Cultural Festivals Hindu Fasts & Festivals

Holi: India’s Exuberant and Vibrant Festival of Colors

Spread India's Glorious Cultural & Spiritual Heritage

ॐ श्री गुरुभ्यो नमः ॐ श्री शिवानन्दाय नमः ॐ श्री चिदानन्दाय नमःॐ श्री दुर्गायै नमः 

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Holi, an ancient and vibrant Hindu festival, often called the ‘Festival of Colours’ and the ‘Festival of Spring’, symbolizes joy, renewal, and spirituality. It celebrates the eternal love of Radha and Krishna and the triumph of good over evil, as depicted in Lord Vishnu’s victory over Hiranyakashipu.

Originating in Nepal and India, Holi’s appeal has spread globally, fostering unity and joy. Marking the end of winter and the arrival of spring, it’s a time for love, laughter, and mending relationships, encouraging forgiveness and strengthening familial and friendly bonds.

The festival also signifies the beginning of a promising spring harvest. Celebrations start on the evening of Purnima (Full Moon Day) in Phalguna, aligning with mid-March, and include Holika Dahan (the Burning of Demon Holika) and Rangwali Holi, a carnival of colors. It’s a day of egalitarian joy, erasing social barriers and fostering human connections through music, dance, and laughter. The evening sees people in fine attire visiting loved ones to exchange greetings.

Holi’s global charm extends to various continents, embodying a universal celebration of life and togetherness, inviting all to partake in its exuberance.

Celebrating Holi: The Festival of Colors

Holi, a significant Hindu spring festival, is celebrated as a national holiday in India and Nepal, and with regional holidays in other countries. Deeply rooted in Hindu culture, it offers a playful experience where people engage in fun by throwing colored water and powder.

The festival, widespread in the Indian subcontinent, aligns with the lunar cycle, marking the end of winter and the start of spring, typically in March. Historically, Holi celebrates agriculture, good harvests, and fertile land, while also symbolizing the renewal of relationships and the resolution of conflicts.

The religious aspect of Holi centers around the legend of Holika, leading to the ritual of Holika Dahan (the burning of Holika) on the eve of the festival. This symbolizes the victory of good over evil.

The next day, known by various names like Dhuli, Dhulandi, or Dhulendi, sees people indulging in the festival of colors, smearing each other with colored powder and water. The tradition of welcoming visitors with colors and offering festive delicacies like Puranpoli and Gujia is widespread. After the playful activities, people visit friends and family to share the festive spirit.

In some regions, Holi also includes Kama Dahanam, with the color festivities extending to Rangapanchami, celebrated five days after the full moon. Holi’s vibrant colors and joyful spirit celebrate not just the seasonal cycle but also symbolize unity, renewal, and the triumph of good over evil.

History and Rituals: A Tapestry of Time-Honored Traditions

Holi is a vibrant tapestry of ancient Hindu traditions, deeply rooted in sacred texts like the Puranas and celebrated in literary works such as Kālidāsa’s during the 4th-century reign of Chandragupta II and the 7th-century Sanskrit drama, Ratnavali.

This festival, emblematic of Indian culture and history, captured the fascination of European traders and British colonial staff by the 17th century, even finding mention in old editions of the Oxford English Dictionary.

The essence of Holi is enriched by a myriad of cultural rituals with historical and spiritual significance. These rituals, cherished and passed down through generations, form the fabric of Holi’s enduring legacy, shaping and defining the festival’s experience.

Prelude to the Festival: A Vibrant Communal Preparation

In the days leading up to Holi, a sense of anticipation and communal spirit ignites as people gather wood and combustible materials, a ritual that brings communities together in various public spaces. This collective effort culminates in the construction of a grand pyre, topped with an effigy of Holika from the ancient legend, symbolizing the triumph of good over evil.

Concurrently, homes transform into hubs of activity, with kitchens bustling in preparation for the colorful festivities. Families stock up on vibrant pigments and prepare an array of festive sweets like Gujiya, Mathri, and Malpuas, embodying the festival’s spirit of joy and togetherness. Party drinks are also prepared, enhancing the festive atmosphere. This preparatory period is an integral part of the festival, setting the stage for the celebration of unity, joy, and renewal that Holi represents.

The Bonfire of Holika Dahan: A Symbolic Heart of Holi

The Holika Dahan bonfire, lit on Holi’s eve, is a poignant symbol central to the festival. This ceremonial fire, kindled as dusk gathers, signifies the beginning of Holi’s festivities and represents much more than a mere blaze. It symbolizes the eradication of evil and negativity, echoing the legend where Holika, despite her immunity to fire, is burnt to ashes, heralding the triumph of good over evil.

As communities gather around the effigy of Holika atop the pyre, they engage in a shared experience of purification and renewal. Accompanied by hymns, prayers, and traditional songs, the ritual strengthens community bonds and sets a spiritual tone for the upcoming vibrant festivities, embodying the enduring power of faith and virtue.

Playing with Colours: A Tapestry of Joy and Tradition

Holi, celebrated as the ‘Festival of Colours’, transforms the streets of North and Western India into a vibrant kaleidoscope of hues. Following the Holika bonfire, children and youths armed with dry colours, water guns, and water balloons filled with coloured water enthusiastically take to the streets.

Although traditionally natural, plant-derived colours were used, a shift to water-based commercial pigments has expanded the colour palette. The streets and parks turn into playful battlegrounds, while homes witness gentler celebrations with dry powder.

The essence of Holi goes beyond just colouring each other; it’s a joyous water fight reimagined with vibrant hues, filled with laughter, singing, dancing, and the beats of drums and Dholaks. The festival also delights the palate with traditional delicacies like Gujiya and Malpuas, often accompanied by cold drinks and marijuana-infused beverages, making Holi a comprehensive celebration of life, community, and tradition.

Holi in Different Regions of India

Holi in Assam: A Vivid Mosaic of Tradition and Devotion

In Assam, Holi, known as Phakuwa or Doul, is a vivid amalgamation of tradition, devotion, and communal harmony, holding a unique charm, especially in the Satras of Barpeta. Celebrated over two days, it reflects the cultural and spiritual ethos of Assam.

The festival begins with the burning of clay huts, a symbolic act representing the burning of Holika and the victory of good over evil. This ritual in Barpeta and lower Assam creates a captivating spectacle, symbolizing collective prayers and hopes. The next day brings a burst of colors, as people joyously smear each other with colored powders, an act transcending mere playfulness to become a profound expression of unity.

The air is filled with Holi songs dedicated to Lord Krishna, adding a spiritual dimension to the festivities. Holi in Assam transcends being just a festival; it’s a celebration of life, a tribute to legends, and a testament to the state’s rich cultural fabric, where the blending of colors on faces mirrors the blending of hearts, making it a truly unifying and enchanting experience.

Celebrating Phaguwa: The Colorful Essence of Holi in Bihar and Jharkhand

In Bihar and Jharkhand, Holi transforms into Phaguwa, echoing the vibrant Bhojpuri culture. The night before Phalgun Poornima, locals kindle bonfires, mixing cow dung cakes, Araad wood, fresh harvest grains, and surplus foliage, commemorating the Holika legend. The eldest or a Purohit ignites the pyre, initiating a colorful greeting with smears of color. The subsequent day bursts with color play, laughter, and house cleaning in festive spirit.

Holi Milan in Bihar marks a time of familial bonding. Relatives and friends exchange colors, respecting elders by applying Abeer on their feet. This evening ritual follows the jubilant morning watercolor play. Youth revel in mud and clay water celebrations, swaying to folk tunes and the rhythmic dholak.

The festival’s spirit is heightened by the traditional bhang, a blend of cannabis, milk, and spices, paired with delectable Pakoras and Thandai. This concoction sets the tone for an immersive, spirited celebration.

Ukkuli in Konkani: A Vibrant Chapter of Goa’s Spring Festival

In Goa, the exuberance of Holi, known as Ukkuli in Konkani, radiates around the revered Gosripuram Temple. This spirited celebration forms a part of the month-long Śigmo or Śiśirotsava, a festival heralding spring in the Konkani tradition.

Ukkuli, more than just a color festival, is an integral segment of the extensive Śigmo festivities. It features unique rituals like Holika Puja and Dahan, Dhulvad or Dhuli Vandan, and Haldune, where devotees offer vibrant yellow, saffron, and Gulal colors to the deity, encapsulating the essence of spring’s joy and renewal.

Celebrating Holi in Gujarat: A Vibrant Tapestry of Traditions

Capturing the Spirit of Spring: Krishna and Radha’s 18th-century Miniature at the Guimet Museum, Paris

Holi, in Gujarat, unfolds over two days of joyous festivities. The inaugural evening features a ceremonial bonfire, where offerings of raw coconut and corn are made. This prelude leads to Dhuleti, the exuberant festival of colors, where people engage in playful dousing with colored water and smearing of hues on each other.

Dwarka, Gujarat’s coastal jewel, adds its unique flair by hosting Holi celebrations at the revered Dwarkadheesh temple, complemented by citywide comedy and music events. Timed with the Hindu month of Phalguna, this festival coincides with the Rabi crop’s agricultural cycle, marking a period of renewal and prosperity.

A notable tradition in some undivided Hindu families adds a humorous twist: women symbolically ‘chastise’ their brothers-in-law with a sari-turned-rope, aiming to soak them in colors. This playful mock-rage is balanced by the evening’s sweet gesture, as the brothers-in-law bring Indian desserts as a peace offering, blending humor and sweetness in this vibrant cultural celebration.

Holi in Jammu and Kashmir:

In the ethereal landscapes of Jammu and Kashmir, Holi transcends beyond a mere festival; it’s an embodiment of vibrant cultures converging. Celebrated with fervor, locals embrace the start of the summer harvest. Imagine the air filled with a spectrum of colors, as people rejoice in the streets with the playful throwing of colored water and powder. The rhythmic beats of traditional music accentuate the atmosphere, while dances bring to life the essence of joy and unity that Holi represents in this region.

Holi in Karnataka:

In the heartland of Karnataka, Holi is not just a festival but a testament to the region’s rich traditions. The preparations begin weeks ahead, with children engaging in the community-driven task of collecting money and wood for the significant event of Kamadahana. The festival spans two days, with the first night witnessing a grand bonfire symbolizing purification and renewal. In the northern parts, special foods mark this day, embedding taste with tradition. In Sirsi, the festival takes a distinctive turn with “Bedara Vesha”, a folk dance that paints the night with cultural splendor every alternate year, drawing tourists nationwide.

Holi in Maharashtra:

In Maharashtra, Holi Purnima transforms into Shimga, a celebration that extends over a week. The echoes of children collecting firewood and funds resonate in the days leading up to the festival. The highlight is the communal bonfire, where every household contributes a meal and dessert in honor of the fire god. The air rings with chants of “Holi re Holi puranachi poli,” as the sweet Puran Poli graces every plate. Shimga is a time for reconciliation, where colors on Rang Panchami erase past conflicts, fostering new bonds of friendship.

Holi in Manipur:

In Manipur, Holi blends with the indigenous Yaosang festival, extending the celebration over six days. It begins with the ceremonial burning of a hut made of hay and twigs. The tradition of Nakadeng sees children collecting monetary gifts, weaving a sense of community. As night falls, the Thabal Chongba dance under the moonlight, with folk tunes giving way to modern rhythms, signifies youth and vitality. In Krishna temples, the air is filled with devotional songs and Aber (Gulal), while the festival culminates in grand processions to the main Krishna temple in Imphal, showcasing Manipur’s rich cultural tapestry.


Odisha’s celebration of Holi, known as ‘Dola’, is steeped in history and devotion. Here, the focus shifts from Krishna and Radha to Lord Jagannath. Dola Melana sees processions of deities through the villages, with offerings of Bhoga symbolizing reverence and gratitude. Tracing back to before 1560, the Dola Yatra has been a significant part of Odisha’s spiritual journey. During this festival, natural colors or ‘abira’ are offered to the deities, and the tradition of applying colors on each other’s feet is a humble gesture of respect and unity. An 1822 drawing of a black stone arch in Puri captures the essence of this timeless tradition, linking the past with the present.


In Punjab, the eight-day prelude to Holi, known as luhatak, sets the stage for a festival rich in color and tradition. As Sekhon (2000) notes, the playful throwing of colors begins days before Holi, building anticipation. The climax is Holika Dahan, a ceremonial fire lit on the eve of Holi, symbolizing the triumph of good over evil. The Lubana community adds a unique twist with their treasure hunt beneath the ashes of a ceremonial fire, seeking prosperity and luck. Elsewhere, the tradition of making ‘Holi-fools’, as mentioned by Bose in 1929, adds a playful element of surprise. The festival culminates with people joyously throwing colors at each other, marking the end of winter and embracing the fruitful promise of Phagun (March).

Rural homes in Punjab turn into canvases for Chowk-Poorana, an art form where women create intricate designs with motifs of nature, reflecting the festive spirit. Swang or Nautanki performances add a theatrical dimension, showcasing Punjab’s rich cultural heritage.


In Telangana, Holi, known as Kamuni Punnami or Jajiri, intertwines with the legend of Kamadeva, the god of love. The 10-day festival peaks in the last two days with vibrant traditions. Children play with Kolata sticks, singing folk songs, and gather essentials for the festival. The ninth night’s Kamuda celebration culminates in Kama Dahanam, a symbolic bonfire. The following morning, Holi unfolds in a burst of colors, traditionally extracted from Moduga/Gogu flowers, echoing the region’s deep connection with nature and mythology.

Uttar Pradesh:

Uttar Pradesh celebrates Holi with a unique blend of devotion and playful traditions. In the Braj region, Lath Mar Holi in Barsana is a sight to behold, where women chase men with sticks amid chants of Radhe-Krishna. Mathura and Vrindavan, steeped in the lore of Krishna, celebrate with special pujas and extend the festivities over sixteen days.

Across the region, the tradition of Matki Phod reflects the playful spirit of Krishna. The Ganga Mela in Kanpur, with its historical roots in the 1857 revolt, signifies unity and resistance, bringing a meaningful depth to the celebration. In Gorakhpur, Holi Milan promotes brotherhood, as people visit homes, sharing colors and songs.


In Tripura, Holi, known as ‘Pali’, embodies the essence of color and joy. This festival is celebrated across the state, showcasing the vibrant culture of the Tripuri people.


Kumaoni Holi in Uttarakhand is a symphony of colors and music. Different forms like Baithki Holi, Khari Holi, and Mahila Holi, are defined by their unique musical and communal attributes. Baithki Holi, originating from temples, and Khari Holi, prevalent in rural areas, celebrate with songs based on classical Ragas, echoing the region’s rich musical heritage. The Cheer, a bonfire ritual, adds a competitive and playful element, while the use of natural colors signifies an enduring connection with nature.

West Bengal:

In West Bengal, Holi transforms into Dol Jatra or Dol Purnima, a festival that intertwines the joy of spring with religious reverence. This festival takes a distinguished approach, where the icons of Radha and Krishna are adorned on beautifully decorated palanquins, paraded through the streets in a display of devotion and splendor.

In the early morning of Dol Purnima, particularly in Shantiniketan, students immerse themselves in the spirit of the festival, donning saffron or white attire and fragrant flower garlands. The air resonates with the melody of traditional instruments like the Ektara, Dubri, and Veena, as they perform dances and songs. The highlight is the ritual of swinging the icons of Radha and Krishna, surrounded by women who dance and sing devotional songs. Amidst these celebrations, the air is filled with the vibrant hues of Abir, as people joyously throw colored water and dry powder, symbolizing the onset of spring and the joy of life.

Tamil Nadu:

In Tamil Nadu, Holi coincides with the Panguni Uthiram festival, a day that celebrates the blossoming of love and the sanctity of marriage. It’s a time when divine unions are honored, with temples across the state reenacting the mythical weddings of gods and goddesses. These include the marriages of Parvati and Parameswara, Murugan and Deivanai, and the divine union of Lord Narayana and Komalavalli Naachiyar. The festival is imbued with the essence of Valmiki’s Ramayana, recalling the auspicious day of Sita’s marriage to Rama.

Devotees gather in large numbers at temples to witness these celestial nuptials. This period is also auspicious for human engagements and weddings, resonating with the theme of divine love. According to the Brahmanda Puranam, Panguni Uthiram is also the day when all holy waters merge in the seven sacred tanks in Tirupati, adding a layer of spiritual significance to the festival. The celebration of love, both divine and mortal, is at the heart of this festival, making it a unique and profound expression of cultural and spiritual joy in Tamil Nadu.

Spread India's Glorious Cultural & Spiritual Heritage

By Mala Chandrashekhar

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