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10 Places In India To Celebrate Holi

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access_time March 3, 2015 chat_bubble_outline 0 comments 10119 views

The festival of colours is here and the whole country waits to paint itself red, green and purple. As the Holi fever heightens, we pick some destinations which celebrate the festival in unique ways.

Holi in Rajasthan; Alexandra Lande Shutterstock.com

1. Celebrate Holi in Mumbai, Maharashtra

The city that never sleeps! The city that celebrates every festival as its own! Enthusiastic Mumbaikars prepare weeks in advance to celebrate this colourful event. Before Holi, Shimga is celebrated, where all evils are symbolically burnt in a bonfire. The Shimga leads to Rangapanchami, when people play with wet and dry colours, water balloons and pichkaris or water guns. The streets get colourful from gregarious children pelting water balloons and colour on people. On the night before Holi, a huge bonfire is made and coconuts are tossed into it to welcome spring. Bollywood, an intrinsic part of Mumbai, also celebrates Holi in a very festive mood with colours, water-plays and bhaang parties.

2. Celebrate Holi in Braj Barsana, Uttar Pradesh

If a traditional Holi is what you have in mind, go to Braj Barsana in Uttar Pradesh. Here they celebrate the ‘lathmaar Holi’, where women from Barsana ‘beat up’ the men from the neighbouring Nandgaon. Braj Barsana is mythically said to be the birthplace of Lord Krishna’s consort Radha, and has a temple devoted to her. The men of Nandgaon, termed as Gops, come to furl a flag over that temple, in order to show that the Gops are victorious over the Gopis. The Gopis try to fend off these men with sticks (laathis). The men can only ward off these women by sprinkling water and colour on them.  The whole ‘colourful battle’ comprises the Holi celebrations, which are further embellished by singing songs in praise of Radha-Krishna. These songs are called ‘Hori’. The Holi celebrations continue in the same vein in the Nandgaon village the next day, wherein the women of Nandgaon become Gopis and the men of Braj Barsana become Gops.

School boys after a Holi celebration in Delhi; Ozphotoguy, shutterstock.com

School boys after a Holi celebration in Delhi; Ozphotoguy, shutterstock.com

3. Celebrate Holi in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh

This place where Lord Krishna is supposed to have grown up, celebrates Holi in probably the most authentic manner ever. Celebrations begin a week in advance and the festival is celebrated with a romantic fervour as an ode to Radha-Krishna. Theatre troupes enact scenes from the legend of Radha-Krishna for a week prior to Holi and entire villages flock to these roadside performances with fervour. The famous Banke Bihari Temple is the epicentre of Holi celebrations in Vrindavan. The earlier day is the Holika Dahan wherein all negatives are symbolically burnt in a huge bonfire. The festival of colours is celebrated the next day and is called Dhulendi. On this day, the temple is decorated anew. Devotees come with gulaal (dry coloured powder) and sprinkle it on the Lord and then on each other. This is followed by a playful ‘lathmaar Holi’ and singing of Hori songs.

 

4. Celebrate Holi in Shantiniketan, West Bengal

While the entire country celebrates Holi in a boisterous manner, Shantiniketan – true to its name – celebrates the festival with serenity and peace, as Basantotsav / Basantotsab. The festival heralds the season of spring (vasant) and thus has boys & girls from the ashram sing melodious songs & perform elegant dances wearing yellow-coloured clothes. The girls wear yellow/golden saris with garlands and the boys wear yellow kurta-pyjamas. A cultural fest is organised here by the students of Vishwabharti University. After a day filled with music and dance, the students and teachers wish each other by applying abeer (dry coloured powder). The whole atmosphere becomes mildly scented with the fragrance of abeer. The Basantotsab has become a very important day of the Bangla calendar and attracts hordes of foreign tourists every year, to see a unique facet of Holi.

Flower Holi in Barsana; Soumen Nath, Dreamstime.com

Flower Holi in Barsana; Soumen Nath, Dreamstime.com

5. Celebrate Holi in Purulia, West Bengal

Another cultural destination to celebrate Holi (called here as Dol Jatra) is Purulia in West Bengal. The three-day celebration is packed with a bevy of amazing folk performances such as the famous Chhau dance, Natua dance, Jhumur music and the wandering Baul musicians. Visitors get to enjoy these magical performances as a run-up to Holi near the old-world 6th century terracotta temples like Deulghaata, especially during the night. Holi is celebrated by smearing abeer on each other and partaking mahuo liquor. Folk artists from neighbouring districts add distinct charm to this festival which is celebrated near the Konshobti River at Deulghaata. The icons of Radha & Krishna are taken out in a palanquin for a procession that is accompanied by these folk singers.

 

6. Celebrate Holi in Anandpur Sahib, Punjab

The birthplace of Khalsa i.e. Sikh brotherhood, Anandpur Sahib (located 2 hours from Chandigarh) is a pilgrimage destination for the Sikhs. The people here also celebrate Holi but in the most unimaginable way possible! Instead of colour and water, here you can see a testosterone-fuelled Holi! Hola Mohalla as it is called, is a tradition dating back to 1701, and was started by Guru Gobind Sinhji (the 10th Sikh Guru). On this day, Sikh Nihangs display their martial & warrior agility through a bevy of activities such as wrestling, mock sword fights, martial arts, mock-battles, ‘gatka’ i.e. military exercises and turban tying. Hola means ‘halla’ i.e. a war-cry that indicates ‘charge towards the enemy’. This particular festival celebrates the strength male aggression and physical agility as abilities that keep the clan/people safe.

Holi in Jaipur; Alexandra Lande, Shutterstock.com

Holi in Jaipur; Alexandra Lande, Shutterstock.com

7. Celebrate Holi in Jaipur, Rajasthan

Holi is celebrated with pomp and ceremony and more so with a regal air befitting the royal history of Rajasthan. Elephants are bedecked to the hilt with ornate jewellery, jhools (saddles) and vibrant colours.  Female elephants are decorated with huge anklets that tinkle as they walk down the alleys of the city in a procession that also features bedecked camels and horses. The procession is accompanied by folk dancers that entertain onlookers with their traditional dances. Holi is celebrated in a unique way wherein people sitting on the elephants sprinkle gulaal on the bystanders. Elephant dances, elephant polo and tug-of-wars add an interesting twist to this already unique celebration of Holi. However, in recent times, The Elephant Festival has come in jeopardy due to animal-rights groups protesting against the same.

 

8. Celebrate Holi in Gujarat

Most towns and cities in Gujarat celebrate Holi in the same gregarious manner. The day prior is celebrated with a contest of sorts to anoint the Holi King of the year. Known for its legends of Lord Krishna when he was a child, Gujarat enacts those scenes from the folklore of Baal Krishna, by forming human pyramids who then try to break a pot containing buttermilk, suspended from a height. Onlookers keep spraying water on the boys who form this pyramid. The winner is anointed as Holi King for that year. After this joyous contest, a Holika is made with fire brought from the local Goddess’ temple. Offerings of corn, raw mango, sugar figurines and condensed milk is made to the Holika, following which people apply red vermilion to each other’s forehead. Little girls create idols of ‘Gauri’ from the ashes of the Holika. The next day of Dhuleti is spent boisterously with colours and water. In fact nowadays, rain dances are becoming a permanent feature of Dhuletis.

Burning Holika in Delhi; Mikadun, Shutterstock.com

Burning Holika in Delhi; Mikadun, Shutterstock.com

9. Celebrate Holi in Uttarakhand

Music plays a pertinent part of this Holi in Uttarakhand which is called Kumaoni Holi. Traditionally speaking, Kumaoni Holi goes on for two months! It incorporates Baithki Holi, Khari Holi and Mahila Holi. In Baithki Holi (which literally means ‘sitting holi’), ‘holiyars’ i.e. Holi singers gather in temples to sing classical songs that portray the legend of Lord Krishna. The Khari / Khadi Holi (standing Holi) is a more merry affair compared to the earlier sombre one. Khari Holi follows the Baithki Holi and comprises of folk singers who dress in a particular way and go around the villages singing joyful folk songs. Mahila Holi comprises of only women, singing the traditional Horis. These celebrations culminate into a Cheer Bandhan (bonfire), fifteen days prior to Dhulendi. Playful games are played to steal each other’s ‘cheer’. The next day is the Dhulendi/Chharadi, in which, people smear each other with colours made from natural ingredients. The celebrations end with a ritualistic Shubh Kamna prayer.

 

10. Celebrate Holi in Tamilnadu

This place celebrates Holi in a totally different mood. Contradictory to the merrymaking that accompanies Holi celebrations in North India, Tamilnadu and other Southern regions observe Holi as an ode to the God of Love Kamadev and his consort Rati. It is an ironic celebration here. Whilst the festival is heralded as a celebration of love, it also contains rituals that seek to mark the victory of spiritual bliss over romantic desires. The festival is addressed by different names such as Kama Dahanam and Kama Vilas and entails singing of sad folk songs that narrate the legend of Rati and Kamadev. A symbolic bonfire is lit on the day prior to Holi, to signify overcoming romantic desires as well as negativities in general. The next day is a play of colours, but yet not as boisterous as in North India.

 

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About author

Reshma

Reshma S Kulkarni is a freelance writer-journalist, with a byline in more than 20 national and international publications including Bombay Times, Femina, The Hindu, Cosmopolitan, DNA and Hello (UAE). She translates books for renowned publishing houses and works as a freelance copy-editor for two Indian financial journals. She is a Visiting Faculty at the department of post-graduate studies in Mass Media & Journalism at two Mumbai-based institutes. In her free time, Reshma loves to read books, conduct tarot readings and whip up culinary delights.

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