Different shades of Holi in India

Twists to festival of colour and water


March 18, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

Different shades of Holi in India

People engage in friendly battle of colour and water with each other, irrespective of age, gender or social class (Photo: MIG Photos)

Holi, one of the most important Hindu festivals, is primarily is known as the festival of colours. Holi marks the arrival of Spring at the end of winter, which can be harsh in parts of north India. It is celebrated on the full-moon day of the Phalgun month of the Hindu calendar.

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Like many other festivals across the world, Holi, too, marks the triumph of good over evil. People play with colours, water, flowers and more. Everyone, be it a child or an adult, smears colour on each other. Youngsters seek blessings from their elders by applying colour on their feet. People also visit their friends and relatives and also engage in friendly battles of both colour and water. Special delicacies are prepared for the occasion and shared after the coloured water battles are over.

According to Hindu mythology, King Hiranyakashipu had received a boon from Lord Brahma that he could not be killed by either a man or any animal. Considering himself all-powerful, he started troubling his subjects and forcing them to worship him. But his son Prahlad continued to worship Lord Vishnu infuriating the king. He tried to kill his son with the help of his sister Holika, who had a boon to protect herself from fire. The king asked her to sit on a pyre with his son, but the prince was saved by Lord Vishnu, while Holika was burnt alive.

Inspired by the mythology, numerous bonfires are lit all over the country to symbolise the triumph of good over evil. People perform the ritual and throw dry leaves, wood and twigs into the fire. Though the symbolism of Holi and its timing is identical, Holi is celebrated with slight tweaks, often in terms of delicacies prepared for the occasion, in different parts of the country.

In many parts of the country, a special milk-based beverage, laced with a generous dose of bhang (a form of cannabis), is prepared on occasion and consumed. It adds fervour to the festivities as it permits even the timid to open up and participate in the songs, dances and water battles that mark the highlight of the festival, which is also centred around the theme of putting aside all differences and promoting harmony in the society.

This year Holi is being celebrated with a special energy and fervour as it comes after a long gap since the for the past two years, Holi had been limited or even banned due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Hence, today, people are set to celebrate it with even more enthusiasm than usually.

Here are some of the varieties of the festival from around the country.


In Bihar, the festival is celebrated with loads of fun. Special items such as pua (a type of sweet) and Dahi Vadae (lentil balls in yogurt) are prepared for the occasion. It starts with Holika Dahan (burning of pyre) which is conducted a day before Holi or Choti Holi and continues till the next day of Badi Holi. People celebrate the festival with all kinds of colours such as mud, powdered colours mixed with water and Gulal (a type of powdered colour).

“For Holi, a lot of delicacies are prepared. But the main dishes include pua and Dahi Vadae. Lavish meals mutton or chicken as well as cottage cheese are prepared for lunch. Everyone plays with water and colours during the day. In the evening people visit neighbours and friends to exchange sweets and seek blessings from elders by applying abeer (a type of colour) to their feet,” Srawanya Srivastava, a resident of Raxaul in Bihar, tells Media India Group.


In the Himalayan region of Kumaon in Uttarakhand, Holi is celebrated by wearing traditional clothes and singing and dancing to songs. People gather in tolis (groups) and greet each other by applying colour. The celebrations for the festival begin one week before the day of Holi. People light the Holika pyre (a bonfire with a green Paiya tree branch in the middle) called ‘Cheer’. Holi is celebrated in three forms Baithaki Holi in which the locals sing songs and showcase musical performance with classical instruments. The songs are spiritual and extremely melodious. The next is Khadi Holi, in which men wear traditional garb as they sing and dance on Holi songs with instruments like Dhol and Hurka. The last is Mahila Holi, the celebration is exclusively organised for women and is also a form of Baithaki Holi.

“Holi in Uttarakhand is celebrated in a very unique way. The celebrations start a week before ‘Badi Holi’. The songs which have their roots in Mathura are sung by the people in the native language and to them. People visit friends and family and enjoy various delicacies prepared that day. People also apply colour to each other and worship Goddess Bhagwati. Flags bearing red and white colour are offered to the goddess,” says Bhavna Bisht, an advocate and resident of Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand.

Uttar Pradesh

In Varanasi, Mathura and Vrindavan the festival of Holi calls from loads of fun activities and traditions. Women run after men with canes and playfully hit them during the celebrations. The men also come prepared with a dhal (shield) and are called Lathmar Holi. Like Uttarakhand, the celebrations begin a week before the day of Holi.

Countless people gather to witness the frenzied version of Holi. Men and women sing popular Holi songs and shout chants to Radha and Krishna. In Kanpur, on the last day of Holi, a grand fair is organised called Ganga Mela or Holi Mela. In Gorakhpur, Holi begins with a special pooja with people visiting each other’s houses, singing Holi songs and applying colour to each-others.


The festival of Holi is regarded as Holla Mohalla in the region, especially celebrations are done in commemoration of the valour of Sikh Warriors. The Nihang Sikhs, a particular sect of the Sikh community, are noted for their festivals. The celebrations begin with a communal display of traditional martial arts. People sing and dance with each other. People also apply colour to each other.

Madhya Pradesh

While in other states the celebrations end on the day of Badi Holi, the state keeps on celebrating even after five days after Holi. Along with colours, the festival is celebrated with music. People mix water and colour and drench each other. At the event of the festival, even the municipal corporation sprinkles water and colours on the main streets. The festival begins with Holika Dahan. Many delicacies are also prepared such as gujiya, mathri, malpuas and other regional delicacies.

“In many rural pockets of Madhya Pradesh, the days before Holi are filled with the beats of the nagadiya and the phag, songs that are special and considered auspicious to celebrate the advent of spring and the festival of colours. However, this tradition is fading, and it is still followed in very few areas. Holi rituals include Holika Dahan, also known as Kamudu pyre, preparation of Holi foods and drinks like such as gujiya, mathri, malpuas, bhang, thandai and other regional delicacies, playing with colours and water. And as common in Holi celebration singing and dancing on Holi folk songs, visiting relatives, family are done on this special day,” says Nikita Singh, resident of Morena in Madhya Pradesh.




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