It’s that time of the year when cities across India are about to get smeared in the colours of Holi. If there’s one festival that is celebrated in many parts of the country with equal enthusiasm and fervour, it is definitely this! With a blend of vibrant colours, water balloons and yummy food, Holi puts us in a festive mood like no other.
Holi celebrations across India are typically kicked off before the actual festival day. In North India, conical wooden pyres are set on fire the night before, a ritual traditionally known as Holika Dahan, marking the onset of Holi. The essence of the ritual lies in the victory of good over evil. It is said that Prahlad, who was an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu was saved from being burnt in a fire by his father because of his devotion, while his aunt Holika went up in flames, giving the ritual its current name.
Apart from colour, Holi celebrations in India are synonymous with delicious food items as well, especially the desserts. Be it the mawa and dry fruit-filled Gujiya in the north or the ghee-smeared Puran Poli in the west, Holi is incomplete without good food. But it’s not just the desserts we have our eyes on, it’s the special drinks too! Holi and Thandai go hand in hand and it has almost become a ritual to prepare and consume this drink as part of the celebrations. In fact, no Holi party is complete without the Thandai.
India being a land of diversity, the festival of Holi is celebrated in a number of ways in different parts of the country. Each region will have its own special way of ringing in the festivities. Here’s a lowdown on some of the most unique traditions associated with Holi in different parts of India.
Gujarat & Maharashtra: Celebrating Lord Krishna’s Love for Buttermilk
An iconic visual associated with Holi celebrations in the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra is a huge human pyramid formation leading up to a pot of buttermilk that is supposed to be cracked by the person at the top. Legend has it that, because of Lord Krishna’s love for buttermilk, the ladies of the village would attempt to keep their pots as far away from him as possible, to the extent of hanging them high up. But the mischievous Krishna would do everything he could to reach those pots and claim his buttermilk. This has translated into a fun ritual where men climb on top of each other to form a huge pyramid and try to break a pot of buttermilk once at the top.
Goa: Making Way for a Feisty Street Carnival
Holi in the state of Goa is a completely different affair altogether! Here, the locals come out to celebrate by performing street dances and indulging in musical and artistic performances all over the state. The primary motive of these festivities is to welcome the spring season. Goans are known for their happy-go-lucky nature and they turn a simple Holi celebration into a statewide, colourful street parade of sorts!
Varanasi: Holi in the Spiritual Capital of India
Varanasi, or Banaras, may be known as the city for spiritual cleansing, but it also celebrates Holi in one of the most unique ways. Instead of the usual powder colours, in Varanasi, Holi involves the use of ashes from the cremation pyres on Manikarnika Ghat. It may come across as shocking to onlookers, but this is an age-old ritual in the city that is not scared of death but rather celebrates it as a way to achieve Moksha, which refers to a form of emancipation – the human body’s liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth. On the day after Rangbhari Ekadashi, the crematory ashes are smeared on everyone’s faces similar to the usual colours, giving Holi celebrations an unusual twist in Varanasi.
Vrindavan: Gear Up for a Flower Shower!
A truly unique celebration of Holi happens in Vrindavan on Ekadashi before Holi, where instead of the usual powdered colours and water, flower petals are showered on everyone to commemorate the festival. It is a sight to behold at Vrindavan’s Banke Bihari temple where priests welcome everyone with a floral shower after opening the gates of the temple at 4 pm. If you’re not a fan of the usual messy colours, this is the perfect alternative to soak in the spirit of Holi!
Shantiniketan: Holi with a Dash of Culture
Holi celebration in Shantiniketan in West Bengal is synonymous with spring! Hues of yellow and orange take over Visva Bharati University that was started by the famous poet and author, Rabindranath Tagore. Students of the university deck up in the festive spirit and the colours of spring while they showcase the beautiful local music, dance and culture. There is a sense of celebration all around as everyone joins in to put up a cultural program celebrating the music of Tagore. Locally known as the Basanta Utsav, the celebrations typically start the day before Holi and continue for the next 2 days.
Punjab: A Display of the Sikh’s Fighting Spirit
In the land of the five rivers, Holi takes on a different meaning altogether. Known as Hola Mohalla, Punjab witnesses a form of Holi not seen anywhere else in the country where the focus is on the fighting spirit of the Sikh community. Be it through celebratory war cries or through the display of martial art skills, this is the only form of Holi celebration that involves the use of weapons instead of colours!
Indian movies may represent Holi in a one dimensional way by only showcasing the playful aspect of the festival, but a deeper look will reveal what it truly signifies for various Indian communities. Now that you know about some of the different kinds of Holi celebrations, why not plan a trip to one of these destinations to experience it first hand? So the next time you make plans for Holi with friends or family, bask in the true spirit of the festival and indulge in a culturally immersive experience like never before!