Holi in India, The backstory of Holi is as colorful as the festival itself. There are myriad legends around this festival. One of it involves Holika and Prahalad. The former’s name is said to have contributed to the name of the festival. There is another version involving Radha and Krishna. In addition, there are many other backstories too. Holi marks the victory of good over evil. In other words it’s light conquering the darkness.
Regional Names and Celebration of Holi In India
Barsana Ki Lathmar Holi, Uttar Pradesh : The festivities and colors come together for an explosive mix in Holi celebrations. Friends and families come together to create fun-filled memories. Going by timeline, Holi welcomes the spring season. The entire nation rejoices in vibrant and celebratory colors associated with Holi. However, the most peculiar of celebrations happen in Brig Mandir, involving the twin towns of Nandgaon and Bursana.
While the entire country feasts in celebrations, Bursana does it a bit more forcefully. It includes throwing sticks and blows into the mix. Its own special tradition, dubbed as the Lathmar Holi, where the women folk beat men with sticks. Needless to say, it is done in a playful way. Men receive these blows on a padded shield much to the amusement of the crowd. The festival begins with a splash of Holi colors. In the eyes of revelers, you can see a heavy mix of love and fervor. The celebrations are usually followed by special processions in the following week.
Legend behind Barsana Ki Lathmar Holi
Young Lord Krishna lived a short while in Nandgaon. He paid a visit to Bursana, hometown of Radha, to tease her and her friends with colors. The girls’ gang gave a playful response by hitting him with sticks. This is how the tradition of Lathmar Holi began. The story describes the cute connection between these two beautiful villages. The temples located in the route between these two places confirms of the historical background. Nand Bhaba took permission from Yashodha for taking young Krishna and Balram to Bursana to celebrate Holi. From that date, the tradition follows even in the 21st century.
Preparations for Lathmar Holi
In present day, the men of Nandgaon are dressed up to play Lathmar Holi with the women of Bursana. Songs are sung to create the festive and religious mood in the region. The modern day Krishnas are fully aware of what awaits them. In fact, that’s what adds up to the fun and excitement. It animates the discussion regarding who will bag the worst beatings.
Before leaving for Bursana the young men offer fairs at the Nand Bhaba Mandir. A few leave on foot while others travel by vehicles. They sing Holi based songs throughout the journey. They consider themselves as the sevaks of Lord Krishna. Radha Rani temple is occupied amidst the rising crescendo. It is the only temple in India, dedicated to Radha. Dressed in exquisite lehangas and colorful jwellery, the Indian women look the most gorgeous.
Journey to Bursana
The first stop in the journey to Bursana from Nandgaon is Sanket Van, where Lord Krishna courted Radha. Songs are sung on the eternal love of this divine couple. This location is equidistant from Bursana as well as Nandgaon. It is 4 Kilometer on the either side. It is believed the divine love cannot be cherished more gleefully in all three worlds – heavens, earth and underworld – than in Bursana. In Priyakund and Pilli Pokhar, men prepare for the Lathmar Holi. They get their safety head gear and shields. They finish their meals just before attending the samaj between these two villages.
Holi has become popular all over the world. Bursana Holi is understood as its notorious version worldwide. It doesn’t just attract visitors from different parts of the country, but internationally too. The colorful Lathmar celebration is a photographer’s delight. The devotion and joy of the locals appeals to just about anyone. It’s extremely peaceful, regardless of the large crowds. Security measures are taken a month in advance to ensure peaceful proceedings. Nothing more than a good deal of banter between men of Nandgoan and women from Bursana will distract you.
Holi In India: Kumaon Khadi Holi – Uttarakhand
Khadi Holi is geographically limited to the Kumaon region, a mountainous area in Uttarkand. The locals are dressed in traditional clothing for this day. They make merry by singing and dancing in groups. They greet people who pass by their town and move in tolis. For most part, Khadi Holi is a musical gathering, which encompasses Baithika Holi, Khari Holi and Mahila Holi.
Kumaon is a mountainous region in the state of Uttarkand. It’s scenic beauty and sanctity of the environment appeals to everyone. The rustic forests and snow clad peaks adds to the spectacle.
Kumaon Khadi Holi
Adding to the essence of Kumaon is their brand of Khadi Holi. The Kumaoni Holi is comprised of three forms of celebrations – Baithki Holi, Khari Holi and Mahila Holi. The festival marks the end of winter as well as beginning of sowing season. Sowing season is the significant part of the year in agricultural communities in Indian subcontinent.
Durin gBaithki Holi and Khari Holi, songs are sung along themes of spirituality and fun. Additionally, Mahila holi, as the name suggests is exclusively for women. In Kumaon Khadi Holi, the Kumaoni people sing songs of their folkfore. They adorn the grand traditional attires on this day.
Holi In India: Hola Mohalla – Punjab
Hola Mohalla can also be called as the warrior Holi. It is a proper Sikh festival, especially of Nihang Sikhs. They sing songs and perform martial arts on this day. It is celebreate a day before Holi. The festival is commonly dubbed as Hola. This one day festival falls in March. It happens on second day of lunar month of Chett. As per Indian timeline, it comes a day after main Holi. Occasionally, it coincides with Holi too. Hola is the biggest festive event for Sikhs all over the world.
The grand fair is held at Anandpur Sahib as a three day event. As discussed, Hola Mohalla is the final day, where Sikhs exhibit their martial arts. Prior to that, listening to Kirtan and poetry is rejoiced by Sikhs. Hola involves a military style procession in Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib, a temporal authority of Sikhs.
Hola was founded by Guru Gobind Singh himself. At that time, Guru was fighting both the armies of Aurangazeb and Hill Rajputs, when he established the Khalsa Panth. It was in 1701, Guru started the tradition of overseeing mock battles and conducting poetry contests. The tradition spread to all Gurudhwaras in the world. Colors are poured on participants after the mock battles. Guru himself participated in the festival, using gulal. The traditions were survived into 21st century by the Nihangs.
Who are Nihangs?
Nihangs are members of the original Khalsa army. They can be identified by their traditional blue robes and embellished dumala. They take the center stage during Hola Mohalla.
Holi In India: Basant Utsav and Dol Jatra – West Bengal
Basant Utsav and Dol Jatra
Basant Utsav marks the dawn of the spring season. It roughly translates to ‘celebration of spring’. Celebrations happen all over West Bengal, with Shantiniketan as its center. Locals dressed up in saffron clothing, sing and dance to celebreate the Basant Utsav. It is held in March, usually coinciding with Holi. It welcomes the spring season with singing and dancing. Teachers and pupils greet with Abees on this day. This gem of a tradition was first started by Rabindranath Tagore. The beginning took place in Vishwabharati Shantiniketan, the university founded by Gurudev himself.
Dol Jatra is a part of the usual Holi. It is otherwise called as Dol Purnima. Idols of Radha and Krishna are taken for a street procession. To up the fun factor, men spray colored water during the procession. It is celebrated with fevor and zeal of main Holi. It is dedicated only to Lord Krishna. To add to the celebrations, image of Lord Krishna adored with colored powder is taken into procession. Procession is held in swinging palanquin, adored with leaves, flowers, fancy papers and clothes. Devotees make shouts of ‘Joi’ and ‘Hari Bol’ during procession. Blaring of conch shells and trumpets adds up to the background music.
Shigmo – Goa
Shigmo is the most important festival for Konkani diaspora of Goa. It is another spring festival, which is Goa’s equivalent of Holi. Hindus celebrates the candidness of colors. The festival spans for five continuous days of which one of the days is Holi. People paint murals and idols to depict various scenes from Hindu mythology. In addition the locals dress up in flashy and colorful clothing to deliver spectacular dance performances. The float parade is the real essence of this festival. Moreover, Shigmo engulfs the entire place with celebration of colors. This year, the festival was celebrated on 21st March, according to international calendar.
Legend behind Shigmo
Shigmo is celebrated to commence the revival of Kama deva, god of love. Kama deva disturbed Lord Shiva during his penance. He played the classical cupid, who was unfortunately burnt to ashes by third eye of Shiva. As a result, Parvati married Shiva as per her wish. The universe was restored to balance following Shiva breaking his penance. It was Rati, Kama deva’s wife who succeeded in convincing Shiva to revive her burnt down husband.
Shigmo makes up for a mesmerizing experience for tourists to Goa. We recommend the trip for those who want to stuck by wanderlust.
Yaoshang – Manipur
Yaosang is a spring festival of Manipur. It is celebrated for five continuous days. The usual date starts from full moon of Lamda, which is between February and March. Considering its coincidental overlap with Holi, it is considered a Holi equivalent of the North East. Yaosang features the indigenous traditions of Meitei tribe. It doesn’t have influences from any other culture and it is the most significant festival of Mizoram. Like Holi, people play with colors during the celebrations. For past three centuries, Yaosang has been Manipur’s brand of Holi celebrations.
Yaosang starts by dust with Burning of the Straw Hut. The kids ask for monetary donations in the neighborhood, which the locals call as ‘nakatheng’. The following day, local bands perform ‘sankirtan’ in Govindagee Temple. On third day girls visit the neighborhood for ‘nakatheng’. In some areas, they block roads with ropes to collect money. On fourth and fifth days, people spray colors and pour water just like Holi.
Another highlight of Yaosang is Thabal Chongba. Males and females dance together in cicles in the moonlight. Besides that, locals feast during the merrymaking. Of late, the locals are more into channeling the festive mood and energy towards strenuous sports activities.
Holi In India: Manjal Kuli – Kerala
Awesomeness of Holi doesn’t extend to Kerala. They have their Holi alternative in Manjal Kuli. It is predominantly celebrated by GSB and Konkani communities. The celebrations begin on Holi full moon in the month of March. It is conducted in over 20 temples all over the state. More than a million people soak in on the festivities. During the Portuguese reign, a few Kudumbi communities fled to Goa. When they returned to Kerala, they brought back Holi celebrations with them. The Keralites use this festival to symbolize victory of goddess Durga over the demons. In the temples of Trissur, Durga is modeled into a figure of crocodile. It is believed that she helped Kudumbi when they migrated to Kerala.
On second day of Manjal Kuli, Kudumbi spray them with colored water. They dance to traditional Keralite tunes. Manjal Kuli roughly translates to bathing in turmeric. Turmeric is contained in colored water. It also means throwing color in the up. The celebrations involving turmeric yellow provides for a spectacular sight. Besides that, Holi is celebrated by Gujarati communities who settled in Kerala. When you are in Kerala on Manjal Kuli, visit one of the temples in Trissur for Kerala Holi experience.
Holi In India: Phaguwa – Bihar
Holi and Bihar has a deep rooted connection. Around these parts, it is called as Phaguwa. Before celebrating the festival, it is mandatory to light up the Holika pyre. As usual, water, color powder and songs of the folklore is involved here. In addition, the Bhojpuri festival includes consumption of Bhang.
Holi comes forty days after the planting of Holika tree. Holika is a castor oil tree, part of indigenous Indian flora. Burning of Holika is a main event in Phaguwa. A huge pyre is constructed and lit at the right time to symbolically depict burning of legendary Holika. It also commences New Year in Hindu calendar.
The tradition of Phaguwa started at a time when the country was facing extreme drought. It affected most of the livelihood crops. After a long gap, it rained buckets, much to the delight of farmers. The people danced in joyous jubilation. Soon they cashed in on bountiful harvest crops. There is a brand of music and songs associated with Phaguwa. The locals are well in touch with their style of music and arts.
Chotwal singing is the predominant style heard during and after Phaguwa. It connects Phaguwa with Basant Panchami which is a week after Phaguwa.
Holi In India: Phakuwah – Assam
Phagwah is the Assamese version of Holi. It has many similarities to Bengali Dol Jatra. The celebrations go on for a couple of days. In the memory of Holika dahan, people burn clay huts. That’s pretty much for first day of the festival. In the second day, people spray colors like main Holi.
About Phakuwah – Assam
Phagwah is anywhere between 3 to 5 day affair. All regions of Assam experience same Holi rituals. Barpeta is a unique, lavish style of celebrating Holi. It is believed that Mathura Das Bura Ata is the first man to celebrate the rituals in Barpeta. Ever since then, the Doul celebration is carried the same traditional way by devotees of Krishna. People forget all negative emotions during Dol Jatra, another name referring to Assamese version of Doul festival. They swing in with the chanting rhythms. The rhythmic songs sound like Sanskrit slokas.
Idols of Lord Krishna are worshipped by priests of Barpeta and other Assamese cities. The idol is placed in place of worship throughout the celebration. Devotees dedicate prayers to Krishna in myriad ways. The first day of Phagwah is called banhutsava. The second day and final day is called bhardoul and phakua or suwen.
Holi In India: Rang Panchami – Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh
Rang Panchami roughly translates to ‘color on the fifth’. It is celebrated on fifth day of the month of Phalgun. It is predominantly celebrated in the region of Madhya Pradesh plus other regions of North India. People throw bright red powder on this occasion. It is otherwise known as throwing of gulal. In addition, people splash color water on others to share the festive mood. In rest of India, the festival of colors is celebrated as Holi, which is 5 days prior to Rang Panchami. Bollywood has set trend to prefer Holi to Rang Panchami. Only in the rural parts, Rang Panchami is celebrated with supposed gutso. People in central India are all set to reset its mojo too.
The fire makes the colors to shine with brilliance. It helps activate the many deities through colors. The festive mood is shared by throwing of colors in the air. Rang Panchami depicts victory over raja tama. It implies invocation of deities and manifestation of the gods. It’s intended to activate the five basic elements of bright manifest colors. It touches the feel of deities corresponding to certain colors. The concept corresponds to spiritual emotions of Jiva. Rang Panchami is all about worship of savior form of deities.
Holi In India: Royal Holi – Udaipur, Rajasthan
Royal Holi is celebrated at the elite level by Udaipur’s Merwar family. Decorated horses and royal band are part of the fancy procession. The locals light the bonfire to mark the ocassion. They believe that the bonfire will cleanse the evil spirits associated with Holika Dahan. Only after the procession, the traditional sacred fire is lit, where the effigy of Holika is burnt.
Royal Holi reflects the spirit of Merwars. It’s about the fellowship more than anything else. People of all ages, caste and communities come together for the celebrations. The grandeur of it will put anyone to amazement. It’s a day when everyone is equal in the Udaipur palace. The day starts with descendants of Royal family getting dunked in pool of color. Dunking of the princess in color is what follows. The guests enjoy every bit of it.
It’s so joyous, colorful and beautiful. Who doesn’t want to share the Indian festive mood? There is dancing and singing for the former Maharaja and his wife. It’s not just the colors, but the royals of Merwar family who make the ocassion so special. The folk artists make sure to bring in the good vibes. It’s very easy to experience the connect with them.
Holi In India: Kaman Pandigai – Tamil Nadu
In Tamil Nadu, people know Holi as the Kaman Pandigai. The locals worship Kama deva for his holy sacrifice on the occasion. In some areas in Tamil Nadu, the festival is also known as Kamavilas and Kama Dahanam.
The backstory of this festival involves the great Shiva and Kama deva. After the death of Sati, Shiva went into a state of deep meditation. The gods became concerned of the latter’s indifferent attitude. Around the same time, Parvati went into meditation to get Lord Shiva as his husband. To get Shiva back to his normal ways, Gods asked the help of Kama deva, god of love.
Even after realizing the possible consequences of disturbing Shiva during meditation, Kama deva agreed to do it. The latter shot a powerful arrow to get the former out of meditation, like the classical cupid. When disturbed during meditation, the Adi Yogi became enraged. He opened his third eye and burnt down the god of love. However the arrow brought the desired effect. Shiva finally married Parvati, daughter of the mountains. On other side, Rati, wife of Kama deva was disheartened. She requested Shiva to revive Kama deva, to which Shiva happily agreed.
Tamil songs are sung on Kaman Pandigai to describe Rati’s heartbroken state. Sandalwood is offered to Kama deva to heal the burns.
Holi In India: Dhulandi Holi- Haryana
Festivals and fairs are commonplace in Haryana. It defines the essence of the region. It is how the region gets to exhibit its rich culture and heritage. The color filled Holi fits so well with the feel of the place. In Haryana, Holi kicks off with grandeur. The locals put in the efforts to decorate the place for one of a kind Holi. It lights up the splendid landscapes, villages and towns of Haryana.
Moreover, the second day of Holi is dubbed as the Dhulandi Holi. It is popularly called as Rangwali Holi too. Dhulandi is sometimes pronounced as Dhulheti and Dhuleti. On this day, people play with colored powder and water. People play with both wet and dry colors, weather permitting the options. People are usually comfortable with dry colored powders known as Gulal. Nevertheless, a few consider Holi as incomplete, if not for the wet colors.
It is sprayed on the face. It is made on the spot by mixing dry colored powder with a wee bit of water. The enthusiastic folks mix dry colored powder in buckets of water. It helps drenching the whole body in wet colors. In 2020, Dhulandi Holi is on 10th of March (Tuesday).