Come March, the air in north India resonates with the sounds of “Holi hai!” (it’s Holi!), as people greet one another with smears of finely coloured powder on the face, or splashes of coloured water. Holi is the much-anticipated and much-loved raucous spring festival of colours that marks the end of the cold season and the beginning of good weather.
Apart from colours, the festival is celebrated with traditional sweets such as gujiya (fried dumplings) and beverages like thandai (a milk-based, mildly spiced drink). It is a time to meet friends and family, and lose inhibitions under the cloak of colour.
Although Holi is now celebrated all over the country, it is of particular significance in the Braj region of the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, considered the home of Lord Krishna, the most widely worshipped of Hindu deities. It falls annually on the full moon of the month of Phalgun (March 13 in 2017).
So, whether you want to play with colours or merely witness the festivities, here is a round-up of the best places to spend Holi in India:
Mathura and Vrindavan
The most significant cultural association with Holi is in neighbouring Mathura city and Vrindavan town, known to be where Krishna was born and where he grew up, respectively. In these places, Holi is celebrated with fervour for more than five days, with different prayers marking each day.
To see Holi with a twist – of the stick – head to Barsana, a town close to the places mentioned above, where women “beat up” the men of the nearby village of Nandgaon in the spirit of fun. This unusual ritual, known as Lathmar Holi, takes place a few days before the main festival day and re-enacts the playful teasing between Krishna and his lover Radha.
In this city of lakes in Rajasthan, Holi is celebrated with splendour by the Mewar royal family. The celebrations include a procession of horses and musicians from the main palace to the royal square at Manek Chowk on the eve of the festival, when effigies are burnt to signify the end of evil.
The venerable Bengali poet, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, started Holi celebrations at Visva-Bharati University in Shantiniketan, a town close to Kolkata in the state of West Bengal. Locally known as Basanta Utsav (Festival of Spring), this is now an annual event marked by traditional music and dance performances.
An unlikely contender for this list, the state – known mostly for its sunny beaches and Portuguese heritage – celebrates Holi as Shigmotsav. The festivities go on for more than a fortnight, with a grand finale of colourful floats depicting scenes from Hindu mythology, accompanied by much music and merrymaking.
– BY CHARUKESI RAMADURAI