I dream of many faraway places. I crave to smell the air of somewhere new, to run my hands along unfamiliar stone walls, to see a new skyline, to meet new people and experience other culture. Its an ache in my bones as alive as my heartbeat. Among the places I yearn to see, is India. I am pulled to visit Delhi or Mumbai. There are several reasons I would like to visit, but first and foremost; I dream of Holi.
The Meaning of Holi
The Holi festival commemorates the victory of good over evil, brought about by the burning and destruction of the demoness named Holika. This was enabled through unwavering devotion to the Hindu god of preservation, Lord Vishnu. Holi got its name as the "Festival of Colors" from Lord Krishna, a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, who liked to play pranks on the village girls by drenching them in water and colors. The festival marks the end of winter and the abundance of the upcoming spring harvest season.
The emphasis of Holi rituals is on the burning of demoness Holika. On the eve of Holi, large bonfires are lit to mark occasion. This is known as Holika Dahan. As well as performing a special puja (act of worship), people sing and dance around the fire, and walk around it three times. The burning of Holika is mentioned in the Hindu text, the Narada Purana.
Apparently, Holika's brother demon King Hiranyakashyap instructed her to burn his son, Prahlad, because he followed Lord Vishnu and didn't worship him. Holika sat with Prahlad in her lap, in the burning fire, because it was thought that no fire could harm her. However, due to his devotion to Lord Vishnu who protected him, Prahlad survived and Holika was burned to death.
I have read many things about the Holi celebrations, which sound exciting, and intriguing. People spend the day smearing gulal (colored powder) all over each other's faces, throwing colored water at each other, having parties, and dancing under water sprinklers. There are many suggestions for the celebration, such as covering yourself in coconut oil, so the dye colors won't absorb into your skin and stain it. A Holi Guide gives a first hand experience, and many other tips, especially for women.
Holi is said to be a rowdy affair in Delhi. Be prepared to be covered in color by adults and children alike if you step outside. Bhang (a paste made from cannabis plants) is also traditionally consumed during the celebrations. It is also mixed with beverages. Special Holi events with music, rain dances, and colors are organized in large cities across India, particularly in Delhi and Mumbai.
Delhi hosts a large music festival called the Holi Moo Festival (previously the renowned Holi Cow Festival). This festival of color, music, and madness has more than 40 Indian and international performers spread over four stages. The environment is said to be safe, and non-toxic colors are provided, along with bhang, street food, and sprinklers to get everyone in the mood. Plenty of travelers, as well as locals, attend. You can find out more about Holi Moo on Facebook.
There are a lot of places you can go to celebrate Holi, with many variations on how Holi is celebrated. Most all involve color. If your looking to have something more low-key, a lot of hotels host their own Holi for guests. You can also visit smaller towns or villages for a toned down experience. In some places the festivities involve elephants, parades, and folk dances. It is suggested that those traveling alone, especially women, return to their hotels by midday, before everyone is too inebriated. It is said the men get handsy. Just be aware and have fun!
Among the places listed to have the "best" Holi experience in Delhi, are Paharganj, and Karol Bagh. There are several hotels for these areas listed on booking.com. Check them out here: booking.com/newdelhi. If your looking for a more local experience you can also go AirB&B. I have never done Airb&b but I have heard wonderful things. As with any travel, be aware of your surroundings.
I think that Holi would be a one of a kind experience; an experience I plan to one day mark off my bucket list. I dream of Holi. I imagine being covered in paints, trying new and unfamiliar foods and drink, meeting new people; dancing to new sounds, enthralled by it all. I also believe the meaning behind Holi is beautiful. It is something I would love to celebrate, completely immersed in the the culture it grew from.
Images for this article were used from Creative Commons.