Holi festival ~ festivals of india - local festivals, national festivals, state festivals

Holi festival

Holi festival

Holi is the spring festival of India and is also known as the Festival of Colors. It is celebrated at the end of the winter season, on the full moon day of the Hindu month of Phalgun (February - March). In West Bengal, it is known as Dol Yatra or Basant-utsav. The most joyous celebrations are in the land of Braj, in district of Mathura, where tourists especially throng during the Holi festival.


There are many stories associated with Holi. The demon king Hiranyakashipu performed penance for a long time and got a boon from Lord Brahma that he should not be killed under any of the following conditions: in the day or night, inside the house or outside the house, by a man or an animal, in the sky or on earth.

Holi festival
Holi festival

Hiranyakashipu’s son Prahlad was a strong devotee of Lord Vishnu. In the face of severe opposition from his father, Prahlad was always absorbed in devotion to Lord Vishnu and he always spoke about God. Hiranyakashipu was not happy with his behavior. When Hiranyakashipu’s repeated attempts to wean Prahlad away from devotion to Vishnu failed, Hiranyakashipu adopted different means to kill Prahlad. He was given poison, but it turned into nectar instead of killing him. Prahlad was left in a closed room with many poisonous snakes, but they did not harm him. Huge elephants were set loose in an attempt to trample Prahlad, but they too could not kill him.

Finally, Hiranyakashipu’s sister Holika’s help was taken. Holika had a boon, whereby she could not be burnt by fire. She took Prahlad in her lap and sat in a blazing fire. Prahlad kept chanting the name of Lord Vishnu and remained unharmed, while Holika got burnt. Thus, Holi derives its name from Holika, and celebrates the protection that God granted to his pure devotee. Later, Lord Vishnu appeared as Narasingh, having the body of man and the face of a lion (He was neither man nor animal). He killed Hiranyakashipu at the doorway to his house (which was neither inside nor outside the house), at twilight (which was neither day nor night), and by placing him on his lap (which was neither sky nor earth).

Holi festival
Holi festival

Holi figures prominently in the leelas (divine pastimes) of Shree Krishna. As a child, Shree Krishna was very playful and mischievous. He complained to his mother about the difference between his dark skin and Radha’s fair complexion. To appease Him, His mother asked Him to apply dark color on Radha’s face. This festival is celebrated remembering this incident, and the Divine love between Radha and Krishna.

Shree Krishna popularized the festival in Braj by His playful pranks, where He applied color on Radha and the gopis using water jets called pichkaris (a domestic syringe-like toy). The celebrations gained acceptance and popularity. Slowly, the use of colors and pichkaris in Holi became rampant. This pastime is wonderfully brought alive each year all over India. In fact, the entire country is drenched in colored water for Holi.

The beautiful scenes of Krishna’s pranks, in which he played color with Radha and other gopis, have been depicted in a number of paintings and murals. In some states of India, there is also a tradition to place the deities of Radha and Krishna in a decorated palanquin, which is then carried along the main streets of the city. All this while, devotees chant Shree Krishna’s name, sing devotional hymns and dance in bliss.


Holi is surely one of the most vibrant and joy-filled festivals of India. It is unmatched in terms of fervor, family participation, excitement and revelry. Holi celebrations start with a bonfire on the eve of Holi. This bonfire signifies the burning of Holika in the fire. From the bonfire of Holi, people take a little fire to their homes. It is believed that by following this custom their homes will be rendered pure and their bodies will be free from disease. At several places, there is also a tradition of cleaning homes, removing all dirty articles from around the house and burning them.

In Vrindaban and Mathura, where Shree Krishna grew up, the festival is celebrated for sixteen days, as each major temple organizes a Holi celebration on a different day.

Holi festival
Holi festival

On the day of Holi, people enjoy throwing colors on each other. People play Holi with great elation and spray colored water everywhere. One can hear the shouts and laughter of people shouting “Holi hai! Holi hai!” Color powders are thrown in the air and colored water is sprayed on each other using a pichkari. People usually wear white garments on this day. Many sweets are prepared and exchanged. People gather on the streets and throw colored water on everybody’s clothes, even on strangers who pass by, no matter whether they are rich or poor. Differences of any sort are drowned in the colored waters of Holi, and enemies forgive and hug each other on this day.

In certain places of India, another game is played on Holi day. Women run behind men and tear their shirts. This is celebrated in remembrance of the Lord Krishna and His mischievous games with the gopies. To further enhance the festive spirit of Holi celebrations, people dance to the rhythm of the dholak and sing traditional folk songs in the loudest possible pitch. Children particularly enjoy the festival as they throw water-filled balloons. In the midst of these coloring games, mouth watering Holi specialties like bhujiya, malpua, matthi, puran puri, dahi bada, etc and downed with glasses full of thandai.

After a wild and eventful day, evenings are spent visiting friends and relatives. People exchange sweets and hug each other conveying warm good wishes for Holi.

Holi is very popular in the whole of North India, particularly in Braj region - Mathura, Vrindavan, Nandagaon, and Barsana that are closely connected with Lord Krishna. Holi is also celebrated with great intensity in Western India as well as Orissa and Bengal.

Outside India, Holi is celebrated by people in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and countries with large Hindu communities, such as Suriname, Guyana, South Africa, Trinidad, UK, USA, Mauritius, and Fiji.

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