The best places to celebrate Holi in India really depend on what kind of experience you want to have. You’ll find activities taking place almost all over India, but they range from traditional temple rituals to modern parties with DJs, bhang, and plenty of colors. See which of these places, with totally different Holi festival celebrations, appeal to you the most.
Barsana, Uttar Pradesh: Holi with Sticks
Indian men don’t always rule the roost! The women of Barsana and Nandgaon villages near Mathura in Uttar Pradesh beat up men with sticks, in what’s known as Lathmar Holi celebrations. Unfortunately, this event isn’t recommended for solo female travelers due to the disgusting behavior of men, who continue to go around molesting women.
- Dates: Lathmar Holi takes place in the week before the main day of Holi. In 2019, it will happen on March 15. The following day, the celebrations move to Nandgaon village. It’s worth getting to Barsana a couple of days before Lathmar Holi so that you can also experience Laddoo Holi festivities there. Sweets are thrown around and spiritual songs related to Radha and Krishna are sung.
Mathura and Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh: Traditional Holi
Holi celebrations get underway on Vasant Panchami (end of winter), 40 days before the main Holi day, in the temple towns of Mathura and Vrindavan, four hours from Delhi. Mathura is where Lord Krishna was born, while Vrindavan was where he spent his childhood.
- Dates: Sri Krishna Janmastham in Mathura holds a renowned show in the week before Holi. The week long celebrations at Banke Bihari temple in Vrindavan are also legendary, and culminate with the throwing of colors in the morning on the day before Holi (March 20, 2019). The celebrations start with the throwing of flowers (Phoolon Wali Holi) at 4 p.m. on March 17, 2019. In the afternoon on March 20, head to Mathura for the colorful Holi procession that starts from Vishram Ghat and finishes near Holi Gate. On Holi (March 21, 2019), the best place to catch the throwing of colors is Dwarkadheesh Temple in Mathura. Start the day early (at around 7 a.m) at Vishram Ghat to see priests making bhang.
Shantiniketan, West Bengal: Cultural Holi
The celebration of Holi as Basanta Utsav (Spring Festival) in Shantiniketan was started by famous Bengali poet and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Inspired by spring and the colors of Holi, he introduced the occasion as an annual event in his Vishva Bharati University there. Students dress up in spring colors and put on a huge cultural program for visitors, including dances to Tagore’s songs. This is followed by the usual throwing of colors. Basanta Utsav has become a cherished part of Bengali history and culture, and it attracts numerous foreign tourists.
- Date: Note that festivities happen on March 20, a day earlier than the given date for Holi in other parts of India.
Purulia, West Bengal: Folk Holi
A three-day Basanta Utsav folk festival takes place in the Purulia district of West Bengal. It runs in the lead up to Holi and on the actual day. You’ll get to sing and play Holi with the locals, as well as enjoy a wide variety of unique folk art. This includes the remarkable Chau dance, Darbari Jhumur, Natua dance, and songs of West Bengal’s wandering Baul musicians. What makes the festival special is that it’s organized by villagers as a way of helping sustain themselves. The location is around five to six hours by train from Kolkata, or transport in private vehicles can be arranged. Accommodation is provided in tents and there are portable toilets as well.
Anandpur Sahib, Punjab: Warrior Holi
Experience Holi the Sikh way at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab! Hola Mohalla is an annual fair that dates all the way back to 1701. It was first organized by Sikh Guru Gobind Singh to celebrate Holi. However, instead of throwing colors, expect to see a demonstration of physical agility. There’s wrestling, martial arts, mock sword fights, acrobatic military exercises, and turban tying.
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