Water balloons being flung in glee, adults who get to act like children for a day, gulal being smeared onto faces, and colored water shooting out of pichkaris...all of this and more is what makes the festival of Holi a delightful affair. Foreigners flock to different parts of the country, mainly within North India, to take part in the revelry and experience the fun first-hand. A traditional harvest festival that the country looks forward to, Holi is celebrated annually in the month of March.
Every year, the bright colors of Holi always brighten up the streets of India. It’s no surprise that the excitement of Holi, a festival that practically requires smearing color onto faces in crowds, is always high among the people. We’ve listed out some offbeat places to celebrate Holi; this ensures you can be a part of some of the best Holi celebrations across the nation.
A peaceful abode with a rich history, Shantiniketan is located around 150 km away from Kolkata in West Bengal. It is the hometown of Rabindranath Tagore, the renowned poet, composer, and Nobel Prize winner. Shantiniketan has homeliness running through its veins, and your accommodation options are simple yet sufficient homestays, guesthouses, and budget hotels. Shantiniketan is where the Visva Bharati University is located; first founded in 1901 as a small school, today it is a Centre for Culture that teaches the arts, humanities, languages, and music.
Come March, the students of the University begin preparations for Basanta Utsav or Holi. The festival is more about culture than merriment, and students put on impressive traditional dances and theatrical performances, all clad in shades of bright yellow. The university town is filled with the sound of ektaras, played skillfully by the Baul community. Shantiniketan has plenty of culture to be explored, so even while celebrating Holi here, you will have plenty to discover.
Holi celebrations are at their finest in North India but are fairly subdued if not non-existent in South India. The one place that breaks this mold with a splash of color is Hampi. The ruins of the once-great Vijayanagar Empire, Hampi is a major tourist attraction for domestic and international travelers. While it isn’t known for its Holi celebrations, they are certainly worth experiencing.
The town normally sees vibrant processions with drummers and dancers in tow. Tourists and locals get together to join in the processions that mostly end at the Tungabhadra River. Hampi is among the relatively less crowded places to celebrate Holi, which is why there are normally foreigners here who wish to take part in the fun. However, since travel has slowed down due to the virus, the tourist numbers in Hampi are likely to be lower than normal. March is also the end of the tourist season since the temperatures begin to soar, so you may have to bear the heat but you’ll have fewer crowds to navigate.
Want to see Holi celebrated in a unique yet traditional way? Then Anandpur Sahib in Punjab is the place to be. The Sikhs of Anandpur Sahib celebrate Hola Mohalla, coinciding with the festival of Holi. The word ‘Hola’ may sound like another way to say ‘Holi’, but in fact, ‘hola mohalla’ means ‘charge of the army’. The festivities are part of a tradition that goes back over 300 years. In 1701, Guru Gobind Singh was pitched at Anandpur Sahib when fighting off the Mughals. Realizing that it was only their skill in martial arts and unrelenting faith that would save them, he commanded the Sikhs to participate in mock battles and military drills while reciting holy scriptures. Thus was born the tradition of Hola Mohalla.
You’ll get to see the Nihangs, who were once the troops who headed the Sikh armies, unmistakable in their bright blue robes and heavy, embellished turbans. They gather together to put on an admirable show of bravery, skill, and discipline as they partake in competitions like sword-fighting, horse-riding, turban-tying, and tent-pegging. Poetry is recited, as are tales of Guru Gobind Singh. Color is thrown up in the air and at other people, and finally, everyone dines at the Langar.
Due to the coronavirus, there may be local and state restrictions in place, so Hola Mohalla may not be as vibrant as it normally is. But if you want to celebrate a unique aspect of Holi and an interesting cultural tradition of the Sikhs at the same time, then this is the place to be.
As mentioned, Holi celebrations are fairly low-key in South India. Not many engage in the revelry, mostly seen in pockets where people from North Indian states reside. This makes one of the best places to celebrate Holi in 2022 for people who want just a slice of the fun. The festival also has a historical aspect to it, which is something the history lovers will love chasing down. Holi in Kerala is known as Ukuli or Manjal Kuli, and the local communities that celebrate it are the Gaud Saraswat Brahmins, Konkan communities, and the Kudumbis.
Interestingly, the Kudumbis were original inhabitants of Goa who fled to Kerala to escape Portuguese persecution. They brought along their culture, and this seemingly minor point in history has led to Holi being celebrated in Kerala. An areca nut tree is felled and carried to the shrine of Kudumbi temples in Ernakulam, while their temples in Thrissur have a crocodile figure modeled out of mud. It is meant to symbolize Goddess Durga who is said to have helped the Kudumbis while they fled to Kerala by taking the form of a crocodile.
The Kudumbis partake in the ceremony of Manjal Kuli on the second day of Holi, equivalent to throwing color in the northern states. They spray each other with colored water that contains turmeric, and dance to traditional Kerala music. Since you’re in the state of Kerala, you can observe as much of the revelry you want, and then head off to celebrate a quiet, peaceful Holi, safe with your loved ones on a houseboat away from the crowds.
The main locations in India that are famous for their Holi celebrations are places that are known for the colors, crowds, and enjoyment like Varanasi, Mathura, Vrindavan, and Udaipur. But if you're looking to attend the Holi celebrations in some of the off-beat locations in India, you know where you need to plan a trip. Thank us later!
How Is Holi Celebrated In India?
On the first day of Holi, people gather around a bonfire that symbolizes the burning of the demoness Holika, thus signifying the victory of good over evil. The second day of Holi, which is more popular, is when people smear color and water over each other. The festival also heralds the arrival of the spring season.
Is It Safe To Travel On Holi?
Getting around when the Holi festivities are in full swing and visiting crowded places may not be recommended, especially if you’re intending on playing. Ideally, it’s best to travel in the late afternoon during Holi.
Where Can I Spend Holi?
If you’re looking for places to celebrate Holi apart from those mentioned above, consider the following:
Pushkar, Rajasthan: This is arguably the best place to celebrate Holi, with a whirl of color, water, crowded streets, and bhang!
Mathura and Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh: Celebrations go wild in these towns, with some of the more popular rituals including Lathmar Holi (where women pretend to beat men with sticks) and the Braj Holi (where locals enact stories of Lord Krishna’s Leela).
Ajmer, Rajasthan: The locals here celebrate Gair Holi, which involves men from different villages coming together to dance to the tune of traditional music.
Is Holi Safe In India?
Holi is a relatively safe festival, but it’s always crowded and the people can be a bit unruly at times. If safety is your primary concern, we recommend having private celebrations with your friend circle.
Why Pushkar Holi Is Famous?
Holi in Pushkar is celebrated with great fanfare and everyone partakes in it, irrespective of gender, caste, race, and religion. Celebrations are wild on the second day when everyone plays with colors and water, and with a lot of bhang as well! To add to it, there’s also the Kapda Faad Holi in Pushkar. This particularly wild celebration involves men tearing each other’s shirts and smearing each other with colors!
Is Holi Celebrated Everywhere In India?
Holi is celebrated in most parts of India. Some of the places known to celebrate Holi with all pomp and show are Pushkar, Mathura, Vrindavan, and Ajmer.
Is Holi Celebrated In Hampi?
Yes, Holi is celebrated in the town of Hampi in Karnataka. It is one of the best off-beat locations in India that is known for Holi celebration.
What Is Holi Called In Gujarat?
Holi is known as Dhuleti. During this festival, people play around sprinkling flowers and smearing colors on each other.