Holi, across urban and rural spaces, is a loud and colourful affair. The boisterous festival draws from Indian mythology and celebrates, with abandon, the onset of spring. Inspired from the the playful flirtations of Radha and Krishna, legend has it that Holi traces back its origins to the myth of Krishna being jealous of Radha’s fair complexion, and throwing colours on her to even the score. Plan a long weekend this year around Holi for any of these truly unique celebrations.
Phoolon Wali Holi in Vrindavan:
Vrindavan is best known for being the backdrop to Radha and Krishna’s secret rendezvous in the Krishna Leela gardens. Understandably, since this is where it all started, Vrindavan is known to celebrate Holi with great enthusiasm. As part of the brajwasi holi tradition, the Banke Bihari temple at Vrindavan celebrates Phoolon wali Holi on the ekadashi before the festival. As the name suggests, this version of the festival is celebrated by throwing flowers, instead of colours, as is known to be the more traditional way. The gates to the local temple open at 4pm with the priests throwing flowers at the devotees. The celebrations here last over a week, bringing thousands of devotees to this legendary town. Tourists from all over the world also travel to the small town in the eastern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to catch a glimpse the vibrant culture India is a famous for. The celebrations also include floats and parades, “Raas-Leela” and cultural shows. This is a must-visit event in any cultural bucket list of India – experience it atleast once in your life time
Lathmar Holi, Nandgaon:
Lathmar Holi, played in Barsana and Nandgaon, is something to be seen. This distinctive form of Holi sees the women of Barsana use sticks to beat men, who come from the adjacent village of Nandgaon. The ritual recreates the time when Lord Krishna visited Radha, who stayed in Barsana, and played mischievous pranks on her and her friends on the occasion of Holi. In turn, the Barsana women took offence and chased him away with sticks. After the beating, Lord Krishna is said to have fled to Nandgaon. This re-enactment happens every year, where men from Nandgaon visit Barsana to play Holi and splash colour on the women, only to be playfully beaten up with sticks. The following day, men from Barsana go to Nandgaon to drench the women in water and colour. This unusual celebration is a huge attraction for tourists, making Lathmar Holi a unique experience in the Holi Tourism.
Holi Festival, Rishikesh:
If a traditional Holi is not your flavour, head down to Rishikesh for a weekend of camping, live music, and adventure sports. Go across the Lakshman Jhula bridge to witness the local Holi celebrations with colours and market stalls serving up a feast of local flavours. The celebrations in Rishikesh are a perfect blend of traditional and offbeat with options to bodysurf, a trek to the waterfall, rafting and cliff jumping.
Poet and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore established the tradition of celebrating Holi as Basant Utsav or Spring Festival in Santiniketan. Basant Utsav is observed as an annual event at Tagore’s Vishwa Bharati University. Students present some wonderful folk dances and cultural programmes for visitors followed by the throwing of colours. Basant Utsav has come to be a cherished tradition at Shantiniketan. Everybody is seen dressed up in spring colours. There is a song in every heart and a skip in every step. Basant Utsav takes place a day earlier than Holi and is now considered an important part of the Bengali heritage. A huge number of tourists arrive every year at Shantiniketan to witness and participate in the celebrations, which unlike the rest of the country are graceful and dignified. Young boys and girls welcome Basant, the season of hope, with an elation expressed by not just throwing colours but with beautiful songs, dance and soulful chanting of hymns in the serene environment Shantiniketan. Bengal has a unique and elegant way of celebrating Holi.
Yep, one of the coolest places to celebrate holi might just be a place where no one knows the story of Radha and her lover, Krishna. The Songkran festival in Thailand is not celebrated for the same reasons as Holi though it falls around the same time. Songkran is in fact derived from the Sanskrit word “Sankranthi” and is the New Year’s Day for Thais. It is a huge festival in Thailand and is celebrated with great energy and exuberance. Water splashing has recently become a common practice marking this festival. There are no colours or paints like Holi. So, those who dread the side effects of pace painting or colour throwing in India during Holi can head to Thailand to witness the simple pleasure of being drenched by a sneaky bucket of water. Songkran is celebrated over a period of three days with popular processions and performances accompanied by images of the Buddha. A wide array of local Thai delicacies can also be enjoyed during this time.
The festival of Holi is a time for celebration, for worship, for youthful flirtations and for letting oneself go. It’s a game of smearing, splashing, and spraying coloured powder and water on everyone you see. It is a joyful time! Holi has gained fame all over the world with several Holi parties being organised in other countries where there is a strong influence of the Indian diaspora. The nature of Holi is such that it is difficult to not join in the fun and frolic.
This Holi, see if you can make it to any of these unique celebrations and enjoy the festival in all it’s myriad colours!