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The Indian Festival of Colors Holi,
6 March 2015

India is a country well known for its cultural diversity and festivities.

The month of March is eagerly awaited by one and all in India as this month marks the arrival of summers after a long period of winters. Holi Festival is symbolic to this change of season and is observed on the full moon day of Phagun (12th) month in Hindu calendar, which usually falls at the end of February or early March. Well renowned for its fun filled environment and ubiquitous color powder known as 'Gulaal', Holi is one of the best occasions to experience India at its happiest. But one should not rush to throw oneself into this hilarious festival of colors which is also famous for its craziness; some homework beforehand will definitely prove to be helpful. The specific date of Holi Festival varies from year to year. In some places, Holi is celebrated prior to the official Holi Day. Known as the Festival of Colors, Holi is celebrated to mark the beginning of spring.

Holi is an important festival which is observed across India, offering a variety of activities held during it. Generally speaking the festive air in North India, especially in the Golden Triangle Tourist Circuit (Delhi, Jaipur, Agra) is more vivid and jubilant than that in southern part of India, which is quite solemn and more focused on religion and temple rituals. Here are some popular spots for taking part in Holi and each with their own distinct charm.

The word "Holi" has its etymology from demoness "Holika", the evil sister of demon King Hiranyakashipu. As per legend King Hiranyakashipu had earned a boon from Lord Brahma that made him virtually immortal. These special powers blinded him with pride and vanity, as he grew arrogant and projected himself as God, thus demanding his subject to worship only him. Hiranyakashipu's own son, Prahlada however, disagreed to this and remained devoted to Lord Vishnu. This infuriated Hiranyakashipu and he subjected his son Prahlada to severe punishments. None of the atrocities affected the boy. Finally, Holika - Prahlada's evil aunt - tricked him into sitting on a pyre with her. Holika was wearing a cloak (shawl) with powers that made her immune to injury from fire, while Prahlada was without any protection. As the fire roared into a giant pyre, the cloak flew from Holika and encased Prahlada, thus protecting him. Holika perished and Prahlada survived. Lord Vishnu then appeared in form of Narsimha and killed Hiranyakashipu. The bonfire, lit by all a night before Holi, is thus a reminder of the symbolic victory of good over evil.

Holi festival has different connotations in different parts within the country. A very special type of Holi called Lathmaar Holi is played in Barsana (district Mathura), which is probably the most fun filled Holi celebration across India. During the festival, men with shields are beaten up by women with sticks, but never fight back and get angry – this is a scene you never see in other days. Based upon a legend, Lord Krishna once paid a visit to his paramour Radha, and while he tried to tease her and her friends, was driven away by the women folk, hence the tradition. As a big metropolitan city in India, Delhi celebrates Holi in a modern and contemporary way. It hosts the Holi Cow Festival, a music festival with traditional multi-colored powder throwing, live music performed by Indian musicians, and sheer madness. Non-toxic colors are provided along with street food, drinks, etc. –to get everyone in the mood to jive and rock.

For all those who love elephants, Jaipur is the place to reckon with for Holi celebrations. This is because Rambagh Polo Ground on the eve of Holi hosts elephant polo, tug-of-war, and a parade of elaborately painted elephants coupled with Rajasthani folk dances. One can mingle with the locals and try their hand at turban tying competition, or test their resilience in a tug of war match. An interesting event is where one joins and participates in the Matka (water-filled pot balance on head) race to emerge as a winner by reaching the finish line first without dropping the earthen pot. It's definitely a moment to burst your lungs out by cheering for your team mate.

Those who wish to witness some traditional Holi should definitely visit Mathura and Vrindavan (barely 3 hours drive from Delhi). It is believed that Mathura is Lord Krishna's birthplace and Vrindavan is the place where he spent his childhood making merriment with his childhood friends. Thus, Holi is considered a major festival here and carries great significance. People celebrate it for a period of 40 days. Each day, the celebration takes place on a different temple of Lord Krishna. One can see dances depicting the origins of the festival, hear Holi folk songs, and of course, experience the most traditional tossing of colored powders and smearing of faces with 'Gulaal'.

In Braj region of India, where Krishna grew up, Holi is celebrated for 16 days (until Rangpanchmi) to commemorate the divine love of Radha for Lord Krishna. There is a symbolic myth behind commemorating Lord Krishna as well. Baby Krishna transitioned into his characteristic dark blue skin colour because a demoness named Putana poisoned him with her breast milk.

If you want to experience the crazy atmosphere of Holi, you can venture out on the street, but if want to celebrate it in a mild way, find a hotel or private club that arranges a Holi party for guests. Single travelers should avoid going out into streets on their own as the ambience is a little high on spirits, which might not be appreciated by all.

Holi - the festival of colors - is undoubtedly the most fun-filled and boisterous of Hindu festival. It's an occasion that brings in unadulterated joy and mirth, fun and play, music and dance, and, of course, lots of bright colors!

The universal punch line which ensures that no one feels offended despite naughtiness in the air is "Bura na mano Holi Hai"