||Date of Observance: Full moon of
Holi (Hindi: होली) is a religious spring festival celebrated by
Hindus, as a festival of colors. It is primarily observed in India
and Nepal. It is discreetly observed by the minority
Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan as well in countries with large
Indic diaspora populations following Hinduism, such as Suriname,
Malaysia, Guyana, South Africa, Trinidad, United Kingdom, United
States, Mauritius, and Fiji. It is also known as Phagwah and
Festival of Colours, or as Doḷajāta (Oriya: ଦୋଳଯାତ) in Orissa and
Dol Jatra (Bengali: দোলযাত্রা) or Basantotsav ("spring festival")
(Bengali: বসন্তোৎসব) in West Bengal. The most celebrated Holi is in
the Braj region, in locations connected to the Lord Krishna: Mathura,
Vrindavan, Nandagaon, and Barsana, which become tourist destinations
during the season of Holi. Large parts of South India, however,
do not celebrate Holi with the same fervor.
In Vaishnavism, Hiranyakashipu is the great king of demons, and he
had been granted a boon by Brahma, which made it almost impossible
for him to be killed. The boon was due to his long penance, after
which he had demanded that he not be killed "during day or night;
inside the home or outside, not on earth or in the sky; neither by a
man nor an animal; neither by astra nor by shastra". Consequently,
he grew arrogant and attacked the Heavens and the Earth. He demanded
that people stop worshipping Gods and start praising respectfully to
Hiranyakashipu, on the lap, being killed by Narasimha, an
incarnation of Vishnu
According to this belief, Hiranyakashipu's own son, Prahlada, was a
devotee of Lord Vishnu. In spite of several threats from
Hiranyakashipu, Prahlada continued offering prayers to Lord Vishnu.
He was poisoned by Hiranyakashipu, but the poison turned to nectar
in his mouth. He was ordered to be trampled by elephants yet
remained unharmed. He was put in a room with hungry, poisonous
snakes and survived. All of Hiranyakashipu's attempts to kill his
son failed. Finally, he ordered young Prahlada to sit on a pyre in
the lap of Holika, Hiranyakashipu's demoness sister, who also could
not die because she had a boon preventing her from being burned by
fire. Prahlada readily accepted his father's orders, and prayed to
Lord Vishnu to keep him safe. When the fire started, everyone
watched in amazement as Holika burnt to death, while Prahlada
survived unharmed. The salvation of Prahlada and burning of Holika
is celebrated as Holi.
In Mathura, where Lord Krishna grew up, the festival is celebrated
for 16 days (until Rangpanchmi) in commemoration of the divine love
of Radha for Krishna. The festivities officially usher in spring,
the celebrated season of love.
Every year, thousands of Hindus participate in the festival Holi.
The festival has many purposes. First and foremost, it celebrates
the beginning of the new season, spring. Originally, it was a
festival that commemorated good harvests and the fertile land.
Hindus believe it is a time of enjoying spring's abundant colors and
saying farewell to winter. It also has a religious purpose,
commemorating events present in Hindu mythology. Although it is the
least religious holiday, it is probably one of the most exhilarating
ones in existence. During this event, participants hold a bonfire,
throw colored powder at each other, and celebrate wildly.
Rangapanchami occurs a few days later on a Panchami (fifth day of
the full moon), marking the end of festivities involving colors.
The main day, Holi, also known as Dhuli in Sanskrit, or Dhulheti,
Dhulandi or Dhulendi, is celebrated by people throwing scented
powder and perfume at each other. Bonfires are lit on the eve of the
festival, also known as Holika Dahan (burning of Holika) or Chhoti
Holi (little Holi), after which holika dahan prayers are said and
praise is offered. The bonfires are lit in memory of the miraculous
escape that young Prahlad accomplished when Demoness Holika, sister
of Hiranyakashipu, carried him into the fire. Holika was burnt but
Prahlad, a staunch devotee of god Vishnu, escaped without any
injuries due to his devotion. Holika Dahan is referred to as Kama
Dahanam in South India.
Holi is celebrated at the end of the winter season on the last full
moon day of the lunar month Phalguna (February/March), (Phalgun
Purnima), which usually falls in the later part of February or
March. In 2009, Holi (Dhulandi) was on March 11 and Holika Dahan was
on March 10. In 2010, Holi was on March 1 and Holika Dahan was on
February 28. In 2011, Holi was on March 20 and Holika Dahan was on
March 19. in 2012, Holi was on March 8.
In most areas, Holi lasts about two days. Holi lowers (but does not
remove completely) the strictness of social norms, which includes
gaps between age, gender, status, and caste. Together, the rich and
poor, women and men, enjoy each other’s presence on this joyous day.
No one expects polite behavior; as a result, the atmosphere is
filled with excitement, fun and joy.
Though there have been references in Sanskrit texts to similar
festivals, like ratnavali where people sprayed coloured waters using
bamboo syringes, the origin of the modern Holi festival has been
traced to ancient Bengal. It was a Gaudiya Vaishnav festival, in
accordance to Vaishnaviya Tantra. People went to Krishna temples,
applied red color to the icon and then distributed the red coloured
powder or Abir along with malpua prasad to family and friends. Red
signified the colour of passion and Lord Krishna is the king of
desires. The ritual signified that all our desires should be
diverted for the attainment of Krishna and for the well being of
In some cultures though, the ritual of burning wood and leaves on
the full moon night already existed. This ritual was to signify the
end of winter and full advent of spring. Old wood and leaves that
had fallen were burnt to signify that it was time for new leaves and
flowers. People then smeared their bodies with ash. Later, however,
the story of Holika Dahan became associated with this ritual.
Holi fire in front of Jagdish Temple in Udaipur, Rajasthan- 2010
The earliest textual reference to the celebration of Holi is found
in the 7th century Sanskrit drama, Ratnavali. Certainly there are
perennial rituals attached to Holi: the first is smearing of
coloured powder on each other, and throwing coloured and scented
water at each time. On the first day of this festival, Hindus
participate in a public bonfire. Prior to the event, men prepare for
this by collecting extra wood. The fire itself is lit near midnight,
as the moon rises. The main custom of Holi is the use of the colored
powders and water on others. This is why Holi is given the name
“Festival of Colors.”
Regional rituals and celebrations
The Holi celebration has its celebrative origins in Gujarat,
particularly with dance, food, music, and colored powder to offer a
spring parallel of Navratri, Gujarat's Hindu festival celebrated in
the fall. Falling on the full moon day in the month of Phalguna,
Holi is a major Hindu festival and marks the agricultural season of
the Rabi crop.
A bonfire is lit in the main squares of the villages and colonies.
People gather around the bonfire and celebrate the event with
singing and dancing, which is symbolic of the victory of good over
evil. Tribals of Gujarat celebrate Holi with great enthusiasm and
also dance around the fire.
In Western India, Ahmedabad in Gujarat, a pot of buttermilk is hung
high on the streets and young boys try to reach it and break it by
making human pyramids. The girls try to stop them by throwing
coloured water on them to commemorate the pranks of Krishna and
cowherd boys to steal butter and 'gopis' while trying to stop the
girls. The boy who finally manages to break the pot is crowned the
Holi King. Afterwards, the men, who are now very colourful men, go
out in a large procession to "alert" people of the Krishna's
possible appearance to steal butter from their homes.
In some places, there is a custom in the undivided Hindu families
that the women of the families beat their brother-in-law with her
sari rolled up into a rope in a mock rage as they try to drench them
with colours, and in turn, the brothers-in-law bring sweetmeats to
her in the evening.
"Celebration of Spring by Krishna and Radha," 18th Century
miniature; in the Guimet Museum, Paris
Barsana is the place to be at the time of Holi. Here the famous Lath
mar Holi is played in the sprawling compound of the Radha Rani
temple. Thousands gather to witness the Lath Mar holi when women
beat up men with sticks as those on the sidelines become hysterical,
sing Holi Songs and shout Sri Radhey or Sri Krishna. The Holi songs
of Braj mandal are sung in pure Braj Bhasha.
Holi played at Barsana is unique in the sense that here women chase
men away with sticks. Males also sing provocative songs in a bid to
invite the attention of women. Women then go on the offensive and
use long staves called lathis to beat men folk who protect
themselves with shields.
In Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, and in Vrindavan this
day is celebrated with special puja and the traditional custom of
worshipping Lord Krishna, here the festival lasts for sixteen
days. All over the Braj region and its nearby places like Hathras,
Aligarh, Agra the Holi is celebrated in more or less same way as in
Mathura, Vrindavan and Barsana.
In Kanpur Holi lasts 7 days with color and a grand fair called Ganga
Mela or the Holi Mela that was started by freedom fighters who freed
Kanpur from British rule after the First Indian War of Independence
in 1857 under the leadership of Nana Saheb. Since then people
started this Ganga Mela where they play Holi at various Ghats along
the banks of River Ganga in Kanpur. This Ganga Mela which has been
played since more than 150 years depicts the Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb or
the Hindu-Muslim Unity in the city. In 1857, the Hindus and the
Muslims had combined to resist the British forces in the city.
People of all castes, creeds, religion and societies together
participate in this huge social congregation. On the eve of Ganga
Mela, all Government offices,shops,Courts generally remain closed.
Major Business groups, politicians, MLA's and MP's all gather on the
Ghats to enjoy the Ganga Mela. The Ganga Mela which takes place
mostly on the seventh day after Holi marks the official end of "The
Festival of Colours" or Holi in Kanpur.
In Gorakhpur, the northeast district of Uttar Pradesh, this day is
celebrated with special puja in the morning of Holi day. This day is
considered to be the happiest and most colourful day of the year
promoting the brotherhood among the people. This is known as "Holi
Milan" in which people visit every house and sing holi song and
express their gratitude by applying coloured powder (Abeer). Holi is
also considered as the end of the year as it occurs on the last day
of last Hindu calendar month Phalgun. People also kickoff for the
next year planning with new year Hindu calendar (Panchang) at the
evening of Holi.
The uniqueness of the Kumaoni Holi of the Kumaon region in
Uttarakhand lies in its being a musical affair, whichever may be its
form, be it the Baithki Holi, the Khari Holi and the Mahila Holi
which starts from Basant Panchmi. The Baithki Holi and Khari Holi
are unique in that the songs on which they are based have a touch of
melody, fun and spiritualism. These songs are essentially based on
classical ragas. No wonder then the Baithki Holi is also known as
Nirvan Ki Holi.
The Baithki Holi (बैठकी होली) begins from the premises of temples,
where Holiyars (होल्यार), (the singers of Holi songs) as also the
people gather to sing songs to the accompaniment of classical music.
Kumaonis are very particular about the time when the songs based on
ragas should be sung. For instance, at noon the songs based on Peelu,
Bhimpalasi and Sarang ragas are sung while evening is reserved for
the songs based on the ragas like Kalyan, Shyamkalyan and Yaman etc.
The Khari Holi (खड़ी होली), is mostly celebrated in the rural areas
of Kumaon. The songs of the Khari Holi are sung by the people, who
sporting traditional white churidar payajama and kurta, dance in
groups to the tune of ethnic musical instruments like the Dhol and
The Holika made is known as Cheer (चीर) which is ceremonically made
in a ceremony known as Cheer Bandhan (चीर बंधन) fifteen days before
Dulhendi. The Cheer is a bonfire with a green Paiya tree branch in
the middle. The Cheer of every village and mohalla is rigorously
guarded as rival mohallas try to steal the others cheer.
Dulhendi known as Charadi (छरड़ी), in Kumaoni (from Chharad (छरड़),
or natural colours made from flower extracts, ash and water) is
celebrated with great gusto much in the same way as all across North
Holi is celebrated with the same fervour and charm in Bihar as in
rest of north India. It is known as Phagwa in the local Bhojpuri
dialect. Here too, the legend of Holika is prevalent. On the eve of
Phalgun Poornima, people light bonfires. They put dung cakes, wood
of Araad or Redi tree and Holika tree, grains from the fresh harvest
and unwanted wood leaves in the bonfire. Following the tradition
people also clean their houses for the day.
At the time of Holika people assemble near the fire. The eldest
member or a purohit initiates the lighting. He then smears others
with colour as a mark of greeting. Next day the festival is
celebrated with colours and lot of frolic.
Children and youths take extreme delight in the festival. Though the
festival is usually played with colours at some places people also
enjoy playing holi with mud. Folk songs are sung at high pitch and
people dance to the tune of dholak and the spirit of Holi.
Intoxicating bhang is consumed with a variety of mouth watering
delicacies such as pakoras and thandai to enhance the mood of the
festival. Vast quantities of liquor are consumed alongside ganja and
bhang, which is sometimes added to foodstuffs.
Holi being played in the courtyard, circa 1795 painting- Patna
On the Dol Purnima day in the early morning, the students dress up
in saffron-coloured or pure white clothes and wear garlands of
fragrant flowers. They sing and dance to the accompaniment of
musical instruments like ektara, dubri, veena, etc. Holi is known by
the name of 'Dol Jatra', 'Dol Purnima' or the 'Swing Festival'. The
festival is celebrated in a dignified manner by placing the icons of
Krishna and Radha on a picturesquely decorated palanquin which is
then taken round the main streets of the city or the village. The
devotees take turns to swing them while women dance around the swing
and sing devotional songs. During these activities, the men keep
spraying coloured water and coloured powder, abir, at them.
The head of the family, observes fast and prays to Lord Krishna and
Agnidev. After all the traditional rituals are over, he smears
Krishna's icon with gulal and offers "bhog" to both Krishna and
In Shantiniketan, Holi has a special musical flavor.
Traditional dishes include malpoa, kheer sandesh, basanti sandesh
(saffron), saffron milk, payash, and related foods.
The people of Orissa celebrate Holi in a similar manner but here the
icons of Jagannath, the deity of the Jagannath Temple of Puri,
replace the icons of Krishna and Radha.
Holi is a part of Goan or Konkani spring festival known as Śigmo or
शिगमो in Koṅkaṇī. One of the most prominent festivals of the Konkani
community in Goa, and the Konkani diaspora in the state of
Karnataka, Maharashtra and Kerala. Śigmo is also known as
Śiśirotsava and lasts for about a month. The colour festival or Holi
is a part of entire spring festival celebrations.
Holi festivities(but not Śigmo festivities), include:Holika Puja and
Dahan,Dhulvad or Dhuli vandan,Haldune or offering yellow and saffron
colour or Gulal to the deity.
Main article: Shigmo
Holi celebrations, Pushkar, Rajasthan.
Narayani Shastri, an actress celebrating Holi with her friend at
In Maharashtra, Holi is mainly associated with the burning of Holika.
Holi Paurnima is also celebrated as Shimga. A week before the
festival, youngsters go around the community, collecting firewood
and money. On the day of Holi, the firewood is arranged in a huge
pile at a clearing in the locality. In the evening, the fire is lit.
Every household makes an offering of a meal and dessert to the fire
god. Puran Poli is the main delicacy and children shout "Holi re
Holi puranachi poli". Shimga is associated with the elimination of
all evil. The colour celebrations here traditionally take place on
the day of Rangapanchami, 5 days after Holi, unlike in North India
where it is done on the second day itself. During this festival,
people are supposed to forget about any rivalries and start new
healthy relations with all.
Manipuris celebrate Holi for six days. Here, this holiday merges
with the centuries-old festival of Yaosang. Traditionally, the
festival commences with the burning of a thatched hut of hay and
twigs. Young children go from house to house to collect money,
locally known as nakadeng (or nakatheng), as gifts on the first two
days. The youths at night perform a group folk dance called Thabal
chongba on the full moon night of Lamta (Phalgun) along with folk
songs and rhythmic beats of the indigenous drum. However, this
moonlight party now has modern bands and fluorescent lamps. In
Krishna temples, devotees sing devotional songs, perform dances and
play with aber (gulal) wearing traditional white and yellow turbans.
On the last day of the festival, large processions are taken out to
the main Krishna temple near Imphal where several cultural
activities are held. Since the past few decades Yaoshang, a type of
Indian sport, has become common in many places of the valley, where
people of all ages come out to participate in a number of sports
that are somewhat altered for the holiday.
In the Mattancherry area of Kochi, there are 22 different
communities living together in harmony. The Gaud Sarawat Brahmins (GSB)
who speak Konkani also celebrate Holi in Cherlai area of West Kochi
instead of in theior own community. It is locally called Ukkuli in
Konkani or Manjal Kuli in Malayalam. It is celebrated around the
Konkani temple called Gosripuram Thirumala temple. Holi is also
celebrated at some colleges in south.
Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh
Holi is celebrated with much fervor here. Unlike in the other
Indian communities, it is also here a school holiday. There is also
a tradition followed in rural Karnataka where children collect money
and wood for weeks prior to Holi, and on Kamadhana night all the
wood is put together and lit. The festival is celebrated for two
days. People in north Karnataka prepare special food on this day. In
Andhra Pradesh Holi is celebrated along with Basnata Panchami. In
the Telangana region,especially the capital city of Hyderabad, Holi
is a major festival, and the festivities and colour starts appearing
at least a day before the actual holiday.
Jammu & Kashmir
In Kashmir, Muslims and Hindus alike celebrate Holi. Holi
celebrations here pretty much fit the general definition of Holi
celebrations: a high-spirited festival to mark the beginning of the
harvesting of the summer crop, is marked by the throwing of coloured
water and powder and singing and dancing. Holi is also celebrated in
great fervor in Jammu.
Western Madhya Pradesh
In western Madhya Pradesh, Bhil tribesmen who have held on to
many of the pre-Hindu customs celebrate it in a special way.
Rural Maharashtra State
Known as Rangapanchami in rural Maharashtra State, it is
celebrated with singing and dancing.
In Jaisalmer, a town in Rajasthan, music is played as clouds of
different coloured powders fill the air.
Haryana & Western Uttar Pradesh
This region has its own variety of Holi. The festival is celebrated
with great zest and enthusiasm. Dhampur is a city and a municipal
board in the Bijnor district in the state of Uttar Pradesh of India.
The Holi celebration in Dhampur is famous throughout the whole of
In Dhampur holi—holi hawan jaloos have been organized for the last
60 years. The festival involves almost 10,000 people, including lots
of bands and Jhakhi, which represent the cultural values of Holi and
Over the years, Holi has become an important festival in many
regions wherever Indian diaspora had found its roots, be it in
Africa, North America, Europe or closer to home in South Asia.
In Nepal, Holi is celebrated in the month of Falgun and is also
called as the "Fagu" and is celebrated on the Full moon day in the
month of February. The word "Fagu" (Devanagari:फागु) represents the
month of Falgun and the day is called the "Fagu Poornima" (Devanagari:फागु
पुर्णीमा) which means (full moon day in the Falgun).
In Nepal Holi is regarded as one of the greatest festivals as
important as Dashain (also known as Dussehra in India) and Tihar or
Dipawali (also known as Diwali in India). Since more than 80% of
people in Nepal are Hindus, Holi, along with many other Hindu
festivals, is celebrated in Nepal as a national festival and almost
everyone celebrates it regardless of their religion, e.g., even
Muslims celebrate it. Christians may also join in, although since
Holi falls during Lent, many would not join in the festivities. The
day of Holi is also a national holiday in Nepal.
People walk down their neighbourhoods to celebrate Holi by
exchanging colours and spraying coloured water on one another. A
popular activity is the throwing of water balloons at one another,
sometimes called lola (meaning water balloon). Also a lot of
people mix bhang in their drinks and food, as also done during
Shivaratri. It is believed that the combination of different colours
played at this festival take all the sorrow away and make life
itself more colourful.
Phagwah is a national holiday in Guyana, and peoples of all races
and religions participate in the celebrations. The main
celebration in Georgetown is held at the Mandir in Prashad Nagar.
The spring season, during which the weather changes, is believed
to cause viral fever and cold. The playful throwing of natural
coloured powders has a medicinal significance: the colours are
traditionally made of Neem, Kumkum, Haldi, Bilva, and other
medicinal herbs prescribed by Āyurvedic doctors.
A young man celebrating Holi
As the spring-blossoming trees that once supplied the colors used to
celebrate Holi have become more rare, chemically produced industrial
dyes have been used to take their place in almost all of urban
India. In 2001, a fact sheet was published by the groups Toxics link
and Vatavaran based in Delhi on the chemical dyes used in the
festival. They found safety issues with all three forms in which
the Holi colors are produced: pastes, dry colors and water colors.
Their investigation found some toxic chemicals with some potentially
severe health impacts. The black powders were found to contain lead
oxide which can result in renal failure. The prussian blue used in
the blue powder has been associated with contact dermatitis, while
the copper sulphate in the green has been documented to cause eye
allergies, puffiness of the eyes, or temporary blindness.
A Natural Holi in Pune, an alternative to synthetic colors
The colorant used in the dry colors, also called gulals, was found
to be toxic, with heavy metals causing asthma, skin diseases and
temporary blindness. Both of the commonly used bases—asbestos or
silica—are associated with health issues.
They reported that the wet colors might lead to skin discolouration
and dermatitis due to their use of color concentrate gentian violet.
Lack of control over the quality and content of these colors is a
problem, as they are frequently sold by vendors who do not know
The report galvanized a number of groups into promoting more natural
celebrations of Holi. Development Alternatives, Delhi and
Kalpavriksh, Pune, The CLEAN India campaign and Society for
Child Development, through its Avacayam Cooperative Campaign 
have both launched campaigns to help children learn to make their
own colors for Holi from safer, natural ingredients. Meanwhile, some
commercial companies such as the National Botanical Research
Institute have begun to market "herbal" dyes, though these are
substantially more expensive than the dangerous alternatives.
However, it may be noted that many parts of rural India have always
resorted to natural colours (and other parts of festivities more
than colors) due to availability reasons.