Holi is one of India’s most famous festivals and for good reason: the vivid colors. Like most travelers, I had seen photos of this joyous festival being celebrated everywhere from New York City to London. I knew I wanted to experience Holi firsthand, but in a respectful manner that acknowledged its religious roots. What better place to do that in India itself?
Marking the end of winter and the arrival of spring, Holi also celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Legend has it Hiranyakashipu, a demon lord, ordered everyone to worship him. His son Prahalad refused and continued worshipping Lord Vishnu. After failing to kill his son for defying his orders, Hiranyakashipu enlisted the help of his sister Holika. Since she was immune to fire, she carried her nephew Prahalad onto a pyre with her and set it on fire. Her plan failed and Prahalad survived while she was burned to death.
Despite having Hindu origins, everyone joins in on this national holiday, which normally falls during March. Large public celebrations take place in temples throughout India. Children spray water guns and throw water balloons, while adults smear colored powdered on each others faces.
1-2 days before to the big day, bonfires start appearing in the streets. Representing the pyre that destroyed Holika, residents gather to burn items from the previous year and celebrate the death of evil spirits.
As exciting as Holi looked, I had also read that it’s best experienced in a group for safety reasons. This was certainly a selling point of the India group trip I booked; Holi was a central part of the itinerary.
Due to COVID-19, the Indian tourism board cancelled the Holi celebration for tourists. Fortunately, the trip organizers found an alternative: a local celebration at Govind Dev Ji temple, located inside Jaipur’s City Palace complex.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Dos and Don’ts of Group Travel in India, I knew this experience was going to push me outside my comfort zone. I’d have put aside my introversion and let go of my expectations for personal space and go with the flow.
I was wary at first as strangers walked up to me and proceeded to coat my face with colored powder. My apprehension soon dissipated, however, as I saw their smiling faces. I warmed up to the festivities, enjoying the chorus of “Happy Holi!” around me as we made our way closer to the temple. Inside the temple the crowd got even thicker, with singing, dancing, and drumming as plumes of red, purple, yellow, and blue powder flew up in the air.
As one of my trip-mates pointed out, it was quite lovely to see everyone gently spread color on each other’s faces. The excitement in the air was palpable, and the warm welcome our group received was also apparent. In such an exuberant atmosphere, it felt wrong to deny selfie requests. I decided to take photos with the local residents, perhaps as my way of saying thank you for allowing us to join in the festivities.
Unfortunately, my experience was soured by one young man. After adding some color to face, he proceeded to head south to my chest. I wasn’t the only person who experienced this in my group; groping is one of the risks of attending public Holi celebrations. I highly recommend female travelers attend Holi in a group, ideally at a private celebration. While this violation certainly angered me (I was ready to go back to the hotel afterward), I’m still glad I got to participate in India’s vibrant festival of colors.
Visit my India Instagram highlight for more footage I captured during this fun, colorful holiday.