colored powder. Dancing and other forms of revelry quickly follows as the local Hindus enjoy a good camaraderie with traveling revelers. Some locals also consume a traditional drink called ‘Bhang’. By using the bhang paste, which is made from the buds and leaves of a cannabis plant, on a variety of intoxicating drinks, it help the locals intensify their celebration of the Holi to another level of joy throughout the day. The colored powder can be easily bought at the town market and vendors on the side streets always sprung out to sell colored powders a few days before the Holi festivity begins.

Rituals Performed during the Holi Festival

holi-fire
Photo by Ishan Kohsla/ CC BY

The gist of the Holi Festival’s rituals centers on the scorching of the demoness Holika. Large fiery bonfires can be seen being lighted up on the eve of the Holi with the accompaniment of a series of chants, singing and people dancing around the bonfires and walking around the fire, at least, three times. This ritual is known as the Holika Dahan.

As mentioned in the historic Narada Purana, a known Hindu text; the story about the burning of Holika is explained briefly. It goes on like this;

King Hiranyakashyap instructed her sister Holika to burn his son, Prahlad, for the reason that he obeyed Lord Vishnu instead of worshipping him. Holika, believing that she is immortal and that not even a fire could hurt her, positioned Prahlad in her lap while she sat on the center of the burning stake. However, because of Prahlad’s devotion and faith to Lord Vishnu, the boy survived and Holika was the one who was burned to death.

Best Places to Celebrate the Holi Festival

holi-vrindavan
Photo by henrykkcheung/ CC BY

Vrindavan – this town is considered as the most exciting place to celebrate the Holi Festival. Situated in the Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh in India, this is the location where according to Hinduism, Lord Krishna lived his childhood years. The nearby town of Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna is also a great place to celebrate Holi. Littered with beautiful ancient temple ruins dedicated to the worship of Krishna and Radha, these twin towns is also a popular pilgrimage site of Hindus from all over the world. Vrindavan and Mathura can be reached by four hours land travel from New Delhi.

Barsana – 127 kilometers south of New Delhi, visiting Barsana affords you to experience the Holi twice as it is celebrated here a week before the main day of the Holi Festival. In 2016, the main revelry will be held on March 17. A unique celebration is held here where the women of the village of Mathura beat up the men from the adjacent Nandgaon village with sticks, in what is referred to as the ‘Lathmar Holi Festival’. Getting here a few days before the Lathmar, gives you the chance to also witness the ‘Laddoo Holi Festivities’ where Krishna and Radha songs are sung all day long.

Although, the Holi Festival is widely celebrated throughout India tapering off in the states of Kerala and Goa, one will never ran out of places to witness the unique spectacle of the Holi Festival. Among these places are; Shantiniketan and Purulia in West Bengal, Anandpur Sahib in Punjab, Mumbai City, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Jaisalmer and the other cities in the states of Rajasthan, New Delhi, Agra and Hampi in Southern India are the most recommended places to experience the Holi Festival.

What Makes Celebrating Holi Fun

Photo by Rajesh Pamnani/ CC BY
Photo by Rajesh Pamnani/ CC BY

Aside from learning more about the Hindu religion, its customs and centuries old traditions, celebrating the Holi Festival also gives you the opportunity to see the fun side of the locals in India. This is a special day where everyone takes off from their busy schedules and drops everything to enjoy the festivity. Throwing colored powders at each other not only creates a colorful vibe but also forms a camaraderie and sometimes friendships with many of the locals.

How to Go by Plane from Manila

Since there is still no direct flights going to India from the Philippines, the best option for you is to take connecting flights in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Bangkok, Thailand via Cebu Pacific and other airlines such as Air Asia, Jetstar, Singapore Air and many more.

These airlines fly to a number of destinations in India such as; Kolkata, New Delhi, Kochi, Bangalore, Mumbai just to name a few. Once in India, a number of Indian based airlines operates domestically bringing you to a number of cities in its vast nation. The leading budget airlines include; IndiGo, SpiceJet, Air India Express, Air Asia India and Go Air.

The flight I took when I witness the Holi Festival in March 2014 in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan came from Manila to Kuala Lumpur and a connecting flight to Kolkata. From there we worked our way to other cities via train with stops at Varanasi, Agra, New Delhi, Jaipur, Jodhpur, and Jaisalmer.

Traveling around India

Aside from the aforementioned airlines serving domestic flights within India, the vast railway system of India is a model of effectivity and affordable means of transportation going around the country. While most of the trains can be crowded, proper planning ahead will save you time and give you much needed comfort while traversing the lengthy travel time between cities in India. You can book your train tickets ahead of time online by visiting these websites; Make My Trip, Clear Trip and Indian Railway website.

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